Roast Turkey Recipe

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This Roast Turkey Recipe is the absolute best. A flavorful turkey brine, robust aromatics and many tips and tricks results in the most delicious Thanksgiving turkey ever. Learn how easy cooking a turkey can be with our step-by-step photos and video.

front view of a roast turkey on a serving plate


When we moved away from family, I realized that I needed to learn how to make a Thanksgiving turkey and gravy on my own! At first it seemed intimidating, but I realized that cooking a turkey is not as hard as I thought! So this is our roast turkey recipe – tested and perfected so you don’t have to stress about making the perfect turkey for your holiday meal!

I love so much about this turkey recipe. Most of the prep work is done the day before because it sits in the turkey brine for 24 hours. Then on the day of it’s as simple as microwaving the aromatics, roasting and basting. 

I consider this turkey recipe my holiday love letter to you all, as I walk through the steps to help ease any stress you may have about hosting this year! I promise you will wow even serious turkey connoisseurs with this oven roasted turkey.

overhead view of roast turkey carved on a plate with herbs around it

How to Cook a Turkey

I cannot stress enough how easy it is to cook a turkey. So we’ll walk through all the steps, from when to begin thawing a frozen turkey to basting to carving. Don’t forget to watch the video! 

Thaw turkey (3-4 days before roasting)

If your turkey is frozen, place it in the refrigerator 2-3 days before brining, 3-4 days before roasting to thaw completely.

Make the brine (1 day before roasting the turkey):

Remove the turkey from the packaging, and throw away the neck & innards (if you don’t want to use them for anything). Rinse the turkey and set it aside.

Brine Ingredients: 

I don’t recommend making any substitutions in this turkey brine recipe, however I will discuss some of the ingredients in more details since they are a bit unique. 

  • Coarse Kosher Salt.  It’s important to use coarse, kosher salt when brining. It dissolves easily in water and creates an even brine. 
  • Light Brown Sugar. Dark brown sugar can be used here if desired. 
  • Vegetable Broth. Vegetable broth adds flavor to the roast turkey as it infuses into the meat. 
  • Allspice Berries. Use whole allspice berries that are fresh for the best flavor. 
  • Candied GingerAKA: Crystalized ginger. The ginger adds an amazing flavor to the turkey brine, don’t leave it out. I usually find it in the bulk section of my grocery store, at Trader Joe’s, or I just order it on amazon. 
  • Black Peppercorns. use whole, unground black peppercorns. 
  • Ice water. The ice water helps cool off the brine so you can safely put the turkey in it. 
overhead view of the ingredients in this turkey brine

The day before you want to roast the turkey, combine vegetable stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice, and ginger in a large stockpot, stir. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally, this infuses the brine with all the flavor from the ingredients. 

Once the mixture comes to a rolling boil, remove the pot from the heat and let it cool. Once the brine is cool, pour it into a large, 5-gallon bucket (We have a special bucket we use only for our Thanksgiving turkeys). Add ice water and stir to combine.

overhead photo showing how to make turkey brine

Brine the turkey

Place the turkey into the bucket of brine and make sure it is covered completely with the turkey brine.  Place the turkey/brine/bucket in a cool place (we put it in the garage in the winter), in the refrigerator, or in a cooler (or the bath tub) filled with ice and water, to brine for up to 24 hours, turning it once halfway through.

Day of roasting: Prepare the Aromatics (key to the best gravy)

On Thanksgiving (or the day you want to roast the turkey), make the aromatics. Putting these aromatics into the cavity of the turkey is the key to being able to make the best turkey gravy ever. They also add moisture and flavor to the roast turkey, so do not leave them out. 

Aromatics Ingredients: 

  • Red Apple. I prefer to use a red, sweet apple because it results in the best tasting gravy made from the drippings. However any apple works. Be sure to remove the core and seeds, but leave the skin on. 
  • Onion. Any onion works. I prefer a yellow or sweet onion. Remove the skin and quarter the onion. 
  • Cinnamon Sticks. Very important to the flavor of the turkey recipe and gravy! Don’t leave them out, and make sure they’re fresh. 
  • Rosemary & Sage. Use fresh herbs for the best flavor. 
overhead view of the aromatics in this roast turkey recipe

To make the aromatics, combine water, apples, onion, cinnamon sticks, rosemary and sage in a microwave safe bowl. Cover and microwave on high for 5 minutes to infuse all the flavors. Set aside to use in the turkey recipe. 

overhead photo showing how to make the aromatics in this roast turkey recipe

Roast

Now that the turkey is brined and the aromatics are ready, it’s time to cook the turkey! A 14-16 pound turkey should take about 2.5 to 3 hours to roast. It generally takes about 15-20 minutes per pound to roast a turkey. Using an instant read thermometer to measure the internal temperature is the best way to ensure the turkey doesn’t over-cook and dry out. 

Remove turkey from brine and rinse

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.

Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse it with cold water, then discard the brine. Be sure to strain out the berries/ginger because they should not go in a garbage disposal. Pat the turkey dry. 

Place the turkey on a metal wire rack in a roasting pan. Make sure the pan is large enough to hold the turkey and catch all the drippings. 

Add aromatics. 

Pour aromatics into the cavity of the turkey in the roasting pan. Try to make sure as much of the aromatics end up inside the bird as possible. 

front view photo showing how to cook a turkey

Prepare turkey skin

When cooking a turkey it’s important to ensure the breast meat is moist and doesn’t dry out. To do this be sure to place pieces of butter under the skin of the turkey, evenly spread out, making sure to put many on the breast.

 Next, to achieve a golden-brown skin, brush the outside of the turkey with olive oil. until it’s evenly coated. 

Roast at 500 degrees F

Place turkey on the lowest rack of the oven, and roast in the preheated oven at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes. This steps helps brown the turkey and seal in moisture.

overhead photo showing how to cook a turkey

Reduce temperature & continue roasting at 350 degrees F

After 30 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and baste the turkey. If you have one, insert a probe thermometer into the thickest part of the breast and set the alarm to 160 degrees F.

Cover the turkey loosely with aluminum foil (to prevent the skin from over-browning) and roast at 350 degrees for about 2 to 3 hours (for a 14-16 lb. turkey, a larger turkey will take longer to cook completely), whenever the thermometer reads 160 degrees F (make sure to test the thickest parts of the bird if it goes off too soon).

Baste

While the turkey recipe is roasting, be sure to base every 30 minutes using a turkey baster (I love this stainless steel baster)!

Remove foil

Towards the end of cooking, remove the foil to brown the roast turkey the rest of the way – but save it to use to cover the bird once it’s out of the oven.

Once the turkey reaches temperature, remove it from the oven and let it sit for 15 minutes loosely covered with foil.

overhead photo showing how to cook a turkey - basting

Save the drippings

DO NOT discard the drippings. Save them and strain them into a large bowl to use to make the best turkey gravy EVER. 

Carve & Serve 

After the roast turkey has set for 15 minutes, carve and serve warm with your favorite side dishes. Here are some of our favorite dishes to accompany our Thanksgiving turkey: 

front view of a roast turkey on a serving platter

How to store leftover turkey

This leftover turkey can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 5-6 days. 

To Freeze

Let the roast turkey cool completely and then freeze leftovers in an airtight container for up to 2 months. Reheat in the microwave or covered with foil in the oven until warmed through. 

Ways to use leftover turkey

After Thanksgiving I will often substitute leftover turkey in some of our favorite chicken recipes! Here are a few suggestions: 

overhead view of roast turkey carved on a plate with herbs around it

Recipe FAQs

Do you roast a turkey covered or uncovered?

In this recipe we roast a turkey covered, until the end to brown the skin we remove the foil. Keeping it covered helps seal in moisture and create drippings to make gravy.

How many minutes per pound do you roast a turkey?

When roasting at 350 degrees F it takes about 15 minutes per pound. So a 14 lb turkey would take 3.5 hours. However, don’t forget we start this recipe at 500 degrees F, so that reduces the roasting time by about 1 hour.

Should you put water in turkey roasting pan?

Yes, using the aromatics steeped in water in this recipe is what keeps the turkey moist and flavorful.

Is it better to cook a turkey at 325 or 350?

I suggest 350 in this recipe because I think it’s the optimal temperature. Lower and it takes forever to cook, higher and the bird dries out.

overhead view of a roast turkey carved

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Roast Turkey Recipe (Turkey Brine)

Laura
This Roast Turkey Recipe is the absolute best. A flavorful turkey brine, robust aromatics and many tips and tricks results in the most delicious Thanksgiving turkey ever. Learn how easy cooking a turkey can be with our step-by-step photos and video.
5 from 4 votes
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 20 Servings
Calories 150
Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time3 hours
Brine1 day
Total Time1 day 3 hours 20 minutes

Ingredients 
 

Roast Turkey

Turkey Brine

Turkey Aromatics

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 red apple diced into large pieces
  • 1 onion cut into large pieces (small to medium in size)
  • 2 cinnamon stick
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary (large)
  • 2 sprigs fresh sage leaves

Instructions 

Thaw turkey (2-3 days before roasting)

  • If your turkey is frozen, place it in the refrigerator 2-3 days before brining, 3-4 days before roasting to thaw completely.

Make the brine (the day before you want to roast the turkey):

  • Remove the turkey from the packaging, and throw away the neck & innards (if you don’t want to use them for anything). Rinse the turkey and set it aside.
  • The day before you want to roast the turkey, combine vegetable stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice, and ginger in a large stockpot, stir.
  • Bring mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally.
  • Once the mixture comes to a rolling boil, remove the pot from the heat and let it cool.
  • Once the brine is cool, pour it into a large, 5-gallon bucket (We have a special bucket we use only for our Thanksgiving turkeys).
  • Add ice water and stir to combine.
  • Place the turkey into the bucket of brine and make sure it is covered completely with the brine.
  • Place in a cool place (we put it in the garage in the winter), in the refrigerator, or in a cooler filled with ice and water, to brine for 12-24 hours, turning it once halfway through. 


On Thanksgiving (or the day you want to roast the turkey)

  • Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse it with cold water, then discard the brine. Be sure to strain out the berries/ginger because they should not go in the garbage disposal.
  • Place the turkey on a metal wire rack in a roasting pan.
  • Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.

Make the aromatics:

  • Combine water, apples, onion, cinnamon sticks, rosemary and sage in a microwave safe bowl.
  • Cover and microwave on high for 5 minutes.
  • Pour aromatics into the cavity of the turkey in the roasting pan.

Roast the turkey:

  • Place the butter pieces under the skin of the turkey, evenly spread out, making sure to put many on the breast.
  • Brush the outside of the turkey with olive oil.
  • Place turkey on the lowest rack of the oven, and roast in the preheated oven at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes.
  • Place a probe thermometer into the thickest part of the breast and set the alarm to 160 degrees F.
  • Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and baste the turkey.
  • Cover the turkey loosely with aluminum foil (to prevent over-browning) and roast at 350 degrees for about 2 to 3 hours (for a 14-16 lb. turkey, a larger turkey will take longer to cook completely), whenever the thermometer reads 160 degrees F (make sure to test the thickest parts of the bird if it goes off too soon). Basting every 30 minutes.
  • Towards the end of cooking, remove the foil to brown the bird the rest of the way – but save it.
  • Once the turkey reaches temperature, remove it from the oven and let it sit for 15 minutes loosely covered with foil.
  • Save the drippings to make this gravy recipe.
  • Carve and serve warm.

Video

Notes

How to store leftover turkey

This leftover turkey can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 5-6 days. 

To Freeze

Let the roast turkey cool completely and then freeze leftovers in an airtight container for up to 2 months. Reheat in the microwave or covered with foil in the oven until warmed through. 

Ingredient Notes

Brine Ingredients: 
I don’t recommend making any substitutions in this turkey brine recipe, however I will discuss some of the ingredients in more details since they are a bit unique. 
  • Coarse Kosher Salt.  It’s important to use coarse, kosher salt when brining. It dissolves easily in water and creates an even brine. 
  • Light Brown Sugar. Dark brown sugar can be used here if desired. 
  • Candied GingerAKA: Crystalized ginger. The ginger adds an amazing flavor to the turkey brine, don’t leave it out. I usually find it in the bulk section of my grocery store, at Trader Joe’s, or I just order it on amazon. 
  • Black Peppercorns. use whole, unground black peppercorns. 
Aromatics ingredients
  • Red Apple. Any apple variety works. Be sure to remove the core and seeds, but leave the skin on. 
  • Onion. You can use any type of onion, I prefer a yellow or sweet onion. Remove the skin and quarter the onion. 
  • Cinnamon Sticks. Very important to the flavor of the turkey recipe and gravy! Don’t leave them out, and make sure they’re fresh. 
  • Rosemary & Sage. Use fresh herbs for the best flavor. 

Nutrition

Serving: 4oz | Calories: 150kcal | Protein: 24g | Fat: 8g | Saturated Fat: 1.5g | Cholesterol: 80mg | Sodium: 200mg | Potassium: 70mg | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 2IU | Calcium: 2mg | Iron: 6mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Did you enjoy this recipe? Have a question? Leave a comment below!

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2 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    This was an amazing recipe! I’ve only attempted to roast a turkey once before, and this was the first time I used the brining method. It turned out SO good- very juicy and flavorful. Thanks so much got the detailed recipe. This will be my go-to every year!

    1. Thank you Angela your comments means so much to me! This is one of my most special recipes and I’m so grateful to be able to share it with you and others! 🙂