This Roast Turkey recipe is a holiday staple! Made with a fresh or frozen and thawed turkey, lots of rich butter, fresh herbs, a hint of bright lemon, and flavorful onion and garlic. It’s easy to prepare and it’s sure to impress family and friends!
The Perfect Roast Turkey Recipe!
I don’t know what it is about roasting a turkey but it can seem like one of the most intimidating things to prepare and cook for the first time. Maybe it’s because it’s generally made to feed a lot of people so along with that comes the stress of possibly messing dinner up for a lot of people, plus being served on Thanksgiving means it’s that once a year special event.
This easy, straightforward recipe is hard to mess up by following the simple guidelines and steps (as in, don’t begin with a partial frozen turkey and be sure you fully cook it through).
The secret in this turkey recipe is in the butter and flavorings. The butter helps yield a nicely browned skin and a juicy, flavorful meat while the lemon and herbs infuse a nice flavor.
This roast turkey will be the star of the show at your holiday feast with it’s delicious flavor and moist, tender texture. It’s a turkey that does the yearly tradition proud!
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Ingredients Needed for a Oven Baked Turkey:
- Whole turkey – a fresh or frozen and fully thawed turkey can be used here (see notes below for thaw time).
- Unsalted butter – this adds delicious moisture and flavor to the turkey and helps that skin brown nicely.
- Fresh herbs – I like to use rosemary, thyme and parsley. They are classic poultry seasonings. Sage can be substituted (for thyme or rosemary) if preferred.
- Lemon – this adds a faint citrus flavor which pairs beautifully with turkey. If you love that flavor feel free to double up on the lemon.
- Onion and garlic – these are added to the cavity of the bird and those flavors steam and infuse into the meat.
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper – standard table salt and pepper will work fine if that’s what you have.
How to Prepare and Roast a Turkey:
- Rest turkey, preheat oven: Let turkey rest at room temperature 1 hour. Transfer oven rack 1 level below center and preheat oven to 350 degrees near end of resting.
- Remove neck and giblets: Remove neck and giblets from turkey (these are found in the cavity, inside rib area, and often the v-shaped collarbone (wishbone) area of the turkey underneath the skin. Save them for gravy if that’s the type of gravy you prefer) and remove any pin feathers left behind.
- Dab dry, fold wings under, season cavity: Pat outside of turkey well with paper towels and dry inside as well. Tuck wings under turkey. Season cavity well with salt and pepper.
- Make butter-herb mixture: In a mixing bowl stir together butter, lemon zest, thyme and rosemary.
- Create pocket of space for butter underneath skin: Using the back end of a wooden spoon and starting at the back end of the turkey, carefully separate and loosen the skin from the breast leaving skin intact between breasts, front area and sides. Be careful not to puncture and tear skin or butter will melt out as it bakes.
- Place in roasting rack: transfer turkey to a large roasting pan with a roasting rack (if you are looking for one I have this one HERE – affiliate link).
- Stuff portion of butter under skin: Using the end of the spoon again stuff and spread about 1/3 of the butter total into each portion and rub hands over turkey skin to smooth around.
- Spread remaining butter over turkey: Rub remaining 2/3 of the butter all over turkey, except underside. Season well with salt and pepper.
- Stuff cavity with aromatics: Stuff onion, garlic and parsley into cavity of turkey.
- Truss if desired: tie legs with kitchen twine if you want a better presentation.
- Bake to 165 degrees: Bake in preheated oven until thickest center portion of thigh without touching bone registers 165 degrees on a probe thermometer or instant read thermometer, about 2 1/2 – 3 1/2 hours, while tenting top of turkey with aluminum foil as needed to prevent excessive browning.
- Tip: to ensure a moist turkey be careful not to over-cook. If you bake turkey breast past 165 degrees it will start to dry out. The thigh should reach 175 degrees.
- Rest and carve: Let turkey rest 30 minutes at room temperature (or up to 60 minutes) before carving.
What About Rinsing the Turkey?
Don’t rinse a turkey (unless brined, see note in next paragraph). If you are wondering why rinsing is skipped in this recipe it is because the FDA does not recommend rinsing turkey (or other meat or poultry). The tiny droplets of water splash off the turkey (up to 3 feet around it) and spread potentially harmful bacteria around your kitchen. And it really doesn’t remove much bacteria anyway, instead just dry the excess juices off.
Can I Brine in Salt Water First?
Though I don’t think its necessary with this recipe, but if preferred you can brine in saltwater the day before if have a container large enough and enough space in the fridge (as long as you bought a turkey without added salt, many have an added solution). Drain brined turkey, and following these safety precautions you will actually want to rinse carefully to remove excess salt (the only time you’ll want to rinse a turkey), then dry very well.
Or you can go the easier route and just dry brine it. Don’t add any extra salt if you brine the turkey!
Is Trussing Necessary?
No, trussing with kitchen twine is not a must. In fact some chefs recommend skipping it so air circulates more evenly around turkey thighs (rather than them being pressed up against the breasts) and it cooks more evenly. If you are going for the look of it then truss, if not, it’s not necessary.
Can I Prep the Turkey in Advance?
If you’d like yes you can prepare the turkey in advance then keep refrigerated overnight, the following day rest 1 hour at room temperature and then bake. Wanting to roast it in advance? Try this reheat method here.
Why Rest at Room Temperature before Baking?
The 1 hour rest period before roasting the turkey allows time to take a bit of the extra cold chill off and helps dry out the skin. It also makes it easier to spread butter without it solidifying right away.
Can I Add Stuffing?
While you could, I personally think the turkey cooks more evenly without stuffing and stuffing browns better and cooks more evenly baked separately. So my recommendation for best results is don’t stuff. Old fashioned traditions are great but I think we ought to move past this one.
How Long Should I Roast a Turkey?
At 350 degrees, plan on about 15 minutes per pound of turkey stuffed or 13 minutes unstuffed. Every oven varies a little, so cook times can vary.
Can I Bake on Convection Setting?
Yes, if using convection setting set oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (instead of 350) and reduce baking time since it will cook faster, start checking at about 2 hours and of course check temperature for doneness.
How to Tell When a Turkey is Done?
Always use a food thermometer to test turkey for doneness. It should register 175 degrees in the thickest part of the thigh once done, this part cooks the slowest. Also test the breast temperature just to be safe. If it doesn’t reach 165 degrees you run the risk of foodborne illness.
To get a temperature reading you’ll need an oven safe probe thermometer like this one or this one (these are inserted while it bakes to take a reading which transfers to remote digital thermometer outside the oven). Or you can use an standard instant read food thermometer like this one or this one, in which you’ll want to test the temperature multiple times throughout baking to make sure it’s not overcooked and drying.
Be sure to take a reading in several places of the thigh at thickest point. Some areas get hotter than others. Don’t use pop up timer as these aren’t very accurate and can get stuck anyway.
How Long Does it Take to Thaw a Frozen Turkey?
Refrigerator method (recommended): It takes about 24 hours per 5 lbs of turkey thawing in the refrigerator set at about 40 degrees. I give an extra day just to be safe, thawed turkey can stay in the fridge 2 days before baking.
Cold water method: It takes about 30 minutes of thawing in cold water for every pound of turkey. Cold water needs to be changed every 30 minutes. See safety tips on thawing turkey here.
How Much Turkey to Plan Per Person?
I like to plan on about 1 pound of turkey per person (why so much? You’ll end up with a lot of weight that’s not consumable like bones which you can use to make broth). If no one likes the dark thigh meat then you’ll want to plan on more.
Can I Use Dried Herbs in This Recipe?
Fresh herbs will add the best flavor but if you don’t want to pay the extra cost for them you can use dried herbs instead, use 1/3 the amounts listed. Honestly you can even skip the herbs if you’d rather just have a plain turkey.
Why Wait to Carve It?
With turkey it is very important that you wait and let it rest before you slice into it for 30 minutes (and up to 60 minutes). This not only makes it easier to carve but allows time for the juices to redistribute so you don’t end up with as many juices on the carving board and rather in the turkey. Meaning juicer meat.
How Do You Carve a Roast Turkey?
Carving a turkey really isn’t all that hard, but if it’s your first attempt I highly recommend watching this video how to. It’s super helpful.
- To carve a turkey you’ll first remove the thighs, cutting at the joint.
- Then carve down the breast bone on each side to remove each breast.
- Lastly remove the wings, again cutting at the joint.
- Cut out the thigh bones and slice poultry into portions.
What About Turkey Gravy?
What to Make with Leftover Turkey?
Have some leftover turkey? Don’t toss it! My favorite are turkey sandwiches (on leftover rolls of course), turkey noodle soup or tortilla soup, pot pie, add to a salad – basically use in any recipe where you’d add cooked chicken, the possibilities are endless. You can also freeze it just remove the bones first and store in an airtight container up to 3 months.
What Sides to Serve with Turkey?
- Cranberry Sauce
- Cornbread or Best Dinner Rolls
- Green Bean Casserole
- Mashed Potatoes or Scalloped Potatoes
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Roast Turkey Recipe
- Let turkey rest at room temperature 1 hour. Transfer oven rack 1 level below center and preheat oven to 350 degrees near end of resting.
- Remove neck and giblets from turkey and remove any pin feathers left behind. Pat outside of turkey well dry with paper towels and dry inside as well. Tuck wings under turkey. Season cavity well with salt and pepper.
- In a mixing bowl stir together butter, lemon zest, thyme and rosemary. Using the back end of a wooden spoon and starting at the back end of the turkey, carefully separate the skin from the breast leaving skin intact between breasts, front area and sides. Be careful not to tear skin or butter will melt out as it bakes.
- Transfer turkey to a large roasting pan with a roasting rack (if you are looking to buy one I have this one - affiliate link).
- Using the end of the spoon again stuff and spread about 1/3 of the butter total into each portion and rub hands over turkey skin to smooth around.
- Rub remaining 2/3 of the butter all over turkey, except underside. Season well with salt and pepper.
- Stuff onion, garlic and parsley into cavity of turkey. Tie legs together with kitchen twine if you want a better presentation**.
- Bake in preheated oven until thickest portion of thigh (without touching bone) registers 175 degrees on a probe thermometer or instant read thermometer and the breast registers 165 in the thickest portion, about 2 hours 20 minutes to 3 hours 30 minutes.*** Tent top of turkey with aluminum foil during baking as needed to prevent excessive browning.
- Let turkey rest 30 minutes (or up to 60 minutes) then carve****.
- *It takes about 24 hours per 5 lbs of turkey thawing in the refrigerator set at about 40 degrees. I give an extra day just to be safe, thawed turkey can stay in the fridge 2 days before baking.
- **Trussing with kitchen twine is not a must. In fact some chefs recommend skipping it so air circulates more evenly around turkey thighs (rather than them being pressed up against the breasts) and it cooks more evenly. If you are going for the look of it then truss, if not it's not necessary.
- ***Bake time will vary based on size of turkey. Bake time will be approximately 14 - 15 minutes per pound, but this is just a guideline, more importantly is the temperature of the turkey always test for doneness in several places of thigh on both sides at thickest portion with an instant read thermometer.
- ****Wondering how to carve a turkey? HERE is a great video tutorial.