Downshiftology
subscribe to new posts: via email via rss

Easy Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe

Are you ready to make the BEST Thanksgiving turkey recipe? Trust me, it’s easier than you think!

You don’t need to brine and you don’t need to baste. Just a few simple steps and you’ll have a perfectly golden, juicy, and insanely flavorful roasted turkey recipe that’ll impress your family and guests.

Roasted Thanksgiving turkey on a plate.

There’s something about cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving that intimidates a lot of people. I totally get it. I remember being intimidated the first time I cooked a turkey. It’s because you don’t want to screw up a big, holiday meal with all your friends and family over…am I right?

But here’s the funny thing, cooking a turkey is actually super easy! Think of it as cooking a really large chicken. It might take longer to cook, but other than that, the process is pretty darn similar.

Sure, some people get fancy with expensive equipment, gadgets, smokers, and flavors, but you don’t need any of that to make a classic, ultra-flavorful, and juicy turkey. Just follow my Thanksgiving game plan so you know what to buy and cook when. Then follow the recipe and tips below. Easy!

Simple Ingredients for the Best Turkey Recipe

Besides the turkey, you just need herbs, aromatics, and a little seasoning. Simple really is best!

  • Turkey: Any whole frozen (or fresh) turkey at the market works. For details on what size is best, read below.
  • Fresh Herbs: Rosemary, thyme, and sage are classic poultry herbs. And while you can use dried, I do think fresh imparts a more robust flavor.
  • Onion and Garlic: The onion will go inside the turkey and the garlic will be rubbed on the outside. But together, these aromatics will infuse the meat and skin with savory goodness.
  • Lemon: Adding lemon wedges inside the turkey helps keep the meat moist and adds a zing of freshness.
  • Butter: A generous amount of butter makes for a juicy turkey without the need to brine. Now there’s some time savings!
  • Salt and Pepper: For that perfectly seasoned bird.

I also put vegetables under my turkey (like celery, carrots, and onion) while it’s roasting. This isn’t required, but I do recommend it. Not only will it amp up your turkey recipe, but it will take your turkey gravy flavor to the next level too!

Ingredients for the best Thanksgiving turkey recipe

What Size Turkey to Buy?

The general rule of thumb is 1 pound of turkey per person. Or 1 1/2 pounds of turkey per person if you want leftovers (and we always want leftovers, right?). It’s always best to have a little extra turkey than not enough, so I recommend:

  • For 8 people: get a 10-12 pound turkey
  • For 12 people: get a 14-18 pound turkey
  • for 16 people: get an 18-24 pound turkey

If you have less than 8 people, I still recommend buying a 10-12 pound turkey. Anything smaller and your paying more for bones rather than meat. Remember, you can freeze turkey leftovers.

If you have more than 16 people, it’s best to buy two turkeys rather than one monster sized turkey.

Don’t Forget to Thaw The Turkey

The biggest mistake people make is buying a frozen turkey the day before Thanksgiving. Don’t do that! Remember that a big turkey is going to take a while to defrost in the fridge. It takes about 24 hours per 5 pounds of turkey to properly thaw. My recommendation – buy your turkey at least a week before Thanksgiving. Then, let it thaw in the fridge 2-4 days before the big day.

No, You Don’t Need to Wash It

All you’ll do is contaminate your sink and kitchen and make a mess. We’ve talked about this before with chicken, and the same applies here. Any bacteria on the turkey will get killed in the oven while baking.

Don’t Cook Stuffing In the Turkey

If you want perfectly cooked stuffing and perfectly cooked turkey, cook them separately. If you overfill the cavity of the turkey it slows down the cooking time. And besides, it’s better to fill the turkey with aromatics and herbs that give it flavor and moisture. So cook your stuffing in a casserole dish instead.

Equipment You’ll Need

There are three basic kitchen items you’ll need to roast your turkey – a roasting tray, thermometer, and a sharp knife.

How to Prepare and Cook Turkey

Thaw and remove giblets. Once your turkey is thawed, let it rest at room temperature for an hour. Remove the bag of giblets and the neck, found in the large cavity and sometimes the smaller neck cavity (check both areas just to make sure you got everything out). You can save these items for gravy or discard them.

Giblets being removed from a Thanksgiving turkey

Pat dry and stuff. Pat the turkey dry with a paper towel. Removing any extra moisture ensures extra crispy skin. Then, season the inside of the turkey generously with salt and pepper, and stuff the cavity with quartered onion, lemon, and fresh sprigs of herbs. If anything, go lighter on the sage than the other herbs, as it’s more potent.

Stuffing a Thanksgiving turkey with onions and herbs

Make herb butter. Make the herb butter by stirring together the softened butter, garlic, salt, pepper, rosemary and thyme in a small bowl.

Mixing herb butter in a bowl for roasting turkey.

Spread herb butter all over. Loosen the skin of the turkey on top of the breasts by gently sliding your fingers underneath. Add about 1/3 of the herb butter and spread it evenly underneath the skin. Spread the remainder of the herb butter all around the outside of the turkey.

Spreading herb butter all over Thanksgiving turkey

Don’t truss the legs! Resist the urge to tie the turkey legs together. Yes, it makes the turkey picture perfect, BUT trussing prevents the air from circulating properly, leaving the meat to cook unevenly. So even though your mom (and likely grandmother) did it, skip it.

Cook the turkey. Place the turkey on a roasting rack or on a bed of veggies (or both – which is what I do). Then there’s only one thing left to do – cook the turkey!

Thanksgiving turkey on a roasting rack above vegetables.

How Long to Cook a Turkey

Ready for good news? Because we didn’t stuff the turkey, it will cook about 30 minutes faster. On average, plan for about 15 minutes per pound of turkey. But remember the BEST gauge is the temperature. You want to cook the turkey to 158-160F (measure at the thickest part of the thigh or breast). But here’s a guideline:

  • For a 10-14 pound turkey: 2 1/2 hrs to 3 1/2 hrs
  • For a 14-18 pound turkey: 3 1/2 hrs to 4 1/2 hrs
  • For a 18-22 pound turkey: 4 1/2 hrs to 5 1/2 hrs

Keep an eye on your turkey when it’s about 75% done. Then, check the temperature every 10 minutes. Remember that ovens can cook slightly hotter or cooler. If you notice the skin browning too quickly, you can always place aluminum foil on top.

Always Let Your Turkey Rest

Once you remove the turkey from the oven it’s imperative that you let it rest for at least 30 minutes. This allows the juices to redistribute in the meat, making for a juicer turkey. Better to have a juicy turkey than a sopping wet cutting board!

Thanksgiving turkey on a plate with lemon wedges.

Carve and Serve Your Beautiful Bird

The only thing left at this point is to admire your gorgeous turkey, carve it, make some flavorful turkey gravy and wow your guests. Just follow my tips on how to carve a turkey. For a complete Thanksgiving spread, consider serving the turkey with:

Need help with a timeline on the big day? Check out my Thanksgiving game plan, and peruse the healthy Thanksgiving menu I’ve put together. If you’ve got turkey leftovers (which are always the best), transform them into a turkey cobb salad or turkey casserole!

I hope you found this recipe, the below video, and tips helpful, and do let me know how your turkey turned out in the comments below. Gobble gobble.

Perfect Turkey Recipe Video

Want to cook the best Thanksgiving turkey recipe? Watch the video below! I’ll walk you through it step-by-step. You’ve got this!

For a turkey that cooks even faster… make my maple orange glazed spatchcock turkey recipe. It’s not traditional, but it’s citrusy sweet delicious!

Common Troubleshooting Questions

  • Why isn’t the butter sticking to the turkey? Your bird may be condensating or your butter may be too cold and firm. Make sure your turkey has come to room temperature for an hour and pat it with paper towels to remove moisture. You can also soften the butter for 5-10 seconds in the microwave, then it should spread easily.
  • What happens if my turkey is cooking faster than expected, and it’s already 165F? If you’ve checked the temperature in the thickest part of the breast and thigh and it’s at 165F then it’s cooked through. If it’s not golden enough, you can always turn on your top broiler for just a couple of minutes.
  • What happens if my turkey skin is burning, but it’s not yet done inside? Lower the temperature of your oven and cover it with aluminum foil. Also, I recommend buying an oven thermometer to double check if your oven is cooking too hot.
  • What if the very top of the breast skin is turning golden faster than the rest? Make sure your turkey isn’t positioned too high in your oven. If you can, lower your rack. Then, cover just that part with aluminum foil.
  • What if there’s a little pink inside, especially around the joints? It’s normal for there to be some pink on cooked turkey, especially if you have a young bird. As the USDA says, you need to go by temperature, not color. As long as your turkey is cooked to 165F it’s safe to eat.
Thanksgiving turkey on a plate with sage and lemons.
4.99 from 64 votes

Easy Thanksgiving Turkey (Best No-Fail Recipe)

Prep Time: 30 mins
Cook Time: 3 hrs 30 mins
Total Time: 4 hrs
Servings: 14 servings (for a 14 pound turkey)
Author: Lisa Bryan
Print Recipe Pin Recipe
This is the BEST Thanksgiving turkey recipe. You don't need to brine and you don't need to baste. Just a few simple steps and you'll have a perfectly golden, juicy, and insanely flavorful roasted turkey that'll impress your family and guests. Watch the video above!

Ingredients

Roast Turkey

  • 1 12-18 pound turkey (*see notes below about using a larger turkey), fully thawed
  • 1 onion, peeled and quartered
  • 1 lemon, quartered
  • 1-2 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1-2 sprig fresh thyme
  • 1-2 sprig fresh sage
  • salt and pepper

Herb Butter

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped

Vegetables Under Turkey (optional, but recommended)

  • 1 onion, peeled and quartered
  • 3 ribs celery, roughly chopped
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped

Instructions

  • Allow your turkey to come to room temperature by removing it from the fridge 1 hour before roasting. Then, remove the giblets.
    Giblets removed from a whole Thanksgiving turkey
  • Preheat your oven to 325F/160C and pat the outside of the turkey dry with paper towels. Season the cavity of the turkey with salt and pepper. Then fill it with the onion, lemon, and fresh herbs. If your turkey is smaller, don't overfill the cavity as you do want some airflow.
    Stuffing a Thanksgiving turkey with onions, herbs, and lemon
  • Make the herb butter by stirring together the softened butter, garlic, salt, pepper, rosemary and thyme in a small bowl.
    Herb butter mixture being mixed in a bowl.
  • Then, loosen the skin of the turkey gently by sliding your fingers underneath. Then rub about 1/3 of the herb butter between the skin and turkey breasts.
    Rubbing herbed butter under the skin of a Thanksgiving turkey.
  • Rub the remaining herb butter all over the entire outside of the turkey.
    Rubbing herbed butter all over the skin of a Thanksgiving turkey
  • Place the turkey on a roasting rack or on top of a bed of vegetables (if you don't have a rack), or both! Tuck the wing tips under the turkey to prevent them from burning.
  • Place the turkey in the oven and roast for about 15 minutes per pound, or until the internal temperature reaches 158-160F. You don't need to baste the turkey, but do keep an eye on it after it's about 75% done. If you notice the skin browning too quickly, you can place aluminum foil on top. To verify the temperature, place a thermometer into the meatiest part of the thigh or breast. The turkey will continue to cook once it's removed from the oven and will rise in temperature to 165F, after it's rested.
  • Let the turkey to rest for 30 minutes before carving. This allows the juices to redistribute, making for a deliciously juicy turkey. To keep the turkey warm, you can cover the turkey with aluminum foil on the counter.
  • Carve and serve the turkey. And make sure to save the juices from the pan to make turkey gravy!
    The turkey recipe carved on a platter.

Lisa's Tips

  • You can certainly use a turkey larger than 18 pounds, but you may need a little more herb butter and you'll need to cook it longer. If your turkey is less than 12 pounds, you may have a little extra herb butter, so you might want to reduce the quantity.
  • It's common for ovens to vary by up to 25 degrees, with some cooking hotter and others cooking cooler (my oven cooks cooler). So it's best to verify how your oven cooks (before the big turkey day), by purchasing an oven thermometer and testing.

Nutrition

Calories: 104kcal, Carbohydrates: 4g, Protein: 1g, Fat: 10g, Saturated Fat: 6g, Cholesterol: 26mg, Sodium: 182mg, Potassium: 95mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 1g, Vitamin A: 1826IU, Vitamin C: 7mg, Calcium: 19mg, Iron: 1mg
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: roast turkey, thanksgiving turkey recipe, turkey recipe
©Downshiftology. Content and photographs are copyright protected. Sharing of this recipe is both encouraged and appreciated. Copying and/or pasting full recipes to any social media is strictly prohibited.
DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE?Leave a comment below and share a photo on Instagram. Tag @downshiftology and hashtag it #downshiftology.

Leave a Comment

All comments are moderated before appearing on the site. Thank you for sharing your feedback!
Recipe Rating




Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

145 comments on “Easy Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe”

  1. I was hoping to bring the love of turkey back to Thanksgiving this year and this recipe sure did the trick! My husband even told me that this is the only turkey he will eat from now on. Very grateful for your expertise and willingness to share with all of us. I consider myself a seasoned cook and I wasn’t sure that I would learn much by watching the video but I was amazed!

    First I would like to point out that your videos are top notch. Your editing is beautiful and your words are perfect. Right when I would anticipate a question that I had, the video immediately answered it. Each step was very clear. The most anticipated part of the process for me was to see how long it would take for the turkey to cook. It was hard to ignore the time, but in doing so and in focusing on the temperature of the breast, this turkey turned out absolutely amazing and every single bite was moist and so incredibly flavorful. Every single family member commented about how flavorful and juicy it was – even the kids! I am so grateful for all of your work on this recipe and I will certainly adopt this as our yearly turkey recipe. Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart!

    • Wow, Alexandria – thanks so much for your kind words! I’m so glad to hear that you’re enjoying my content, but that the turkey turned out to be a success!

  2. I have been cooking a whole turkey after Thanksgiving for a few years now because I just love turkey meat and this recipe was very easy to follow and delicious! I needed to make a dairy free turkey and I had a vegan ghee I got as a trial so I used it and still tasted so good. Fresh herbs are also the best too! Now I can’t wait to try your other turkey recipes with my leftovers!

  3. I love Lisa’s recipes! This recipe was easy to follow. I had a bit of trouble initially when I found ice in my turkey but Lisa helped me through that. I had some trouble getting the butter mixture to stick so had to baste in the middle of cooking. But she also put troubleshooting tips so it’ll be easy to navigate it in the future. Idk how she does it but fantastic recipe!!

  4. I made this turkey recipe for Thanksgiving last week and it turned out perfectly!  Honestly, it was the juiciest turkey I’ve ever had and seasoned just right.  I’ve only cooked a whole turkey once before (complete fail), so I decided that this year I’d try again.  Couldn’t be easier.   If you read and follow this recipe exactly, I’m sure your turkey will turn out great!  

  5. I made this in my tiny tiny kitchen and have never had better turkey. I also did the mashed potatoes and cranberry with honey. I am a terrible cook and this was great.

  6. Made this today on my 20 lb turkey. Best turkey I’ve ever had. Of course that is what I expect with anything I cook based on Downshiftology. Perfect dishes every time.

  7. I wonder what a temperature in the oven should be? Thank you for the recipe

  8. We made turkey for the first time this year and it turned out great – juicy, flavorful, and beautifully browned!

  9. First time making a turkey and it was the best tasting turkey anyone at the thanksgiving table has had. It was juicy and flavorful! 

  10. It was my first time cooking a Thanksgiving dinner and this recipe helped me so much! My family loved it. I am grateful that Lisa posted her Youtube video and this step-by-step guide. I already reached out to her directly, but I just want everyone else to know this is truly an easy, yummy and juicy turkey recipe!

  11. It was my first time preparing a Turkey and I felt like a pro. Thank you Lisa! The tip to remove from oven at 158 F° was the key to get the meat moist but cooked. You are THE BEST!

  12. I used this no fail turkey recipe this Thanksgiving 2020 and I’m so happy that I did. The steps were truly easy to follow and the turkey was perfection. I did exactly what was suggested and removed the turkey when it reached a temperature of 158F and allowed it to rest. I carved it as recommended and my guests loved every bite!!! Will continue to use this recipe in the future.

  13. This was my first time preparing a turkey and I knew I could depend on Lisa’s recipe to get me through it!
    The turkey came out so beautiful and was incredibly delicious! My husband and kids all said it was the most flavorful and delicious turkey they had ever eaten! The fresh herbs and herb butter made all the difference! Definitely feeling happy and proud with all the compliments I received. Thanks Lisa!!

  14. THis was an excellent recipe. Easy to follow and make. It was delicious also!!

  15. We had a small 4-person Thanksgiving this year and my mom put me in charge of the turkey 😳 I used this recipe and I can’t say thank you enough times for this one. It was my first turkey and everyone loved it. Thank you Lisa and Happy Thanksgiving to you!

  16. Wow!!! This year was my first time cooking turkey and with so many different recipes and methods i chose Lisa’s! Let’s just say for being a first timer everyone loved it!!! Simple yet delicious ingredients that give your turkey that perfect brown crispy skin but tender and juicy in the inside! Thank you so much Lisa for creating yet another amazing recipe. 

    Also you gave me so much confidence in my cooking abilities. If i could cook a 20lb turkey and everyone loved it anyone can. 

    🧡🧡🧡

  17. This recipe was amazing!! The herb butter alone smelled amazing. My house was left smelling like such amazing herbs for days. I accidentally left the turkey in too long reaching a temp of 180° so it was a bit drier than I wanted but that was my fault for leaving it unattended. I will definitely be using this recipe again!

  18. Thank you so much for sharing this easy turkey recipe!! My family said it was the most flavorful and moist turkey that I have ever made and I have made plenty. Total keeper!!! Thank you for making our Thanksgiving even more yummier!!

  19. To anyone that feels intimidated about baking a whole turkey, I tell you to GO FOR IT WITH DOWNSHIFTOLOGY’s recipe!! Lisa has given us detailed steps from buying, to thawing, to seasoning,  to baking, and even all the different tools and carving!! 
    I have failed in the past and this is the 1st time in 10 years I tried and SUCCESS! My family loved it! It is tasty and moist! I do need to improve the carving skills but will definitely repeat this recipe for years to come! Thank you Lisa👏😘 I have pictures on my Instagram drirr20! 

    • So glad to hear this recipe was able to help you create the perfect first roast turkey! And don’t worry, carving definitely takes a few tries!

  20. Happy Thanksgiving! This recipe is absolutely delicious and easy to make! Lisa explained it so well and the steps were very easy to follow. There were only a few things I did differently: I  used ghee butter instead of regular butter, and I was unable to tuck the wings under so well, so i just left them alone. But neither of these minor differences didn’t affect the flavor, the wings did not burn and the blend of sage, rosemary and thyme, along with the ghee butter and veggies made it the best turkey I ever roasted and this will not be the last time either. Thank you Lisa for this amazing recipe, I appreciate the clarity in words and the amount of detail included , specially with the beautiful photos! 

  21. My boyfriend and I were alone this thanksgiving and had the task of cooking for the first time! This turkey came out so nice and juicy, it was very simple to make and took a lot of stress out of the process of making this big meal for the first time. Thank you Lisa! 

    -@azulaembroidery on Instagram 

    • Wonderful Kaylea! Happy to hear you were able to roast your first turkey successfully for you and your boyfriend for the first time this year :)

  22. Lisa, l like to say thank you very much for this recipe!
    It was very easy and delicious! I made it on Thanksgiving day with your mash potatoes and cranberry sauce recipes, made it a day before.  
    Turned out tasty!  You are truly talented, thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Tina- What a perfect combination for Thanksgiving. Glad this recipe helped you create the perfect roast turkey :)