Don't worry. Every year is the first year for somebody to cook a turkey. It's easy. Just think of it as a big chicken and follow these simple directions.
* Make sure to buy your turkey far enough ahead of time so you can thaw it safely. Always thaw the turkey in the refrigerator or in cold water. A typical 20-pound turkey will take 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator and 11 to 12 hours in cold water. Never thaw a turkey by putting it on a countertop to defrost.
* When you are ready to cook, discard the plastic wrapper and remove the neck and giblets. Be sure to check both ends of the turkey. Rinse the turkey and drain well.
* If using stuffing, be sure to stuff lightly. Turn the wings back so you can hold the neck skin in place. Tuck the legs up against the body. You do not need to truss.
* You will need a sturdy, open roasting pan about 2 inches deep with a rack in the bottom. Place the turkey, breast side up, on the rack.
* Insert the meat thermometer deep into the thickest part of the thigh near the body, making sure it doesn't touch the bone.
* Brush the skin with oil to prevent it from drying out. Usually, further basting is unnecessary.
* Roast at 325 degrees. Check the skin periodically. When it looks golden brown, make a tent with foil to shield the skin from overbrowning.
* How do you know when it is done? The internal thigh temperature should be 180 to 185 degrees. The center of the stuffing should be 160 to 165 degrees. And when the thigh is pierced, the juices should run clear, not pink.
* Allow a resting time of 15 to 20 minutes so that the bird will be easier to carve.