Who doesn’t love a good herb roasted Thanksgiving turkey? A turkey can be easy to prepare if you follow my step-by-step guide. And trust me, this bird is loaded with such good flavor!

whole prepared thanksgiving turkey on platter

I know, I know! Roasting a whole turkey is intimidating!

Take it from someone who cooks for a living; when it comes to turkey, the anxiety runs high! So I get it. I totally know how you’re feeling. But I wanted to change that; for myself, sure, but also for you. All the insecurities and fears you may have around roasting a whole Thanksgiving turkey – squashed. And once that happens, I wouldn’t be surprised if you wanted to make the turkey every year and let the guests each bring the sides. Now, I honestly feel like that’s more involved than making the turkey! How easy would that be to host Friendsgiving and only be in charge of the turkey!

There are just a few things to remember when you’re roasting a turkey at home, and I’ll be sure to point them out along the way and make sure to guide you through them!

cut up thanksgiving turkey on platter with oranges, cranberries, and herbs

Ingredients for the best thanksgiving Turkey recipe:

  • Whole skin-on Turkey: I prefer to buy a whole wild turkey for this recipe so that I can prepare it with my favorite brining solution. You can use a turkey such as Butterball (or other) that are already brined and skip this step entirely. You’ll want to use 12-15 pounds of turkey for this recipe. Be sure to remove the neck and giblets. I discard them but you could also use them to make a turkey gravy! You can use a larger size turkey as well, I’ll provide instructions on how to do so in the recipe.
  • Brining ingredients: I prefer to brine my turkey 24 hours ahead of cooking. You’ll need equal parts kosher salt, brown sugar, an orange, and a tablespoon or so of whole pepper corns. People use all sorts of stuff, such as, juniper berries, garlic cloves, and other citrus fruit. Feel free to use what you like here.
  • Onion: We quarter the onion and add them to the belly of the turkey. They provide a delicious aroma as the turkey bakes in the oven.
  • Lemon: We’ll zest it to add to the compound butter we’ll rub on the turkey breasts and all over. The rest of the lemon is added to the belly to add flavor and aroma.
  • Head of Garlic + Garlic cloves: Slice the garlic head in half and add it to the inside of the cavity of the turkey. The garlic cloves are pressed or minced and used to make a garlic and herb compound butter to rub on the thighs and all over the turkey.
  • Parsley: We’ll use parsley in the compound butter as well as in the cavity of the turkey to create an aroma.
  • Other Herbs: You’ll need a few sprigs of sage, rosemary, and thyme. 
  • Unsalted Butter: Soften the butter to room temperature to make the compound butter. You can stir the chopped herbs, garlic, and lemon zest in a bowl or pop everything into a food processor and pulse until the compound butter is combined.
prepared herb butter in food processor

How to prepare a turkey for roasting:

Other than defrosting the turkey, they are optional steps to make the turkey even more delicious. You can skip these and go right to the next section if this is your first time preparing a turkey. But I highly suggest doing them once; they do add so much to this classic roast!

  1. Defrost the turkey. You want to do this several days in advance if you used a frozen turkey, more instructions on this below.
  2. Brine it if you wish. 24 hours before preparing, add 2 gallons of water to a large 12-15 quart bucket (for a 12-14 pound bird, use an 18-quart bucket for a larger bird.) Dissolve the salt and sugar in the water to create a brining solution. Then, add the orange slices, peppercorns, and anything else you wish. Submerge the turkey in the brine, and let sit for 12 hours in the refrigerator. Brining adds moisture to the meat.
  3. Air dry for extra crispy skin. Remove the turkey from the solution and pat dry using paper towels. You want to make sure to wipe down the turkey cavity as well. Place the turkey on a baking sheet lined with a wire rack and place the turkey in the lowest section of the refrigerator without covering it for 8 hours, this helps create a really delicious crispy skin. Remove the turkey 1-1.5 hours from the refrigerator before roasting.
turkey in roasting pan

How to roast a perfect thanksgiving turkey:

  1. Prep the oven and the roasting rack. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Make sure the turkey isn’t cold from the refrigerator. You want to start the bird at a higher temperature and then drop it to 350ºF later. You’ll need a roasting pan. Line it with foil to make cleanup easier and place a wire or ‘v’ rack inside to rest the turkey. This will create air circulation and cook the turkey more evenly.
  2. Herb butter. Pop the herbs, lemon zest, and garlic cloves in a food processor and pulse until they break down into tiny pieces. Add the butter and continue to pulse until thoroughly combined. You can also do this by chopping the herbs finely, pressing the garlic, and mashing all of this with the butter using a fork. You don’t have to use a food processor! 
  3. Stuff the bird and rub it up. Place the herbs in the cavity first, then follow it up with the quartered onion and other aromatics.  You want to stuff the herbs in first so that they don’t burn if they’re exposed at the end. Tie the legs together using kitchen twine. Use a wooden spoon or the back of a metal spoon to help loosen the skin of the turkey breasts. Rub the butter on the back of the turkey first, then inside the skin on the turkey breast meat and finely all over. Take care to get between the wing and leg joints, we want that flavor everywhere!
  4. Roast it to perfection. Place the turkey in the oven and roast for 30 minutes. Then, Drop the temperature to 350ºF and continue to roast for 1.5-3 hours depending on the size of the turkey. You can make little covers for the wingtips if they’re browning too much and you can loosely tent the bird as well. Basting is optional, I don’t usually baste my turkey except with the leftover melted compound butter during the last 10 minutes for a little extra shine! Tip the turkey using paper towel wads to drip off all the juice in the cavity and then place the turkey on a cutting board and let it rest. Resting the turkey is an essential part of making a turkey. It allows the juices to redistribute and not run out when you slice into the meat.
butter rubbed turkey in roasting pan

FAQs about Roasted Thanksgiving Turkey 

  1. How long does it take to defrost a frozen turkey? It honestly depends on the size of the turkey. The general rule of thumb is that it takes about 24 hours for every 5 pounds of frozen turkey to defrost. So if you’re preparing a 15-pound turkey, you’ll need to get it out of the freezer at least 3 days in advance.
  2. I bought a turkey that has sodium solution injected (pre-brined), do I still have to brine the turkey? I prefer brining the turkey myself as this allows you full control on the salt and flavorings. But no, brining a pre-brined turkey would make it overly salty and dry. I suggest using the turkey as is and skipping the brining step.
  3. Do I have to truss the turkey? No! It’s totally your call. I usually just tuck the wings and tie the legs. Some chefs actually recommend leaving the turkey untrussed so that it allows more air to circulate evenly in the oven.
  4. I don’t have a large roasting pan, what can I use? If you prepare turkey often, I do suggest investing in a roasting pan, it makes your life a whole lot easier! You can also use a disposable roasting pan. I do suggest stacking at least 2 or 3 to ensure easy lifting to and from the oven. Be sure your wire rack fits inside the roasting pan so that you get air circulation and it cooks the turkey evenly!
  5. Can I cook stuffing inside the turkey? You can, but I honestly find that it makes things more difficult, and more often than not, you end up overcooking the turkey. For this reason, I suggest cooking the stuff separately. If you’re looking for something delicious to try, my croissant stuffing is so good!
  6. Can I use the pan drippings to make gravy? Yes, in fact, I highly encourage it! Save the liquid at the bottom of the roasting pan. Use a fat separator to use the drippings or the fat in your gravy recipe.
roasted turkey in roasting pan

Recommended Equipment:

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whole roasted turkey on serving platter with rosemary, oranges, and fresh cranberries
Yield: 1 (12-15 lb.) turkey

Herb Roasted Thanksgiving Turkey

Who doesn't love a good herb roasted Thanksgiving turkey? A turkey can be easy to prepare if you follow my step-by-step guide. And trust me this bird is loaded with such good flavor!

Herb Roasted Thanksgiving Turkey

Ingredients

  • 1 (12-15 pound) turkey (neck + giblets removed)
  • 1 cup Morton Kosher salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar (optional)
  • 1 orange, cut into pieces + 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns (optional)
  • 1 small onion, cut in half
  • 1 small lemon, zested then cut in half
  • 1 small head of garlic, cut in half
  • ¼ bunch parsley, divided
  • 1 (.5 ounce) package fresh thyme, rosemary, AND sage
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 6 cloves garlic, pressed or minced

Instructions

    1. DEFROST: Defrost the turkey ahead of time (see notes.)
    2. OPTIONAL: 24 hours before roasting, add 2 gallons of water to a 12-18 quart bucket. Dissolve the salt and sugar in water, add orange pieces and peppercorn. Submerge turkey in brine entirely, cover, and refrigerate for 12 hours.
    3. DRY: Remove turkey from the brine, pat dry with paper towels. Place a wire rack on a baking sheet. Place turkey on the wire rack. Refrigerate uncovered, in the lowest section of the refrigerator for 8-12 hours. Remove turkey from fridge 2 hours before starting next step.
    4. PREP: Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 450ºF. Line a roasting pan with foil and place a wire or ‘v’ rack inside the pan. Loosen the skin of the turkey by gently inserting the back of a wooden spoon between the flesh and the skin.
    5. HERB BUTTER: Finely chop 1 tablespoon of each sage, rosemary, thyme, and 2 tablespoons parsley. In a bowl, mash together the butter, lemon zest, chopped herbs, and pressed garlic, you can also just toss everything in a food processor and pulse to combine.
    6. STUFF AND RUB: Place onion, lemon, garlic head, remaining parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme inside the cavity. Using a spoon or your hands, gently rub ½ of the herb butter under the skin of the turkey, taking care not to tear the skin. Place turkey on roasting pan, and tie legs together using kitchen twine. Rub the remaining herb butter all over the outside of the turkey. Tuck the wings under the breast.
    7. ROAST: Place pan in oven and roast turkey for 30 minutes. Rotate the pan, and drop the temperature of the oven to 350ºF and continue roasting for 1.5-3 hours or until a meat thermometer registers 155ºF in the breast and 165ºF* in the thighs. It takes about 13 mins per pound. Baste with pan drippings, if desired. Be sure to rotate the pan every 30 minutes for even browning. Tent with foil if the turkey starts browning too much at any point. Remove from oven, gently tip turkey (with heatproof gloves or paper towel wads) to drip juices in the cavity (for gravy!). Transfer turkey to a cutting board and rest for at least 45 minutes uncovered. Carve as desired and serve with homemade gravy.

Notes

  • Thaw: It takes 24 hours to thaw 5 pounds of turkey in the fridge from frozen. So for 12-15 pounds, so you will need to place the frozen turkey in the refrigerator 3 days before brining (or directly roasting.)

Have you made this recipe?

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