If you want to learn how to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, you’re in the right place!
My Herb Roasted Turkey recipe uses simple ingredients for a flavorful main dish that pairs well with all of the traditional holiday side dishes. And there’s no need to wash, brine or baste your turkey with my method either.
I’ll walk you through everything you need to know to roast the perfect turkey for Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner. Keep reading if you want to impress your guests!
- By the Numbers: How to Cook a Turkey
- Tips for Making the Best Turkey
- 1. How much turkey per person?
- 2. Best way to thaw a turkey?
- 3. Why cook a turkey at room temperature?
- 4. Can you stuff the turkey?
- 5. How long to cook a turkey?
- 6. How do you know when turkey is done?
- 7. Do you have to tent the turkey?
- 8. Best sides to serve with turkey?
- 9. What to do with leftover turkey?
- Herb Roasted Turkey Recipe
- Whole Turkey
- Turkey Stock
- Garlic Bulb
- Fresh Thyme
- Fesh Sage
- Fresh Rosemary
- Sea Salt
- Black Pepper
By the Numbers: How to Cook a Turkey
Follow these simple instructions for a foolproof method of herb roasting your turkey in the oven.
Step 1: Prepare Roasted Turkey Ingredients.
The very first thing you want to do is to take your turkey out of the refrigerator so it can come to room temperature (leave it in the packaging). This should take about an hour, so be sure to plan for that.
Once it’s come fully to room temperature, you’ll want to preheat your oven to 350˚ F and gather your ingredients because it doesn’t take long to pull this herb roasted turkey recipe together.
Step 2: Make Herbed Butter.
Next, add 1 cup of softened butter, 1 tablespoon of fresh minced sage, 1 tablespoon of fresh minced thyme, 1 tablespoon of fresh minced rosemary, 1 teaspoon of sea salt and ½ teaspoon of black pepper to medium mixing bowl.
Mix until the herbs, salt and pepper are well combined into the softened butter.
Step 3: Stuff, Coat and Prep Turkey.
Set your thawed turkey on a pan with roasting rack breast side up. Remove the turkey innards from the cavity (you can discard or save to make stock) then take paper towels and pat dry the whole turkey so the skin browns nicely.
Make sure your turkey is at room temperature because it’s really hard to rub butter on a cold turkey! If it’s at room temperature, it’s time to take the herbed butter you made and rub it all over the turkey skin. Be sure all of the skin is coated and that you also rub it in the cavity of the bird and under the breast skin as well.
Once the skin is nice and coated, you can take the garlic cloves, lemon quarters and onion quarters and stuff them inside the turkey cavity. You can also put any extra fresh herbs in there too. Fill it up. How much you need is going to depend on the size of your bird.
After you’ve stuffed the cavity, take some bakers twine and tie the legs together. If you can, tuck the wings of your bird under so they don’t burn (the wings on this turkey just wouldn’t tuck).
Finally, pour 1 quart or more of turkey stock into the bottom of your roasting pan. Depending on how much juice your turkey releases, you may need to add more during cooking (you can use water if you run out of stock).
Step 4: Cook the Turkey.
Now that your turkey is ready to go, you can put the roasting pan in your oven, uncovered, and cook for 13-15 minutes per pound of turkey. Mine is just over 12 pounds, so it took about 2 ½ hours to roast.
You’ll want to start checking the temperature of the turkey about halfway through cooking so you can get a gauge on how it’s cooking.
Don’t open the oven too often or it’ll let the heat out and take longer to cook (which dries out the turkey). Once your turkey reaches an internal temperature of 165˚ F with an instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of the meat, it’s done.
If the white meat is cooking too quickly compared to the dark meat, you can cover the breast with a piece of aluminum foil during cooking to help shield it from the heat.
Step 5: Allow the Turkey to Rest.
Once it’s done, remove your roasted turkey from the oven.
Allow it to rest, tented, for 30 minutes before carving. Be sure not to let the foil touch the turkey… that’s how you get soggy skin. You do want to leave some air flow on each side as well so condensation can’t build up inside… we want crisp skin!
After your turkey has rested, it’s time to carve and serve your herb roasted turkey!
Tips for Making the Best Turkey
Answers to your questions about roasting turkey… great tips for first time Thanksgiving turkey roasters!
1. How much turkey per person?
Proper planning for the size of the turkey is key for a flawless Thanksgiving! If you like to have leftover turkey, a good rule of thumb is to cook about 1 ½ pounds of turkey per person.
If you’re hosting a smaller group for Thanksgiving and think a whole turkey would be too much, try my Oven Roasted Turkey Breast recipe instead.
I like to get a turkey every year from ButcherBox (it’s where the turkey you see in these pictures is from). Their heritage turkeys are delicious! They’re only available around Thanksgiving, though, so you may also want to check out my list of the best places to buy a turkey online.
2. Best way to thaw a turkey?
You cannot thaw a frozen turkey on the kitchen counter, so please don’t do that. The best way is to allow it to defrost for one day in the fridge for every 5 pounds of turkey.
If you have a cold fridge, it could take longer. Be sure to set it on something to catch moisture from the whole bird as it thaws.
3. Why cook a turkey at room temperature?
If you cook a room temperature turkey, it will come out juicier and more tender. I also find that rubbing room temperature butter all over a cold turkey is a huge challenge that you don’t want to mess with.
4. Can you stuff the turkey?
Of course you could stuff the turkey, but I prefer not to stuff mine. It takes longer to cook a stuffed turkey, so I cook my Gluten Free Stuffing in a separate casserole dish.
You also need to add extra cooking time to a turkey when you stuff it. The longer you cook a turkey, the higher the risk of drying it out.
5. How long to cook a turkey?
Turkey can take anywhere from 13-15 minutes per pound. It’ll take more if you decide to stuff the turkey and less if you don’t.
There are also other factors like altitude and whether your turkey was fully at room temperature or not. That’s why it’s so important to understand how to know when turkey is done.
6. How do you know when turkey is done?
Like other poultry, turkey is done when it reaches a minimum of 165° F in the thickest part of the thigh using a meat thermometer. In addition to checking the inside and outside of the thigh, you’ll also want to check the thickest part of the breast.
Sometimes the thighs and breasts don’t cook at the same rate. If the breast meat is cooking faster than the thigh meat, you can use a piece of foil to shield the breast from the heat and it should slow down cooking.
One tip to remember is to check the temperature halfway through roasting so you can gauge how quickly it’s cooking. Don’t open the oven door too often though. Again, when you reduce the heat of the oven, it’ll take longer to cook the turkey, which can dry it out. That’s one of the reasons I don’t baste my turkey either.
Another note to remember is that when you tent a turkey, it will typically rise in temperature another 5-10˚ F, so you can usually remove a turkey from the oven when it reaches 160˚ F since the temperature will rise. If you decide to do this, I recommend keeping a meat thermometer in your turkey while it rests so you can confirm the temperature did, in fact, rise.
7. Do you have to tent the turkey?
No, you don’t have to, but it can help keep the bird’s juices inside. When you don’t allow it to rest, it can turn out drier when you carve it!
Remember, make sure your foil is actually shaped like a tent so it doesn’t touch the turkey itself (see the picture in the instructions above). You don’t want that condensation turning your crispy skin into soggy skin!
8. Best sides to serve with turkey?
If you’re looking for some amazing gluten free side dishes to serve with your turkey, check out these recipes:
- Gluten Free Sides
- Gluten Free Turkey Gravy (can be made with turkey pan juices or stock)
- Gluten Free Stuffing (great to bake while the turkey rests)
- Brussels Sprouts with Bacon (made on the stovetop)
9. What to do with leftover turkey?
It’s important to refrigerate any leftover turkey within 2 hours of cooking. It’s easy to forget when everyone is socializing, but this is important for food safety.
Leftover cooked turkey can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days, or frozen for up to 2 months in freezer safe containers or bags.
Need ideas to use those leftovers? Try these recipes by subbing turkey for chicken:
- Gluten Free Chicken or Turkey Recipes
Herb Roasted Turkey Recipe
- 1 whole turkey - 12-20 pounds
- 1 quart turkey stock - or more
- 1 onion - quartered
- 1 lemon - quartered
- 1 bulb garlic - separated and peeled
- 1 cup butter - softened at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme - minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh sage - minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary - minced
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Cutting Board
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Pan with roasting rack
- Paper towels
- Baking twine
- Aluminum foil
- Take your turkey out of the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature. This will take about an hour. Once it’s at room temperature, you can preheat your oven to 350˚ F.
- Add softened butter, sage, thyme, rosemary, sea salt and black pepper to medium mixing bowl.
- Mix until well combined.
- Place turkey on a roasting pan breast side up, then remove the innards from the cavity and pat dry turkey skin with paper towels.Coat the turkey skin in the herbed butter. You want to make sure all of the skin is coated. Be sure that you rub it inside the cavity and under the breast skin too.
- Stuff the turkey cavity with as much garlic cloves and onion and lemon quarters as will fit. You can also put any extra fresh herbs in there too.
- Tie the legs together, tuck the wing tips if your bird will allow and add the turkey stock to the bottom of the roasting pan.
- Place your roasting pan in the oven on the lowest oven rack and roast turkey for 13-15 minutes per pound. My turkey is just over 12 pounds, so it took about 2 ½ hours to roast. Once it reaches an internal temperature of 165˚ F in the thickest part of the meat, it’s done.
- Remove turkey from the oven and allow it to rest, tented, for 30 minutes before carving.
- After your turkey has rested, it's time to carve and serve.