Roast Turkey

18 servings
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 4 hours
Resting Time 20 minutes
Total Time 4 hours 15 minutes

Make Perfect Roast Turkey this holiday season with our handy guide. Classic keeper recipe for juicy roast turkey with buttery crisp skin!

From Make Ahead Overnight Turkey to Electric Roaster Turkey to Deep Fried Turkey, there is more than one cooking process to make the perfect Turkey for your Thanksgiving holiday feast. Use this handy guide to make juicy Roast Turkey using a classic roasting process and simple ingredients.

If you don’t want to cook an entire turkey this year, check out our recipes for Slow Cooker Turkey Breast and Easy Roasted Turkey Thighs. They are an awesome recipe for when you only need a little bit of turkey per person and you know you won’t be able to eat or store any leftovers.

About our Roast Turkey Recipe

Whether you are a beginner or experienced cook, you’ll love this easy step by step guide for a perfect, delicious turkey. It’s made with just three ingredients plus a bit of salt and pepper. The extra step of rubbing butter under skin before roasting then frequent basting with broth ensures flavorful, juicy roast turkey meat. Not to mention the incredibly crispy skin flavored with all those broth and drippings. Your guests will be telling you it’s the most perfect turkey they’ve ever had!

Roast Turkey Ingredients

  • Turkey: A 16-18 pound turkey will feed about 10-12 people easily. Make sure to start with a completely defrosted turkey. It will take about 4 days to thaw a 16-18 pound frozen turkey in the refrigerator, and you should never thaw it on the counter. If you forgot to thaw your bird in time, use this Roast Turkey from Frozen recipe instead.
  • Butter: The key to juicy meat in this classic Roast Turkey recipe is the full cup of butter rubbed between the skin and the raw turkey meat. The butter is trapped under the skin, so it’s basically basting the turkey from the inside the entire cooking time.
  • Chicken Stock: You add 2 cups of chicken stock to the bottom of the roasting pan initially, and replace as needed while the turkey cooks so your bird doesn’t dry out and there are plenty of pan drippings for gravy.
  • Seasonings: 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper are really all the seasoning a properly roasted turkey needs. You can add fresh herbs and dried spices, but you don’t want to overdo it especially if you plan on using the drippings for gravy.

Equipment

  • Roasting Pan: You’ll want a large roasting pan big enough to hold the bird and 3 cups of broth without spilling. A disposable roasting pan works, but you’ll need one with a rack to elevate the bird for even cooking and so it isn’t soggy on the bottom.
  • Turkey Baster: A turkey baster removes the juices from the pan without having to really move the pan or stick your hand too much in the oven. It also helps distribute the juices evenly. In a pinch, you can use a long-handled spoon or ladle, just watch your hands so you don’t burn yourself. 

How to Make Roast Turkey

Time needed: 4 hours and 35 minutes.

  1. Prep for Roasting

    Remove all but the bottom oven rack and preheat your oven. Place your turkey in the roasting pan lined with a rack. Remove the giblets bag. Pat the turkey dry inside and out.

  2. Rub with Butter

    Combine the butter, salt and pepper in a bowl. Gently lift the skin from the turkey with the back of a spoon, careful not to rip or tear. Working in sections, lift the skin and add some of the butter mixture, then use the skin to pat and spread the butter in that spot. Keep adding butter around the entire top of the bird and down the sides where you can lift the skin.

  3. Basting Instructions

    Pour 2 cups of broth into the pan around the bottom of the turkey. Cover the pan with foil, tenting so it’s not tight against the turkey. Every 30 minutes, baste the bird with the broth and drippings mixture at the bottom of the pan. Keep the pan liquid at about 2 cups, adding extra broth as needed.

  4. Finish Roasting the Turkey

    Remove the foil after 2 hours. Continue roasting and basting for another 2 hours, adding broth to the pan if needed, until an instant-read thermometer reads 165 degrees in the thickest part of the thigh meat. Rest the turkey for 20 minutes before carving and serving.

Nutritional Facts

Nutrition Facts
Roast Turkey
Amount Per Serving
Calories 581 Calories from Fat 171
% Daily Value*
Fat 19g29%
Saturated Fat 9g56%
Trans Fat 0.4g
Polyunsaturated Fat 2g
Monounsaturated Fat 5g
Cholesterol 300mg100%
Sodium 888mg39%
Potassium 1064mg30%
Carbohydrates 4g1%
Fiber 0.03g0%
Sugar 2g2%
Protein 94g188%
Vitamin A 440IU9%
Vitamin C 0.2mg0%
Calcium 51mg5%
Iron 4mg22%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Roast Turkey Recipe Tips & Tricks

  • Use a Meat Thermometer
    • If you want to keep your Thanksgiving turkey moist, the most important thing is not to overcook it. You can use an oven safe meat thermometer and measure your cooking time, to make sure the roasted bird doesn’t go too far. Always measure the internal temperature from thickest part of the turkey thigh meat because dark meat takes longer to cook. 
  • Rest the Roast Turkey Before Carving
    • Let the roast bird rest out of the oven for at least 20 minutes after roasting. Just like a good steak, letting your roast turkey rest helps to lock in the juices. Just loosely cover with a piece of tinfoil while you prepare the gravy from the drippings on the bottom of the pan.

What to Pair With Roast Turkey

Stuffing: Obviously, Roast Turkey and Stuffing are a classic pairing. Check out this Slow Cooker Stuffing that is cooked outside of the turkey, cutting your roasting time down. Unlike traditional baked stuffing, you also don’t need to take up any oven space or have to reheat it while the turkey rests. It takes about 4 hours to cook in the slow cooker, so make sure you start it early, around the same time you put the turkey in to roast.

Leftovers: We LOVE making a large bird because it means leftover recipes like Turkey Soup, Leftover Turkey Casserole, Turkey Tetrazzini, or our special Turkey Moist Maker Sandwich (inspired by the Friends TV Show).

How to Store Roast Turkey

Store: Once the turkey has cooled completely, finish carving any meat from the bones and store in an airtight container. It will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Reheat: To keep your turkey meat from drying out, reheat it in the oven in a pan covered with foil, with a little broth in the dish to help steam it and keep it moist.

Freeze: Store your cooled leftover turkey meat for up to 4 months in the freezer. The carcass can be frozen for about 2 months, perfect for making soup later on!

FAQ for Roast Turkey

How long do you cook Roast Turkey for?

How long you cook this turkey recipe in the oven depends on what size turkey you have, and if you’re using stuffing or not. The USDA recommends you roast an unstuffed turkey (16-18 pound) for about 4 hours, or until the thigh reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

Should I cook my turkey with stuffing inside?

Let’s take a moment to lobby for you to cook your stuffing on the side. Cooking stuffing inside the turkey makes everything take longer to cook because of the density of the turkey being stuffed. Plus with salmonella concerns it is much safer to cook the stuffing on the side. If you still want to roast a stuffed turkey, you will need to add at least another ½ hour to the roast time.

What is the best temperature to cook Roast Turkey?

325 degrees is the optimal temperature for roasted turkey. Any higher and you might be left with dry turkey breast that cooked too quickly on the outside. Don’t rely on the pop up indicator that comes with a bird, use an instant-read thermometer instead.

Recipe Card

Roast Turkey

Make Perfect Roast Turkey this holiday season with our handy guide. Classic keeper recipe for juicy roast turkey with buttery crisp skin!
Yield 18 servings
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 4 hours
Total Time 4 hours 15 minutes
Course Dinner, Main Course
Cuisine American
Author Sabrina Snyder

Ingredients
 

  • 1 cup unsalted butter softened
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
  • 1 turkey 16-18 pounds, patted dry
  • 8 cups chicken stock

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and remove all but the bottom rack and add the turkey to a large roasting pan with a rack.
  • Remove the bag of giblets and pat the turkey dry inside and out.
  • Mash the butter, salt and pepper in a small bowl and lift from under the turkey with the back of a spoon to separate the skin while adding in small chunks of the butter and then patting the skin back down to help spread the butter under the skin all over the bird (being careful not to pierce or tear the skin as the butter will ooze out.
  • Pour 2 cups of chicken stock in the pan and cover with foil and set a timer to go off every 30 minutes, basting with the broth in the bottom of the pan each time. You may need to add broth, a cup at a time, during the basting if it evaporates. 
  • After 2 hours remove the foil and continue cooking and basting for an additional 2 hours, again adding broth as needed, until the thigh is cooked to 165 degrees and let rest for 20 minutes before serving.

Notes

Note: click on times in the instructions to start a kitchen timer while cooking.

Nutrition

Calories: 581kcal | Carbohydrates: 4g | Protein: 94g | Fat: 19g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5g | Trans Fat: 0.4g | Cholesterol: 300mg | Sodium: 888mg | Potassium: 1064mg | Fiber: 0.03g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 440IU | Vitamin C: 0.2mg | Calcium: 51mg | Iron: 4mg
Keyword: roast turkey

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Roast Turkey Variations

Wet Brine: If you’re not up for basting, consider learning how to make wet brine for the turkey, which can be prepped beforehand. A brined turkey basically self-bastes while it’s roasting. This Turkey Brine recipe guarantees the most tender and juicy turkey breast you’ve ever had with less cook time!

Herbs: You can add fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary, marjoram, oregano, or sage to this Roast Turkey recipe to add some more savory holiday flavor. Chop up to ¼ cup fresh herbs and mix them in with the softened butter. You can also use dried herbs, just cut the amount to 2 tablespoons total.

Spices: It’s best to use just one or two extra spices, unless you specifically want a boldly seasoned recipe like our Cajun Turkey. A little paprika or chili powder would add a subtle smoky flavor, or some coriander or ground sage would add some earthiness.

Related Recipes

More Ways to Make Perfect Roast Turkey Recipes

Perfect Holiday Roasted Turkey!

The following images were used in previous versions of this post:

Classic Roasted Turkey
Crispy Skin Roast Turkey
Crispy Roast Turkey
Easy Roast Turkey

About the Author: Sabrina Snyder

Sabrina is a professionally trained Private Chef of over 10 years with ServSafe Manager certification in food safety. She creates all the recipes here on Dinner, then Dessert, fueled in no small part by her love for bacon.

Sabrina Snyder is a professionally trained personal and private chef of over 10 years who is the creator and developer of all the recipes on Dinner, then Dessert.

She is also the author of the cookbook Dinner, then Dessert – Satisfying Meals Using Only 3, 5 or 7 Ingredients, published by Harper Collins.

She started Dinner, then Dessert as a business in her office as a lunch service for her coworkers who admired her lunches before going to culinary school and becoming a full time personal chef and private chef.

As a personal chef Sabrina would cook for families one day a week and cook their entire week of dinners. All grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning was done along with instructions on reheating. As a private chef she cooked for private parties and cooked in family homes in the evenings for families on a nightly basis after working as a personal chef during the day.

Sabrina has been certified as a ServSafe Manager since 2007 and was a longstanding member of the USPCA Personal Chef Association including being on the board of the Washington DC Chapter of Chefs in the US Personal Chef Association when they won Chapter of the year.

As a member of the community of food website creators Sabrina Snyder has spoken at many conferences regarding her experiences as a food writer including the Indulge Food Conference, Everything Food Conference, Haven Food Conference and IACP Annual Food Professionals Conference.

Sabrina lives with her family in sunny California.

Dinner, then Dessert, Inc. owns the copyright on all images and text and does not allow for its original recipes and pictures to be reproduced anywhere other than at this site unless authorization is given. If you enjoyed the recipe and would like to publish it on your own site, please re-write it in your own words, and link back to my site and recipe page. Read my disclosure and copyright policy. This post may contain affiliate links.

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Comments

  1. I enjoy your recipes… no nonsense practical advice.

    For the 2nd year, I will do the bourbon ham again… however this year I will also do a 4kg turkey with stuffing backed outside.

    Have to time it perfectly though as we have Christmas lunch outside and then need to be back to get it all ready by 6.30pm…. 🙂

    Merry Christmas and keep up the Great Work

    1. I am so sorry, I am just seeing this tonight. I am sure the recipe has long been cooked/or not but I still want to try to help.

      Yes, you definitely could do the recipe on a 12 pound turkey, just cut back the ingredients by 3/4ths and cut the cooking time to 90 minutes covered and 90 minutes uncovered.

  2. Beautiful turkey!! my mouth is watering lol!
    Years ago I found a recipe where you dip cheesecloth in melted butter and madeira wine and then drape it back and forth totally covering the turkey like a mummy. Self basting! It comes out just as browned and beautiful and sooo juicy!!
    I think I might try yours this year!
    You and I have similar taste in food! I love your recipes!

  3. i have never been able to figure out how to stick a thermometer in the thigh without coming close to or touching a bone.

    1. Slip the meat thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey thigh,it should be just above the crease between the thigh and the place where the turkey breast begins and driving it into the thigh meat. I hope this helps for next time!

  4. I’m looking forward to trying this recipe but would like to know why the ingredient list calls for 8 cups of chicken stock but the instructions only call for 2 cups in the pan. Do I add additional chicken stock as the turkey cooks? I’m a novice and don’t want to make any mistakes if possible.

  5. Enjoying your site & all of your wonderful recipes! Yes they all look mouth watering but what would put your site over the top would be that your followers would actually MAKE these recipes before commenting!

    1. Thank you for your compliments! I’m glad you are enjoying the site. I try not to police my comments, I want my readers to feel empowered to give feedback, troubleshoot/ask questions, let me know how it turned out or even rave about the pictures and content – however they want to feel a part of the site, I welcome 🙂

  6. Hi –

    Can you brine and baste or is that too much? Also, I am thinking about making the turkey the day ahead any tips to keep the turkey moist?

    1. Sorry, it looks like your question got caught in my spam filter. You can totally brine it before if you’d like. Enjoy!