An easy baked turkey recipe seasoned with the best homemade turkey rub, citrus, and fresh herbs! Slightly sweet with a little kick gives your holiday roast turkey TONS of flavor. Even better, there's no need to brine or baste the turkey during baking! It's a Whole Lotta Yum!
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The Perfect Oven Roasted Turkey
If you're a little nervous about cooking the Thanksgiving turkey for your family, truly, have no worries! We're breaking it down as easily as possible to help you make the best roast turkey recipe you've ever made!
So many people end up with dry turkey when they're trying to cook an entire bird in the oven. Usually, this is due to overcooking the turkey, but we're going to teach you how to get it right and what to look out for.
We're also sharing more than one seasoning option, PLUS we show you how to get a perfectly juicy turkey without a brine, but we give you tips on how to brine the turkey if you so choose!
Our roasted turkey in the oven is unstuffed, which means that we're cooking our popular sausage stuffing on the side and not cooking it in the bird.
And we did season the outside of the turkey skin with a simple sweet and savory rub using basic spices, but we also show you how to cook it with herb butter if that's your preference too! We seriously love it both ways and vary it up from year to year.
** Please see the recipe card at the bottom of the post for the exact quantities **
- whole turkey, defrosted - defrosted is the key here! You're looking at at least a 4-7 day defrost time depending on the size of your turkey, so please factor that in. You of course can purchase a defrosted turkey, they just cost more.
- oranges - used to stuff the turkey cavity. The citrus helps to keep the meat juicy and it infuses extra flavor into the turkey meat.
- spring each fresh herbs
- turkey rub ingredients (listed below in detail)
Supplies You'll Need
- Roasting pan
Preparing the Oven Roasted Turkey
How to prep the turkey for roasting
- Frozen Turkey: If your turkey is frozen, you'll need to thaw it. The safest method is to thaw it in the refrigerator, allowing approximately 24 hours of thawing for every 4-5 pounds of turkey. Ensure the turkey is in a tray or large dish to catch any drips.
2. Cleaning and Preparing:
- Remove Packaging: Take the turkey out of its packaging. Some turkeys come with a plastic or metal truss holding the legs together; you can remove this.
- Giblets and Neck: Remove the giblets and the neck from the turkey's cavities. You can reserve these for making gravy or discard them.
- Rinse (Optional): Some people rinse their turkey inside and out under cold water to remove any lingering bits. However, this step is optional and often skipped to avoid potential contamination of the sink and surrounding areas with raw poultry juices.
- Pat Dry: Using paper towels, pat the entire surface of the turkey dry, inside and out. This helps the skin crisp up during roasting.
4. Seasoning and Flavoring:
- Butter or Oil: Rubbing the skin with softened butter or oil can enhance browning and flavor. For extra flavor and moisture, gently separate the skin from the meat (particularly the breast) and spread some butter or herb mixture underneath.
- Herbs and Spices: Fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme, and sage can be tucked under the skin, sprinkled inside the cavity, or laid on top. Many people also season the exterior of the turkey with a mix of salt, pepper, and other desired seasonings.
- Fruits and Aromatics: For added aroma and moisture, you can stuff the turkey's cavity with fruits (like apples, oranges, or lemons) and aromatics (like onions, garlic, and celery).
- Trussing means tying the turkey's legs and wings close to its body. This promotes even cooking and a neater presentation. Use kitchen twine to tie the legs together and secure the wings to the body.
6. Roasting Pan Preparation:
- Rack: Place the turkey on a rack in a roasting pan. This allows the heat to circulate around the entire bird.
- Liquid (Optional): Some people add a cup or two of broth, wine, or water to the bottom of the pan. This can provide moisture as the turkey roasts and can be used for basting or contribute to the drippings for gravy.
How to brine a turkey for roasting
3. Brining (Optional):
- Brining is a method of soaking the turkey in a saltwater solution, sometimes with added sweeteners, herbs, and spices. This process seasons the turkey and helps it retain moisture. If you're brining your turkey, do so for several hours to overnight, then remove it from the brine and pat dry.
How to Roast a Turkey in the Oven
Step 1: Bring your turkey to room temperature by removing it from the fridge 1 hour before baking. Remove the neck and giblets.
Preheat the oven to 325F and pat the outside of the turkey dry with paper towels.
Step 2: Combine the dry turkey rub ingredients (the garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, chili powder, salt, pepper, sweetener, cayenne, rosemary, thyme, and sage) in a small bowl and add the extra virgin olive oil. Stir together to make a paste.
Step 3: Fill the inside of the turkey cavity with orange slices, lemon, onion, and fresh herbs. Don't overstuff the cavity since you won't still have airflow on the inside of the turkey.
Step 4: Loosen the turkey skin over the top of the turkey by gently sliding your fingers underneath. Spread some of the rub under the skin and directly on onto turkey meat.
Step 5: Spread the rub mix over the turkey body, there could be some leftover depending on how large your turkey is.
Step 6: Place the turkey on a rack inside of a roasting pan. Tuck the wings under the body of the turkey to keep them from burning.
Step 7: Roast the turkey in the oven for about 15 minutes per pound, or until the internal temperature of the turkey reaches 160 F when checked in the thickest part of the thigh or breast. If your turkey is browning too quickly, loosely cover it with foil.
Step 8: Let the turkey rest for 30 minutes before carving it. The turkey will continue cooking during the rest period and should be at 165 F. Carve the turkey, and place it on a platter decorated with more fresh citrus slices and fresh herbs. Enjoy!
How long to roast a turkey per pound
The cooking time for a turkey can vary based on several factors, including the accuracy of your oven's thermostat, whether the bird was stuffed, and how frequently you open the oven door. However, here's a general guideline on how long to roast a turkey in an oven preheated to 325°F (165°C):
- 4 to 6 lbs: 1.5 to 2.5 hours
- 6 to 8 lbs: 2.5 to 3 hours
- 8 to 12 lbs: 3 to 4 hours
- 12 to 16 lbs: 4 to 5 hours
- 16 to 20 lbs: 5 to 5.5 hours
- 20 to 24 lbs: 5.5 to 6 hours
- 4 to 6 lbs: Not usually applicable (turkeys this small aren't typically stuffed due to size)
- 6 to 8 lbs: 3 to 3.5 hours
- 8 to 12 lbs: 3.5 to 4.5 hours
- 12 to 16 lbs: 4.5 to 5.5 hours
- 16 to 20 lbs: 5.5 to 6 hours
- 20 to 24 lbs: 6 to 6.5 hours
Remember, these times are approximations. Always rely on a meat thermometer to ensure that the turkey is safely cooked. The internal temperature should reach:
- 165°F (74°C) for the breast meat
- 175°F (80°C) for the thigh meat
If you're roasting your turkey at a different temperature or using a different cooking method, the times will adjust accordingly.
Roast Turkey Recipe Tips
- We use about 3 tablespoon rub + 3 tablespoon olive oil for a 10 lb turkey, about 4 tablespoon of each for a 14 lb turkey, and 5 tablespoon each for an 18+ lb turkey. The recipe above will season a small to medium turkey, you'll need to make extra rub if you have a very large turkey. Leftover rub is delicious on chicken and pork too and will keep for up to 6 months when stored in an airtight container in the cupboard.
- There's no need to brine or baste this turkey during cooking. Opening the oven to baste it actually slows down the cooking time but you of course can baste the turkey juices over the turkey periodically during cooking.
- If you like to brine your turkey, we do have a super simple turkey brine recipe. If you don't have a rack for the roasting pan, place the turkey on a bed of whole carrots, sliced onions, and celery.
- You can tie the drumsticks together if you want to serve a whole turkey on your holiday table, but we usually skip this and serve the turkey carved into slices.
- Interior oven temperatures can really vary, by up to 25 F! We recommend using an inexpensive oven thermometer and know how hot or cold your oven is cooking before turkey day.
- Herb Butter Roast Turkey: Mix softened butter with fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme, and sage. Rub this mixture under and over the skin. This imparts a rich flavor and helps the skin get extra crispy.
- Turkey in a Bag: Cooking a turkey in an oven bag can speed up the cooking time and keep the meat incredibly moist. You can add seasonings, vegetables, and even a splash of white wine to the bag for flavor.
- Brined Turkey: Submerge your turkey in a saltwater mixture, sometimes with added sugar, herbs, and spices. This process seasons the turkey deeply and helps to retain moisture during cooking.
- Deep-Fried Turkey: This Southern favorite involves immersing the whole bird in hot oil, often peanut oil. The result is a crispy exterior and juicy interior, but be sure to follow safety precautions.
- Smoked Turkey: Using a smoker, you can infuse your turkey with a deep smoky flavor. Different wood chips like applewood, cherry, or hickory can be used.
- Grilled Turkey: For those who love barbecuing, a turkey can be grilled either whole or spatchcocked (where the backbone is removed and the bird is flattened). It gives the turkey a wonderful charred flavor.
- Braised Turkey: You can braise turkey parts (like thighs or legs) in broth and aromatics, which gives the meat a fall-off-the-bone tenderness.
- Glazed Turkey: In the last hour of roasting, brush the turkey with a glaze made of ingredients like maple syrup, honey, orange marmalade, or even pomegranate molasses for a sweet, caramelized finish.
- Citrus-Marinated Turkey: Marinate the turkey in a mix of orange, lemon, and lime juices, zest, and fresh herbs. This gives a fresh, zesty flavor to the meat.
- Beer-Can Turkey: Much like the popular beer-can chicken, this involves placing the turkey over a can of beer (often a larger can or bottle given the turkey's size) and grilling it. The beer steams the inside of the bird, imparting moisture and flavor.
Serve the roasted turkey with all of the classic Thanksgiving side dishes!
- Sage onion stuffing
- Easy corn casserole
- Green bean casserole
- Sweet potato casserole
- Broccoli bacon salad
- Creamy baked mac and cheese
- Cranberry sauce
- Make ahead gravy
- Pumpkin pie
- Easy apple crisp
How to Store Oven Roasted Turkey
Storing in the Fridge:
- Cooling: Before refrigerating, allow the turkey to cool down for about 20-30 minutes. Don't leave it out for more than 2 hours to ensure food safety.
- Dismantling: Remove any stuffing from inside the turkey. It's also a good idea to cut the turkey into smaller pieces — slices or sections — to help it cool and store evenly.
- Packaging: Place the turkey pieces in airtight containers or wrap them securely in aluminum foil or plastic wrap.
- Duration: Cooked turkey should be consumed within 3-4 days when stored in the fridge.
Storing in the Freezer:
- Cooling: Let the turkey cool down as you would for refrigeration.
- Dismantling: For space efficiency and even freezing, it's recommended to slice or section the turkey.
- Packaging: Use heavy-duty freezer bags or a vacuum sealer to store the turkey portions. Ensure all the air is squeezed out to prevent freezer burn. For added protection, you can wrap the portions in aluminum foil before placing them in the bags.
- Labeling: Always label the bags with the date so you can keep track of how long the turkey has been frozen.
- Duration: For best quality, consume the frozen turkey within 2-3 months.
- From the Fridge: If your turkey is in the refrigerator, you can reheat it in a preheated oven at 325°F (165°C). Place the turkey in a roasting pan, and you might want to add a splash of broth or water to prevent drying out. Cover with aluminum foil and heat until the internal temperature reaches 165°F (74°C). This usually takes around 20 minutes for slices and longer for larger pieces.
- From the Freezer: It's safest to thaw the turkey in the fridge for 24 hours before reheating. Once thawed, follow the steps for reheating from the fridge. If you're in a hurry, you can also use the defrost function on your microwave to thaw, but ensure you reheat it immediately after.
- Microwave: While an oven is preferable for reheating large portions or for maintaining the texture of the skin, a microwave is convenient for quickly reheating slices. Place the turkey on a microwave-safe plate, cover with a microwave-safe lid or wrap, and use the 'reheat' function or medium power setting. Check frequently and rotate the slices for even reheating.
The Best Roasted Turkey Recipe FAQs
No, you don't need to add water to the bottom of the roasting pan. The turkey will release its own juices as it cooks. Adding water can prevent the turkey from browning and reduce the effectiveness of drippings for gravy. However, some cooks like to add a small amount of broth or wine for added flavor in the drippings.
What is the best way to keep a turkey moist while cooking?
Brine the turkey before roasting. This can help season the bird and lock in moisture.
Rub the skin and under the skin with butter or oil. This helps to seal in the juices.
Baste the turkey every 30-45 minutes with its own juices or with a butter and broth mixture.
Avoid overcooking. Use a meat thermometer to ensure the turkey is cooked to the right temperature.
Start roasting the turkey uncovered to allow the skin to brown. Then, during the last part of cooking, loosely tent the turkey with aluminum foil to prevent the skin from getting too dark and to help keep the bird moist. If you cover the turkey for the entire roasting time, the skin might not get that crisp texture many people enjoy.
Overcooking: Turkey breast meat is lean and can dry out if cooked too long. Always use a meat thermometer to ensure it's done without being overcooked. The breast should reach 165°F (74°C) and the thighs 175°F (80°C).
Not Resting After Roasting: Letting the turkey rest for at least 20-30 minutes after roasting helps redistribute the juices.
Not Brining or Marinating: Brining or marinating can help lock in moisture.
High Cooking Temperature: Roasting at a very high temperature can dry out the meat. It's best to start at a higher temperature for the first 30 minutes and then reduce to a moderate temperature for the remainder of the cooking time.
Oven Roasted Turkey
- 1 roasting pan with rack
- 1 digital meat thermometer
- 12-18 lb whole turkey defrosted, see note below on weight
- 2 oranges
- 2 onions
- 2 spring each fresh herbs rosemary, thyme, parsley, sage
- ½ tablespoon garlic powder
- ½ tablespoon ground onion powder
- ½ tablespoon smoked paprika
- ½ tablespoon chili powder
- 1 tablespoon fine sea salt
- ½ tablespoon course ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar or for sugar-free skip this or use golden monkfruit
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper
- ½ teaspoon minced dried rosemary
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- ¼ teaspoon dried sage
- 4 tablespoon olive oil extra virgin, or use softened unsalted butter
- 1. Bring your turkey to room temperature by removing it from the fridge 1 hour before baking. Remove the neck and giblets.
- Preheat the oven to 325F and pat the outside of the turkey dry with paper towels.
- Combine the dry turkey rub ingredients (the garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, chili powder, salt, pepper, sweetener, cayenne, rosemary, thyme, and sage) in a small bowl and add the extra virgin olive oil. Stir together to make a paste.
- Fill the inside of the turkey cavity with orange slices, lemon, onion, and fresh herbs. Don't over stuff the cavity since you want still have airflow on the inside of the turkey.
- Loosen the turkey skin over the top of the turkey by gently sliding your fingers underneath. Spread some of rub under the skin and direcly on onto turkey meat.
- Spread the rub mix over the turkey body, there could be some left over depending on how large your turkey is.
- Place the turkey on a rack inside of a roasting pan. Tuck the wings under the body of the turkey to keep them from burning.
- Roast the turkey in the oven for about 15 minutes per pound, or until the internal temperature of the turkey reaches 160 F when checked in the thickest part of the thigh or breast. If your turkey is browning too quickly, loosely cover it with foil .
- Let the turkey rest for 30 minutes before carving it. The turkey will continue cooking during the rest period and should be at 165 F. Carve the turkey, place on a platter decorated with more fresh citrus slices and fresh herbs. Enjoy!
- 10-14 pound turkey: 2 ½ hrs to 3 ½ hrs
- 14-18 pound turkey: 3 ½ hrs to 4 ½ hrs
- 18-22 pound turkey: 4 ½ hrs to 5 ½ hrs