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If you’ve never roasted a turkey before, and you just need a recipe that is simple and reliable, this easy Thanksgiving turkey recipe is for you. There’s not a lot of complicated steps or processes to follow. It’s an easy straightforward and to-the-point turkey recipe you’ll find that’s great for beginners and first-timers and perfect if it’s your 20th one!
Thanksgiving is all about traditions and nothing says ‘holiday spirit’ quite like a classic turkey centerpiece. This easy-to-follow recipe is your ticket to a no-fuss, memorable Thanksgiving meal that brings both the flavor and the wow-factor with minimal effort. Perfect for both first-time cooks and seasoned hosts, this guide simplifies the process, so you can spend less time in the kitchen and more with loved ones.
With a focus on fresh herbs and a good quality turkey, this recipe strips back the unnecessary steps and lets the natural flavors shine through. The inclusion of rosemary and sage offers a nod to the timeless Thanksgiving aromas, while the straightforward cooking instructions ensure that your turkey is juicy, and cooked to perfection. Whether you’re hosting a large gathering or a small family dinner, this turkey recipe promises to be the star of your Thanksgiving feast.
Table of Contents
- Recipe at a glance
- Ingredients to make a Thanksgiving turkey
- How to make a whole turkey for Thanksgiving
- Carving your turkey
- Tips for making the best Thanksgiving turkey in the oven
- Popular substitutions & additions
- How to store leftover turkey
- Recipes to make with leftover Thanksgiving turkey
- Frequently asked questions
- Side Dishes for Thanksgiving
- Easy Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe Recipe
Recipe at a glance
Cuisine Inspiration: American
Primary Cooking Method: Roasting in the oven
Dietary Info: Gluten-Free
Key Flavor: Herb-infused, savory
Skill Level: Beginner-friendly
- Streamlined Simplicity: Just 7 main ingredients, not counting the staples of salt and pepper, make up this straightforward recipe.
- Oven-Centered Ease: Prepare your bird, and then let the oven do the heavy lifting, giving you more time to enjoy with family.
- Aromatic Appeal: Fresh rosemary and sage fill your home with mouthwatering holiday scents, making the meal as fragrant as it is delicious.
- Perfect for Leftovers: Not only does this turkey make a grand debut, but the leftovers can be transformed into countless post-Thanksgiving delights.
Ingredients to make a Thanksgiving turkey
- Turkey: Buy the best quality turkey you can. Remove the neck and giblets and truss it before stuffing and seasoning it. Opt for a turkey about 15 pounds in size that works best for this cooking technique.
- Onion, celery and carrot: These chopped vegetables are placed inside the cavity. These help to add flavor and also keep the turkey moist as they steam. Other vegetables you can use are squashes or peppers.
- Seasonings & Herbs: Salt, pepper, fresh rosemary and sage.
- Butter: Melted butter is brushed over the skin of the turkey as well as between the skin and the meat. This helps to get a nice browned and crispy skin as well as keeping the turkey nice and juicy. If you prefer not to use butter, try using avocado oil.
How to make a whole turkey for Thanksgiving
- First, remove the neck and giblets from inside the turkey. Don’t toss these as you can store them in the fridge or freezer to make gravy or broth at a later time. There’s no need to wash the turkey, brine it or anything.
- Second, use a paper towel to pat dry the turkey to remove any excess moisture. This allows the herbed butter to better adhere to the skin and creates a more crispy skin after roasting.
- Third, stuff the onions, carrots and celery inside the turkey crevice. This creates so much flavor within the turkey. You can leave them whole or chop them up roughly. You can also stuff a couple lemons wedges if you’d like.
- Fourth, tuck the wings of the turkey underneath the bird. This prevents them from sticking out higher than the rest of the turkey and potentially burning in the oven before the turkey is fully cooked. Take this time to also tie the legs together with twine or dental floss so they stay put and the vegetables inside the crevice don’t come out while roasting. This also helps to cook it evenly so it doesn’t become lopsided in the oven.
- Fifth, it’s time to season and flavor the turkey. Generously add salt and pepper all over the turkey, making sure to get underneath the bird and all around it. Next, melt the butter in a pan and cook the herbs with the butter until softened and fragrant. You’ll want to brush the butter all over the turkey and stuff the herbs inside the turkey.
- Finally, use your hands to rub the turkey inside and outside with the herbed butter. This is the secret to getting that perfect golden crust on the turkey. Be sure to lift some of the skin above the breast and rub the herbed butter underneath.
Now it’s time to cook it in the preheated oven. The rule of thumb is 15 minutes for every 1 pound, but always double check by using a thermometer in the middle of the thighs. It should register at 170ºF or 175ºF degrees.
When the turkey is fully cooked as measured by the thermometer, remove it from the oven and allow it to rest at room temperature. You’ll want to let the turkey rest for 15-30 minutes before carving into it. This helps to ensure it stays juicy, so don’t skip this step.
If you’re using the drippings to make gravy, you can remove the turkey and plate it on a serving tray or cutting board, especially if you are carving before serving. Otherwise it can rest on the roasting pan.
Carving your turkey
Now that you’ve cooked an amazing turkey you’ll need to carve it. Carving is often more intimidating than the actually cooking process for many but it should be! For full visuals and instructions on how to carve a turkey see my detailed post here.
Carving Your Turkey: A Step-by-Step Guide
- Initiating the Cut: Position the turkey with the neck end closest to you. Begin by making a horizontal cut at the base of the breast, above the wing joint, slicing through to the bone.
- Breast Removal: Glide your knife along the contour of the breastplate, tracing down each side of the rib cage towards the wing joint. Gently pull the breast meat away as you cut, allowing it to detach cleanly.
- Leg Detachment: Apply downward pressure on the drumsticks, snapping them outward to reveal the joint. Neatly slice through the joint to separate the legs from the body with ease.
- Wing Separation: Identify the connecting skin around the wings and gently slice to detach the wings from the body.
- Breast Slicing: On a cutting board, position the breast meat skin-side up. Carve it into even slices, cutting against the grain for optimum tenderness, and arrange them on your serving dish.
- Thigh and Drumstick Division: Turn the thigh/drumstick combo skin-side down to spot the joint seam. Cut through this seam to separate the thigh from the drumstick. Trim along the thigh bone to remove it, preserving the succulent thigh meat.
- Thigh Slicing: Slice the thigh meat on the cutting board, following the same against-the-grain method for enhanced texture, then place the slices onto your serving dish. Position the drumsticks next to the slices.
- Wing Jointing: Find the joint connecting the wingtip and the drumette. Slice through this joint to separate the two parts and add them to your serving arrangement.
- Final Trimmings: Examine the turkey carcass for any remaining meat, especially in the nooks and crannies. Carve off these bits and add them to your platter to ensure nothing goes to waste.
Tips for making the best Thanksgiving turkey in the oven
- Don’t wash the turkey. You’re just creating extra work for yourself, and possibly contaminating your sink this way. Save yourself the hassle, and let the high temps in the oven cook off any bacteria that may be on the turkey. Simply patting it dry with a paper towel is enough.
- Use vegetables as a roasting rack. If you don’t have a roasting pan, you can actually place extra onions, whole celery stalks and whole carrots underneath the turkey to prevent it from burning at the bottom. This is a great little hack if you’re using a regular pan or even a casserole dish.
- Trust the herbed butter rub. There’s no need to baste the turkey or cover the turkey. It will be juicy and tender just from the herbed butter mixture you rubbed all over. Basting the turkey requires you open the oven regularly, which could mess with the oven temperature and turkey cooking time. Plus it’s more work 😉
- Use a thermometer. This is your most powerful tool on Thanksgiving day to ensure the turkey is perfectly cooked. Don’t overcook the turkey for fear of making sure it’s not raw. The turkey needs to be at least 165ºF but it’s better if you can get it to 170ºF or 175ºF.
Popular substitutions & additions
- Herb Variations: While rosemary and sage are classic, feel free to mix it up with thyme, marjoram, or oregano for a twist on tradition.
- Citrus Zest: Add lemon or orange zest to the herb butter for a bright, citrusy note that cuts through the richness of the turkey.
- Garlic Boost: A few cloves of garlic tucked inside the turkey or minced into the herb butter can add a warm, aromatic flavor.
- Butter Alternatives: For those looking for a different fat, olive oil or ghee are great substitutes for butter, adding their own unique flavor profiles.
- Spice It Up: A pinch of cayenne pepper or smoked paprika in the seasoning can introduce an element of heat or smokiness.
How to store leftover turkey
To Preserve Freshness:
- Refrigeration: Store leftover turkey in an airtight container within two hours of cooking to prevent bacteria growth. It can be kept in the fridge for 3-4 days.
- Slicing: Slice the meat off the turkey before refrigerating to save space and allow for quicker cooling.
- Separate Portions: If you have a lot of turkey left, consider dividing it into smaller portions. This way, you only reheat what you’ll eat at one time, preserving the quality of the rest.
- Keep It Moist: Add a splash of broth or gravy when storing to help maintain the turkey’s moisture.
For Extended Storage:
- Freezing: Turkey freezes well. Wrap it tightly in freezer-safe material or use a vacuum sealer to prevent freezer burn. Label with the date, and it should be good for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before reheating.
- Oven Method: For best results, reheat the turkey in the oven, covered with foil to prevent it from drying out. Heat at 325°F until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F.
- Adding Moisture: When reheating, you can add a bit more broth or a pat of butter over the turkey to help keep it moist.
Recipes to make with leftover Thanksgiving turkey
Frequently asked questions
It’s important to make sure the turkey is fully thawed before cooking it. The rule of thumb is one day of thawing for every 5 pounds. For a 15 pound turkey, remove the turkey from the freezer and place in the fridge 3 days before you plan to cook it. It doesn’t hurt to add an extra day too to be on the safe side.
There is no need to cover the turkey in the oven. With this cooking technique, it will slowly roast without burning, and it creates a crisp skin texture instead of a soft one.
The rule of thumb is 15 minutes for every 1 pound, but always double check by using a thermometer in the middle of the thighs. It should register at 170ºF or 175ºF degrees.
Allow around 1.5 pounds of whole turkey per person, as the weight takes into account the bones. Cooking a little extra is always a bonus though to enjoy leftovers the following days!
To store the leftovers, remove the meat from the bones and store covered in the fridge for up to 4 days. It can be enjoyed cold in salads and sandwiches, like this turkey salad sandwich or turkey panini, or used in turkey rice soup and stews. The carcass can be used to make homemade stock.
If you’re just starting out, this is such a fool-proof easy way to cook your first turkey! There’s nothing fancy and there are no tricks just delicious roasted turkey cooked perfectly.
The result is a beautiful buttery bird that makes the perfect turkey Recipe. The skin comes out crispy, the meat is incredibly moist and the flavor is traditional and wonderful. It’s basically the best Thanksgiving turkey recipe with the least amount of stress!
Or try this Dry Brined Turkey Breast recipe as an alternative to a whole turkey or as an easy weeknight dinner. Want to get ahead of the big day? Here are some make-ahead recipes to work on days ahead of time! You can also plan your whole menu in one spot with my Thanksgiving Dinner Menu guide!
Side Dishes for Thanksgiving
- Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes
- Crispy Parmesan Roasted Potatoes
- Thanksgiving Stuffing
- Healthy Mashed Potatoes
- Vegan Mushroom Gravy
- Roasted Brussels Sprouts
- Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese
- Melting Sweet Potatoes
- Autumn Pear Salad
- Cranberry Orange Sauce
- French Bread Rolls
If you try this healthy-ish feel good Easy Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe or any other recipe on Feel Good Foodie, then don’t forget to rate the recipe and leave a comment below! It helps others who are thinking of making the recipe. We would love to hear about your experience making it. And if you snapped some shots, share it on Instagram so we can repost on Stories!
Easy Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe
- Preheat oven to 325ºF. Remove the thawed turkey from the fridge 1 hour before roasting and allow it to come to room temperature. Remove the neck and giblets from inside the cavity of the turkey and set aside.
- Place the turkey, breast side up in the roasting pan. Pat the outside and inside of the turkey dry with paper towels. Then stuff the onion, celery, and carrot inside the turkey cavity.
- Fold wing tips under the bird. Tie the legs together with twine or dental floss.
- Season the inside and outside of the turkey generously with the salt and pepper.
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Then add the herbs and cook 1-2 minutes. Remove the herbs with a tong from the melted butter and place inside the turkey.
- Use a brush to rub the reserved melted butter all over the turkey, making sure to get the sides. Use your hands to rub some butter underneath the skin as well.
- Roast the turkey in the preheated oven uncovered for 15 minutes per pound, or about 3 hours for a 12 pound turkey. A thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh should read 165ºF-170ºF. Remove the turkey from the oven and allow it to rest 15-20 minutes before carving.
Nutrition information provided is an estimate. It will vary based on cooking method and specific ingredients used.