Easy, Foolproof Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe

This Thanksgiving Turkey recipe is practically foolproof – it’s flavor packed and so tender and juicy with a golden, crispy skin. With my step-by-step tutorial, even first time cooks can pull this turkey recipe off stress free!

Thanksgiving turkey, roasted and stuffed with onions, in a roasting pan

This perfect Thanksgiving Turkey will be the star of your family’s holiday dinner. Of course the best turkey recipe needs the best Thanksgiving side dishes, like my Mashed Potatoes, Homemade Stuffing and classic Green Bean Casserole.

This juicy turkey recipe isn’t complicated at all. There’s no brining, no basting, no weird cooking techniques. Just simple instructions to give you great results every time.

In this post you’ll learn tons of tips and tricks, plus step-by-step instructions for the most perfectly tender, incredibly juicy, totally stress free, best Thanksgiving turkey recipe, ever!

roasted turkey with crispy skin on a cutting board

Why this Thanksgiving Turkey recipe works

  • It’s easy! Even a first time cook can make a delicious turkey for Thanksgiving, or any day, by following this easy turkey recipe. 
  • Placing butter underneath the skin adds extra flavor and keeps the meat moist and juicy.
  • Covering the top with foil during the first few hours of cooking helps to keep them from drying out. 
  • Turning up the heat during the last hour ensures a golden, crispy skin without drying out the meat.


No brining, No basting, just simple ingredients for an exceptionally flavorful Thanksgiving turkey! Be sure to scroll down to the recipe card for the complete list of ingredients and instructions.

  • The bird – For this recipe and the cooking times that go with it, I used a 12 pound turkey. This is a fairly average size that will feed 8-10 people.
  • Butter – Pats of butter are placed under the skin of each turkey breast.
  • Onion and garlic – peel and stuff inside the cavity of the turkey. You can also add fresh herbs and citrus fruits, like lemon or orange, if you like.
  • Dry Rub – Mix together salt, dried thyme, dried sage, rosemary, paprika, black pepper and ground mustard and rub into the skin. This is also a delicious seasoning for Roast Chicken.
  • Equipment – A big roasting pan, preferably with a rack to hold the turkey up above the drippings.

How to Cook a Turkey: A Step By Step Tutorial

How to Defrost a Turkey

If your turkey is frozen, you will need to completely defrost it in the refrigerator before you even remove any of the packaging. Place your bird in a deep roasting pan in the fridge to catch any juices that may run out.

Resist the urge to thaw in your kitchen sink as this can encourage harmful bacteria to spread. Be sure to start defrosting the turkey a few days before you need to cook it.

How long do you defrost a turkey? A good rule of thumb is to allow 24 hours for every 4 pounds of turkey. So for our 12 pound bird, at least 3-4 days. To be safe I usually give it an extra 12-24 hours.

Once your turkey is fully defrosted, you can prep it for roasting using the recipe below.

raw whole turkey on a cutting board

How to Prep a Turkey for Roasting

Remove from packaging and remove extra parts. Remove the fully thawed turkey from it’s packaging. I usually do this in a large container in the kitchen sink. If included, remove the neck and the bag containing the gizzards and giblets. Keep these for making extra stock for the Homemade Turkey Gravy or discard them.

Dry the skin. Pat the skin dry with paper towels. Dry skin equals crispy skin!

Separate the skin from the breast. Using clean hands, gently lift the skin from the turkey breast starting on the side closest to the legs. Slide your hand underneath, separating the skin from the breast meat. Repeat the process with the other side.

hand slid under skin on a turkey breast

Add butter under the skin. Slide 3 pats of butter (1 pat = 1 tablespoon) under the skin on each side and spread it around with your fingers.

pats of butter placed underneath the skin on a turkey

Add seasoning and aromatics. Mix together the dry rub, and sprinkle it all over the outside of the turkey and press it into the skin. Sprinkle a little inside the cavity, too. Place the onions and garlic inside the cavity, then transfer the whole bird to a roasting pan with a rack.

whole raw turkey on a roasting rack in a pan

Roasting the turkey

These instructions are for how to cook a 12 pound turkey in the oven. If your bird is bigger or smaller, you will need to adjust the cooking time based on the provided instructions. Scroll down to the printable recipe card for the full instructions, or check out the handy chart below.

  1. Preheat your oven. We start with the oven at 325℉, keeping it low and slow for 2 hours (depending on the size) so the meat gets moist and tender, then crank it up to 400 for the last hour to get that crispy skin.
  2. Cover. Cut a piece of foil large enough to cover the turkey breasts. Press it down and mold the foil to the shape of the breasts. This will keep the breasts from drying out. You’ll remove it before the turkey is finished cooking to brown the skin.
  3. Roast the turkey in the oven at 325℉ for 2 hours, adding additional time depending on the size (use the chart below). Then turn the heat up to 400℉, remove the foil and roast until the cooked turkey reaches the optimal temperature. Use our handy guide below to adjust the time. (Be sure to pin this chart to save it for later!).
  4. Let the turkey rest. Remove the turkey from the oven and let it rest for at least 15-20 minutes, or up to 40 minutes. This will give you plenty of time to cook a Sweet Potato Casserole or warm up some dinner rolls.
graphic showing how to cook a turkey with times, temps and how many servings
onions stuffed in a roast turkey in a roasting pan

Frequently Asked Questions

How many pounds of turkey do I need?

A pound of turkey per person will feed your guests and leave them satisfied. But if you want leftovers, I recommend 1.5-2 pounds per adult and about half a pound per child. I personally think leftovers are awesome, because you can make Turkey Tetrazzini or Turkey and Stuffing Casserole.

How long do you cook a turkey?

A 12 pound turkey takes about 3 hours to cook. Start at 325℉ for 2 hours, then increase the temperature to 400℉ for another hour. For a larger bird, increase the initial cooking time (at 325℉) by 15 minutes per pound.

How do I keep my turkey moist?

One of the best tricks we have for keeping your cooked turkey juicy and moist – butter! Stuffing pats of butter under the skin creates a beautifully crisp skin, but it also melts and keeps the meat super moist and juicy.

Another trick I use is placing aluminum foil over the turkey breasts to help dissipate some of the heat and lock in moisture. Since dark meat takes longer to cook than the light meat, this method lets the thighs and legs get their roast on while the breast gently cooks.

How do you know when the turkey is done?

A turkey should be cooked until it reaches an internal temperature of 165℉. Insert an instant-read meat thermometer in the base of the breast meat or the thickest part of the thigh, careful not to touch any bone. Those are absolute basics. The actual length of time it takes to reach the correct temperature will depend on the temperature of the bird before cooking, its size, and your oven temperature.

turkey leg and slice of breast meat on a white plate

Expert Tips

Every year we get lots of questions for how to cook a turkey so we’ve put them all in one place. Hopefully these helpful hints will take the guesswork out of cooking your turkey!

  • Resist the urge to wash your turkey. Washing poultry is a no-no, and will just contaminate your sink. Remove from the packaging and pat dry with paper towels.
  • No basting? No brining? These extra steps are really unnecessary for achieving the perfect roast turkey. Basting requires constantly opening your oven which costs you valuable heat and extends the cooking time. Brining isn’t necessary with a high quality turkey.
  • Don’t cook inside of your turkey. If you cook stuffing inside your turkey, the meat will be dry before the stuffing reaches a temperature that’s safe to eat. Instead, stuff the turkey with aromatics like onions, garlic, celery, herbs, or lemons that will add a ton of flavor to the bird as well as to the dripping for gravy. Cook the stuffing in a baking dish, like my Classic Sausage Stuffing or Bacon and Onion Stuffing.
  • Save the turkey drippings. The dripping are used to make the gravy, and the flavor will compliment beautifully.
turkey breast, spoon with gravy, green beans, mashe dpotatoes

Make Ahead, Storage and Freezing

Make Ahead: Once your turkey is fully thawed, you prep it for roasting up to 24 hours in advance. Add the butter, seasoning, and aromatics, then cover loosely with foil and place in the fridge overnight. Take it out about 30 minutes before you put it in the oven so it can shake off the chill.

Storage: If you’re going to eat your leftovers within 3-4 days, store in an airtight container or resealable plastic bag in the fridge. Use for sandwiches, BLT Turkey Wraps, tacos, and Turkey Soup.

Freezing: One of the reasons I love turkey leftovers is because I can keep some in my freezer and easily toss it in Turkey Shepherd’s Pie or in soups.

Reheating: If you’re just looking to reheating a late-night Thanksgiving dinner leftovers plate, you can do that in the microwave. If it’s frozen, thaw it overnight in the fridge before adding to other recipes.

Best Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Your Thanksgiving turkey may be the best ever, but you’re still going to need to fill some supporting roles. Here are some of our favorite Thanksgiving sides that will compliment your cooked turkey in the best way!

101+ Thanksgiving
Side Dishes

Find all the sides you could possibly want for the perfect Thanksgiving menu!

sliced turkey breast on a white plate, turkey on a cutting board

Need a smaller turkey this year? Try my other easy turkey recipes for cooking a turkey breast in the air fryer, roasting in the oven, or even an Instant Pot Turkey Breast. Any of these recipes would be a great way to feed a smaller crowd, or to add some extra servings of turkey to your meal.

If you’ve made this recipe, please come back and leave us a star rating or a comment below. Or, tag us on social media @yellowblissroad or #yellowblissroad for a chance to be featured.

Best Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe

A Thanksgiving Turkey that's so juicy with a crispy skin. Easy step-by-step tutorial, even first time cooks can pull this turkey recipe off stress free!
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 3 hrs
Total Time 3 hrs 50 mins
Course Dinner
Cuisine American
Servings 12 people
Calories 454kcal


  • 12 pound turkey thawed
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into 1 Tablespoon pats
  • 1 1/2 yellow onions peeled and halved
  • 4 garlic cloves peeled

Dry Rub:

  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard


  • Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F.
  • In a bowl, combine the salt, thyme, sage, paprika, pepper, and ground mustard until evenly incorporated.
  • Remove the turkey from its packaging. From the bird’s cavity, remove the neck and the bag containing the gizzards and heart. (You can keep these items to make stock or discard them.)
  • Use a few paper towels to dry off the skin of the bird and inside the cavity.
  • Lift the skin over the turkey breast (on the side closest to the legs) and slide your hand under the skin separating it from the breast meat. Do this on both sides of the breast.
  • Insert three pats of butter under the skin on one side fo the turkey breast spreading them around evenly. Repeat on the other side.
  • Sprinkle the dry rub all over the turkey – breast, legs, wings, anything you can see. Using your hands press the rub into the skin a little. If you have any extra rub sprinkle it inside the cavity.
  • Place the onion halves and garlic cloves inside the turkey’s cavity.
  • Transfer the bird to your roasting pan. (I like to use a pan with a rack to keep the bottom of the turkey from getting soggy.)
  • Take a good sized piece of foil and place it over the turkey breast. (You want to make sure to the foil piece is big enough to fit over the whole breast.) Press down and mold the foil to the breast., let the ends stick out if the foil’s a bit big.
  • Place the turkey in the oven and roast for 2 hours. Carefully remove the foil from the turkey. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees and cook the turkey for another hour, or until the internal temperature of the breast reaches 165 degrees F and the skin is golden and crispy.
  • Remove the turkey from the oven and let it rest for 30-45 minutes before carving.


This recipe is for a 12 pound bird. You will add 15 minutes per pound at the 325 degree cooking time. The temperature increase at the end does not change. Here is a handy list of how long to cook your turkey at different weights:
  • 10 pounds: 1 hour 30 minutes at 325 degrees; 1 hour at 400 degrees.
  • 12 pounds: 2 hours at 325 degrees; 1 hour at 400 degrees.
  • 14 pounds: 2 hours, 30 minutes at 325 degrees; 1 hour at 400 degrees.
  • 16 pounds: 3 hours at 325 degrees; 1 hour at 400 degrees.
  • 18 pounds: 3 hours, 30 minutes at 325 degrees; 1 hour at 400 degrees.
If you have questions, please be sure to read the entire post – we answer lots of questions and offer tons of helpful tips and tricks!


Calories: 454kcalProtein: 70gFat: 18gSaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 232mgSodium: 361mgPotassium: 721mgSugar: 1gVitamin A: 180IUCalcium: 35mgIron: 3mg
Keyword how to cook a turkey, thanksgiving turkey, turkey recipe

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Julie Espy

Food nerd. Cocktail enthusiast. Carboholic. Bacon addict. Basset nuzzler. Boy mom. Come eat something delicious with me at Bread Booze Bacon!

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  1. This will be my first time cooking a turkey this year. Quick question, If I only have salted butter should I decrease the amount of salt in the dry rub?

    1. Honestly it depends how salty your butter is. I’ve used salted butter and not changed the seasonings, but I like things a little saltier than the average person. It would be a personal preference.

  2. Hello. I was wondering if you HAD to use the mustard in the seasoning. If I omit it will it change the flavor of the turkey much? I’ve never used that before on turkey. Thank you.

      1. Thank you for your reply. I will definitely do it your way. The reviews were great so I can’t wait to try this! Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. Hi there! I am looking to make this recipe for a 12lb turkey, but was intending to use an electric roaster. Are there any adjusted cooking times for that?

    1. Hi Brittany, an electric roaster won’t give you the crispy skin, so you really should just use the times your roaster calls for.

      1. Hi! For the foil, would I put it on the top only or the bottom and top. And by pepper I’m guessing you mean black pepper right? Thank you!

  4. This will be my second year making this turkey. Follow the recipe to a T and you will get the best, most “moistest” bird you’ve ever eaten! 🙂
    Seriously, my entire family raves about the juiciness of the turkey!!

    1. Hi Jessica, I don’t recommend stuffing the turkey with a bread stuffing. That said, the rule of thumb is that the stuffing has to come to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F to be considered safe to eat.

  5. HI Kristen! Just wanted to say thank you for this recipe as i’ve used it the last three years and it has turned out awesome each time! Excited to do it again this year with my 22 pounder this year! 🙂

    1. Due to covid we aren’t gathering with family this year. This just got decided today. So last minute first timer here. I have a small family so we just bought a fresh 6lb turkey since we are really only feeding 2 people. What would you suggest for the cool times? Thank you so much!

      1. I would start with about 1.25 hours at 325, then uncover and turn to 400 for about 45 minutes, or until the breast is 165 degrees. Let me know how it turns out,; I haven’t tried this method with a bird that small.

  6. So easy and it simplified roasting a turkey! I made a 20lb turkey, followed the time estimate in the recipe, only basted once when I pulled off the foil to roast it the last hour. 4 hours at 325 and an hour at 400. It came out really dark but was incredibly moist and I had a pan full of drippings! I should have checked the temperature sooner because every oven cooks different and I forgot that basic thing but the recipe is fool proof! Many thx!

    1. That’s an excellent tip Brenda – I had mine come out a little dark the first time cooking it in my new oven. Every oven is different!

  7. I know this is probably a stupid question, and I’m assuming since the ground mustard is part of the dry rub it is the mustard seasoning not the ground mustard in a bottle like regular mustard. Am I right I just wanted to make sure I use the right one.

  8. I’m excited to try this! Is the onion flavor for the turkey strong? My bf does not like onions and I am wondering if you have any recommended substitutions for the onion?

    1. The onion doesn’t flavor the meat like onion, it’s used as an aromatic and doesn’t add an overbearing flavor.

  9. Do you need the foil if you are using the kid to the roasting pan? Also does the cooking time change according to the elevation your at?

    1. Hi Cindy, the lid would keep the skin from browning and crisping. I’ve never used a lid when roasting in the oven. Are you using an electric roaster? No the time won’t change due to elevation.

  10. Hi, I’m excited to try this!! I’m cooking it today in about an hour. We have two thanksgivings a year and I always host one. I’ll return later with my true comments

  11. Hello! I’m excited to try this recipe as it sounds delicious. What are your thoughts on using an oven bag for the turkey?

  12. Hi Kristin! I used this recipe last year to cook my first ever turkey! It was extremely juicy and skin was crispy! The dripping made an incredible gravy. Thank you for this miracle recipe 🙂

    This year I will have a a couple dairy-free family members. Do you know if using margarine or dairy-free butter will have the same effect?

    1. Hi Amy, I haven’t tried with margarine of non dairy butter, I only cook with butter. That said, it probably won’t have quite the same effect. I’d like to think it would be fine but don’t know if it could cause it to burn.

  13. This looks delicious! Can’t wait to use it to make my first turkey ever! My bf doesn’t like onions, will there be a strong onion taste to the turkey or do you have any suggestions for substituting the onion? TIA!

  14. First time doing a turkey. Do I need to baste it? If so how often, and just remove the foil and replace it each time?

    1. Hi Sarah, there is no need to baste this turkey. Follow the recipe as written and it will be fabulously juicy!

  15. I had Thanksgiving a few years ago for the first time and cooked my first turkey using this guide! Everyone was so amazed with how perfect the turkey was. I am having Thanksgiving again this year and using this same guide!

  16. Thank you so much for this wonderful guide! I’ve only made a Turkey once and that was 6 years ago, so I’m a bit nervous about getting it right.

    I’m making a small turkey because it’s only for 2 adults and one child. How long would I cook a 6-8lb turkey for? Also, should I reduce the butter, spices and onion/garlic (for inside the bird) or just leave it the same? Thank you in advance for your help! 🙂

    1. Hi K, I’ve got a graphic in the post that includes time for cooking an 8 pound turkey. You could reduce the amount of butter and seasonings slightly since it’s a smaller surface area.