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A step-by-step guide on How to Roast a Thanksgiving Turkey! This roast turkey recipe is full of citrus and herbs and topped with rich homemade gravy. It’s an easy, fool-proof recipe that’s sure to be a hit at this year’s Thanksgiving feast!
How to Roast a Turkey
You know you’ve reached adult status when it’s finally your turn to cook the Thanksgiving turkey. But if you’ve never roasted a turkey before, this super important task can be really intimidating!
Don’t panic! We’ve got you covered with this breakdown of all the steps you need to confidently roast a turkey for Thanksgiving. It’s an easy recipe that takes 25 minutes to prep, is made up of simple everyday ingredients, and results in moist, tender, flavorful, perfectly cooked turkey! For more helpful Thanksgiving guides, check out the only checklist you’ll need before Thanksgiving and my favorite gluten-free Thanksgiving recipes!
Ingredients Needed For Your Thanksgiving Turkey:
- Turkey: I use a 12-14 pound turkey for this recipe. If your turkey is bigger or smaller, the cooking time could be affected slightly. To be safe, verify that the internal temperature of the turkey is a minimum of 165ºF before serving.
- Salt and Pepper: don’t skimp! A whole turkey can always use more seasonings than you think!
- Fresh Herbs: you’ll use a simple combination of fresh sage, parsley, and thyme.
- Butter: soften the butter first so it’s easy to spread on the turkey.
- Citrus: you’ll need two oranges and two lemons. Zest them, then slice them into 4 pieces each.
- Garlic: whole and sliced horizontally.
- Turkey Broth: chicken stock will work as well if that’s what you have on hand.
- Reserved Juices, Turkey Broth, Cornstarch, Salt, and Pepper: make up the homemade gravy. Don’t forget to strain the cooking liquid so the gravy is nice and smooth!
How to Buy a Turkey for Thanksgiving
When you’re buying your Thanksgiving turkey, you should plan on about 1-1.5 pounds of turkey per person.
Note: If you are buying frozen make sure you leave it in your refrigerator to thaw for 1 full day for every 5 pounds. An average turkey is about 12-14 pounds, which would need 3 days to that it! Make sure to place the turkey in a container that will catch any exuding liquid.
As far as purchasing your turkey goes, you have a couple of options:
- Farm or Meat Share. Hands down the best turkey is going to be from your local trusted farm or meat share. Yes, going this route is definitely more expensive but I think it’s so worth it to buy better quality and better-tasting meat—especially for the holidays! If you’re buying this way, the sooner the better! People tend to order these birds ahead of time.
- Store-bought. You can purchase a good quality bird at most grocery stores, preferably organic and heritage breed. You can buy either fresh or frozen, but if it’s frozen you’ll want to leave plenty of time for it to thaw in the fridge before you cook it.
Do You Need to Brine Turkey?
Not necessarily, but we like to! Our brining method doesn’t involve dunking the whole turkey in a saltwater bath though. We find it easiest to use a dry brine method that involves a simple combination of citrus and fresh herbs.
We recommend brining the turkey the day/night before you roast it to allow the meat time to soak in all the flavor. You’ll just coat it in butter, fresh herbs, and lemon and orange zest, stuff it with additional herbs as well as lemon and orange slices, season with salt and pepper, then allow it to sit in the fridge for up to 24 hours!
How Do You Prepare a Turkey for Thanksgiving?
- Thaw it. First thing’s first, if your turkey is frozen, you’ll need to thaw it in the fridge. Plan on 1 full day for every 5 pounds of turkey. The turkey I used was 12-14 pounds, so I needed 3 days to thaw mine.
- Brine it. Remove the giblets and neck, then dry the turkey off as best you can. Season the cavity generously. (Seriously, use more salt than you think.) Next, rub the citrus herb butter under and on top of the skin. Stuff the remaining citrus, herbs, and garlic inside the turkey.
- Truss it. Tuck the wings underneath so they don’t burn, then tie the legs together with kitchen twine.
How Long to Roast a Turkey
You’ll roast your turkey for a total of 2½ – 3 hours! We like to give the turkey a big blast of heat at the beginning of the cooking time to get a nice crisp skin. We start at 450ºF for 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325ºF for another 2-2½ hours.
The best way to check that the turkey is done cooking is to use a Thermapen. It’s a little bit of an investment, but lasts nearly forever and is a surefire way to know that the turkey is perfectly cooked. Simply insert it into the thickest part of the thigh without touching the bone. It should read 165ºF and the juices that run out should be clear as opposed to pink.
How to Carve a Turkey
To carve your turkey, you’ll need a sharp knife and a big cutting board. It’s best to wear a pair of kitchen gloves and to have a clean kitchen towel or a roll of paper towels handy to sop up the juice that inevitably runs out.
Aside from the breast meat, you always want to deconstruct the bird at the joint. A perfectly cooked turkey will be easy to deconstruct and the joints will break apart easily. We like to remove the pieces in this order:
- Breast meat: Carve the breast meat out and remove it with tongs. Slice it against the grain and lay it on a platter.
- Drumsticks: Slice through the skin and bend the drumsticks back until you can cut through the joint.
- Wings: Flip the turkey over and slice through the skin on the wing. Bend them back until they break, then cut them off.
- Thigh meat: Cut the thigh meat toward you, then bend backward until the joint is exposed. Cut through it to remove it. Cut out the bone and joints, then slice against the grain.
- Extra meat left on the bones: Pick off any remaining meat and set it aside to use as leftovers or serve with the rest of the turkey!
Once you cut the turkey into smaller pieces, it will cool off pretty quickly, so you’ll want to serve it right away!
Tips for Making Oven-Roasted Turkey
- Thaw completely. Make sure you plan ahead and leave enough time for the turkey to thaw before you cook it. You’ll need 1 day for every 5 pounds of turkey being cooked. For the 12-14 pound turkey used in this recipe, that’s 3 days of thawing!
- When you’re thawing the turkey, place it in a container to catch any exuding liquid. You don’t want a big mess in your fridge!
- Bring it to room temperature. Before you cook the turkey, set it out on the counter for an hour to bring it to room temperature. This helps it cook more quickly and more evenly! Do not leave it out for more than 2 hours.
- Baste the turkey. As the turkey is cooking, make sure to baste it every 45 minutes or so with a turkey baster or pastry brush. This helps prevent it from drying out!
- Check the temperature. This is definitely the best way to tell if your turkey is done cooking. As soon as it’s 165ºF, remove it from the oven so it doesn’t over-cook.
- If the skin starts to brown, you can cover the turkey with foil so it can continue to cook without burning.
- Let it rest. After the turkey is done cooking, let it rest for at least an hour before slicing into it. This gives the moisture and juices time to redistribute back into the meat. If you slice into it too soon, all of that moisture and delicious flavor will seep out.
- Save the juices! These will be used as the base for the homemade gravy, which is a version of our easy Gluten-Free Gravy recipe!
- Save the bones. They can be used to make homemade turkey stock.
How to Store Leftover Turkey
Leftover cooked turkey will last in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days or in the freezer for 2-3 months. To reheat, thaw in the fridge if frozen then reheat in the oven at 300ºF for 20 minutes or until heated through. We recommend reheating the turkey with a splash of chicken or turkey stock to prevent it from drying out!
How to Use Leftover Turkey
Second to the actual Thanksgiving meal, one of the best parts of Thanksgiving is the leftovers! If you’re looking for a few fun ways to use up any leftover turkey, here are some ideas:
- Thanksgiving Leftover Breakfast Hash
- Thanksgiving Stuffed Acorn Squash
- Turkey Kale Soup
- Turkey Wild Rice Soup
- Mediterranean Turkey Salad
Tools I Use For Making My Turkey
- Turkey Roasting Pan
- Turkey Baster
- Thermapen MK4
- Carving Knife
- Kitchen String
- Essentials: bowls, sauce pan, whisks
Thanksgiving Side Dishes to Pair with Oven-Roasted Turkey
- Green Bean Casserole
- Instant Pot Mashed Potatoes
- Harvest Salad with Maple Balsamic Dressing
- Honey Glazed Carrots
- Crockpot Cranberry Sauce
- Garlicky Blistered Green Beans
Watch the Video:
How to Roast a Thanksgiving Turkey (with Herbs and Citrus)
- 1 -12 to 14 lb turkey
- Salt and pepper
- 1 small bunch of sage
- 1 small bunch parsley
- 1 small bunch thyme
- ½ cup grass-fed butter softened
- 2 oranges zested and sliced into 4 pieces each
- 2 lemons zested and sliced into 4 pieces each
- 1 head garlic sliced whole horizontally
- 4 cups water
- 2 - 3 cups turkey broth divided
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
The day/night before:
- Prepare the herbs by finely dicing 1 tablespoons of each sage and parsley and picking 1 tablespoon of thyme leaves. Set aside the remaining herbs.
- In a small bowl mash together softened butter, chopped sage and parsley and picked thyme leaves, zest of lemons and oranges and 1 tablespoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of ground black pepper and set aside.
- To prepare the bird: Remove the neck and the giblets from inside the turkey and discard or save for another use. Place the turkey on a rack in a large roasting pan and using paper towels dry the skin. Gently run your fingers underneath the skin of the turkey breast to separate it as far back as you can, without breaking through the skin. Dry in between with a paper towel. Generously season the cavity of the bird with salt and pepper.
- Rub half of citrus and herb butter underneath the skin of the turkey breast as far back as you can and rub the remaining all over the top of the bird. Season again the outside of the bird generously with salt and pepper.
- Stuff the cavity with the remaining lemon wedges, orange wedges, horizontally sliced garlic head and herbs as much as you can fit.
- Truss the turkey by tucking the wings underneath the turkey and tie together the legs with kitchen twine as tightly as you can.
- Transfer the turkey to the refrigerator, uncovered, overnight or for a maximum of 24 hours
The day of:
- Take the turkey out of the refrigerator an hour before you plan to roast it.
- Pre-heat the oven to 450ºF.
- Add 4 cups of water to the bottom of the roasting pan.
- Bake the turkey, uncovered for 30 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to 325ºF and continue to bake. Bast the turkey occasionally and add any broth to make sure the liquid stays about 1/4" high, if needed. Cover the top with aluminum foil if the turkey is browning too quickly. Roast until the turkey is cooked through (with an instant-read thermometer registering 165ºF in the thickest part of the turkey), for about 2-1/2 to 3 hours total. (see note)
- Once done, let the turkey rest for a least an hour.
To make the gravy:
- When cool enough to handle tip any juices from the cavity of the bird into the roasting pan and set bird aside on a cutting board to cool, tented with foil. Set the roasting pan and accumulated juices over two medium flames, add 1 cup of water and scrape up any browned bits from the pan.
- Carefully strain out the broth into a large glass measuring cup or medium glass bowl and place in the refrigerator to separate the fat from the broth. You should have about at least 2 cups of broth.
- Once cooled down, the fat should rise to the top and you should be able to separate most of it out. Reserve 3 tablespoons of fat and discard the rest. Measure out the remaining broth and add turkey stock until you get 4 cups total of liquid.
- In a medium sauce pan add 3 tablespoons fat and whisk in cornstarch. Slowly whisk in broth/stock until it is nice and smooth and bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
To carve the turkey:
- It's best to wear a pair of kitchen gloves and have a clean kitchen towel or paper towels handy during carving. With a carving knife and tongs remove the breast meat first by carving it out. Slice the breast meat across the grain and lay on a platter.
- Slice through the skin of the drumsticks and bend them back until you can cut through the joint. Set on platter.
- Flip the bird over slice through the skin on the wing and bend back until they break, and cut them off.
- Cut the thigh meat toward you and bend back until the joint is exposed and cut through it to remove it. Cut the bone and all the joints out of it, and then slice through the meat against the grain, like you do the breast meat.
- Pick off any remaining meat from the bird and set aside for leftovers the next day, or to serve.
Lastly, where do we get our turkey?
- ButcherBox, our trusty partner we love!
- How to order? Click here & get a free turkey with your first box!
- Three different box size options!
- Their turkeys are humanely raised on family farms in a stress-free environment. They are never given antibiotics or growth hormones and are fed only a vegetarian diet.