I’ve been meaning to write this Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe for years, now.
It’s kinda like the Easy Roasted Chicken recipe I posted a few weeks back — it’s so ridiculously simple and easy to do that it doesn’t even feel like a “real” recipe.
But, then I hear friends on Facebook or random strangers out in public say how nervous they are to make a Thanksgiving turkey.
The good news is that roasting is one of the easier methods of cooking. All you gotta do is prepare whatever meat or vegetable you want to roast with some simple flavors and then pop it in the oven.
And the same goes for your Thanksgiving turkey. Hooray!
Really, the oven does all the work for you.
It’s seriously one of the easiest parts of Thanksgiving dinner.
So, to those of you who are cooking your very first Thanksgiving turkey and need some help, please know it’s gonna be okay.
You can do this. It’s easy and it’s gonna turn out great.
That being said, I figured it might be helpful to share my best tips for cooking a no-fail Thanksgiving turkey recipe. I hope this helps you.
My 5 Best Tips For Making The Perfect No-Fail Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe
- Place the turkey breast-side down. I know, I know. I know. Every person at the Thanksgiving dinner table will probably tell you how wrong you are. You’re not. This is sooooo the better way of roasting a turkey. Roasting the turkey with the breasts up is just asking for dry breast meat. With the breasts down, below the thighs, all the juices from the more fatty thighs will drip into the breast meat making it both more flavorful and more juicy. Trust me. Once your family tries it, they’ll be converted to the better way.
- Don’t stuff the turkey with the stuffing. Instead, add aromatics, like sliced apples, oranges, fresh herbs, etc. Why? If you cook your stuffing in the bird, you either have to cook the bird longer than necessary (which means unnecessarily dry meat) to get the stuffing to a safe temperature OR you undercook the stuffing and don’t kill off the bacteria from the turkey. This might be difficult for some family members to swallow as well, but just blame it on this crazy blogger you read. 😉
- Don’t baste the turkey. In fact, don’t even open the oven while the turkey is cooking. Yes, this is somewhat difficult on Thanksgiving Day when you’re cooking all sorts of recipes. But, ideally, you’d leave the oven door closed the entire time until a digital thermometer told you the turkey reached the right temperature. Opening the oven door to baste the turkey changes the moisture and heat levels inside the oven which affect roasting. Also, for those of you who want to baste your turkey, the skin is going to be perfect without any basting, so skip this as well.
- Let it rest. Once your turkey has reached 165 degrees, remove it from the oven and let it rest for a good 20-25 minutes. During roasting, the high heat forces a lot of the internal moisture into the center of the bird so letting it rest allows for that juiciness to get redistributed (read: moist turkey). Use that extra time to make the gravy from the turkey drippings.
- Plan ahead for thawing the turkey. Make sure you factor in enough time to allow the frozen turkey to thaw. Most turkeys come completely frozen at the store and can take up to 4 days to thaw in the refrigerator. This is something that can easily get forgotten.
So, there you have it. Use these tips and you’ll be on your way to the best turkey you’ve ever had. Every time.
- 1 12-15 lb turkey completely thawed
- 2-4 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp sea salt
- 1-2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 granny smith apple no need to remove core, cut into eighths
- 1 navel orange unpeeled, cut into eighths
- 1 yellow onion quartered
- 1 bunch fresh rosemary about 6-8 stems, whole
- 1 bunch fresh sage leaves about 6-8 leaves, whole
- 1 bunch fresh thyme leaves about 8-10 stems with leaves, whole
If your turkey is not yet defrosted, there are two ways I have found to be best. Either place it in the sink and cover it with cold water for 4-8 hours or place it in the fridge (on a plate to catch any potential leakage) for 2-3 days. The fridge method is the safer method while the sink method is faster.
Once completely thawed, remove the giblets from the inside of the turkey. They are not needed for this recipe so you can either save or discard them.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Place turkey, breast-side down, on a roasting rack in a roasting pan.
Stuff as much of the apple, orange, onion, rosemary, sage, and thyme into both cavities of the turkey. Stop when no more is able to fit without falling out. Firmly press the skin flaps surrounding the cavities closed to keep everything in — there’s no need to tie up.
Bend the wings back to help stabilize the turkey and allow for even browning. See picture above.
Rub all surfaces of the turkey with the olive oil.
Season the turkey liberally with the salt and pepper.
Insert a meat thermometer into the deepest part of the thigh and set to 165 degrees.
Place the turkey in the center of the oven and cook until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees, approximately 2-3 hours. (If you don’t have a meat thermometer, you will know the turkey is done when the juices run clear between the leg and thigh when pierced with a fork.)
Once done, carefully remove from the oven, cover with tin foil, and allow to rest 20 minutes before slicing and serving.
*If you’d like to brown the breast-side of the turkey as well, flip the turkey over to be breast-side up when approximately 15 minutes remain for cooking. Increase the oven to 450 degrees for these last 15 minutes. This is kind of a hassle and, in my opinion, not worth it, but will result in well-browned breast skin as well. This step is totally optional.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links for the kitchen item(s) I use 🙂
16 thoughts on “No-Fail Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe”
I am cooking a turkey later today using your instructions. I love that there is no butter involved way healthier! However, there is a picture in this post right below the apple, orange and onions where it looks like a hand rubbing butter on the turkey. I read the directions many times and didn’t see any butter involved. Am I missing something?
I have been cooking Thanksgiving dinner for over 30 years and this is BY FAR the BEST way to cook a delicious, juicy turkey ever made!!!!! hitting repeat for Christmas dinner!
Thank you Lacey xoxox
I was looking for a recipe for my turkey. I am so glad that I chose your recipe. The turkey was delicous I look forward to making your other recipes. Thank you.
Love the breast side down tip you have given everyone. It does make a nice difference. For those using a convection oven for ‘roast’, the minutes per lbs will be different, but a good guide for other prep work. I set my internal temp to 162 degrees and let it rest up to 165 degrees internal or slightly above. I have found that “until the juices run clear” is accurate about 1/2 the time. Best money I have spent is on a real good thermometer with alarm bell. Just love that I have found your site and will be back many times. Merry Christmas!!!
I am using a disposable aluminum roaster pan. should I put foil over the top of it like a tent? I have always done this in the past with turkeys. I am making it tonight! Putting it in the oven at 2:30 today!
Hi, how long would an 18-20 lb. turkey need to cook?
Nancy, the rule is 13 minutes per pound so 18 pounds would be around 4 hours – I highly recommend using an instant read thermometer so you just let the turkey tell you when it’s ready 🙂
We’re having a small crowd this year and are planning to cook a turkey breast instead of the entire bird. I recognize that much of the recipe will stay the same, but where would you stuff all the “stuff,” given that there’s no cavity? Any other recommendations? Also, any tips for getting an accurate temp reading when sticking a thermometer in the breast? Much appreciated!
Hi Allison – I actually wouldn’t worry about stuffing any of the dressing into the bird at all (I don’t with even the whole bird (you can read more about that here https://www.asweetpeachef.com/sides/thanksgiving-stuffing/). I would stick the thermometer into the deepest cavity of the bird to get the best reading. Best of luck!!! 🙂
Lacey, thanks for writing up your turkey recipe. It was super easy, super moist, super everything – we loved it!
Yes! So glad to hear this, Tobi. I’m so happy you enjoyed the turkey recipe 🙂
Thank you for this! Every year I tell myself “THIS IS THE YEAR I WILL COOK A GREAT BIG TURKEY” and never do because I’m too chicken. I’m glad I found this on Blogher, I will definitely be trying this method this year.
Yay! You can totally do it, Chelsea! 🙂
At one time I would have disagreed with you but then I tried it breast side down. You win. 🙂
Haha, yea I was a skeptic at one time, too. Then I tried it and I’ll never go back either 😉
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