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.

Easy Thanksgiving Turkey (Best No-Fail Recipe)

4.97 from 96 votes
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
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.
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213 comments on “Easy Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe”

  1. I think I screwed up! The top half of the turkey was cooked, the bottom half was raw af :( It was a 12lb in for 4 hours. I didn’t have a turkey rack that would fit my roaster and I placed the turkey on top of the veggies. I will try again, but when I get a rectangle roaster.

  2. We couldn’t have Christmas with family last year because of COVID, so I decided to make a dinner for just me and my husband and sons. The turkey turned out great, thanks to Lisa’s recipe and excellent instructions and video. Thank you Lisa!5 stars

  3. This was such a good turkey! I used this recipe last night for the first turkey I’ve ever cooked, and it was a huge hit. My parents couldn’t believe my first turkey wasn’t a fail. 5 stars

  4. Hi Lisa, I have not tried making this recipe yet but I’m thinking to make it. Can I seasoned the turkey a day before I cooked it ? 

  5. Thanks for an amazing recipe. I used it this thanksgiving when I made turkey for the first time. My children kept saying how delicious the turkey tasted. Super easy to follow recipe. I have a request to make turkey again for Christmas lunch.5 stars

  6. I think is the first time that we did not have a lot of leftovers because the turkey was delicious and everyone had seconds. I made this recipee for thanksgiving, the turkey came out juicy and super tasty. Was so easy to make. Definitely make this next year. Thank you Lisa for another great recipe!  5 stars

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