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!

Find the printable recipe with measurements below.

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 to 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°-160°F (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!

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!

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!

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 to 10 seconds in the microwave, then it should spread easily.

What happens if my turkey is cooking faster than expected, and it’s already 165°F?

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 165°F it’s safe to eat.

I’m pretty confident that with this tutorial, you’ll become a Thanksgiving turkey master. So if you make it, let me know how it turned out! I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.

Thanksgiving turkey on a plate with sage and lemons.

Easy Thanksgiving Turkey (Best No-Fail Recipe)

4.98 from 126 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

  • 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

  • ¾ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ 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 325°F (160°C) 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
  • In a small bowl, make the herb butter by stirring the softened butter, garlic, salt, pepper, rosemary and thyme together.
    Herb butter mixture being mixed in a bowl.
  • 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°-160°F. 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 165°F, 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: 515kcal, Carbohydrates: 1g, Protein: 70g, Fat: 25g, Saturated Fat: 9g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 5g, Monounsaturated Fat: 8g, Trans Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 249mg, Sodium: 528mg, Potassium: 733mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 1g, Vitamin A: 411IU, Vitamin C: 1mg, Calcium: 43mg, Iron: 3mg
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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292 comments on “Easy Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe”

  1. I made this recipe last year and everybody said this was the best turkey they ever had! Thanks Lisa :)5 stars

  2. An outstanding recipe!

    I made the butter rub a day in advance to let the flavors infuse more. I put it in wax paper then in an airtight secondary container. My entire apartment smelled wonderful while the turkey was cooking!

    Your carving techniques are greatly appreciated!5 stars

  3. We have made this turkey two years in a row. Both times it was a huge success. It is easy and tastes amazing!5 stars

  4. I haven’t made the turkey yet but since I love 99.9% of your gluten-free recipes I’ll give it 5 stars anyway. (I don’t like those brussel sprout things! – hence the 0.1% negative! LOL). I was given a solid-frozen 16 lb. turkey on Wednesday night and it’s been in fridge since – ready to cook today. Not a huge turkey fan but your recipe with the garlic butter sounds fantastic. One question, tho’…nutrition notes only 1 gm protein per serving? Doesn’t seem like much when compared to other meats.5 stars

    • Hi Susan – I’m happy you’re loving all of my recipes (minus the brussels sprouts – ha!). And good catch on the nutrition info! There was a mistake in the calculation so I’ve fixed it. :)

  5. How do you get the back to brown? Mine had no color at all.5 stars

  6. The turkey turned out great! It was very moist. The recipe was easy to follow. We were glad there were not extra steps such as brining and basting. 😊5 stars

  7. Used this recipe for Thanksgiving day to cook my 13lb bird. I was so incredibly nervous and read so many recipes and tips. I follow Downshiftilogy, and settled on following this recipe exactly. It came out so good!  Everyone kept saying how delicious and moist it was. Thank you for another delicious meal!5 stars

  8. Foolproof and delicious. All my guests at Thanksgiving dinner loved this and were shocked when my bird didn’t require any brining or basting. Thank you for the recipe.5 stars

  9. This was the best turkey I have ever had, much less cooked myself. Everybody raved about how moist and tender it was. A big hit and now my go-to for thanksgiving and Christmas. 5 stars

  10. Simple, juicy and delicious! 
    Second year ever making a turkey and the second year I use this recipe! 
    My biggest fear was it being dry, but this was anything but! So juicy, so tasty! 
    Will keep this recipe for years to come! 5 stars

  11. I have avoided fixing turkey for so many years because it just wasn’t good!! But, now I know I just didn’t have the right recipe!! This recipe brings the flavor! So good and so juicy. Easy to follow recipe helped me to bring back the turkey to thanksgiving!! Thanks Lisa!5 stars

  12. I used your recipe for Thanksgiving and it was the best flavored and moist turkey EVER!! This is a keeper recipe and my future “go to” for my turkey.
    Thank you so much for sharing😊5 stars

  13. Two years in a row and this recipe has saved my life during Thanksgiving. It is juicy, foolproof, and is the best recipe out there. Cooking a 17lb big bird this year and I did not feel intimidated at all. Thank you Lisa. I love your Turkey Thanksgiving recipe as much as all the other side dishes recipes. 5 stars

  14. Made my first turkey with this recipe ! It was easy and my turkey was very juicy. 

  15. Everyone loved the turkey! I microwaved the butter for 10 seconds to help it soften. This time we cooked a larger turkey and it was getting too dark so I covered it with aluminum foil. I blended the drippings/ veggies and froze them in cubes to use as stock with different meals. The carving directions are easy to follow. I highly recommend this recipe. 5 stars

  16. I was a bit hesitant to try a new recipe but it turned out to be one of my best turkeys, per my family. Thank you for sharing this very simple yet delicious recipe. I am a huge fan of your work!

  17. We made this and it was so tender, juicy, and flavorful. The recipe was so easy to follow. My family has already requested I make it this way again next year. Thank you!5 stars

  18. AMAZING recipe! The family enjoyed it! Thank you!!5 stars

  19. Thank you for such a great recipe! The turkey came out delicious and it was the best we ever made!5 stars

  20. I can’t find my review, so I’m writing another one. This is the second year that I have used this recipe. It’s absolutely fail proof. We used fresh herbs from our garden. The turkey was juicy and delicious. We are looking forward to all the leftovers. 5 stars

  21. The best turkey I’ve ever had! The meat was so juicy and skin was nice and crispy. Followed recipe and it was delicious, restaurant quality for sure. I wish I’d have gotten a picture but honestly, my family devoured it before I had a chance. Thank you so much for sharing this. .5 stars

  22. Lisa is my best friend because she ALWAYS makes me look good!! 😀👍 Another Turkey success this year! Thank you Lisa for doing all the detailed work I fail to do to make things just right every time! 
    😘5 stars

  23. Happy Thanksgiving! I received so many compliments on the turkey I prepared for dinner today. Your recipe, thorough instructions and photos/video made it a HUGE success! The only thing I did different was cook my turkey in a bag. Thank you for sharing all of this helpful information for the best turkey ever. I’m not even a fan of white meat because usually it’s so dry and this was so tender, juicy and deliciously seasoned! You’ve taught me a skill I can now practice for anytime I host Thanksgiving. Thank you!!5 stars

  24. I made this, let me tell you the best Turkey ive ever had. This is bookmarked in my brain. 5 stars

  25. I just made Thanksgiving turkey using your recipe…the best I’ve ever made and your steps made it easy and fun. I’ve cooked many turkeys and this recipe is the best for beginners and pros alike.5 stars

  26. Our turkey cooked perfectly this year! Lisa’s recipe is easy to follow and I love the convenience of simple ingredients. Perfect use of our kitchen herb garden. Looking forward to making this again!5 stars

  27. Thank you Lisa for the amazing recipe and well-written words and video to help encourage me in making the best Turkey my family has ever had! It was especially awesome to see my Autistic son light up and excitedly ask for “more juicy turkey with extra roast please!” So thank you again!!!5 stars

    • Aw, I’m so happy to hear that Britney! That makes my heart so full and hope you, your son, and the rest of the family had an amazing Thanksgiving.

  28. Do you have cooking instructions for spatchcocking this as a 17lb turkey?

  29. This was such a good recipe especially for a first time turkey roaster! The video and written recipe together made it really easy to follow and prepare. It was pretty easy to get together with all materials and things we already had in the house. The ingredients were simple but the turkey came out so well. The video was also especially helpful for carving and serving the turkey. Would definitely recommend and will be making again, thanks Lisa! 5 stars

  30. Thanksgiving came early for us due to work schedules. I roasted my turkey yesterday using this recipe.  It was the juiciest, best tasting turkey I have ever eaten!!! Thanks for this easy fabulous recipe!!!!5 stars

  31. This looks amazing. I’ll be making this on Thanksgiving. Thank you for the recipe. I have a kind of silly question. It’s about the herb butter. How many sprigs each of fresh Rosemary and Thyme do I use to get a tablespoon of the roughly chopped herbs, for the herb butter?

  32. Hello Lisa..I’m a huge fan of your videos. My question is: Can I preseason the turkey before the big day? I’m trying to prep everything in advance.

  33. Used this same recipe again to cook my second turkey ever. Last year’s was excellent but this year’s was noticeably juicier and more tender. Easy to follow recipe and video. Minimal prep work. Great tasting result!

  34. Thank you for sharing such a great recipe. We have guests for the coming thanksgiving and I am sure they will be happy.5 stars

  35. Hi Lisa. My boyfriend who will be sharing the turkey with me is allergic to butter. Do you think this would work with ghee or tallow?

  36. Such a silly question but how many tsp of salt and pepper do you use for the rub? I’m making the turkey for all of our relatives this year for the first time and really don’t want to mess up! Thank you for your recipe!

  37. This an excellent Thanksgiving  Turkey Recipe. Good ingredients and easy to follow . There’s  no way you could mess this up even when you’re making this turkey recipe for the  first time especially if you put the important ingredient on what you do -which is Called LOVE .. 
    It’s been a year now since I subscribed to your YouTube Channel, and every single recipes you shared are pretty neat and healthy. As a food vloger I am also inspired by your recipes ideas and your balance food lifestyle .. .. Keep inspiring us,  More Power to you and have God’s care all the time .. 
    5 stars

  38. Great recipe, used it for a Friendsgiving and was a HIT! My only question is how do you get the herb butter to adhere to the skin? it didn’t seem to want to spread the way you show in the picture. And yes I patted dry with paper towel prior to absorb moisture prior. Thanks! Deff will be making again. 😊

    • I’m happy you enjoyed the turkey recipe! Yes, definitely make sure there’s no moisture at all on the turkey. It may also help if your butter is slightly softened a bit more next time. :)

  39. Thanks for this recipe and the step by step directions. I’ll be using it to make my first Turkey for Thanksgiving next week! 
    Should the Turkey be covered when it goes into the oven? 

    Thanks for your help and super excited to try!

  40. Hi Lisa
    Can this recipe be used for cornish hens and do you have a stuffing recipe?

    Thank you

    • A cornish hen might need a different cooking time, but you can probably use the same buttered seasoning for it. As for stuffing, I don’t have a GF stuffing yet. But, I hope to create one eventually :)

  41. Hi!
    What is your best dairy free butter substitute to use please?
    Thank you!

  42. Could this turkey be roasted a day or two ahead? How would you reheat it ?

    • You can make this turkey a day in advance if you’d like, then reheat in the oven. Place the turkey back in a roasting pan, pour some chicken stock over the turkey to keep it moist, cover. and bake at 325ºF for about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the bird. Alternatively, you can pre-carve your turkey and just warm it all up in the microwave or oven for less time.

  43. We made this last Thanksgiving and it blew every other turkey we’ve ever had out of the water. Will 100% be remaking year after year5 stars

  44. 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.

  45. 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

  46. 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

  47. 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 ? 

  48. 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

  49. 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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