This classic Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe is easy to make and absolutely delicious. Crispy golden brown skin and flavorful turkey meat, spread homemade garlic herb butter under the skin for a perfectly roasted turkey that will be the star of your Thanksgiving dinner.
We have tried a lot of Thanksgiving Turkey Recipes over the years, and I always go back to a classic roast Thankgiving turkey. It’s fun to experiment with grilling, deep frying and different brines, but nothing beats the smell of a traditional turkey roasting in the oven with butter, garlic and fresh herbs.
The first step is important and needs to be started several days in advance. Let frozen turkey thaw in the refrigerator in a disposable foil container to contain any drips. A 14-16 pound turkey will take 3-4 days to completely thaw. Next, let the turkey sit at room temperature for at least an hour to get the chill off of the bird. This will make it easier to handle and to remove the neck and giblets. It’s not fun trying to clean a partially frozen or ice cold turkey.
No need to wash the turkey before roasting, that will increase the chances of spreading bacteria around your sink and kitchen. Just use paper towels to pat dry inside and out and season inside liberally with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
I like to stuff mine with a mix of orange wedges, lemon wedges, garlic, onion and fresh herbs.
For this Thanksgiving turkey recipe, I use 1/2 a stick of butter to make a garlic herb butter to spread under the skin. The skin protects the fresh garlic and herbs, and the butter, garlic and herbs flavor the turkey meat. Win, win! I used to make a garlic herb butter for under the skin and on top, but didn’t like how burned the fresh herbs and garlic would get.
Then spread the softened butter all over the turkey and season generously with salt and pepper. Tuck the tips of the wings under and tuck the legs together using the extra skin at the tailbone. You can also tie them together with cooking twine if preferred.
Roast the turkey on the rack of a large roasting pan on the lowest oven rack.
Start low and increase the temperature at the end to add color and crispness to the skin. The most important tool you can have when cooking your Thanksgiving turkey is a meat thermometer. The breast meat should be a minimum of 165 degrees and the thickest part of the thigh should be between 170 and 175.
Once the turkey is cooked to temperature, the next very important step is letting it rest, uncovered, 45 minutes to an hour before carving.
The heat of the oven is not kind to the appearance of fresh herbs, so for presentation purposes I like to tuck a few fresh herbs back into the turkey. It gives the Thanksgiving turkey that wow factor!
Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe
- 14-16 pound turkey thawed
- 8 tablespoons butter (1 stick) softened, divided
- 1 head garlic sliced in half, plus 2 cloves minced into paste
- 1 medium onion cut into wedges
- 1 lemon cut into wedges
- 1 orange cut into wedges
- fresh sage
- fresh rosemary
- fresh thyme
- fresh parsley
- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove turkey neck and giblets. Pat turkey dry, inside and out and season inside liberally with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
Place on roasting rack in a large roasting pan. Fill turkey cavity with onions, whole garlic cut in half, lemons, oranges and a 2-3 stems of each herb.
Combine 4 tablespoons of softened butter with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper, 2 cloves of garlic that have been minced into paste, 1 tablespoon of minced sage, 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, 1 teaspoon minced rosemary and 1 teaspoon of minced thyme leaves. Gently loosen skin from turkey breast and turkey legs and spread garlic herb butter under the skin.
Tuck wing tips under and use extra skin at base of backbone to tuck turkey legs together. You can also use cooking twine for this step, if preferred. Spread remaining softened butter all over outside of turkey and season liberally with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Roasted at 325 degrees for two hours, then increase temperature to 425 degrees and roast for another 30 minutes to one hour depending on size of turkey. Begin checking turkey for doneness at the 2 hour mark. Turkey is done when breast meat registers 165 degrees and thigh meat is 170-175 degrees. IMPORTANT - Let turkey rest 45 minutes to one hour before carving.
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