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.
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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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
- 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
- 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.
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.
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