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How to Make a Thanksgiving Turkey

by Mark Dylan


You’ll never have to wonder how to make a Thanksgiving Turkey after you read this post. This turkey recipe is juicy, full of flavor, and perfect for the Thanksgiving Day table. Here are all of our best tips and tricks for the perfect turkey.

Sliced turkey on a platter.

The Best Thanksgiving Turkey

Raise your hand if you’ve accidentally roasted a turkey with the innards inside (paper, gizzards, and all). WE HAVE. Have no fear, you will never have that issue again after reading this post.

We will teach you how to make a Thanksgiving turkey that is juicy, flavorful, and delicious. Along with tips and tricks on how to avoid Thanksgiving Day mishaps.

notes Before making a Thanksgiving turkey

  • You do not have to brine the turkey before baking but we highly recommend it. If you’d like to dry-brine your turkey instead, check out this post.
  • The size of the turkey will depend on how long it takes the turkey to roast. The rule of thumb is 13 minutes per pound of turkey.
  • We highly recommend using our homemade turkey dry rub, but if you don’t have time to mix up this seasoning you can use a generic poultry seasoning.
  • We used this turkey roasting pan. Be sure you use a pan that can elevate the turkey out of the turkey drippings.
  • Serve this turkey with our homemade turkey gravy.
A whole turkey sitting in a brine.

Tools You Will Need

Here are a few tools that will help make this recipe a lot easier.

Featured Ingredients

  • Whole turkey: be sure you find an untreated 12-15 pound turkey for this recipe.
  • Kosher salt: kosher salt is important for both the brine, and turkey, and for the overall flavor for the bird.
  • Turkey seasoning: we say this time and time again, but this turkey dry rub is our favorite. If you don’t have time to make homemade seasoning you can use store-bought turkey seasoning, too.
  • Aromatics: onions, garlic, fresh thyme, fresh rosemary, fresh oregano and other aromatics in this recipe are very important for flavor. Don’t skip it.
  • Broth: any broth will do for the basting liquid, whether it’s homemade or store-bought.
  • Wine: a bit of white wine in the basting liquid makes all the difference. Try to find a dry white wine rather than a sweet white wine.
A whole turkey with dry rub and sitting in a roasting pan.

How to Prepare a Turkey for Roasting

To prepare your turkey for brining and roasting, we suggest sanitizing your kitchen sink and placing a baking sheet in the sink. Place your turkey on the baking sheet and remove the wrapping from the turkey.

THAW TURKEY

It is very important that you thaw your turkey fully before beginning this process. Thawing a 12-15 lb. turkey takes longer than you’d think.

We thawed ours in the fridge for 2 days until fully thawed.

Make sure to keep an eye on your turkey. You can always bring it to the countertop to thaw faster than in the fridge.

REMOVE TURKEY INNARDS

Before starting anything, be sure to remove the innards from the cavity of the turkey before preparing the brine for the turkey.

You can discard the giblets and innards or save them for a yummy turkey soup later on.

wet TURKEY BRINE

After your turkey is prepped and ready to go it’s time to prepare the ‘wet’ turkey brine. We have an entire post about a wet turkey brine, but essentially you are preparing a salty water bath for the turkey to sit in overnight.

If you prefer a dry turkey brine, you can do that, too!

Why brine your turkey before roasting?

We swear by wet brining our turkey before roasting because it not only adds a ton of flavor but also helps the turkey retain moisture during the roasting process.

How long to brine a turkey before roasting?

We recommend brining your turkey for at least 12 hours or overnight. So, you can do this the night before so that it’s ready for roasting in the morning.

Turkey Dry Rub

The next thing you have to do to your turkey before putting it in the oven is carefully rinsing the turkey under water, pat it dry with a paper towel, and then douse it in our delicious turkey dry rub.

Make sure to get that rub in every nook and cranny! We highly suggest making our dry rub because it’s truly what adds amazing flavor to this recipe. You’ll likely use around 1/2 to 3/4 cups of our turkey seasoning. Here’s what it’s made of:

  • Dried thyme
  • Dried rosemary
  • Dried oregano
  • Brown sugar
  • Garlic powder
  • Salt
  • Ground pepper
  • Chili powder
  • Smoked paprika

Basting Liquid

The basting liquid used for this Thanksgiving turkey recipe is made with broth, wine, onion, and garlic. You will baste the turkey throughout the roasting pan to keep it moist. Do not skip the basting! While the turkey roasts the turkey drippings drip into the bottom of the pan adding great flavor.

flavorful turkey seasoning in a bowl

try it!

Turkey Seasoning

Ditch the store-bought turkey seasoning and use the most Flavorful Turkey Seasoning made with 9 ingredients you can actually pronounce. This seasoning is made up of garlic powder, brown sugar, kosher salt, and other simple seasonings.

get recipe

Basting liquid in a roasting pan.

Cuisinart

Roasting Pan

Make sure you have a roasting pan with a wire rack and a deep pan that can catch turkey drippings. We love this Cuisinart roasting pan.

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How Long to Roast a Turkey?

This 12-15 lb turkey is roasted for 3-3.5 hours. If you have a larger turkey you will need to roast the turkey longer. Just check the internal temperature.

Remove the turkey from the oven and let the turkey rest for 15-20 minutes to retain all the moisture back into the meat. Then use a carving knife to slice your turkey.

Can I roast a bigger turkey? Yes, you can roast a larger turkey, but the roast time will be longer.

Internal Temperature of a Whole Turkey

The internal temperature of turkey should be 165ºF. Some people follow the rule that the chicken thigh temperature should be 175ºF and the breast meat should come out to 160ºF or 165ºF. Generally, we make sure the whole bird is about 165ºF.

Our rule of thumb is to keep the probe of your smoker in the thickest part of the bird to watch the temperature of the turkey throughout smoking.

meat thermometer

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Thermoworks Thermapen

We swear by using a meat thermometer when cooking any cut of meat. The Thermapen is our go-to meat thermometer that works every time.

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Top Turkey Tips

Tip 1: Thaw your bird. There is nothing worse than getting your turkey out the day of and realizing that it’s still frozen. 

Tip 2: Always use a brine; dry or wet. You get a juicy bird every time. 

Tip 3: Use a roasting pan that catches drippings for both basting and for gravy. 

FAQ

How long does it take to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving?

This turkey takes between 3-3.5 hours to roast if you are using a 12-15 pound turkey.

Do you cook a turkey at 325 or 350?

This turkey recipe calls for you to roast the turkey at 325ºF.

What is the most popular way to cook a turkey?

Roasting a turkey in the oven is the most popular way to cook a turkey. You can also smoke a turkey, or make a sous vide turkey.

A cooked turkey in a roasting pan.

What to Serve with a Thanksgiving Turkey

Butternut Squash Risotto: This butternut squash risotto is the perfect dish for any fall meal! You’ll absolutely love the rich, savory flavors of this dish.

Crock pot mashed potatoes: Get ready for the ultimate crockpot mashed potatoes recipe that you’re going to want to serve at any and all holidays

Pumpkin Bread Pudding: This pumpkin bread pudding recipe comes out tender and sweet and is made with an entire loaf of pumpkin bread for the ultimate fall dessert.

Thanksgiving Turkey Leftover Ideas

If you have a smaller group of people for this turkey you will definitely have leftovers! Below are some delicious leftover ideas.

Storage

Store your turkey leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 7 days.

Can I freeze turkey?

Yes, you can freeze leftover turkey for soups, salads, or any other recipes. Let the turkey cool completely and then place it in a freezer-safe bag and freeze it for up to 3 months.

Thanksgiving turkey sliced and served on a platter.

The Juiciest Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe

This is truly the juiciest Thanksgiving turkey that you will ever taste. It is brined over night, seasoned, and roasted ot perfection. Served with homemade gravy, you just can’t beat it.

Prep:13 hours

Cook:4 hours

Total:17 hours

Fat 30

Carbs 2

Protein 99

Ingredients

Brine

  • 2 gallons water separated
  • 1.5 cups kosher salt
  • 1 large orange sliced
  • 1 lemon sliced

Basting Liquid

  • 3 cups broth any kind works, we used homemade turkey broth
  • ½ large white onion diced
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary

Turkey

  • 12-15 lb. whole turkey innards removed, fully thawed (ours was 14 lbs.)
  • 3 tablespoons turkey seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into two pieces
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large white onion diced
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4 sprigs fresh oregano
  • 4 sprigs fresh rosemary

Instructions 

  • Prepare the turkey brine: Fill a 20-30 quart pot with 2 gallons of water.

  • Remove 2 cups of water from the pot and add it to a saucepan with the kosher salt. Heat the two ingredients over medium heat and whisk until the salt has dissolved. Do not bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Add the salted water back into the pot and whisk together.

  • Next, add the oranges and the lemons to the salt water.

  • Finally, add the turkey to the pot. Make sure the turkey is completely submerged in the water.

  • Place the pot in the refrigerator for 12 hours or overnight.

  • Prepare the turkey for roasting: Preheat the oven to 325ºF and remove the turkey from the brine and let any excess liquid drain from the cavity of the turkey. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels.

  • Add all of the ingredients for the basting liquid into the bottom of a large basting pan and mix the ingredients together. Place the metal rack for the turkey in the basting pan and place the turkey breast side-up in the pan.

  • Season the outside of the turkey with the turkey seasoning and massage the seasoning into the turkey with your hands making sure to cover as much of the outside as you can. Then, place the two pads of butter under the skin of each turkey breast.

  • Drizzle the olive oil over the turkey and massage the oil into the skin.

  • Lastly, stuff the onion, garlic, thyme, oregano, and rosemary into the cavity of the turkey.

  • Roast the turkey: Place the turkey into the oven and roast it for 3-3.5 hours (about 13 minutes per pound) or until the internal temperature reaches 165ºF in the thickest part of the turkey. Make sure to baste the turkey every hour, on the hour. If the skin begins to brown too much in the last hour, place tin foil over the top of the turkey.

  • Remove the turkey from the oven when the internal temperature reaches 165ºF. Then, let the turkey rest for 20 minutes before carving.

  • Serve the turkey with gravy and other sides.

Tips & Notes

  • You do not have to brine the turkey before baking but we highly recommend it. If you’d like to dry-brine your turkey instead, check out this post.
  • The size of the turkey will depend on how long it takes the turkey to roast. The rule of thumb is 13 minutes per pound of turkey.
  • We highly recommend using our homemade turkey dry rub, but if you don’t have time to mix up this seasoning you can use a generic poultry seasoning.
  • We used this turkey roasting pan. Be sure you use a pan that can elevate the turkey out of the turkey drippings.
  • Serve this turkey with our homemade turkey gravy.

Nutrition facts

Calories: 687kcal Carbohydrates: 2g Protein: 99g Fat: 30g Fiber: 0.4g Sugar: 1g

Photography: photos taken in this post are by Ashley McGlaughlin from The Edible Perspective.



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