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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
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.
Don’t leave without stopping by and checking out our Holiday Gift Ideas!