The juiciest, most tender, flavorful Roast Turkey with Herb Butter you ever sunk your teeth into! This is the only roast turkey recipe you will ever need for the rest of your life for the BEST turkey of your life!
For too long turkeys have been dry or bland, or even worse dry and bland – but not anymore. I have created an extremely detailed guide on How to Roast Turkey perfectly every time, which to me, means the juiciest, most flavorful turkey with gravy that is to live for! So even if you have never made turkey before, you can be the hero of Thanksgiving with this brined, herb butter infused oven roasted turkey!
These instructions are everything you ever wanted to know about roasting turkey – and more than you wanted to know – but please don’t be intimidated. Roasting turkey is EASY! Follow my recipe and you can’t go wrong!
Before we get into the nitty gritty of How to Roast Turkey, if you still need a few Thanksgiving ideas or simply want the BEST appetizer, sides or dessert, make sure to check out my Thanksgiving Guide which has over 50 Thanksgiving recipes all from CARLSBAD CRAVINGS all in ONE place to make your Thanksgiving prep that much easier and delicious! Now onto the main event!
HOW TO ROAST TURKEY
WHAT TURKEY TO BUY?
First of all, what turkey size will feed your crowd? A general rule of thumb is 1½ pounds per person. So for 8 people, buy a 12-pound turkey. Of course there are variables in this calculation such as kids, big/small eaters, but in general, if you plan on 1 ½ pounds/person you will be safe.
Now what type of turkey? For this roast turkey recipe we are brining our turkey (more on that below), so we want a specific turkey – FRESH, NEVER FROZEN. Some turkeys are frozen then thawed at the store so check the label for “previously frozen” – we don’t want that. Frozen turkeys are almost always injected with a sodium solution. This, combined with brining, will make your turkey too salty.
We also don’t want kosher, self-basting and pre-brined turkeys because they either have been salted or have been injected with broth, salt, seasonings, and/or other flavorings. By using this type of turkey, you’ll also end up with an overly salted and dried out bird. So keep it fresh!
HOW TO THAW YOUR TURKEY
We don’t want to use a frozen turkey for brining but if you already have purchased your frozen turkey, then just be sure to cut the salt in the brine IN HALF. If your turkey is frozen, don’t make the mistake of waiting until Thanksgiving to thaw your turkey – or even waiting a few days before. Frozen turkeys take at least 3 days to thaw in the refrigerator – and our brine takes a day – so plan accordingly. It’s much better to give yourself too much time than not enough.
The safest and most convenient way to thaw your turkey is in the refrigerator. Place turkey on a roasting rack in a roasting pan. This will catch any juices/water from the packaging. As a rule of thumb, your turkey will need AT LEAST 24 hours for every five pounds. So, if you have a 15 pound turkey, plan on 3 solid days for defrosting, 1 day for brining and 1 day for caution, as it’s better to have a little wiggle room. A defrosted turkey is completely safe in your refrigerator for a couple days.
If you are brining, as you should and as instructed in this recipe, you can start your brining when the turkey is still partially frozen. This isn’t ideal, but is fine if you are in a time crunch.
Why Brine Your Turkey?
By nature, turkey is a lean meat so it needs extra help in the moisture and flavor department and brining is hand’s down the best way to season and infuse your turkey with moisture and flavor through and through because it actually changes the molecular structure of the bird! Brining takes a little planning ahead but very little hands-on time and results in the juiciest, show stopping roast turkey you ever did taste!
Brining is a marinating method that uses salted water to increase the moisture, and seasonings and aromatics to increase flavor and help the turkey retain flavor during cooking. According to American’s Test Kitchen, they found that turkey roasted straight out its package will retain about 82 percent of its total weight after cooking, a brined turkey, however, will retain about 93 percent of its total weight after cooking! This is 11% more juices/water which means more tender meat from the surface to the bone.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, brining DOES NOT make the roasted turkey taste salty – unless you don’t wash it off thoroughly. The salty solution only makes your turkey moister by hydrating the cells of its muscle tissue before cooking, via the process of osmosis, and by allowing the cells to hold on to the water while they are cooked. The salt is left in the brine solution, not the bird.
Now, let’s brine!
HOW TO BRINE YOUR TURKEY
To brine, we combine vegetable broth, sea salt (NOT kosher or table salt or it will be WAY too salty), brown sugar, garlic, rosemary, sage, paprika, thyme, peppercorns, bay leaves and peels from 2 oranges in a large stock pot and bring to boil in order to dissolve the salt and sugar. Next, remove from heat, stir in apple juice and cover and let brine cool to room temperature. You can place in the refrigerator to speed up the process.
Next, we prepare our turkey by removing the neck, giblets and tailpiece then rinse the turkey and pat dry. You are going to want to do this is the sink, as quite a bite of juices will be released when you open the turkey bag.
Next, place your turkey in a large brining bag. There are actual Brining Bags that I have seen at Bed, Bath and Beyond, but I used I use Reynolds Oven Bags, Turkey Size, for meats/poultry 8-24 lbs. These bags are typically located in the grocery aisles near the cooking utensils/disposable foil pans.
I highly recommend double bagging your turkey in case the bag punctures and leaks – as happened to me before – fortunately, my turkey was on a large baking tray – phewy. Once your turkey is in the bag, pour the cooled brine over the turkey then stir in ice water. Make sure the brine fills the cavity of the turkey and covers the turkey by squeezing out any excess air in the bag. If your brine needs more liquid, top it off with equal amounts vegetable broth and apple juice.
It is helpful to place the bag in another container to push the liquid up around the turkey. The easiest method I have found is to place my bag in a 5 gallon Home Depot bucket and then add my turkey to the bag, add my brine and ice water, seal up the bag, then weigh it down so the turkey doesn’t float and refrigerate.
If your refrigerator space is limited, the vegetable drawer can be a good option to place your bagged, brining turkey. If the brine doesn’t cover the turkey when placed on its side, be sure to flip the bag every so often.
You can also place the brining turkey in a cooler and surround it with ice packs, taking care to flip/rotate every so often, just take care to maintain a temperature above freezing but below 40 degrees to stay out of the bacteria growing “danger zone.”
The turkey gets brined in the refrigerator/cooler for 16-24 hours. The general rule of thumb is 1 hour per pound. When ready to remove turkey from brine, place it in the sink and cut the bag. Now, thoroughly rinse the turkey, including the cavity, with cool water for at least 5 minutes to get rid of excess salt. Next, place your turkey on a roasting rack set in a roasting pan and thoroughly pat dry with paper towels. Place turkey in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, however, I highly recommend leaving it in the refrigerator overnight in order for the skin to dry out which means crispier skin during roasting.
HOW TO APPLY HERB BUTTER
Our brined turkey will be wonderfully moist with flavor trapped inside the bird, but now it’s time to take it the next level – the best-roast turkey-I’ve-ever-eaten-level with Herb Butter. Herb Butter moistens the turkey, infuses it with flavor and helps promote that beautifully golden skin – and literally takes minutes to whip up!
To make our herb butter, simply whisk together softened butter, olive oil (to prevent the butter from burning), a splash of Dijon and soy sauce, and plenty of seasonings: garlic powder, dried rosemary, dried parsley, dried thyme leaves, onion powder, paprika, pepper, ground cumin. The butter is multi-dimensional, flavorful and balanced.
If you have never used herb butter under the skin of a turkey before, don’t be intimidated, it is quite easy once you just go for it. The easiest method I have found is to come at the turkey from 4 different areas – from each breast from both the top and from the bottom.
First, gently loosen the skin on the breasts starting at the large cavity end by gently running your fingers between the skin and the meat, taking care not to tear the skin. Loosen the skin about halfway back then rotate the bird and repeat from the neck end until all the breast skin is loosened.
Place 2 tablespoons of the softened butter under the skin of each breast and gently press on the skin to spread the butter evenly over half of each breast. Rotate bird and repeat using 2 tablespoons per breast again so the entire breast is covered in butter.
Spread half of the remaining butter over the turkey including drumsticks and wings. Flip turkey over so it is BREAST SIDE DOWN and spread the remaining butter over the turkey. Hello flaaaaaaaavor!
this photo is breast side up before I flipped it to breast side down
ROASTING YOUR TURKEY
Now it’s almost time to roast our turkey – they easiest, hands-off part of the process. First, we want to stuff the cavity of our bird with aromatics. I use a quartered orange, onion and apple which not only add moistness but flavor as well. There really is no right or wrong here – many people add carrots, celery, fresh thyme, rosemary, etc. but I did not find that necessary due to the herb butter.
We want to roast our turkey on a rack placed inside a roasting pan which is essential to elevate the meat to promote even cooking and browning. Next, place 2 cups chicken broth on the bottom of our roasting pan to enhance moistness and flavor. We will add more water about halfway through roasting as it evaporates so we will have plenty of broth for our incredibly flavorful gravy. We use additional water as opposed to chicken broth to ensure our gravy isn’t too salty because you can always add salt but it’s hard to take away.
We start cooking our roast turkey with the breast SIDE DOWN because dark meat needs to cook for a longer period than the top white meat and this help to protect our delicate breast meat from overcooking/becoming dry and instead remains wonderfully juicy. We flip our turkey after 45 minutes and reduce heat from 400 to 350 degrees. Cooking at slightly higher temperature initially gives the turkey a crisp skin, while lowering the temperature for the remaining cooking time prevents the turkey from drying out.
As far as flipping the turkey goes – it really is quite simple. For this latest roast turkey, I used an 18 pounder and had no problem flipping it. Simply use two wads of paper towels to grasp the bird on each end. This protects you from the heat and give you plenty of traction.
Now the question to baste or not to baste? I baste my roast turkey a few times initially but stop basting about halfway through cooking so the skin can crisp up. If you continue to baste, your skin won’t be crispy and can even become soggy. If you want extra crispy skin, don’t baste at all!
HOW LONG TO ROAST A TURKEY
As far as cooking time, you NEED an instant read meat thermometer. You can pick these up at your local grocery store, Target, Walmart – most places should carry them. A meat thermometer is essential because there is no accurate way to know if the turkey is cooked through – and not overcooked (almost as important)– without a meat thermometer due to many variables such as size of your turkey, how long you brined your turkey, how long rinsed brined turkey sat in refrigerator, how cold your turkey is, how often you open your oven, etc.
Brined turkeys cook much faster than not brined turkeys so rely on your meat thermometer. The roast turkey should be cooked until it reaches 160°F and then removed from the oven. To test the temperature, insert a thermometer into the thickest part of the breast.
Here is a GENERAL guideline on cooking times by the pound for BRINED TURKEY in a conventional oven. If you have a convection oven, cooking times will be much quicker:
|GENERAL COOKING TIMES FOR BRINED TURKEY|
|Weight Total||Roasting Time|
|8-12 pounds||1.5 to 2 hours|
|12-16 pounds||2 to 3 hours|
|16-20 pounds||2.5 to 3.5 hours|
|20-25 pounds||3 to 4 hours|
REST YOUR TURKEY
After we remove our roast turkey from the oven, we need to let it rest for 20-30 minutes UNCOVERED – so the skin doesn’t get soggy. While the turkey cooks, the juices are forced away from the heat to the middle of the turkey. The resting time allows for the redistribution and reabsorption of the juices throughout the whole turkey.
HOW TO MAKE THE BEST GRAVY
While your roast turkey is resting, it’s the perfect time to make your gravy – the icing on the “cake!” To make our EASY, beautiful, amazingly flavorful gravy, we first want to skim off the fat because nothing is as unappetizing at turkey dinner than fat that separates from your gravy while you pour and eat. The easiest way to do this is by pouring the contents (drippings and liquid) of the roasting rack into a degreasing cup with a spout.
If you don’t have a degreasing cup, no fear! You can still separate the fat by adding the drippings/liquid to a large freezer bag and allowing the fat to separate to the top. Next, seal the bag and hold over a 4+ cup measuring cup so that one bottom corner tip is facing down into the measuring cup like a spout. Make a small cut in this corner with scissors. The bottom liquid will flow through the cut made into the bag without the fat and into the large measuring cup. Stop when you reach 4 cups or the fat. Eazy peazy!
Next, melt some unsalted butter with one tablespoon reserved Herb Butter. After we have melted our butter, we whisk in flour and cook, whisking constantly for 5 minutes. Next, we slowly whisk in 4 cups of our degreased turkey drippings/liquid. The turkey drippings are the deeply flavorful rich scrapings from the bottom of the roasting pan and boast concentrated flavor that translates into the best gravy on. the. planet. It’s so concentrated, in fact, that’s why we use water instead of additional chicken broth while roasting. Water also ensures that our broth won’t be too salty because the salt contents can vary depending on how much salt dripped off the skin – and you can always add salt, but you can’t take it back!
Let the gravy simmer until thickened, about 25 minutes which just happens to be the same amount of time your turkey needs for resting. Now taste and add additional Herb Butter (you will have one tablespoon left) if you want even more flavor and season with salt and pepper to taste. Now let’s eat!
HAPPY TURKEY DAY!
Looking for more holiday recipes?
- Cranberry Pistachio Cheese Log
- Million Dollar Macaroni and Cheese
- Company Mashed Potatoes
- Pineapple Cranberry Sauce
- Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Cranberries, Pecans and Goat Cheese
- Dijon Maple Green Beans
- Herb Scalloped Sweet Potatoes with Bacon and Gruyere
- Double Layer Pumpkin Oreo Cheesecake
- Baked Beans with Bacon and Brown Sugar
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How To Roast Turkey with Herb Butter
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- 1 (14-18 lb) turkey never frozen, NOT pre-brined
- 8 cups apple juice
- 1 gallon ice water
- 2 cups low sodium chicken broth
- 2 cups water
- 1 orange, quartered (use above orange from brine)
- 1 onion, quartered
- 1 apple, quartered
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons reserved Herb Butter, divided in directions
- 1/3 cup flour
- 4 cups turkey drippings/juices in directions
- In a large stock pot combine all of the Brine ingredients EXCEPT apple juice and ice water. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently to dissolve salt and sugar. Remove from heat, stir in apple juice and cover. Let cool to room temperature. You can place in the refrigerator to speed up the process.
- Remove turkey neck, giblets and tailpiece. Rinse uncooked, defrosted turkey and pat dry. Place in a large brining bag (see Notes).*
- Pour cooled brine over the turkey then stir in the ice water (both directly into brining bag with turkey). Make sure the brine fills the cavity of the turkey and covers the turkey by squeezing out any excess air in the bag. If your brine needs more liquid, top it off with equal amounts vegetable broth and apple juice. Place the turkey in the refrigerator 16 to 24 hours.*
- When ready to roast turkey, remove turkey from brine. Discard brine. Thoroughly rinse turkey, inside and out for 5-10 minutes to rinse off excess salt.
- Thoroughly pat turkey dry (to achieve crispy skin). Place turkey, breast side up upon wire rack set in roasting pan.
- Refrigerate, uncovered for 30 minutes or time permitting, 8-24 hours for crispier skin.
- When ready to roast the turkey, remove it from refrigerator, wipe away any condensation and let it sit at room temperature for 60 minutes. Meanwhile, make herb butter and spread on the turkey anytime in the 60 minute window.
- Mix all the Herb Butter ingredients together in a medium bowl. Transfer 2 tablespoons to another small bowl and reserve for gravy; let stand at room temperature.
- Using your fingers, gently loosen skin covering each breast by gently running your fingers between the skin and the meat, taking care not to tear the skin. Loosen the skin on the breasts starting at the large cavity end and go halfway then rotate the bird and repeat from the neck end until all the breast skin is loosened.
- Place 2 tablespoons of the softened butter under the skin of EACH breast and gently press on the skin to spread the butter evenly over half of each breast. Rotate bird and repeat using 2 additional tablespoons per breast so the entire breast is covered in butter (a total of 8 tablespoons).
- Spread half of the remaining butter over the turkey including drumsticks and wings. Flip turkey over so it is BREAST SIDE DOWN and spread the remaining butter over the turkey.
- Fill the turkey cavity with oranges, onions and apple. Tuck wings behind back of the turkey and tuck tips of drumsticks into skin at tail to secure. (many turkeys come with drumsticks already secured) Add 2 cups chicken broth to bottom of roasting pan.
- Adjust the oven rack to the lowest position and heat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Roast the turkey BREAST SIDE DOWN at 400 degrees F for 45 minutes uncovered. Remove pan from oven and turn oven DOWN to 350 degrees F. Using 2 large wads of paper towels, rotate turkey breast side up. Baste turkey and continue to cook uncovered until the center of the breast registers 160 degrees F. See chart in notes for approximate cooking times.
- About halfway through cooking, or when the chicken broth is getting low, add 2 cups water to bottom of roasting pan. At this point, or when breast is golden brown, cover the breast loosely with aluminum foil to prevent the skin from burning.
- Once cooked, transfer turkey to carving board and let rest, UNCOVERED (so the skin doesn’t get soggy), for 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile, make Gravy. Directions below
- Add contents of roasting rack (drippings and liquid) to degreasing cup to skim off fat when poured. OR if you don’t have a degreasing cup then add contents to a large freezer bag and allow fat to separate to the top. Seal bag and hold over a 4+ cup measuring cup so that one bottom corner tip is facing down into the measuring cup like a spout. Make a small cut in this corner with scissors. The bottom liquid broth will flow through the cut made into the bag without the fat and into the large measuring cup. Stop when you reach 4 cups or the fat. Set aside.
- Add 3 tablespoon unsalted butter and ONE tablespoon reserved Herb Butter to a medium/large saucepan and melt over medium-high heat. Add the flour and cook for 5 minutes, whisking constantly.
- Reduce heat to low and slowly whisk in degreased 4 cups of turkey drippings/broth from bottom of roasting pan. If you have less than 4 cups than add water to equal 4 cups. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer until thickened, about 20-25 minutes. Taste and add additional reserved butter a little at a time if desired for more flavor. Season with salt and pepper to taste if desired.
- With top of bird facing towards you, cut along both sides of breastbone, from one end of the turkey to the other.
- Gently pull each breast half away to expose wishbone then pull and remove wishbone.
- Cut along rib cage to remove breast completely. Place entire breast half on carving board and cut on bias into thin slices.
- PLANNING/TIMING: If using a fresh turkey, you should brine Tuesday-Wednesday, let sit in refrigerator to dry out skin Wednesday-Thursday and cook Thursday/Thanksgiving.
- WHAT TURKEY TO BUY: Purchase a fresh, NOT frozen turkey because frozen turkeys are often brined, which means salt is added to preserve the turkey. If you must use a frozen turkey then cut the sea salt in the brine by half. Do not buy a kosher, self-basting or pre-brined turkey.
- SEA SALT: Be sure you are using sea salt. I prefer sea salt because it has great flavor. Kosher salt is twice as strong so if you must use it, then cut the salt in half.
- HERB BUTTER: I use dried herbs because fresh herbs have the tendency to burn. If you have had success with fresh herbs then use 3x fresh herbs as the dried amount.
- BASTING: Basting is optional. If you like very crispy skin then don’t baste your turkey at all! I baste my turkey 2 different times within the first half of cooking then don’t baste it all the last half of cooking.
*HOW TO BRINE:
- I use Reynolds Oven Bags, Turkey Size, for meats/poultry 8-24 lbs. to brine my turkey in. I recommend double bagging your turkey in case the bag punctures and leaks. It is helpful to place the bag in another container to push the liquid up around the turkey. I place my bag in a large Home Depot bucket and then add my turkey to the bag. If the turkey is floating, weight it down with a heavy object.
- The vegetable drawer of your refrigerator is also a great place to brine your bagged turkey. Just make sure all the extra air is out of the bag so it can be sealed tightly and the brine will cover the turkey. If the brine doesn’t cover the turkey, be sure to flip the bag every so often.
If your refrigerator space is limited, then place your turkey in its brine bag in a cooler and surround with ice packs. Flip turkey/rotate turkey every so often.
COOK TIMEYou NEED a meat thermometer. Brined turkeys cook much faster than not brined turkeys so rely on your meat thermometer. There is no accurate way to know if the turkey is cooked through – and not overcooked – without a meat thermometer due to many variables. Below is a GENERAL guideline on cooking times by lb for BRINED TURKEY but start checking your turkey at least 30 minutes before the below time. GENERAL COOKING TIMES FOR BRINED TURKEY
Weight Total Roasting Time
8-12 pounds 1.5 to 2 hours
12-16 pounds 2 to 3 hours
16-20 pounds 2.5 to 3.5 hours
20-25 pounds 3 to 4 hours
HOW TO DOUBLE THE GRAVYTo double the recipe without extra Herb Butter or turkey drippings, use:
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons reserved Herb Butter, divided in directions
- 2/3 cup flour
- 4 cups turkey drippings/juices in directions
- 4 cups low sodium chicken broth
- 1 to 1 ½ teaspoons chicken bouillon (add less and add more to taste)
- 1 teaspoon EACH garlic powder, onion powder, dried parsley
- ½ teaspoon EACH paprika, dried oregano, dried thyme, dried rosemary
- Salt to taste
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