Easy Foolproof Roasted Turkey
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Easy Foolproof Oven Roasted Turkey — Learn how to make juicy, flavorful herb-roasted turkey that’s not dry! This turkey has all the flavor that grandma’s used to have, minus the hassle. No brining, no basting, and no stress! This is THE COMPREHENSIVE post to read for how to make THE BEST turkey for your Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday celebrations!
The Best Herb-Roasted Turkey Recipe
The best part of any Thanksgiving or Christmas holiday meal is the turkey. Some people would argue the stuffing, but that’s another topic.
All the butter that is incorporated into this classic roasted turkey recipe adds a richness you wouldn’t get otherwise. The myriad of herbs season the skin and outside layers of meat so well.
Plus the gravy that you’ll be able to make is just a big wow! So yes, all that butter is a must.
If I had to describe the flavor of this turkey, it would be classic and traditional like grandma used to make, but amped up a notch. The best part of all is that this turkey isn’t dry.
The Do’s and Don’t Of Roasting a Whole Turkey
In the below sections I will give my tips, tricks, advice, and rationale for what you should definitely do, and also what you should certainly avoid, for this special meal.
There’s a lot to cover and this is a lengthy post, with lots of photos, and if you’re already an expert and just want the recipe itself, keep scrolling down until you see it.
How Big of a Turkey Should I Buy?
D0 – Purchase about 1.50 pounds of turkey per person. After the turkey cooks, the carcass and inedible parts are discarded, each person isn’t actually eating 1.50 pounds of cooked turkey meat, but when selecting a frozen turkey, plan on that ratio.
Therefore, a Thanksgiving gathering for 6 people means you’d want at least a 9 pound turkey. If you want leftovers, I’d go with at least 10 to 12 pounds. For a 12-person gathering, the minimum I would select is an 18 pound turkey, but probably 22 or 24 pounds for ample leftovers is what I would opt for.
My recipe will work, without any changes necessary, for turkeys ranging from about 10 to 30 pounds.
How Long Will it Take for the Turkey to Thaw?
Do – Plan 1 one day for every 5 pounds of turkey to thaw it safely in the refrigerator, making sure to give yourself extra time by a day or so. Meaning, don’t try to start thawing your 20-pound Thanksgiving turkey on Tuesday before the big day Thursday. You need to start on Sunday, at the absolute latest, and Saturday would be better.
There’s no real harm in letting the turkey hang out in the fridge for an extra couple days before you cook it. I’d rather have a little extra time than not enough.
Make sure you place the bird on a cookie sheet, in a roasting pan, or something to catch the water. I know it’s big, awkward, and bulky. I can’t help you there – this is where you will wish you had a second fridge in the garage!
Should I Wash the Turkey?
Don’t – It’s not necessary to wash the turkey. That will just spread a bunch of raw turkey bacteria all over your sink and kitchen from the fine mist and droplets that will inevitably spread.
Pat the turkey dry with paper towels before you get started with the butter and spices.
Do I Have to Brine the Turkey?
Don’t – There is no need to brine your turkey. The reason people brine is to prevent the meat from drying out but honestly, if cooked properly, there is no need for brining.
And think about it, where are you going to brine this big bird? In your bathtub? A clean never-used trash can? I personally detest owing objects or items that I use once a year, or just use once period, which is why brining isn’t in my wheelhouse. And then where are you going to store said object? Another hard no on brining.
Should I Baste the Turkey?
Don’t – Although we can all make some off-color turkey baster jokes, I actually think turkey basters are best left for the jokesters than to be used on the turkey. You really don’t need to baste your turkey. Between all the butter that’s involved in this recipe, the flavorful gravy you can then make, and the fact that this turkey is roasting in a 325F oven which is more of a lower-slower oven in comparison to say how you’d cook a pizza, as long as you don’t over cook it, you’re fine.
What Should I Roast the Turkey In?
Don’t – Don’t overspend on a pan you will use once a year. Of course, this depends on how well stocked your kitchen already is and what kind of roasting equipment you already have. This brings me back to why we don’t need to brine. If you’re thinking of buying something somewhat expensive that you will use once a year, and that you will need to store it for the other 364 days of the year, then I wouldn’t buy it.
Likely the cheapest, most convenient, and easiest will be roasting the turkey in a disposable roasting pan that you can pick up for a dollar or two each. As long as it has sides that are a few inches high, you’re good. When your grand festivities are done, toss it. You will be happy there’s one less dish to wash that day.
If you are going the disposable pan route, I recommend placing a layer of vegetables such as thinly-sliced carrots and potatoes underneath the turkey to prevent burning since disposable pans are so much thinner than an actual roasting pan.
Can I Cook Stuffing Inside The Bird?
Don’t – Although this is a bit controversial, and I think the older generations used to do this more frequently before we knew as much about food safety as we do now, but stuffing your bird with stuffing is not recommended. It’s hard to get either or both to fully cook through before the outside of the bird is done and can become overcooked and therefore dried out.
It’s best to cook your stuffing separately. If you’re looking for a Thanksgiving or Christmas stuffing recipe, my recipe for Classic Traditional Thanksgiving Stuffing has been a huge reader favorite for years and years.
How Do I Know When Turkey Is Done?
Don’t – Overcooking is the biggest culprit to dry turkey meat. It’s not the lack of brining or basting, it’s overcooking it, so don’t commit that turkey-making sin. Cook each one pound of turkey for between 13 to 15 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reaches 160F.
Do – Check the turkey’s internal temperature with a thermometer. I prefer digital to manual-read thermometers, but use what you prefer. As stated above, 160F degrees in the thickest part of the thigh is what you’re aiming for. Make sure that you don’t put the thermometer so deep that you hit bone because that will throw off your reading.
Do I Have To Allow The Bird To Rest?
Do – Allowing the bird to rest for about 30 minutes is instrumental in preventing it from drying out. You wouldn’t cut into a steak immediately after you take it off the heat because you know the juices will run right out of the steak and onto the cutting board. The same holds true for the turkey. Let it rest. You will have plenty to do while it rests. Like make gravy.
Should I Save The Drippings?
Do – This is a definite yes! Don’t throw out one drop of those flavorful drippings. You will use them to make Easy Perfect Gravy. Save, save, save.
Ingredients for an Oven Roasted Turkey
Making the best roasted turkey doesn’t mean you need a boatload of ingredients or anything tricky to find. You will need the following:
- Turkey, thawed
- Bay Leaves
Should I Use Fresh or Dried Herbs?
I strongly recommend fresh herbs. This is a special meal. Leave those herbs in a shaker jar for when you’re cooking for yourself or your immediately family and go with fresh for this holiday recipe.
How to Prepare a Turkey
Remove the neck, which is often found inside the large cavity, and discard the bag of giblets. If you want to save them for gravy, go for it, but I don’t.
Place the turkey in the roasting pan, pat it dry, and tuck the wings underneath the turkey. This prevents them from burning and helps the turkey sit flatter and be more stabilized.
Place softened butter into a medium bowl and add the salt, pepper, parsley, thyme, rosemary, oregano, and sage, mix until combined.
Using your hands, very carefully separate the skin of the turkey from the breast meat. Work your hand all the way down to the legs and thighs, separating the skin as you go.
Reserve about one-third of the butter mixture and place the rest of the butter mixture under the skin, which is why I had you separate the skin from the meat very carefully at first. Work the butter all the way under, and all the way over to the thighs and legs.
Rub the remaining one-third of the butter mixture all over the outside of the skin.
Stuff the inside of the turkey with the garlic, lemon, orange, rosemary, parsley, sage, oregano, and bay leaves.
How to Roast a Turkey
Place the turkey into the oven on the lowest rack, so it’s sitting directly in the center of the oven. We’re baking at 325F, regular oven, not convection or as some people say ‘no fan’.
Bake the turkey until done (see my notes below on cook times).
I recommend rotating the roasting pan a couple times. It may not be absolutely necessary given your oven, but it certainly won’t hurt.
If you notice your turkey is starting to brown too quickly before it is done internally as evidenced by the thermometer reading, you can add a loose piece of foil on top to shield the top from the direct oven heat. If you have a lid for your actual roasting pan, use that.
And as I already discussed, resting is a requirement so plan of at least 30 minutes before slicing and serving your masterpiece. Who wants to fight over the drumstick?
How Long to Roast a Turkey
I’ve found that the best way to roast a turkey is for about 13 to 15 minutes per pound or until the internal temperature reaches about 160F in the thickest part of the thigh.
This means that for a 20-pound turkey, at 13 minutes per pound that’s 260 minutes (4 hours 20 minutes) and at 15-minutes per pound that’s 300 minutes (5 hours).
What to Do With Leftover Turkey
I think for many people, leftover turkey is actually almost as exciting as eating it on the big day! Leftover turkey keeps well in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
If you’re looking for leftover turkey recipes, my Easy 30-Minute Turkey Noodle Soup is always a favorite and very easy.
Almost all of my soup recipes that use chicken will work just fine with your leftover shredded turkey instead.
Tips for the Best Thanksgiving Turkey
I’ve given so many tips and tricks in this post already, so I’ll keep this section short. From my notes above, here are the key takeaways:
- When planning your Thanksgiving menu, be sure to allot enough time for the turkey to thaw before roasting it.
- There’s no need to wash or brine your Thanksgiving turkey.
- Do NOT stuff the turkey. Cook the stuffing separately.
- When preparing the turkey for roasting, take your time spreading the butter underneath the skin. It will take a while, but that’s what flavors the bird and keeps it moist!
- If your turkey is starting to brown too quickly, add a loose piece of foil on top to shield the top from the direct oven heat. Alternately, use the lid to your roasting pan (if you have one).
In the subsequent days this week, I am going to share with you how to make the Best Homemade Gravy as well as The Best Classic Mashed Potatoes. After all, if you can make a fabulous turkey, perfect gravy, and comforting mashed potatoes, you’re well on your way to a winning holiday feast!
Once all three posts are live, I will be linking back to all three, within all three posts, so that no matter what post you’re reading, you’ll have those recipe links handy.
Please also look over my favorite Thanksgiving side dishes below in the related recipes. The most popular are my Classic Traditional Thanksgiving Stuffing, Sweet Potato Casserole with Butter Pecan Crumble Topping, and Cabernet Cranberry and Blueberry Sauce.
Year after you, you all write to me telling me that if you made one or any of those recipes that your family said it was ‘the best ever’.
For Rubbing In Between the Turkey Skin and Meat
- 1 whole turkey, thawed, giblets and neck removed
- 12 ounces unsalted butter, softened
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh sage, finely chopped
For Stuffing Inside the Turkey Cavity
- 1 small head of garlic, cut in half to expose the cloves
- 1 lemon, quartered
- 1 orange or blood orange, quartered
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley sprigs
- 1 sprig fresh sage
- 1 sprig fresh oregano
- 5 fresh or dried bay leaves
- Preheat the oven to 325F* (See Notes). Place the thawed turkey into a large baking dish (disposable or otherwise) with deep sides. Tip - If you are going the disposable pan route, I recommend placing a layer of vegetables such as thinly-sliced carrots and potatoes underneath the turkey to prevent burning on the bottom since disposable pans are so much thinner than an actual roasting pan.
- Remove the giblets and neck (both found inside the cavity) and discard (you could keep the giblets for gravy-making but I don't and in my gravy recipe aren't necessary).
- Tuck the wings underneath the turkey to help stabilize it, cut off any excess skin that is loose and just hanging, and pat dry with paper towels; set aside.
- Place the softened butter into a medium-sized bowl. Add the salt, pepper, parsley, thyme, rosemary, oregano, sage, and mix with a wooden spoon until combined.
- Using your hands, very carefully separate the skin from the breast meat. Work your hand all the way down to the legs and thighs, separating the skin as you go.
- Reserve about one-third of this butter mixture; set aside.
- Place two-thirds of the butter mixture under the skin. Carefully work it all the way under and all the way over to the thighs and legs.
- Rub the remaining one-third of butter mixture all over the outside of the skin.
- Stuff the turkey with the garlic, lemon, orange, rosemary, parsley, sage, oregano, and bay leaves. They can just lay loose inside the turkey cavity or if you have poultry twine, you can tie the herbs together in a bouquet.
- Place the turkey into the oven on the lowest rack, so it is sitting directly in the center of the oven.
- Bake for about 13 to 15 minutes per pound or until the internal temperature reaches about 160F in the thickest part of the thigh. Please Note - The baking time of 4 hours 20 minutes is only an estimate given for a 20 pound turkey. Putting something in the field is a requirement of this recipe-writing program but your baking time WILL VARY based on the size of your turkey!** (See Notes)
- Tip - If your turkey is becoming more golden than desired before the internal temperature is going on, drape a sheet of foil loosely over it to prevent exposure from the direct oven heat. If you have a lid for your actual roasting pan, use that.
- Take the turkey out of the oven and let rest in the pan for at least 30 minutes before slicing and serving. Discard the garlic, herbs, lemon, and orange that were in the cavity. However, DO NOT throw out any of those wonderful drippings, save them to make turkey gravy.
- Leftover turkey will keep airtight for up to 5 days in the fridge and up to 3 months in the freezer.
For Rubbing In Between the Turkey Skin and Meat:
For Stuffing Inside the Turkey Cavity:
*Theoretically you could use a 325F Convection oven setting, however the turkey will cook faster and you will need to check on it much earlier and the outside will be more prone to becoming golden, possibly quicker than desired.
**Please read the blog post subsection entitled "How to Roast a Turkey" for cooking tips and guidelines.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 234Total Fat: 24gSaturated Fat: 15gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 105mgSodium: 546mgCarbohydrates: 3gFiber: 1gSugar: 1gProtein: 3g
For the nutrition stats, I used a 20 pound turkey that will feed 12 people. This is about in-line with my ratio of 1.50 pounds of turkey for every 1 adult. However, because of all the variables that come with turkeys (no two are alike, in terms of size, weight of their bones, weight of the meat, etc.) these stats are given as a rough estimate and a courtesy only. If you want precise stats, calculate them on your own. This, however, is one meal of the year where I believe we shouldn't worry about the caloric stats!
Favorite Thanksgiving Recipes:
The Best Classic Mashed Potatoes — Buttery, creamy, PERFECT mashed potatoes that rival your favorite restaurant’s version but EASY and ready in 45 minutes!! The quintessential holiday side dish for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or a great family-friendly weeknight comfort food side dish!!
Easy Homemade Gravy — An EASY, foolproof recipe with lots of TIPS for PERFECT gravy that’s ready in 5 minutes!! The whole family will LOVE this gravy over their Thanksgiving turkey, mashed potatoes, or as a comfort food addition to your dinner table during other times of the year!!
Classic Traditional Thanksgiving Stuffing – Nothing frilly or trendy. Classic, amazing, easy, homemade stuffing that everyone loves!! Simple ingredients with stellar results! It’ll be your new go-to recipe!!
Slow Cooker Sausage Stuffing – Easy stuffing that’s full of flavor from the sausage, onions, and more! You don’t even need to brown the sausage first and everything cooks together! A time and oven-space saver on holidays!
Sweet Potato Casserole with Butter Pecan Crumble Topping – The holiday classic just got even better because of the amazing topping! A buttery, brown sugary, crunch that’s irresistible! Easy and you can pre-assemble to save time!
Cabernet Cranberry and Blueberry Sauce – Make your own cranberry sauce with amazing depth of flavor in 30 minutes! The best cranberry sauce you will EVER have, guaranteed!
Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts – Think you don’t like brussels sprouts? The balsamic glaze on these will change your mind! Best brussels sprouts ever! Fast, easy, and accidentally healthy!
Roasted Rainbow Carrots — Lightly caramelized around the edges, crisp-tender in the center, and seasoned with rosemary, thyme, and parsley!! A trusty side that you’ll make again and again for holidays or easy weeknight dinners!!
Honey Orange Roasted Carrots – A fast, EASY, and holiday-friendly side dish everyone will love!! The honey orange glaze adds such great FLAVOR and really jazzes up roasted carrots!!
Honey Butter Pumpkin Dinner Rolls – Big, soft rolls brushed with honey butter are the best! Everyone loves them and they disappear so fast!
Honey Dinner Rolls – My favorite all-around dinner roll recipe (that doesn’t have pumpkin in it)!
No-Knead Make Ahead Dinner Rolls with Honey Butter – An amazingly easy dinner roll recipe that you don’t even have to knead!
Honey-Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Honey-Cinnamon Dip – The honey glaze and the creamy cinnamon dip make these potatoes irresistible!
Parmesan and Herb Roasted Potatoes – Easiest potatoes ever and packed with so much flavor! Olive oil, herbs, and everything is better with cheese! A family favorite that everyone loves!
Lemon Rosemary Coconut Oil Roasted Vegetables – Roasted with coconut oil and the lemon and rosemary makes them pop!
Roasted Cinnamon-Ginger Delicata Squash – Much easier slice than a butternut, doesn’t require peeling, and the flesh roasts up creamy!
Pumpkin Ice Cream Pie – The easiest pumpkin pie you’ll ever make! Put it on your Thanksgiving menu and save yourself pie-making stress!
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