How To Cook A Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey

Prep 20 mins
Cook 2 hrs 30 mins
Add'l 30 mins
Total 3 hrs 20 mins
This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy.

Want to make a Thanksgiving turkey that is extra juicy and perfectly golden? This easy turkey recipe pretty much guarantees perfectly moist and flavorful Turkey for your Thanksgiving table.

My Favorite Way to Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey

For 12 delicious years now, I have been in charge of my families’ Thanksgiving turkey and I am excited to finally share this turkey recipe for the best turkey, ever!

I have a lot of tips and tricks below on how to cook a turkey to make sure your turkey comes out extra juicy and perfectly golden brown. Like starting the turkey at 500°F, adding oil and butter to melt into the meat and a special folded piece of foil to keep the breast meat extra juicy!

Sharing tips and tricks on how to cook a turkey that is extra juicy and perfectly golden! This easy roast turkey recipe guarantees a delicious Thanksgiving! #Turkey #Thanksgiving #ThanksgivingRecipes #ThanksgivingTurkey #RoastTurkey #HowToCookATurkey #TurkeyRecipe

I will explain the reasons why I recommend certain methods and different options you can try that I have personally tried myself!

By the end of this post, you will be completely ready to make the best Thanksgiving Turkey recipe ever! I promise, it’s easier than you think!

Sliced roasted turkey breast on a chopping board

How long does it take to thaw a turkey?

The first step when cooking a turkey is thawing turkey that is frozen. Of course, if you buy a fresh turkey, you can skip this step!

The easiest (and safest) way to thaw a turkey is in the fridge, however you can thaw it in cold water quicker if need be.

  1. How long to thaw a turkey in the fridge: A fully frozen turkey will require 24 hours of thawing time for every 5 pounds in a refrigerator set at about 40° F. For a 20 pound turkey, it will take 4 days.
  2. How to thaw a turkey quickly in the sink: Place turkey in your sink and fill with cold water. Drain and refill sink with cold water every 30 minutes to ensure your Turkey stays in the safe zone for bacteria. This method requires about 30 minutes per pound of Turkey. A 20 pound turkey will take approximately 10 hours.

Raw turkey in a turkey roasting pan

Turkey Brine: Yay or Nay?

Once your turkey is thawed, we can actually start getting ready to roast the turkey!

The first step will be cleaning the turkey by rinsing it with water and removing any gizzards/neck that is inside the cavity of the turkey. At this point, you can brine your turkey or you can start preparing it to roast.

I will share my Turkey Brine recipe below, however after years of bringing and not brining a turkey…I am here to tell you I personally don’t think it’s worth the effort.

Last year we had so many guests over for Thanksgiving that I made two 25 pound turkeys! For an experiment, I brined one of the turkeys and I did not brine the other.

No one could tell a difference or guess which turkey had been brined and which had not been brined. Both turkeys were super juicy and flavorful!

However, if you just really want to give it a try, below is my favorite turkey brine recipe.

If you do a turkey brine, remember that you will need to start brining your turkey the night before you want to roast it!

Turkey Brine Recipe

  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 gallon vegetable stock
  • 3 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoons allspice berries
  • 5 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 gallon heavily iced water
  1. Combine the vegetable stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, and garlic cloves in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Stir to combine and bring mixture to a boil. Let boil for 2 minutes and then remove the brine from the heat.
  2. Cool the brine and then combine the brine mixture and iced water together in an extra large pot or 5 gallon bucket (if you have the room in your fridge).
  3. Place the thawed turkey breast side down in the brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird with something heavy to ensure it is fully immersed in the brine. Cover and refrigerate the turkey for 6 to 8 hours, turning the bird once half way through brining.

A cooked Thanksgiving turkey in a roasting rack.

Tools You’ll Need to Roast a Turkey

  • Cooking Twine to tie turkey legs together (affiliate link)
  • Roasting Pan with rack (affiliate link)
  • Foil
  • Meat thermometer that you can leave in while cooking (affiliate link)
  • Paper towels
  • Latex Gloves (optional)

Prepping A Turkey for Roasting

After rinsing your turkey, you will want to remove any extra water and pat it dry with disposable paper towels.

Then we will fill the turkeys cavities with aromatics. I use a combination of apples, oranges, lemon, onion and herbs.

I know, you are probably screaming at your screen right now because you want to stuff the inside of this bird with stuffing.

However, if you want your turkey to be perfectly juicy and roasted to golden perfection, then we need to go with the aromatics and make the stuffing/dressing separately.

To ensure that the stuffing/dressing reaches the proper temperature for safe eating (remember, that bread is touching the inside of a raw turkey!) you have to overcook the outside (the meat!) of the turkey. No one wants dry turkey!

So once we have our aromatics all stuffed inside, we will get the outside of the turkey ready.

You will need to tuck the wings underneath the bird and coat the skin liberally with canola oil.

Then using your hands, rub canola oil and seasonings UNDER the skin of the turkey — you will have to separate the skin from the turkey meat.

I personally wear thin latex gloves when I do this step. This works best if you have someone pouring the oil and seasonings into your hands as you do this step.

Lastly, we add squares of butter all over the turkey in between the skin and meat. The butter melts into the meat of the turkey as it roasts!

Sliced turkey breast on a wooden board

How to Cook a Turkey

Now that you have prepped your turkey (as described above) it’s time to cook it!

Now here’s what you do:

  • Preheat the oven to 500°F.
  • Make a shield. Before you place the turkey into the oven, you will want to form a protective breast plate out of aluminum foil that we will place over the turkey’s breast while it finishes roasting. To form the foil, I take a large piece and fold it into a triangle 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 on the lowest rack. Place the turkey on the lowest level of the oven and cook it at 500°F for 30 minutes.
  • Lower temperature. After 30 minutes, we will drop the temperature of the oven to 350°F and lightly cover the breast of the turkey with the prepared foil to protect the breast from becoming over cooked and dry.
  • Add meat thermometer. At this time we will also insert the necessary meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast. I just stab right through the foil breast cover to insert the meat thermometer.
  • 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. Then carve the turkey and serve!

What is the best temperature for cooking a turkey?

This roast turkey recipe starts at a very high 500°F for the oil to do its’ magic and get the turkey’s skin perfectly crispy and golden brown. After 30 minutes, we will drop the temperature of the oven to 350°F and lightly cover the breast of the turkey with the prepared foil to protect the breast from becoming over cooked and dry.

How long to cook a turkey

  • A 16 pound turkey will require approximately 2.5 hours of total roasting time.
  • A 20 pound turkey will require approximately 3 hours of total roasting time.

Sliced turkey on an orange plate with sides for thanksgiving.

Tips for Success!

  1. Meat Thermometer. It’s the most important part. This will be the BEST way to tell if your turkey is done roasting and not to over cook it. If you want juicy turkey, remember your meat thermometer!
  2. Don’t be shy when oiling the skin of the turkey. I mean it! The first time I made this roast turkey in front of my dad he asked me if we were roasting this turkey or frying it because of how much oil I used. After that first bite though he was sold and we never make turkey any other way now!
  3. Let the turkey rest covered in foil for the full 30 minutes. The resting time lets the meat become more tender and the juices settle. And honestly, the turkey is too hot to properly carve any sooner than that anyways.

Thanksgiving Side Dishes + Desserts

If you loved this roasted turkey recipe and tips for how to cook turkey, you will love my other Thanksgiving recipes.

My favorite Thanksgiving Side Dish Recipes:

My favorite Thanksgiving Desserts:

Roast turkey on a platter surrounded by orange slices

It’s taken me years to nail the perfect Thanksgiving turkey recipe and I am so glad I am able to share it with all of you! Consider it my Thanksgiving gift to you!

If you are looking for a juicy, flavorful, golden turkey, this is the recipe for you! Follow all my tips/tricks above on how to cook a turkey and you will be impressing your guests (and yourself!) in no time!

Please leave a comment or review below letting me know how this roasted turkey recipe turns out for you!

Yield: 10 servings

Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe: How To Cook A Turkey

Roast turkey on a platter for Thanksgiving turkey.

Sharing tips and tricks on how to cook a turkey that is extra juicy and perfectly golden! This easy roast turkey recipe guarantees a delicious Thanksgiving!

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours 30 minutes
Additional Time 30 minutes
Total Time 3 hours 20 minutes

Ingredients

Turkey:

  • 16 lb turkey, thawed
  • oil* (canola oil, vegetable oil, or avocado oil)
  • black pepper, to taste
  • garlic salt, to taste
  • herbs*, to taste, if desired
  • 1 1/2 sticks salted butter, sliced

Aromatics:

  • 1 apple, thickly sliced
  • 1/2 onion, thickly sliced
  • 1 lemon, quartered
  • 1 orange, quartered
  • 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 6 leaves fresh sage

Instructions

Prep the turkey

  1. Preheat the oven to 500°F. Rinse the turkey inside and out with cold water. Pat dry with paper towels to remove any excess water.
  2. Place the turkey on a roasting rack inside a roasting pan. Tuck the wings underneath the bird. Place the aromatics inside the turkey cavity.
  3. Using your hands, rub oil and seasonings UNDER the skin of the turkey. You will have to separate the skin on the legs and breast from the meat using your fingers. (I personally wear thin latex gloves when I do this step.) This works best if you have someone pouring the oil and seasonings into your hands as you do this step.
  4. Lastly, slide the slices of butter under the skin on the legs and breast (in between the skin and the meat). The butter will melt into the meat as it roasts!
  5. Before you place the turkey into the oven, you will want to form a protective breast plate out of aluminum foil that we will place over the turkey’s breast while it finishes roasting. (This will keep your turkey breasts from drying out as it cooks.) To form the foil, 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

  1. Place the turkey on the lowest level of the oven and cook it at 500°F for 30 minutes.
  2. After 30 minutes, we will drop the temperature of the oven to 350°F and lightly cover the breast of the turkey with the prepared foil to protect the breast from becoming over cooked and dry.
  3. At this time we will also insert the necessary meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast. I just stab right through the foil breast cover to insert the meat thermometer. 
  4. Set the meat thermometer alarm to 162°F and once that temperature is reached, remove the turkey and loosely tent the entire turkey with foil.
  5. 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. Then carve the turkey and serve!

Notes

*Because olive oil has a low smoke point, you do not want to use olive oil on your turkey or it will burn in the 500°F oven. I personally like to use avocado oil. Avocado oil has health benefits and a smoke point of 520°F. However, you can also use vegetable oil or canola oil.

**You can use any herbs you like, fresh or dried. Just make sure if you are using fresh herbs that you finely dice them. Here are some popular herbs that will go well with turkey: thyme, rosemary, parsley, sage, and even a little oregano.

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

10 servings

Serving Size:

1 serving

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 673Total Fat: 29gSaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 19gCholesterol: 371mgSodium: 615mgCarbohydrates: 0gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 97g

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Comments

48 Responses
    1. A woman holding a camera standing in front of some shelves.
      Jessica

      Should be just fine! Convection tends to run a big hotter, so the turkey may be done a little sooner. Also make sure you watch the turkey and if it’s darkening too much, cover the entire bird with foil. :-)

    1. A woman holding a camera standing in front of some shelves.
      Jessica

      Hi Sally! Yes, you rub the oil in between the skin and meat, and also on top of the skin. Then the butter is placed under the skin of the turkey to melt into the meat!

  1. Wendy Lewis

    I made our Thanksgiving turkey following your recipe and instructions and it was the best one I ever made! Doing the same this year! Thank you for sharing your talents with us

  2. Angelo

    This is my 1st year making the turkey I usually fry one and smoke one buy inwant to try the traditional oven. Everyone who’s coming wants me to stuff the bird will this recipe work at all if it’s stuffed.

    1. A woman holding a camera standing in front of some shelves.
      Jessica

      Hi Angelo! So the reason I *don’t* stuff my bird? You have to cook the outside of the turkey longer than needed to make sure the inside stuffing is cooked. So your turkey will be dry, to make sure the inside of the stuffing reaches a safe temperature.

      You can still follow this method, but you will have to make sure your stuffing inside the turkey reaches 165°F to be safely eaten.

  3. Kathy

    I want yo try this recipe this year. After roasting we have to travel about 45 min to our destination. Can you suggest the best way to transport the turkey?

    1. A woman holding a camera standing in front of some shelves.
      Jessica

      Wrapped tightly in foil! It should stay warm! As soon as the turkey is done, I’d pull it out of the oven, wrap the entire top tightly in foil to trap the heat and hit the road!

  4. Jessica

    Hi! I am wanting to use your recipe and technique this Thanksgiving since I’ll be cooking one for the first time! I have to make it dairy free due to allergies, so what would you suggest to use in place of the butter? Margarine, vegan butter, etc? Thanks!

  5. enfermera311

    Thank you for sharing your recipe and tips. I followed your advice and made a 21 lb turkey for my church and it turned out great. I am not a great cook in my opinion so your tips were super helpful. I loved the fact that you didn’t have a lot of ingredients and I have spent time in the past brining a turkey and I agree: not worth it! I got multiple compliments from a tough crowd (!) so THANK YOU and I will always make my turkey this way from now on. Happy holidays!

      1. Mark

        Thanks for sharing your ‘perfect turkey’ recipe and process. I had never turned my oven up to 500 F before. During that initial stage of baking, we noticed a lot of smoke coming up through the vent of the oven. I suspect that the smoke was coming from the butter used, since 500F is ‘way over’ the smoke point (for butter). Everything turned out delicious, but now we have a smoke smell in the house. Is the smoke point different, based on where you live?

        1. A woman holding a camera standing in front of some shelves.
          Jessica

          Hi Mark! Yes, a little smoke is to be excepted at such a high temp (but it really only comes out of the oven when you open the oven after the first 30 minutes to add the foil and lower the temp), but with the butter tucked under the layer of skin, I haven’t had any issues with the butter burning. The smoke usually comes from the fat dripping off of the bird and burning a little in the bottom of the roasting pan. Hope this helps!

  6. Brandi

    My mom bought me and actual turkey oven/roaster that you set on your counter to cook the turkey in, so that it freed up oven space. What are your thoughts? Is that what’s drying my turkey out? Should I just use the oven?

    1. A woman holding a camera standing in front of some shelves.
      Jessica

      Hmm. I haven’t used one myself, so I am not sure if that is the issue. Are you able to use a meat thermometer with it? If you are, it shouldn’t dry out your turkey if you are able to take it out right as it hits an internal temp of 165°F in the breast meat, it should not dry it out!

        1. A woman holding a camera standing in front of some shelves.
          Jessica

          Yes, it should be just fine! If you have extra space in the turkey cavity, you can add a little more if you like, but it’s ok either way, it doesn’t need to be fully stuffed!

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Jessica
I'm a trial & error, self taught, sugar addict who thankfully learned how to survive in the kitchen! I am also a wife, mama of 3.
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