Wondering how to cook a turkey that is extra juicy with a perfectly golden brown skin? This Thanksgiving turkey recipe walks you through each step, from thawing to cooking, to guarantee a perfectly roasted turkey!
Why You Will Love This Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe
I have been in charge of the Thanksgiving turkey for the past 15 years. I have tried many different methods and this truly is the best turkey recipe!
- Juicy: This roasted turkey recipe makes juicy breasts, succulent thighs, and legs every time with a few key techniques.
- Crispy Skin: Just as important as a juicy inside is a crispy outside when roasting a Thanksgiving turkey. We start the bird at 500°F to create an extra golden, crispy skin and then finish roasting at a lower temperature.
- No Brine Necessary: I included my favorite brine recipe below, but this turkey doesn’t need it! It is still super juicy with one less step to worry about!
- Impressive: You’ll be the holiday hero when you pull off the star of the show with ease!
The Ingredients and Tools Needed
Clean off you counter, sanitize your sink, and gather all of your ingredients and tools. Check the recipe card at the bottom of the post for exact amounts.
- Turkey: Buy a 16 to 24 pound fresh or frozen bird. See thawing notes below.
- Aromatics: Use a combination of apples, oranges, lemon, and onion.
- Herbs: Find fresh, whole herbs such as rosemary, thyme, and sage. Many stores carry these in a bundled package during the holiday season.
- Oil: Canola, vegetable or avocado oil work best. Avoid olive oil. It has a low smoke point and burns easily at high temperatures.
- Seasonings: Coarse black pepper and salt, along with garlic salt will season your holiday turkey perfectly.
- Butter: Use unsalted butter, as you’ll be adding just the right amount of salt to season.
- Cooking Twine: Cut off an 8 inch piece ahead of time.
- Roasting Pan with a Rack
- Meat Thermometer: This is absolutely essential to properly cook the turkey so it stays juicy. Make sure it works and reads accurately ahead of time.
- Paper Towels: Have about 10 paper towels torn, stacked, and ready to go!
- Disposable Gloves: Optional, but you will be separating the skin and it can get under your nails. Pull at least three sets out of the box before starting.
How to Make the Best Thanksgiving Turkey
Roasting a turkey isn’t difficult, but will go much more smoothly if you have everything prepped and ready. For a helpful visual, watch the step by step video in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
Thaw and Prep
- Thaw: For the safest and easiest method, thaw a frozen turkey in fridge, allowing 24 hours for every 5 pounds. A 16 pound turkey will take about 4 days in a 40°F refrigerator, so plan ahead. (Check below in the tips section for a quick thaw method.)
- To Brine or Not: This is optional and not difficult, but requires additional time and planning. If you decide to go for it, check out my wet brine, turkey brine recipe. Last year we brined one turkey and not the other. The brined turkey was *ever* so slightly juicier, but most people could not tell which was which.
- Prep the Bird: Slip on a pair of gloves; reach in and remove the organs (usually wrapped in paper). Discard them or save for another use. Rinse the turkey inside and out, and then pat dry with paper towels.
- Fill: Tuck the wings underneath the bird and place it on the roasting rack inside the pan. Place a combination of sliced apple, orange, lemon, onion and fresh herbs into the cavity of the bird. Cross the legs and tie together with the twine to hold in the aromatics.
- Season: Gently separate the skin on the legs and breasts by sliding your fingers between the meat and skin. Rub half of the oil and seasonings under the skin. Then use any leftover seasonings and oil on the outside.
- Add Butter: Add squares of butter all over the turkey under the skin you loosened. The butter melts into the meat as it roasts making it extra juicy!
How To Cook A Turkey
- Foil Shield: Fold a piece of aluminum foil into a triangle large enough to fold over and cover just the turkey’s breast. (Don’t cover yet). You’ll be leaving wings and legs uncovered the whole roasting time.
- High Temperature: Preheat oven to 500°F. Move your oven shelf to the lowest level and roast uncovered turkey for 30 minutes.
- Reduce Temperature: Lower temperature to 350°F. Take turkey out and cover just the breast with the foil shield.
- Meat Thermometer: Slide the thermometer probe right through the foil cover into the thickest part of the breast meat, but without touching the bone. Set the thermometer alarm to 162°F. (The turkey will continue to cook when resting to reach 165°F.) A 16 pound turkey will take about 2.5 hours of total roasting time, and a 20 pound turkey will take about 3 hours.
- Rest and Carve: Once the turkey is out of the oven, cover loosely with foil and let rest for 30 minutes. While it’s resting, use the pan drippings to make the best turkey gravy. Transfer the turkey to a cutting board, carve and enjoy!
Tips for Success
Read on to ensure the best Thanksgiving turkey ever. Be ready to take a bow at the end of dinner!
- Meat Thermometer: If you want a juicy, perfectly cooked turkey, remember the thermometer! You want a probe thermometer that can remain in the turkey. Do not use an instant read thermometer, as you will have to keep opening the oven door.
- Mayo vs Oil: Instead of oil and butter, you can also use mayonnaise to get that crispy skin and juicy turkey meat. Mix 1.5 to 2 cups full-fat mayo with your seasonings. Spread half of it between the skin and meat and use the other half to coat the outside.
- Be Patient: Let the turkey rest covered in foil for the full 30 minutes. The resting time lets the juices settle, and allows the meat to relax and become tender. Plus, the turkey is too hot to carve any sooner and this frees up the oven for any last minute sides or rolls!
- How Much Turkey Per Person? Generally, allow about 16 oz per guest. A 16 pound turkey will feed 12 to 16 adults.
- Quick Thaw: For a quicker thawing method, place turkey in sanitized sink and fill with cold water. Drain and refill sink every 30 minutes to ensure turkey remains bacteria free and safe. Allow 30 minutes per pound of turkey. A 16 pound turkey will take about 8 hours and 16 sink refills.
- Stuffing: I understand the desire to stuff your turkey with stuffing over aromatics. However, you have to overcook the meat of turkey to allow the stuffing to reach the proper safe temperature. This leads to a dry turkey. Instead I recommend trying my homemade stuffing!
Storing Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey
The leftovers are arguably the best part of Thanksgiving dinner!
- Fridge: Store turkey in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
- Freeze: Place cooled turkey in a freezer bag, or wrap in plastic wrap and place in a freezer safe container. Freeze for up to 4 months. For best results, thaw overnight in the fridge before reheating.
- Reheat: Reheat turkey is in the microwave covered with a wet paper towel to retain moisture.
Thanksgiving Side Dishes
The sides are the second best part of any Thanksgiving dinner, here are some of my favorites:
Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe: How To Cook A Turkey
- 16 lb turkey, thawed
- ½ to ¾ cup oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, or avocado oil
- freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
- garlic salt, to taste
- herbs*, to taste, if desired
- ¾ cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, sliced
- 1 apple, thickly sliced
- 1 yellow or white onion, thickly sliced
- 1 lemon, quartered
- 1 orange, quartered
- 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 4 sprigs fresh sage
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
Prep The Turkey
- Move your oven rack to the lowest level and preheat the oven to 500°F.
- Remove the organs and neck and discard or save for another recipe. Rinse the turkey inside and out with cold water. Pat dry with paper towels to remove any excess water.
- Place the turkey on a roasting rack inside a roasting pan. Tuck the wings underneath the bird. Place the aromatics inside the turkey cavity. Cross the legs and tie together with the twine to hold in the aromatics.
- Gently separate the skin on the legs and breasts by sliding your fingers between the meat and skin. Rub half of the oil and seasonings under the skin. Then use any leftover seasonings and oil on the outside. (This works best if you have someone pouring the oil and seasonings into your hands as you do this step.)
- Lastly, slide the slices of butter under the skin on top of the legs and breasts (in between the skin and the meat). The butter will melt into the turkey as it roasts!
- Before you place the turkey into the oven, you will want to form a protective breast plate out of aluminum foil. (This will keep your turkey breasts from drying out as they cook.) To form the foil covering, I take a large piece and fold it into a triangle shape that is large enough to fold over and cover the breast of the turkey. You do not want to cover the wings or the legs — just the breast.
Roast The Turkey
- Place the turkey on the lowest level of the oven and cook it at 500°F for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, drop the temperature of the oven to 350°F and lightly cover the breast of the turkey with the prepared foil covering. Insert the necessary meat thermometer probe into the thickest part of the breast, without touching the bone. I stab the probe right through the foil breast cover.
- Set the meat thermometer alarm to 162°F. Once that temperature is reached, remove the turkey and loosely tent the entire turkey with foil.
- Let the turkey rest for 30 minutes before carving. The turkey will continue to cook while covered loosely with foil and will reach the safety temperature point of 165°F. While the turkey rests, use the pan drippings to make the best turkey gravy. Then carve the turkey and serve!
- Paper Towels
- Disposable Gloves optional
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