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Roasted to perfection with delicious herb butter, this juicy Roast Turkey will delight family and friends on Thanksgiving! Learn everything you need to know, from buying to thawing to roasting to carving. It’s easy when you follow these simple steps, plus all of my tips and tricks.
Table of Contents
- Classic Roast Turkey for Thanksgiving
- How Much Turkey Do I Need?
- Safely Thawing a Turkey
- What You’ll Need
- How to Roast a Turkey
- How Long Does it Take to Cook Thanksgiving Turkey?
- Carving the Turkey
- Roast Turkey Do’s and Don’ts
- Thanksgiving Side Dishes to Serve with Roasted Turkey
- What to Make with Leftover Turkey
- Get the Recipe
- More Holiday Main Dishes
Classic Roast Turkey for Thanksgiving
It may be the centerpiece of the holiday meal, but making a gorgeous and juicy roasted turkey shouldn’t be intimidating. By following a few simple steps, this masterpiece can be within reach of anyone.
In fact, I can’t believe it has taken me this long to get a recipe on my blog. This time we aren’t going to fuss with a brine or marinade. There’s no smoking or deep frying. Just classic flavors to keep it simple but delicious.
I took lots of guidance from Butterball, since they are the experts, added a savory herb butter to make it taste and smell amazing. If you follow along with this roast turkey recipe, you’ll also end up with a bird that is worthy of being the star of your Thanksgiving (or even Christmas) menu!
How Much Turkey Do I Need?
Generally, for the Thanksgiving meal, you’ll want 1 pound per person. However, if you have a family that loves to enjoy leftovers all weekend long, then plan for 1 1/2 pounds per person. After you account for bone and the moisture lost during cooking, this leaves you with about 9 ounces of cooked turkey per person.
Once you get beyond 12 to 15 pounds, it takes longer to cook, so there is more of a chance of it drying out. If you need more than this, it might be better to buy two smaller turkeys. Or, if you have a family that prefers white meat or dark meat, you can supplement your whole bird with just a turkey breast or some extra turkey legs.
Safely Thawing a Turkey
A turkey should never be thawed at room temperature. This is unsafe because the turkey could be at temperatures that are prime for the growth of bacteria. You can get more information from the USDA on thawing turkey, but to start, you can choose one of these three methods.
The turkey should be kept in its original wrapper on a tray for thawing in the refrigerator. You’ll need to plan ahead, because it’ll take approximately one day for every 4 pounds of turkey. The thawed turkey will need to be cooked within 2 days of being fully thawed.
This method is faster but requires more attention. You’ll need to submerge the turkey in its original wrapper in a sink or container of cold water. To ensure it stays cold, and therefore safe, you’ll need to change the water every 30 minutes. This will take about 30 minutes per pound, so you’ll need to be up early on Thanksgiving to get started because it will need to be cooked right away.
Technically this method works safely, but it is not the one I’d recommend. You’ll need to make sure your turkey will fit, and then take it out of the wrapper and thaw according to the directions for your specific model of microwave, as this will vary. You then need to thoroughly wash the inside of your microwave to prevent cross-contamination. Make sure to roast it right away.
- One 10 to 15 lb turkey. You could get a larger one if needed, but for the best roasted turkey, you’ll want to stick with this size and supplement with a second one, or just a breast or some drumsticks or thighs.
For the herb butter
- Unsalted butter. Let it soften to room temperature.
- Fresh thyme, sage, and rosemary. You’ll want both finely minced. If needed, you could substitute with dried (use one-third the amount), but fresh herbs are really the best here.
- Kosher salt and black pepper.
For the aromatics
- Kosher salt and black pepper. You’ll need some more for seasoning the inside of the bird.
- Onion. Cut into chunks. You can use a yellow, white, or sweet one.
- Apple. Cut into chunks. Any variety you have on hand will work.
You can also feel free to toss in any other aromatics you have, like celery, more fresh herbs, or a lemon. Just don’t pack it super tightly inside.
What You’ll Need
- ROASTING PAN – I love my All-Clad Roaster with a nonstick roasting rack, but any pan that is about 2 to 2 1/2 inches high will do. You can even use one of the disposable aluminum pans from the grocery store.
- KITCHEN TWINE – You’ll want to tie the legs together before roasting.
- SILICONE BRUSH – For brushing the herb butter on the turkey part of the way through roasting.
- ALUMINUM FOIL – To cover the breast to keep it from drying out and getting too brown while it finishes cooking.
- INSTANT READ THERMOMETER – Make sure your bird is cooked enough to be safe to eat but not overcooked and dry.
- SHARP KNIFE – You don’t need a special carving knife, but a good, sharp kitchen knife is essential.
How to Roast a Turkey
Make the herb butter. In a bowl, mix together the softened butter, thyme, sage, rosemary, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Set aside.
Prepare the bird. Be sure your turkey is thawed completely. Remove the neck and giblets from the cavities of the turkey. Make sure to check both the body cavity and neck cavity. Discard any plastic, and either discard the neck and giblets or save them if you use them for stock, gravy, another use. Drain the juices and pat the turkey dry with a paper towel. Place it breast side up in the roasting pan.
Season and stuff the turkey. Season the cavity of the turkey with salt and pepper. Stuff chunks of onion and apple inside the cavity. Tie legs together with kitchen string and turn the wings back to hold neck skin in place. Smear half of the butter mixture all over the outside of the turkey.
Roasting the turkey. Place the turkey inside an oven preheated to 325°F. When the turkey is about ⅔ done (more below on how long it’ll take for a perfectly roasted turkey), brush the remaining butter mixture (after it has been melted) over the turkey and loosely cover the breast with a piece of foil to prevent overcooking. Continue roasting until the turkey is done, which is when the temperature with a meat thermometer is 170° F in the thigh and 160°F in the breast.
How Long Does it Take to Cook Thanksgiving Turkey?
Roasting a turkey with your oven temperature at 325°F is the best way to ensure it cooks all the way through without getting overcooked and dry. Cooking time depends on your turkey size. But no matter the size, you’ll want to cook it until an instant read thermometer reads 170° F in the thigh and 160°F in the breast.
In general, you’ll need:
- 4-8 pound turkey: 1 1/2-2 3/4 hours.
- 8-16 pound turkey: 2 3/4-3 1/2 hours
- 16-20 pound turkey: 3 1/2-4 hours
- 20-24 pound turkey: 4-4 1/2 hours or more if it is larger
Carving the Turkey
Transfer the roasted turkey onto a platter and let rest for 15 to 30 minutes before carving. This will allow it to cool a bit and be easier to handle, plus the juices redistribute so they don’t all run out when you start to slice into it. In the meantime, grab a nice, sharp knife, a cutting board, and a serving platter.
You’ll start by separating the leg and thigh, slicing through the joint, and again cutting through the joint to separate the drumstick from the thigh. Bend the wing until it pops and slice it off through the joint. Remove the breasts by cutting along the breastbone, and cut the breast meat into slices. Finally, slice the dark meat.
Roast Turkey Do’s and Don’ts
DON’T thaw your turkey at room temperature. This can cause an unsafe growth of bacteria that were present before the freezing process.
DO leave enough time for it to thaw completely, regardless of whether you choose the refrigerator or water bath method. A partially frozen turkey will not cook evenly.
DON’T rinse your turkey unless it has been brined. You could spread tiny droplets of liquid that potentially contain harmful bacteria around the kitchen.
DO experiment with flavors for your roasted turkey. You can add different herbs and spices to the butter, or go beyond just salt and pepper when seasoning the inside of the bird.
DON’T cook the stuffing inside of the turkey. This is the highest risk for harboring bacteria because it may not cook thoroughly. In fact, you don’t even want to stuff too many aromatics inside because that can affect the cooking. Or, on the opposite end, it’ll overcook by the time the turkey is done.
DO tuck the wings back to hold the skin in place. This stabilizes the turkey in the pan and while carving. A rack in your roasting pan or some balled up aluminum foil also helps.
DON’T open the oven. Basting isn’t necessary when you’ve coated it with herb butter which helps keep your turkey nice and moist. In fact, opening the oven to baste or just peek at it causes the temperature to go up and down, requiring you to keep it in the oven longer and possibly dry it out.
DO save the drippings if you want to use them in your Gluten Free Thanksgiving Gravy.
DON’T rely on the pop-up timer. An instant-read thermometer will be more accurate and allow you to test both the white and dark meat for doneness.
DO keep it warm. If you aren’t serving it right away cover the carved turkey tightly with foil and keep it in a warm over. A few splashes of chicken broth will keep it moist.
Thanksgiving Side Dishes to Serve with Roasted Turkey
It’s time to complete the holiday feast with sides! Here are some of our favorites.
- Instant Pot Mashed Potatoes
- Gluten Free Turkey Gravy
- Gluten Free Stuffing
- Corn Pudding
- Pumpkin Pie Spice Melting Sweet Potatoes
- Bacon Green Beans
- Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese
- Maple Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Butternut Squash
- Gluten Free Cornbread Muffins
What to Make with Leftover Turkey
Herb Roast Turkey
- One 10- to 15-pound whole turkey, thawed
- ½ cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature (one stick)
- 1 Tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
- 1 Tablespoon minced fresh sage leaves
- 1/2 Tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
- 2 teaspoons black pepper, divided
- 1 medium onion, cut into chunks
- 1 apple, cut into chunks
- Preheat the oven to 325°F. Remove neck and giblets from body and neck cavities of turkey; discard or refrigerate for another use. Drain juices from the turkey and pat the turkey with paper towels.
- Place turkey breast side up on a rack in a shallow roasting pan that is 2 to 2½ inches deep.
- In a bowl, mix together the softened butter, thyme, sage, rosemary, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Set aside.
- Season the cavity of the turkey with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Place the onion and apple chunks inside the turkey cavity. Tie legs together with kitchen string. Turn wings back to hold neck skin in place. Rub half of the butter mixture all over the outside of the turkey.
- Place your turkey in the oven. Melt the remaining butter mixture and keep warm.
- When the turkey is about ⅔ done (after about 2-2 ½ hours), brush the remaining butter mixture over the turkey and loosely cover the breast with a piece of foil to prevent overcooking.
- Continue roasting until the turkey is done (about another 1-1 ½ hours), when the temperature with a meat thermometer is 170° F in the thigh and 160°F in the breast.
- Transfer the turkey onto a platter and let rest for 20 minutes before carving.