Can You Cook a Turkey Without a Bag? A Comprehensive Guide to Unbagged Turkey Roasting

When faced with a turkey that needs to be roasted, a lot of home cooks use an oven-safe cooking bag as their go-to tool. Using one yields a moist, juicy bird — and not to mention, cuts down on cleanup.

But cooking turkey in an oven bag is not without its drawbacks. For instance, you wont get the show-stopping brown skin. And getting a raw turkey in an oven bag, and later, removing a cooked one, can get unwieldy.

An alternative to using an oven bag is to braise the turkey, which involves roasting it in a steamy, enclosed space. Braising is a good option when cooking a large, potentially tough turkey.

The main advantage of using an oven bag is that the turkey can cook in its own juices in a moist environment, which helps prevent the inevitable outcome of dry meat.

But an oven bag isnt the only way to achieve this moist, contained environment. Here are two alternatives:

The holiday season is upon us, and that means one thing: turkey time! But before you get started on your culinary masterpiece, you might be wondering: can you cook a turkey without a bag? The answer is a resounding yes! While cooking a turkey in a bag (also known as a “turkey bag” or “oven bag”) can be a convenient way to keep your bird moist and juicy, it’s not the only way to achieve delicious results. In fact, many experienced cooks prefer to roast their turkeys unbagged, claiming it results in a crispier skin and more flavorful meat

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the world of unbagged turkey roasting, exploring the pros and cons of this method, providing detailed instructions, and offering helpful tips and tricks to ensure your turkey turns out perfectly golden and succulent. So, whether you’re a seasoned chef or a holiday cooking novice, read on to discover the secrets of roasting a delicious turkey without a bag.

Unbagged Turkey Roasting: Pros and Cons

Before we dive into the how-to, let’s take a moment to weigh the pros and cons of unbagged turkey roasting:


  • Crispier skin: One of the main advantages of roasting a turkey without a bag is the potential for a crispier skin. The dry heat of the oven allows the skin to brown and crisp up beautifully, creating a delightful textural contrast with the juicy meat.
  • More flavorful meat: Many cooks believe that roasting a turkey unbagged allows for more flavorful meat. This is because the juices from the turkey can evaporate and caramelize on the skin, infusing the meat with a rich, savory flavor.
  • No need for a special bag: Roasting a turkey without a bag eliminates the need to purchase a special oven bag, saving you money and reducing waste.
  • More control over the cooking process: When roasting a turkey unbagged, you have more control over the cooking process. You can easily baste the turkey with butter or herbs, and you can adjust the oven temperature as needed to achieve the desired results.


  • Potential for dryness: Roasting a turkey without a bag can sometimes result in a drier bird, especially if the turkey is not properly basted or if the oven temperature is too high.
  • More cleanup: Roasting a turkey unbagged can be messier than using a bag, as the juices from the turkey can splatter in the oven.
  • Requires more attention: Roasting a turkey unbagged requires more attention than using a bag, as you need to baste the turkey regularly and monitor the temperature to ensure it doesn’t overcook.

Unbagged Turkey Roasting: A Step-by-Step Guide

Now that you’ve weighed the pros and cons, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of unbagged turkey roasting. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you achieve turkey perfection:

Step 1: Prepare the turkey.

  • Thaw the turkey completely: If your turkey is frozen, thaw it completely in the refrigerator for several days before cooking.
  • Remove the giblets and neck: These are typically found in the cavity of the turkey. Discard them or save them for making gravy.
  • Rinse the turkey: Rinse the turkey inside and out with cold water. Pat it dry with paper towels.
  • Season the turkey: Rub the turkey all over with olive oil, salt, pepper, and any other desired seasonings. You can also stuff the cavity with herbs, aromatics, or vegetables for added flavor.

Step 2: Preheat the oven.

  • Preheat your oven to 325°F (163°C).

Step 3: Roast the turkey.

  • Place the turkey on a roasting rack in a roasting pan. The rack will allow the juices to drain away from the turkey, promoting even cooking and crispy skin.
  • Roast the turkey for approximately 13 minutes per pound. For example, a 15-pound turkey would need to roast for about 3 hours and 45 minutes.
  • Baste the turkey every 30 minutes. Use a turkey baster or a spoon to baste the turkey with the pan juices. This will help keep the turkey moist and flavorful.
  • Check the turkey’s temperature. Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the turkey in the thickest part of the thigh. The turkey is done when the temperature reaches 165°F (74°C).

Step 4: Rest the turkey.

  • Once the turkey is done cooking, remove it from the oven and let it rest for at least 20 minutes before carving. This will allow the juices to redistribute, resulting in a more tender and flavorful turkey.

Step 5: Carve and serve.

  • Carve the turkey and serve it with your favorite sides.

Unbagged Turkey Roasting: Tips and Tricks

Here are some additional tips and tricks to help you roast a delicious turkey without a bag:

  • Use a brining solution: Brining your turkey before roasting can help to keep it moist and flavorful.
  • Start with a high oven temperature: Roasting the turkey at a high temperature for the first 30 minutes can help to brown the skin and seal in the juices.
  • Tent the turkey with foil: If you’re concerned about the turkey drying out, you can tent it loosely with aluminum foil during the last 30 minutes of cooking.
  • Let the turkey rest before carving: As mentioned above, resting the turkey is crucial for ensuring a juicy and flavorful bird.
  • Use the pan juices to make gravy: The pan juices from the roasted turkey can be used to make a delicious gravy. Simply pour the juices into a saucepan and whisk in some flour or cornstarch to thicken.

Roasting a turkey without a bag is a great way to achieve a crispy-skinned, flavorful bird. While it requires a bit more attention than using a bag, the results are well worth the effort. By following the steps outlined in this guide and using the helpful tips and tricks, you can roast a delicious turkey that will be the star of your holiday feast.

How to Braise a Turkey in a Roasting Pan

After your turkey is cooked through, save the liquid at the bottom of the pan to make a delicious gravy.

can you cook a turkey without a bag

can you cook a turkey without a bag

can you cook a turkey without a bag

  • Turkey, thawed, with the giblets removed
  • Medium onion
  • 4 ribs of celery
  • 4 carrots
  • Garlic (optional)
  • Bacon (optional)
  • Herbs (optional)
  • 3/4 stick butter
  • Frying pan
  • Large roasting pan with a tight lid
  • Stuffing (optional)
  • 1 qt. chicken or turkey broth
  • Cooking spoon or baster
  • Food thermometer

Step 1:‌ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step 2:‌ Chop the vegetables (onion, celery and carrot) coarsely.

Step 3:‌ Melt the butter in a frying pan, and then add the vegetables.

‌Step 4:‌ Sauté the vegetables until they begin to brown. Add seasoning to taste. You can sauté the vegetables with garlic, bacon or herbs, for instance.

Step 5:‌ Put the vegetables and butter in the bottom of the roasting pan.

Step 6:‌ Place the turkey on top of the vegetables.

Step 7:‌ Stuff the turkey if youd like to do so.

Step 8: Pour in the broth; if necessary, raise it no more than halfway up the turkey.

Step 9:‌ Cover the pan with the lid and put it in the oven.

If your turkey doesnt fit inside the roaster with the lid closed, dont leave the lid ajar. Alternatively, divide the turkey and the remaining ingredients between two covered roasting pans, or cut the turkey into pieces to make it fit better.

Step 10: Check on your turkey every 30 minutes after it has been baking for two hours. To check the internal temperature, place the thermometer into the thickest region of the breast and the thickest part of the thigh.

Use a cooking spoon or baster to pour broth from the pan’s bottom over the turkey after you’ve checked its temperature each time.

Step 11:‌ Remove the lid of the roasting pan for the last 30 minutes of cooking if you like brown, crispy skin. Before removing the turkey from the oven check the temperature of the thigh, the breast and the thickest part of the wing. They should all be at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit, per the USDA. If you added stuffing, its temperature must hit 165 degrees Fahrenheit as well.

Use the chart below to get a sense of how long it will take the turkey to cook.

Step 12: Before carving, take the turkey out of the pan and let it rest on a cooling rack for at least twenty minutes.

Turkey Weight

Cooking Time (Unstuffed)

Cooking Time (Stuffed)

8-12 pounds

2 hrs. 45 mins. – 3 hrs.

3 – 3 hrs. 30 mins.

12-14 pounds

3 – 3 hrs. 45 mins.

3 hrs. 30 mins – 4 hrs.

14-18 pounds

3 hrs. 45 mins. – 4 hrs. 15 mins.

4 – 4 hrs. 15 mins.

18-20 pounds

4 hrs. 15 mins – 4 hrs. 30 mins.

4 hrs. 15 mins. – 4 hrs. 45 mins.

20-24 pounds

4 hrs. 30 mins – 5 hrs.

4 hrs. 45 mins – 5 hrs. 15 mins.

Cooking a turkey takes about 2 hours and 45 minutes to a bit over 5 hours. The amount of time depends on your oven, how frequently you open the oven door, and the size of the turkey; a larger bird will require more time to cook.

How to Braise Turkey Using Aluminum Foil

This method results in less steam than using an oven bag, Devan Cameron, a sous chef and owner of Braised & Deglazed, tells

“[That] means the turkey can brown a lot easier than when cooking in a bag,” he adds. For Cameron, using aluminum foil is easier to control than using a pan.

  • Turkey, thawed, with the giblets removed
  • Vegetable oil or butter
  • Stuffing (optional)
  • Heavy-duty aluminum foil
  • Shallow roasting pan
  • Food thermometer

Step 1:‌ Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step 2:‌ Brush the outside of the turkey with oil or butter.

Step 3:‌ If you wish, loosely stuff the turkey. Generally, experts recommend against stuffing turkeys as it increases the cook time of the bird. But, it is safe to stuff a turkey when youre using this cooking method, per the USDA.

Step 4: According to the University of Illinois Extension, rip off a sheet of aluminum foil that is about three times longer than the turkey.

‌Step 5:‌ Place the turkey in the center of this foil, with its breast up. Turn up the ends of the foil, so that they overlap. Turn up the short sides of the foil to help contain the turkeys juices. Do not make an airtight package — there should be some gaps.

Step 6:‌ Place the foil-wrapped turkey in a roasting pan.

Step 7:‌ Roast the bird. Because youre using a high heat, the turkey will cook faster. Use this chart from the USDA to estimate the cooking time of your bird based on its size.

Turkey Weight

Cook Time (Unstuffed)

Cooking Time (Stuffed)

8-12 pounds

1 hr. 30 mins. – 2 hrs. 15 mins.

2 – 2 hrs. 45 mins.

12-16 pounds

2 hrs. 15 mins. – 2 hrs. 45 mins.

2 hrs. 45 mins. – 3 hrs. 15 mins.

16-20 pounds

2 hrs. 45 mins. – 3 hrs. 15 mins.

3 hrs 15 mins. – 3 hrs. 45 mins.

20-24 pounds

3 hrs. 15 mins. – 3 hrs. 45 mins.

3 hrs. 45 mins. – 4 hrs. 15 mins.

When the innermost thigh, thickest part of the wing, and thickest part of the breast all register an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, the procedure will be carried out. If the turkey has stuffing inside, make sure the stuffing reaches that same temperature.

Step 8 (optional): About 30 minutes before the bird is done cooking, uncrimp the foil covering its top if you want the skin to brown.

Step 9: Take the turkey out of the oven as soon as it is done, which is when its internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Let it rest at least 15 minutes before carving and serving.

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