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.
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.
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.
- Roasting Tray: You can buy an expensive roasting tray, a solid mid-priced roasting tray, or use a cheapie disposable roasting tray. They all work just fine.
- Thermometer: The same goes for thermometers. You can use a probe thermometer (that you leave in the turkey), an instant read thermometer (what I most often use), or a basic meat thermometer.
- Knife: Of course, a sharp knife is essential! I have this carving knife and fork set.
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.
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.
Make herb butter. Make the herb butter by stirring together the softened butter, garlic, salt, pepper, rosemary and thyme in a small bowl.
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 compound butter and spread it evenly underneath the skin. Spread the remainder of the herb butter all around the outside of the 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!
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!
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:
- Cranberry Sauce
- Mashed Potatoes, Mashed Sweet Potatoes or Mashed Cauliflower (for a low-carb option)
- Healthy Green Bean Casserole
- Balsamic Bacon Brussels Sprouts
- Healthy Sweet Potato Casserole
- Honey Glazed Carrots
- Paleo Pumpkin Pie
- Baked Apples
Need help with a timeline on the big day? Check out my Thanksgiving game plan, and peruse the Thanksgiving menu I’ve put together. I’ve also got a prime rib or honey baked ham if turkey isn’t your jam. And 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Easy Thanksgiving Turkey (Best No-Fail Recipe)
- 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
- 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
- Allow your turkey to come to room temperature by removing it from the fridge 1 hour before roasting. Then, remove the giblets.
- 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.
- In a small bowl, make the herb butter by stirring the softened butter, garlic, salt, pepper, rosemary and thyme together.
- 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.
- Rub the remaining herb butter all over the entire outside of the 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!
- 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.
Just did your Thanksgiving Easy Turkey Recipe and everyone loved it! I was worried since i havent done this holiday meal in many years yet you made it simple and delicious. Thank you!
That’s so great to hear George!!
Best turkey ever. Consensus of all.
Will never cook a turkey any other way.
Glad this recipe worked out perfectly Lynda!
This was my first year making the turkey. I followed this recipe, and it turned out amazing!
Amazing! Glad your turkey turned out perfectly this year Mel.
Best Turkey I’ve ever tried! It is so juicy and flavorful that you would like to make a bigger one next time so you can have enough leftovers next day! You can’t go wrong with this recipe! It was my first time roasting a Turkey and I am so grateful that from all of the recipes I found online I ended it up by picking this one. Thanks Lisa! 💗
So happy to hear your first turkey was successful!
I can’t believe my Italian Mother in Law asked me to make the turkey again this year! I made it last year for the first time ever making a turkey. Thanks to Lisa made it look so simple that I went for it and what a success!.
Looks like you’ve got it down now! Glad it turned out perfectly Katherine.
First time making a turkey and this recipe was a big hit! The butter did not apply as uniformly as in the pictures but it still turned out great, perfectly juicy.
Wonderful! As for the butter, make sure it comes to room temperature to make it easier to spread onto the turkey.
Made this- so delicious! Very good flavor and the meat was juicy all the way through. Got lots of compliments, so thank you!
I believe this is the third year I’ve made our turkey this way. And I have to say it’s a hit every time. Paired really well with the Dijon carrots also! Both recipes are worth a try!
Amazing! Happy to hear both dishes were a hit for Thanksgiving 😉
When my grandma called me and said “Could you please do the turkey this year? Last year was so good” I knew this would not be a disappointment. Have done it for the past 2 years for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s the easiest and tastiest one. TY Lisa.
Amazing! Glad the turkey was a success again this year.
This turkey was amazing! The instructions were so clear and took the fear out of making a turkey for a crowd. Everyone raved about how delicious it was. This is now my go to turkey recipe for Thanksgiving! Thank you for yet another perfect recipe!
Glad your turkey turned out perfectly Jen!
I just made this for Thanksgiving. It turned out great. Really moist and flavorful. Your directions were thorough and helped make my first turkey seem like I’ve been making them for years!
Glad this recipe was easy to follow along with Rhonda!
I followed your recipe but the butter didn’t work so the turkey is back in the fridge. I used Organic Valley Unsalted Butter room temperature..
Is Ghee a better option for this recipe? Thanks! Greetings from Washington State.
Oh no! Usually room temperature butter should be just fine as that is what I used.
Lisa, your set -up for printing the recipes are the best I’ve ever experienced.
I’ve enjoyed many of your recipes over time and am healthier for being onboard your awesome meal prep/recipe site. Thank you for your devotion and care.
Happy to hear the functions are easy to use!
Thank you, thank you. I made this yesterday and it was my first turkey ever. Not only was it a hit, I have no leftovers. As my Father was carving, he was eating and murmuring about how good it was. It was a splendid dinner. Thank you.
Glad this was a hit for Thanksgiving Shawny!
BEST, moist turkey ever!!!!!! Thank you so much! Turned out perfect! Cooked 21 lb turkey and was superb!!!! Soooo moist everyone loved it!!!!❤️
Amazing! Glad this recipe worked out perfectly Nancy :)
Can you give instructions for just a turkey breast? TIA
I’ve actually got a turkey breast recipe in my cookbook! But yes, I’ll be sure to make one for the website in the future :)
Hi there so I’ve thawed my 12 pound turkey for 4 days before cooking
I’ve followed your recipe to a T
It’s been cooking for the 3.5 hours
And the temperature on digital thermometer is Platueing at 154
I’ve covered it in foil so it doesn’t burn
What could be going on 😟
This recipe doesn’t need to be covered in foil, so maybe that could be it. Your oven could also cook at a lower temperature.
This is the second year in a row using this recipe but this year our turkey is larger. Can we cook it in a roaster pan with the lid? This is an electric roaster pan???
I haven’t tried this recipe in an electric roasting pan, but if you tried it let me know how it turned out!
Followed your recipe and have the bird in the roaster. I think it is going to turn out fine, but my application of compound butter did not go anything like your pictures. I thoroughly patted dry with paper towels, including beneath the skin, and I had mad the compound butter earlier with butter that had been out overnight so it was room temp and reasonably soft. It attempting to apply the compound butter, it didn’t want to stick to anything but my hands. I rubbed it all over but it didn’t leave behind more that a glisten. I ended up stuffing it all under the skin atop the breasts and spreading it around through the skin. Any tips for next time?
That usually happens when the butter is still too cold and firm. If you can, pop it in the microwave in 5-second increments just to warm it up a smidge. Then it should spread on the turkey no problem. :)
This happened to me too, but I think the bird has to be COMPLETELY DRY. Mine had started to get a bit sticky/wet, so some stuck and some didn’t, but I just melted the herb butter and basted it on. Worked fine at 325degrees.
I really wanted to make this but 3 grocery stores later & not a single fresh herb! I do have dried seasonings but no idea if I can use those instead & if so what the measurements would be!
Hi Sarah – yes, you can still make this with dried herbs! For the compound butter use about 1/3 the amount listed for dried herbs. And then just sprinkle some inside the cavity as well. Happy Thanksgiving!
Thank you for this recipe! I continue to enjoy your recipes, every one is amazing! This saved our thanksgiving!! It was delicious!!
Glad this tutorial was helpful Tammie!
Can I set up tonight in roasting pan as and all the instructions verbatim, with butter compote for 5:30 AM oven placement?
That should be fine!
Hi! Can I prepare this the night before & put it in the frig?
You can prep it with butter the night before.
I have never made a turkey, duck or goose. And this worked out just perfectly. My guests were very happy!!
Wonderful! I’m so happy you and your guests loved the recipe.
Looks amazing! Going to try it on Thursday, but wondering if I can use avocado oil IN PLACE OF BUTTER/Ghee ?? Can I slip the oil under the skin? Same volume? We are dairy free and can’t have ghee. TIA!
Yes, you can use a little oil just to help the herbs stick. Enjoy!
Hello! This is the first year I am hosting thanksgiving and this recipe gave me a little less panic about the Turkey (and your gravy recipe)! Would you recommend against buttering the turkey the night before or would that be okay! Thanks in advance!!
Hi Hannah – yes, I would recommend buttering right before cooking. Happy Thanksgiving!
Our first year making a turkey and dreading the “it’s so dry” outcome for everyone! Surprisingly enough it turned out perfect and with the help of your recipe it tasted ABSOLUTELY delicious! Everyone loved it even my NON turkey lovers. Thank you so much for your delicious recipe.
Do you empty the cavity (onions, lemons, herbs) after the turkey is completely cooked?
You can leave those items in there while serving and/or discard them, it’s up to you.
My store was out of fresh sage. I got this freeze dried sage is that ok how much so I use of it it’s like chopped up. Or can I go without
Hi! Using this recipe for the first time this year on a 23 lb turkey. How much salt & pepper should I use for the turkey?
Also will it hurt to add oranges to the cavity?
Hi Lisa! I’m very excited to try this recipe! Just a quick question, when I change the amount for the recipe above the ingredients on the page, the weight of the turkey stays at 12-18lbs but the rest of the ingredients change in amount on my end. I’m assuming for a slightly heavier turkey, 22lbs, I should choose the “2x” ingredients amount…? Let me know if this question doesn’t make sense.
Hi Heidi – that’s probably because the turkey is a range weight. But yes, the rest of the ingredient measurements should be good. Enjoy!
Quick question my oven has the option to convert roast. Should I use this and at what temperature. Also I have a pre salted Kosher Turkey is there any seasonings I should cut back on? Thanks!
What do you change if your stuffing the turkey?
Can you cook this in the Traeger?
I’m sure you could, but as I don’t have a Traeger I’m not sure what the directions would be.
Hi Lisa. Hopefully you will get this in time for Thanksgiving. We have a 26lb turkey. Can I follow the instructions as is, including making the changes to 26lb? Thank you
Yes, that should be fine. Happy Thanksgiving!
Your recipe looks great! I’m making it for Thanksgiving. Stupid question 🤦🏻♂️ I have always cooked my turkeys in a cheap tin foil roaster with the turkey in a bag. I do NOT want to do that anymore. I’m using a gas oven, I’m making a 18-20 lb turkey and am looking for a good roasting pan ( 18 inches) with a rack. My question is, do I need a lid?
Hi Jason – no, you don’t need a lid. Enjoy your turkey!
This will be my third year in a row making this turkey. The only difference I make is using an already prepared herb butter. I get compliments every year because it is DELICIOUS!
Wonderful! And I’m thrilled and honored that you keep coming back to this turkey recipe year after year. :) Smart move to make the herb butter ahead of time as well!
I have 2 questions. 1. How do you feel about cooking a turkey upside down? I’ve heard this keeps the breast moist. 2. How do you feel about cooking a turkey in a bag.
I went to a dinner that used your recipe and they used a bag. It was the best turkey I’ve ever had. So I’m nervous about not using the bag as you suggest.
Hi Misty – I’ve never heard about cooking a turkey upside down, that’s a new one for me, ha! And I personally don’t like the thought of cooking turkey in plastic, plus I don’t think it’s necessary. But I know everyone has their preferences. :)
Can I use a Turkey roaster instead of cooking in the oven?
Can I used dried herbs instead?
Yes, you can. If using dried, use about 1/3 the amount in the compound butter.
Hi! I will be attempting this tomorrow for a “Friendsgiving” – I was hoping to get the turkey prepped the night before (so tonight), for easy pop in the oven tomorrow. Would you recommend waiting until right before or would it be okay to do the prep work in advance? Thanks! Can’t wait to try it!
You can definitely do the prep work in advance for this recipe. Have a wonderful Friendsgiving Kristi!
Should the turkey be pre-brined?
I have never made a turkey before. Would it be all right to use a aluminum pan for this recipe? I don’t have a roasting pan or rack.
Yes, no problem! Make sure to watch my video above where I show you can use that. :)
Quick easy and delicious!! Excited to wow my guests!
This looks absolutely amazing. Definitely trying this, this year ❤️ quick question tho. Can you please let me know how you make the gravy with the drippings and veggies on the bottom? God bless you and have the most amazing Thanksgiving 🙏🏼
Hi Kiera – I have a separate recipe for the gravy. You can do a search on this website! Enjoy! :)
If I decided to cook the night before, how would you recommend storing in the fridge? Covered with some broth added? Have you done this, and if so, how did it turn out? I’m cooking a 19 lb turkey and need to serve around 2pm, so it would really help to make it the night before, but I don’t want it to be gross.
Yes, you could cook it the day before, cover it in the fridge, and then reheat before serving. :)
Great article, but I’m a bit confused. You suggest 24hrs/5 lbs for thawing so a 10 lb turkey would take two days in the fridge to defrost, but you advised purchasing the turkey at least a week before cooking, so that would seem to leave 5 days after it thawed sitting in the refridgerator. Is that okay or have I misunderstood? Thanks again.
You can purchase the turkey a week in advance and put in it your freezer. Then move it to your fridge two days ahead of Thanksgiving. :)
So I’m not the author, but you misunderstood. You buy the turkey frozen. Most people make the mistake of waiting until the day before or a few days before Thanksgiving to buy their turkey, which doesn’t allow adequate time for thawing, which is why they suggested giving yourself a full week window to decide when you want to start thawing. The *rule of thumb* is 24hrs per 5 lbs, but that’s just it. Some fridges are colder, some areas of the fridge are colder than others. So if you’re like me, and want to avoid possibly partially frozen turkey, I start thawing 1-2 days before the “rule of thumb” window starts. It’s not going to cause any health concerns if you have a fully thawed turkey in the fridge for a few days before cooking, assuming it is maintained at refrigerated temp the entire time.
Would using an oven bag be beneficial at all?
It’s not necessary for this recipe.
I’m making a 10 1/2 pound turkey and read that 350 is better for a bird under 12 pounds and 325 for 12 pound and up.. Do you agree?
I tend to always keep the temperature consistent at 325F, no matter the turkey size. But if you increase the temperature a bit, just make sure to reduce the cook time or keep an eye on it several minutes earlier.
I am doing to try this recipe this year! I know you said a roasting bag isn’t necessary, but can I use one if I want to? Would it change the cooking time?
Hi Lisa, this looks delicious! I plan to make it this year for Thanksgiving. Should I use convection setting on my oven?
I used standard setting for this recipe, but you could certainly use convection if you’d like.
I cooked the turkey for a party I had in my building, and it was a total hit! ☺️
Everyone loved it and nothing was left on the plater! 😁
It even looked very pretty on the plater I used.
Thank you so much for this easy and delicious recipe. I feel like I can cook Turkey all the time! 😁.
Yay, sounds like turkey success! So happy you and your friends loved it!
How would reheat and serve if made a day ahead?
I would warm it up back in the oven at 325°F (160°C) for about 20 to 30 minutes.
Omg! The turkey came out sooo delicious and juicy. I was testing out the recipe before Thanksgiving day and now I feel super confident and can’t wait to host the holiday in a new house. Thank you so much to share a wonderfully recipe!!!
Happy to hear your turkey turned out perfectly Liana!
Excellent instructions. My turkey turned out perfectly juicy and flavourful. I reduced the number of garlic cloves as I had very large ones. Thank you for this great recipe! I’m not intimidated by cooking a turkey anymore 👏🏽
Thrilled to hear this recipe worked out perfectly Sarah!