Best Turkey Recipe + Video

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Our best turkey recipe is perfect for any special occasion. Make it for moist, flavorful turkey without the need for basting!

best turkey recipe for thanksgiving

Best Turkey Recipe

The buttery, herb-infused flavor of this Thanksgiving turkey recipe pairs perfectly with all of your favorite side dishes. A simple cranberry sauce adds brightness and tang to the meal and helps cut through the richness of everything on your plate.

Of course, you have to include creamy, buttery mashed potatoes and my cranberry apple sausage stuffing too.

There are plenty of other dishes to choose from, which is why I compiled my Best Thanksgiving Recipes all in one place.

And don’t forget dessert! My layered pecan pumpkin pie is to die for and combines the two most popular holiday treats.

RECIPE VIDEO

Watch the video in the recipe card at the bottom of this post to see how to cook a turkey!

turkey in a square pan laying next to ingredients in glass bowls

Tips For Cooking a Turkey

  • Preparing the bird

    First, remove the gizzards and neck from the open cavity. Then, rise the entire thing in cold water. Be sure to pat it dry with paper towels. You’ll likely want to leave the skin on, but feel free to trim off any excess sections if needed.
  • Run through a checklist before cooking.

    Before you put the bird in the oven, make sure you’ve added the water, smothered it in the butter mixture, and tucked in the wings.

    If you happen to forget to tuck in the wings, you can use tongs to do this after it’s been in the oven. Just be warned that partially cooked wings are a lot less cooperative to work with!
  • Don’t overcook the meat.

    When making your Thanksgiving turkey, be sure to remove it from the oven when the temperature reads 165°F. Since the bird continues to cook as it rests, leaving it in longer will result in dry meat.

    Check the temperature by inserting a thermometer into the innermost part of the thigh and the thickest part of the breast. This will give you a more accurate idea of when it’s cooked all the way through.
herb butter for turkey

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Storing and Freezing Leftover Turkey

Slice all of the meat from the bone and transfer to a sealed bag or container. You can keep it in the fridge for 3-4 days.

Or, you can freeze leftover herb roasted turkey for up to 3 months. Be sure to squeeze as much air out of the storage bag as possible. This will prevent ice crystals from forming on the meat.

herb butter on turkey

Best Turkey Recipe FAQ

Discard the carcass or save it for making homemade stock or broth.

How much turkey per person?

A good rule of thumb for serving size is between 1 and 1.5 pounds per person. This guarantees that everyone will have enough to eat, while allowing for at least a few leftover servings.

If you’re cooking for a large group, I recommend adapting this Thanksgiving turkey recipe to two smaller birds. This way, you won’t have them in the oven all day.

Why is water added to the pan?

Water not only keeps the roasted turkey from drying out, but it also keeps the drippings from burning in the beginning.

As it cooks, the water will evaporate in the oven, leaving a perfect base for making your gravy after.

Enjoy!

With love from our simple kitchen to yours. 

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turkey cooked with vegetables around it in oval dish

Best Turkey Recipe Video 

To see us make the recipe from start to finish, watch the video at the top of this post.

thanksgiving turkey

Best Turkey Recipe for Thanksgiving + Video

Donna Elick
Our best turkey recipe is perfect for any special occasion. Make it for moist, flavorful turkey without the need for basting!
Tried this recipe?Please comment and review!
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 3 hrs 30 mins
Total Time 4 hrs
Course Main
Cuisine American
Method Oven
Servings 1 Turkey

Ingredients
 

  • 12 pound whole turkey, defrosted
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 2 teaspoons ground sage
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 cups water

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 325°F.
  • Prepare your turkey by removing innards and washing inside and out in cold water. Set the turkey on the rack in your roasting pan. Slide your hand under the skin to separate the skin from the meat. Tuck the wings wings under turkey.
  • In a small bowl, combine the butter, garlic, basil, rosemary, sage, salt and pepper. Mix until combined.
  • Using your hands, coat the turkey all over with your butter mixture. Slide your hands under the skin to rub the herb butter mixture all over meat. Rub the mixture all over top, side and legs as well. Pour water into the pan.
  • Bake until the turkey is starting to brown nicely, about 1 hour. Loosely cover the turkey with aluminum foil and continue to cook for 2 – 2 3/4 hours, or until temperature in the thickest part of the thigh reads 165°F or more. Cook time should be 15 minutes per pound. 
  • Baste the turkey occasionally if you prefer, but this recipe doesn't require it.
  • Remove the turkey from the oven and place it on a cutting board. Tent the foil over the turkey for 20 minutes. 
  • Slice the turkey, serve and enjoy!

Video

Donna’s Notes

Run a checklist in your head BEFORE you put the turkey in the oven. Make sure you have added the water, smothered the turkey in the butter mixture and tucked the wings. Now, if you happen to forget to tuck the wings… Like I did once. You can use tongs to do this after it is in the oven, but be warned your turkey is less cooperative once it has started baking. (imagine that). It took me and Chad and a lot of patience to get those slippery partially cooked wings tucked. 
Turkey will continue to cook once removed from the oven. 

Nutrition

Serving: 1 | Calories: 5535cal | Carbohydrates: 16g | Protein: 840g | Fat: 220g | Saturated Fat: 58g | Cholesterol: 2787mg | Sodium: 6692mg | Sugar: 3g | Fiber: 4g | Calcium: 577mg | Iron: 38mg

All nutritional information is based on third party calculations and is only an estimate. Each recipe’s nutritional value will vary depending on the ingredients used, measuring methods, and portion sizes.

Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
best turkey recipe for thanksgiving

Originally published November 2013, updated and republished November 2020

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36 Comments

  1. Delish – Every year around this time, I ask myself, self…why don't we eat more turkey during the year? Unfortunately, Self never replies!

  2. It makes a moister barrier around bird as the heat from the bottom of oven hits it in the bottom of the pan which results in a hard that doesn't dry out.

  3. I wish we did more turkeys here! Granted, Thanksgiving is not a holiday in countries outside the US, it's still fun. 🙂 I love doing herbed roasted chicken too.

    1. Oh yes it is–Canada has always celebrated Thanksgiving. The only difference is that we celebrate it in the month of October instead of in November Happy Thanksgiving to our Southern Neighbors!

    2. Oh yes it is! Thanksgiving has always been celebrated here in Canada–the only difference being that we celebrate our Thanksgiving in the month of October instead of November.

    1. Read the cooking instructions "Remove the foil for the last 30 minutes to allow the turkey to brown completely."

    2. And if you want it tasting even better substitute the water for white wine, doesn't matter what kind and cook it breast side down omg the flavor and how moist the white meat is and now with this herb butter, heaven!!

    3. I've never cooked a bird breast side down. Do you flip it over so the breast side is up when you uncover it for the last 30 minutes so the breast browns?

    4. My sister always cooks her turkeys breast down and turns it toward the end so the breast will brown. I recommend using clean rubber gloves to keep a firm grip on bird while turning it.

  4. We never cooked a full turkey until we moved to Tennessee because…well, until then we lived in the same city as my parents and siblings and never had to. Funny how that works, huh?

    1. Yes, wrap it tightly. If you wish it to be completely browned on top uncover for the last 30 minutes of cook time. Enjoy!

  5. Sounds Yummy, I mistakenly one year cooked the bird upside down. Didn't realize it until the bird came out of oven. We all had a good laugh but that was the best, moist bird ever. Now every year I cook it upside down in broth. This year I will add your seasonings!!

    1. What you consider upside down is actually right side up.

      Most people put the bird on it's back, when in reality, the back should be showing in the roasting pan, with the breast touching the bottom of the pan.

    1. So excited. Let us know how it goes. Be sure to take the foil off for the last 30 minutes so the turkey browns perfectly.

  6. If you put water on the bottom of the pan, won't the drippings from the turkey ruin the gravy process afterwards?

    1. I've read conflicting things about steaming poultry. Some camps believe moisture in the oven actually dry the bird out more. Thoughts?

  7. I either BBQ my whole turkey.. less time.. tastes so good.. Or I put it inside a roasting bag so it steams.. and browns.. and stays moist.. they have the large roasting bags.. you can also put the foil on then remove at the last 30 min.. however you prefer.. I have seen some use cheese cloth.. keeps the bird moist or you rub the herb butter under the skin .. like she did .. keeps it moist also.. happy turkey day everyone.. 🙂 be blessed happy and full..

  8. cook the bird in a roasting bag or BBQ .. you can even put the cheese cloth on it.. or as she has done use the herb butter under the skin.. all will keep the bird moist..yes use the foil until the last 30 min or so.. cheers and happy turkey day everyone.. be blessed full and happy

  9. This is my first time using this recipe,cuz sometimes my Turkey comes out dry. Could I stuffed my Turkey would that be ok, and what do u mean about the wings tuck them under.

  10. My daughter and i made this daughter and I made this recipe, turkey is in the oven now!
    One tip: we needed to dry the turkey off with paper towels because the herb butter mixture wouldn't stick.

  11. Why do you tuck the wings ?? On top or under, that is breast side down (wings on top) or breast side up (wings under)??

  12. You mention rinsing off the salt from the brine, but I didn't see a step for brining. Did I miss something?

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