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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 roast turkey recipe off stress-free!
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 Make Ahead 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 while your bird roasts stress-free.
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! Your holiday meal is about to get a whole lot easier.
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 turkey 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 the breast meat from drying out since the turkey legs take a little longer to cook.
- 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. Add even more flavor by using my yummy Garlic Butter.
- 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 kosher 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 wire rack to hold the roast 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.
How To Prep A Turkey For Roasting
Remove from packaging and remove extra parts. Remove the fully thawed turkey from its 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.
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.
Add seasoning and aromatics. Mix together the dry rub, 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!).
- 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
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.
One of the best tricks we have for keeping your cooked turkey juicy and moist is 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 light meat, this method lets the thighs and legs get their roast on while the breast gently cooks.
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.
Every year we get lots of questions about 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 drippings for pan gravy. Cook the stuffing in a baking dish, like my Classic Sausage Stuffing Recipe or Bacon and Onion Stuffing.
- Save the turkey drippings. The drippings are used to make the gravy, and the flavor will complement beautifully.
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 reheat 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!
Side Dish Recipes:
- Cheesy Broccoli Casserole
- Oven Roasted Vegetables
- Slow Cooker Mac and Cheese
- One Hour Dinner Rolls
- Scalloped Corn Casserole
- Twice Baked Potatoes
- Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes
- Orange Cranberry Sauce
- Cranberry Fluff Salad
- Pumpkin Dump Cake
- Classic Apple Pie
- Southern Pecan Pie
Find all the sides you could possibly want for the perfect Thanksgiving menu!
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.
Best Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe
- Roasting Pan (click the link to see the one I use)
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
Nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and brands of ingredients used.
Don’t leave without stopping by and checking out our Holiday Gift Ideas!
I made this today for Thanksgiving and had more compliments than any other recipe that I’ve tried in the past!
This is definitely a keeper and the only recipe I will use in the future.
You are so welcome Shannon! Awesome feedback, thanks for sharing.
This turkey turned out fabulous! I made it for 2 separate festivities! Everyone loved it. So easy to follow and turns out amazing! This will be my go to recipe every Thanksgiving. I didn’t have a rack that would fit inside my roasting pan, but crumpled up foil in the bottom of the pan worked just as well. Thanks again and Happy Thanksgiving!
I’m making a 19lb shady brook Turkey. The package says to cook for 3 3/4hrs at 325. Can this be wrong? Will my Turkey be dry if I do the 4hr low and 1at 400?
This recipe is different based on my experience. The packaging is not wrong, but there are several different ways to cook a turkey.
I have a 20 pound turkey that I just put in the oven at 325. So the foil won’t stick to the skin if it’s on there for the first 4 hours?
It shouldn’t stick to the turkey. If you have concerns you could remove it sooner, but you risk burning the top of the turkey.
Hello, I have an 8 pound turkey, because we have a pretty small group this year. Would cooking it for 1 hour at 325, and then 1 hour at 400 be the right amount? it looks like that based off the math of the other ones, just wanted to make sure. Thanks!
Yes, that is correct.
Do I need to truss the turkey?
It’s not necessary, but you can if you like.
What are your recommendations for stuffing the turkey? I have a recipe for stuffing, but do I need to do anything besides add more roasting time?
I don’t recommend stuffing your turkey with anything but aromatics. I have a great stuffing recipe here: Homemade Stuffing
The first time I ever made a Turkey I used this recipe a couple of years ago. It was the best turkey I have ever had. I have some fantastic cooks in my family and they all said the same thing. I think they were shocked at how good it was considering I was a newbie to cooking Turkeys. They all asked for the recipe. THANK YOU so much! I will be using this recipe again this year.
You are so welcome Cassie! Thanks for taking the time to share.
I appreciate your detailed post, especially the pictures. My first question is how long should I cook a 5lb turkey? My turkey is only 4.89 lbs. It is for our small family on the day of thanksgiving, to satisfy us until we have our large family get together over the weekend. I realized that your chart only went down to 8lbs. My other question is when you say dried sage, dried rosemary, and dried thyme- do you mean ground sage/ground thyme/crushed rosemary OR rubbed sage/thyme leaves/rosemary leaves?
Any help is appreciated! Thank you!!
Hi Jasmin, Are you talking about a whole turkey, or do you have a turkey breast? I haven’t cooked one that small, but given the size, I probably wouldn’t use the foil and just cook for 15 minutes per pound at 325, or 13 minutes per pound at 350. Also you can use either for the herbs, but I use ground.
So excited to make this!!! Do you take your turkey out of the fridge and let it get to room temp before putting in the oven? Or take directly from the fridge to the oven?
It will increase in temperature while you are prepping it for roasting.
I can’t wait to try out this recipe! Any favorite turkey brands??
I personally get our turkey every year from Butcher Box. However, I love a good Butterball turkey and actually Costco usually has a great turkey, but I haven’t seen any there recently.
This recipe sounds great. I have been looking at many turkey recipes to decide how to cook my turkey. Many say to start at high temperature and then turn down and also to baste the turkey. It looks like your recipe turns temperature up at end and does not require basting. Do you find this preferable. Thanks again for sharing your recipes.
Hi Lisa, Yes this method turns out great for me year after year! Cooking at a lower heat first lets everything cook, and then turning up the heat towards the end browns and crisps the skin. So juicy and moist! No basting required!
Hi, thinking about spatchcocking the turkey while using your recipe for the 1st time. Do you think it will work? Any suggestions?
Hi Marion, I’ve never spatchcocked a turkey, so I don’t know how well it works. But I know this recipe is delicious if you want to give it a try!
I cannot express how much I love this blog post and recipe. It’s absolutely perfect. It’s simple to follow. Gives you plenty of good information and tips without it being overwhelming. I didn’t have paprika or mustard powder. But I literally just made the turkey and let it rest for an hour and sliced it up and it was absolutely gorgeous and delicious! Thank you so much! I pinned the recipe for later!
You are so welcome Tammy! Thank you for taking the time to share your feedback.
I have not made this turkey yet, I plan to this year. Do you dry brine it? Or wet brine it? Can you please share your best recipe for either dry or wet brining? Thank you soo much!
Hi Mandy, No need to do either – just follow the directions in the recipe for a juicy, moist turkey!
Hi! What do you mean by covering just the breast with foil? You leave the keys uncovered? How long do you keep the foil on for? Thanks!
Hi Janine, I’m assuming you mean leave the “wings” uncovered. And yes, that is correct. Just cover the breast with foil.
Going to try to make this recipe for thanksgiving this year, if just looks so good! I was wondering what were the measurements to the gravy that was being made at the end of the video?
Hi Nicole – You can find the recipe for turkey gravy HERE. I added a link in the recipe notes and it’s in the post as well. Good luck and enjoy!
Just had a question….this recipe looks great… It’ll be my first time making a turkey this year and I just didn’t know if I used a Reynolds oven bag for the turkey if it is recommended vs. use of the foil? Just wondering your thoughts! Thanks!
Hi Sara, You don’t need to use a bag. It will steam the turkey and won’t allow it to brown.
My husband and I have used this recipe the last 2 years for Thanksgiving, and all of our family has went crazy over it!! They have all raved about how this is the best turkey they have ever had and have made my husband and I the designated turkey cookers from now on lol!! They have all asked me to send them this specific recipe because it is that dang good!! I think the pads of butter under the skin elevate the turkey to a whole new level!!
Hi Michaella, Thank you so much for taking the time to leave this awesome comment. So happy your family loves it. Thanks for stopping by.
For the garlic butter under the skin- is the recipe you linked for that proportioned already for the amount that needs to go under the skin of the Turkey? Or would you suggest different measurements. I have a 14 pound Turkey
No, it’s to make a batch of garlic butter. If you cut that recipe in half, it should be fine, but you might end up with a little leftover.
This recipe is perfect. When I first used it I got so many compliments. It was the best turkey I had ever had. It’s now my go to. Hack for those out there, Bacon Grease makes an amazing tasting alternative to butter in this recipe and it’s easier to spread around the bird. Yummm
Thank you Guppi! Love the feedback, thanks for stopping by.
So impressed with your recipe and comments. I do have a question though. I am planning to take Thanksgiving Dinner to a shut-in couple. Can I bake the turkey as per your instructions the day before, carve it, put it on a serving plate and take it to them the next day to be reheated in their oven?
Absolutely, and what a kind gesture. Just be sure to wrap it up real tight.
Soooo how do you recommend defrosting a turkey? 🤣I think that’s where I mess up! Do you leave it opened uncovered for a few days in the fridge?
Hi Beth, I usually defrost (sealed) for a couple of days, then unwrap it and remove all the innards, and place it in a large baking dish in the fridge, totally exposed, so it can dry out overnight. Just be sure that nothing is touching it.