Skip to Content

How do you cook a store bought pre-brined turkey?

Cooking a store bought pre-brined turkey can seem daunting, but it’s actually quite straightforward if you follow some simple steps. Pre-brined turkeys have already been soaked in a saltwater solution, which helps keep the meat moist and adds flavor. The main tasks are thawing, preparing, roasting, and resting the turkey properly. With some planning and these tips, you’ll have a juicy, delicious turkey for your next holiday meal.

Thawing the Turkey

The first step is thawing your frozen turkey safely in the refrigerator. Never thaw a turkey at room temperature, as this increases the risk of bacterial growth. Here are thawing guidelines based on the turkey’s size:

Turkey Size Days to Thaw in Fridge
4 to 12 pounds 1 to 3 days
12 to 16 pounds 3 to 4 days
16 to 20 pounds 4 to 5 days
20 to 24 pounds 5 to 6 days

Make sure to place the turkey on a tray or in a pan to catch any juices as it thaws. A thawed turkey can be kept in the fridge for 1-2 days before cooking.

Preparing the Turkey

Once thawed, remove the turkey from its packaging and pat dry with paper towels. Take out the neck and giblets from the turkey cavities and set aside if you want to use them for gravy. Rinse the turkey cavity with cold water and pat dry. Then, rub the skin all over with a little vegetable, olive, or canola oil. This helps evenly brown the skin.

You can season the turkey with salt and pepper or spice mixes like poultry seasoning or herbs de provence. Season both under and on top of the skin. The pre-brining makes it well seasoned already so you don’t need much.

If stuffing the turkey, do it just before roasting. The stuffing should be moist but not wet, cooled to room temperature after cooking. Spoon it loosely into the cavity to allow for expansion. Cook extra stuffing in a casserole dish.

Next, tie the drumsticks together with kitchen string or tuck the wing tips under the body to hold them in place while roasting. This gives the turkey a nice presentation.

Roasting the Turkey

Place an oven rack in the lowest position and preheat the oven to 325°F. Pat the turkey dry again and place it breast side up on a V-rack in a shallow roasting pan. Use a rack for air circulation rather than setting it directly in the pan.

Tent the turkey loosely with foil to prevent over-browning. Plan on roasting approximately 15-18 minutes per pound for an unstuffed turkey. Here are general roasting guidelines based on weight:

Turkey Weight Approximate Cooking Time
8 to 12 pounds 2.5 to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds 3 to 3.5 hours
14 to 18 pounds 3.5 to 4.5 hours
18 to 20 pounds 4 to 4.5 hours
20 to 24 pounds 4.5 to 5 hours

For a stuffed turkey, add 15-30 minutes per pound to the roasting time. To prevent overcooking the breast, tent it with foil halfway through if needed. Baste the turkey every 30 minutes with the pan juices. Continue roasting until the thighs reach 165°F and the breast reaches 170°F on a meat thermometer.

Resting and Carving the Turkey

Resting is a crucial final step to ensure moist, tender meat. The turkey needs to rest for at least 30 minutes before carving. The temperature will continue rising about 5-10°F during this time. Cover it loosely with foil and let it rest on a cutting board or platter.

To carve the turkey:

  1. Remove the turkey legs by cutting through the skin between the thigh and body. Then cut through the joint to separate the drumstick from the thigh.
  2. Make a horizontal slice into the turkey breast to remove each side as whole pieces.
  3. Cut the breast pieces crosswise into thin slices.
  4. Arrange the sliced meat on a platter with the legs and thighs.

Be sure to pour the juices from the roasted turkey and the carving board over the served meat. Now your pre-brined turkey is ready for an amazing holiday meal!

Key Tips for Juicy, Flavorful Turkey

Follow these simple tips for the best results:

  • Thaw thoroughly in the refrigerator allowing ample time based on weight.
  • Pat the turkey dry before seasoning and roasting for crispy skin.
  • Roast on a rack in a shallow pan to allow air circulation.
  • Use an oven-safe meat thermometer to check doneness.
  • Tent with foil to prevent over browning if needed.
  • Allow the roasted turkey to rest before slicing for moist meat.

Common Roasting Problems and Solutions

Even when following all the right steps, you may encounter an issue while roasting the turkey. Here are some troubleshooting tips:

Problem Solution
Turkey skin is not browning evenly Loosen foil to expose more skin or rub oil/fat on dry spots.
Breast meat is drying out Check temperature early and tent with foil if overcooking.
Thighs are undercooked Increase overall roasting time as needed based on thermometer.
Stuffing is still raw inside Bake stuffing separately and spoon into turkey right before serving.

Add Flavor with a Simple Brine or Herb Rub

While store bought turkeys are pre-brined, you can make them even more flavorful and moist. Here are two easy ways to add extra flavor:

Simple Brine

A salt, sugar, and aromatic brine enhances moisture and seasoning. Dissolve 1 cup salt and 1/2 cup sugar into 2 quarts cold water. Add any combination of herbs, black peppercorns, citrus zest, crushed garlic, and bay leaves. Submerge the turkey in the brine 24 hours before roasting and keep refrigerated.

Herb Butter Rub

Blend 1 cup room temperature butter with chopped rosemary, sage, thyme, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Gently loosen the turkey skin and rub the herb butter underneath and on top of the skin before roasting.

Make Delicious Turkey Gravy

No roast turkey dinner is complete without rich gravy. Use the turkey neck and giblets to make stock ahead of time. Sauté aromatics like onion, carrot, and celery then simmer the stock until flavorful. After roasting the turkey, use the juices in the pan to make a flavorful gravy.

In a saucepan, add 6 tablespoons flour to the hot pan drippings. Cook for 1-2 minutes to toast the flour then whisk in 4 cups turkey stock and the roasted veggie mix if desired. Simmer until thickened. Season with salt, pepper, herbs, and sherry to taste. Strain gravy into a gravy boat or serve right from the pan.

Get Creative with Leftovers

Leftover turkey makes amazing sandwiches, soups, casseroles, and more. Here are some delicious ways to use up turkey:

  • Turkey, cranberry sauce, mayo, and stuffing on toasted bread or a wrap
  • Turkey pot pie or noodle soup with veggies and broth
  • Turkey tacos with avocado, shredded lettuce, cheese, and salsa
  • Turkey casserole with rice, cream of mushroom or celery soup, veggies, and cheese
  • Turkey salad with mayo, celery, craisins, walnuts, and apple
  • Turkey tetrazzini – turkey, mushrooms, pasta, parmesan, sherry, cream sauce


Roasting a store bought pre-brined turkey may look daunting, but just remember these simple steps: thaw safely, prepare by drying/seasoning/trussing, use a rack and thermometer when roasting, tent foil to prevent overcooking, let it rest before carving, and make delicious gravy from the juices. Following proper technique, allowing ample time for thawing and roasting, and using a meat thermometer are key to success. With these tips, you’ll have a mouthwatering golden turkey with tender, flavorful meat to enjoy for your holiday meal.