How to Perfectly Roast Your Thanksgiving Turkey

November 4, 2018

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Everyone knows the importance of the turkey on Thanksgiving, and we also know it takes more than gravy to fix a dry, flavorless turkey. Here, we share all the tips and techniques that will help you roast and carve a perfect, tender, and juicy turkey for Thanksgiving this year.

How to Roast The Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey

1. Don’t cook stuffing in your turkey

Stuffing will often take longer to heat than the turkey itself. By the time your stuffing comes up to a safe temperature, the breast will often be 180 or higher, i.e., jerky.

2. Smaller turkeys are better

I know it’s cool to deliver a giant turkey to the table for your guests, but large turkeys are more likely to dry out. Stick with smaller turkeys, between 12 and 14 pounds, and do more than one for large groups.

3. Brine your turkey

Brines not only add extra moisture to the turkey but lots of flavor.

4. Use a turkey triangle

A turkey triangle is a triangle of tin foil placed over the breast for the majority of cooking, which slows the cooking of the breast meat and allows the dark meat to come up to a higher temperature, with the breast meat drying out. I personally do not view the turkey triangle as “optional.”

Here’s a video showing the entire process!

Cooking the Perfect Turkey

If you’re also looking for a how-to on how to carve (because how else do you learn), here’s a carving tutorial to help you along.

Carving the Perfect Turkey

Equipment used (or similar):

Print Recipe
5 from 5 votes

A Perfectly Roasted Thanksgiving Turkey

A turkey recipe so memorable it will make you forget all the dry, flavorless Thanksgiving turkeys you’ve had over the years. 


For brining the turkey

  • 3 inches fresh ginger
  • 2 sprigs fresh oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 7 garlic cloves smashed
  • 2 cinnamon sticks broken in half
  • 2 pieces mace optional but encouraged
  • 5 cloves
  • 1/2 tbsp black peppercorns
  • 1 tbsp allspice berries
  • 1 tbsp juniper berries
  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 1/2 cups kosher salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 12-14lb turkey
  • 2 7lb bags ice

For roasting the turkey

  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 1 sprig oregano
  • 1 sprig sage
  • 1 lemon cut in half
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper


Brine the turkey

  • Lay out a couple layers of cheesecloth. On top of it put the ginger, oregano, bay leaves, thyme, garlic, cinnamon, mace, cloves, black peppercorns, allspice berries, and juniper berries. Fold up the edges and tie some string around the top to form a packet. 
  • In a large pot, add the water, salt, sugar, lemons, and spice packet. Bring to a boil over high heat and simmer for 10-20 minutes. 
  • In a 5 gallon food grade bucket, add one bag of ice. Pour the hot liquid from the pot over the ice into the bucket. Add the turkey, breast side down, to the bucket, stuffing the packet of aromatics into the cavity. 
  • Add as much ice as can fit in the bucket while still being able to get the lid on tightly. Set in the fridge for 24-48 hours. 

Roast the turkey

  • Remove the turkey from the brine and discard the brine and packet of aromatics. Pat the turkey completely dry with paper towels, on the outside as well as the inner cavity. 
  • Place the turkey on a roasting rack in a roasting pan. Loosely place the cinnamon stick, herbs and 1 half of the lemon in the inner cavity. Stuff the other half of the lemon in the neck area. 
  • Truss the turkey by folding the wing tips back over themselves and tucking them in, and tying the ankles together. 
  • Make a large triangle out of tin foil. Form it over the breast with the top point of the triangle meeting the bottom of the breast. Fold any excess foil back so the wings are not covered. Remove the foil triangle, but keep its shape so it can be easily placed back on the turkey. 
  • Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Rub the turkey with a light layer of olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Once the oven is heated, roast the turkey, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
  • After the first 30 minutes is up, reduce the oven temperature down to 350 and remove the turkey from the oven. Using a meat thermometer with 2 wire leads, stick one lead into the breast meat and one to the inside of one of the thighs. Place the foil triangle back over the breast, and put the turkey back in the oven. 
  • Roast the turkey until the breast meat reaches 150 degrees. Remove the foil, turn the oven to 400 and roast until the breast meat reaches 160 (the thigh meat will likely be around 180 or even more – that’s what you want). 
  • Remove the turkey from the oven and let rest, uncovered, for 60 minutes. After it has rested, carve and serve. Happy Thanksgiving! 

Other helpful Thanksgiving posts:
• Savory Cornbread Stuffing
• Scratch-Made Asparagus Casserole (my version of green bean casserole)
• Country-Style Herbed Mashed Potatoes
• Dijon Country Gravy Made with Turkey Drippings
• Homemade Cranberry Sauce Worth Serving
• Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Maple and Bacon Vinaigrette
• Light and Airy Pumpkin-Ricotta Cheesecake
• How to Make an Entire Thanksgiving Meal In One Oven

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What do you think?

  1. Stephanie says:

    Hi Chris, I am making your turkey recipe for Friendsgiving tomorrow and I did not have a bucket. I made the brine and let it cool, but it was still warm when I poured it over the turkey. Is it OK that I used less ice than what this recipe calls for? I ended up putting the turkey in the fridge. I’m just worried that I didn’t let it cool down enough before adding the turkey. Will the water/brine ratio make the turkey too salty? Will my turkey be OK because the Bryan is a little warm still?

  2. Caroline A says:

    How do you fit a 5 gallon bucket in the fridge? That is the biggest obstacle.

    • Chris says:

      I found a square 4 gallon bucket that is shorter that works great for this. Depending on the climate where you live, if it’s below 40 degrees outside, you can also just up the ice and keep it outside (covered, of course)

  3. Alyssia says:

    Hi! I’m so excited to try this method! I was wondering if you baste the turkey throughout the cooking process or if you just leave it alone and let it roast.


  4. Deanna Divino says:

    I needed these instructions! Question: I mistakenly bought a turkey that was the *salt solution* already *injected*. I keep reading I shouldn’t brine those turkeys. Last year I did brine it and it was pretty salty. I thought it was because I didn’t rinse well but… maybe it was one that already had the salt solution in it? Thoughts? Should I skip brining?

  5. Wells Colleen says:

    What is an option for brining if you are short on fridge space?

    • Chris says:

      A brining bag, but it has to be in the very bottom of the fridge and you’ll want to put a tray or something under it just in case. Really need to make sure it’s fully sealed.

  6. Erica says:

    What do you do if after 15 minutes of being at 500 degrees your turkey skin is burnt and setting off smoke alarms? ???????????? what did I do wrong?

    • Chris says:

      I suppose you jump to the next phase of cooking early and discard the skin come dinner time. I’ve never experienced this so I imagine it’s a discrepancy with the ovens. Sorry to hear it didn’t work out for you!

  7. Stacey says:

    5 stars
    I have thoroughly enjoyed learning from you! This was the exact challenge I was looking for to take the family turkey to the next level! Through watching your video multiple times and reading and re-reading your recipe, I nailed it! Thank you for sharing your perfected recipe! Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

  8. Weston Brinkerhoff says:

    LOVE this turkey recipe. Cooked it last year and it was amazing. Can this turkey be made in a turkey roaster that only reaches 450°? If so, what kind of alterations would you make to the roasting time?

  9. Lisa says:

    5 stars
    Thanks for post! I’am Making a. 21 lb turkey. Did you wash turkey beforehand? Also, I have the same oven and it came with a thermometer, would you ever just use that? Lastly, how long do you think it would take to prepare that size?

    • Chris says:

      A 21lb turkey is a tough one to get right, but doable. When you drop the temp to 350 in the recipe, I would instead go to 325. You’ll be in the oven around 5 hours.

      As for the meat thermometer, you can definitely use the one built into your oven. Just put it into the breast meat and as long as you use a turkey triangle the thighs will take care of themselves.

  10. Tanya says:

    About how much time did this take? Trying to gage what time to put it in so it can have adequate resting time. Thanks!

  11. Heather says:

    How much more of the ingredients would you add if it was a 16 to 20 pound turkey?

  12. Elaine says:

    Is the turkey still hot/warm after sitting out for an hour uncovered?

  13. Marielle Newman says:

    I’m so excited & nervous I’ll be cooking up my very 1st turkey this thanksgiving! Thank you so much for the recipes and detailed video to help! I’ve got all my tools! I’ve never brined before. Is there a difference of brining with a brining bag and food grade bucket? I haven’t a clue to find a 5 gal food grade bucket. Where did you find yours?

    • Chris says:

      Our grocery store has them. You can use a brining bag, but you have to make sure to safeguard them from curious hands that might poke holes in them.

  14. Susan says:

    Hi. I’m new to making turkeys and the brine is very new to me as well. I recently read to not brine a frozen turkey…would you agree???

  15. AP says:

    I’m excited to use your recipe to make my first turkey. I need to buy the roasting pan and rack, but most of the mid priced ones are only rated to 450deg. Is it ok to use these at 500? Do you have any recommendations?

    • Chris says:

      I bought mine from Walmart for like $10. I’m sure it’s not rated up to 500 degrees, but works fine for 30 minutes. That said, I can’t encourage you to go higher than the suggested degrees because I really don’t know what would happen with your specific pan. So I leave that decision up to you. :) Alternatively you can just take it up to 450 if you feel more comfortable with that.

      Best of luck! Be sure to let me know how it goes.

  16. Susan C says:

    Thanks so much! Very excited to try my hand at several of your dishes! I’ve got to study the schedule a bit more to see how I can adjust for two ovens! I wanted to mention that using water from regular hot water heaters is normally not recommended, though I don’t know anything about instant hot water heaters. But the old fashioned heaters are full of tank debris, and water company men and plumbers will recommend you not use hot tap water as potable. I don’t guess it will kill us, but can be pretty yucky! I’m really enjoying the cooking series you publish!

  17. Jenna says:

    Do you need to have the rack in the roasting pan or will I be fine without one? The one I have doesn’t have the rack but I will buy a new one if you think that part is important. Thanks! Can’t wait to try this! My husband and I having a turkey battle this year (he smokes his on a green egg)

    • Chris says:

      You can get away without the rack, though it is a bit better with it. Sometimes the drippings can pool in the pan and the underside of the bird gets a little soggy. But that’s not a big deal for the most part, since there isn’t a lot of meat there.

  18. Bryanna says:

    5 stars
    Does this recipe yield drippings for gravy? Thanks!

    • Chris says:

      Does it ever! Best gravy of your life – but use unsalted stock for the gravy. There’s a lot of salt in the drippings from the brine.

      • Bryanna says:

        5 stars
        Hi Chris – our turkey with your recipe came out fantastic! Everyone really enjoyed it and I loved the process. There’s something very satisfying about preparation for a feast a day+ in advance. Thanks for sharing and we look forward to more Chris Cooks appearances on the [amazing] blog! You two are an incredible team.

  19. Rebecca says:

    This sounds delicious! So excited to try it! Can you use this brine recipe on an already pre-brined turkey?

  20. Pam says:

    Ha! My old eyes read “27 bags of ice”

  21. liz says:

    Recently, I bought a frozen bone-in turkey breast and after thawing it, used my instant pot to cook it. There are a variety of recipes on line to give advice on cooking a breast in a pressure cooker. Basic time is about 30 minutes for the pressure phase or about an hour for the whole cycle.

    It turned out pretty good. I don’t eat the skin, but keep it on to give flavor for the broth. Some sites suggest putting the breast in the broiler for a few minutes to brown up the skin. I’ll try it again with a boneless breast as well as look at the fresh options when the stores start to stock up on those birds.

    I roast a whole turkey since I love dark meat as well as the whole routine of cooking the meal. But, pressure cooking a breast or two might be a good option if your family really likes white meat. You could roast the 12 # turkey and pressure cook some additional breasts.

  22. Tanya says:

    Do the lemons in the recipe make the Turkey taste lemony? I am not a fan of lemon flavored chicken and have made a few recipes for turkey that have made it taste lemony as well.

  23. Tanya says:

    Does this brine make the turkey taste very lemony (if you know what I mean). I am not a fan of the lemon chicken flavor and have made brines with lemon before for turkey and did not like the taste.

  24. Erin says:

    Why don’t you rinse the turkey after it comes out of the brine? In the past when I have brined a turkey the recipe has said to rinse of the bird after you remove it, so that the end result isn’t too salty…just curious. Looks delicious!!!

  25. Amanda says:

    Looks delicious and easy; can’t wait to try it! Question – do you serve room temp and let the gravy, etc be hot to warm it up? Or just embrace the room temperature and get over the stress of trying to time everything to serve hot?

  26. Alexis says:

    5 stars
    This was so so helpful! I would love to see a video on how you time you’re Thanksgiving cooking. When you prepare each dish and how you make sure you serve everything hot. Thanks again for this video!

  27. Jen says:

    I don’t think I’ve seen a 1 hr resting time before. It occurred to me that this is likely a critical step that is often waaaaaay rushed! I’m a huge fan of the previously published salt and vinegar chicken marinade and wondered if you’ve ever tried it on turkey?

    • Julia says:

      We haven’t because there’s a lot more meat on a turkey and the marinade time would be a lot longer. The vinegar would likely start to negatively impact the texture of the meat.

  28. Jamie Brown says:

    Where do you get your spices?

  29. Angela says:

    Thanks for the post! I’ve been using a very similar method now for years (and it always tastes amazing) but always struggle with timing… the turkey always cook a lot faster than I plan for. Do you have an estimated time of cooking this process takes to get to the desired 161 degrees?
    Any “timing” tips ( for thanksgiving) are welcomed :)

    • Julia says:

      The directions and video give pretty detailed tips for timing. Good luck!

      • Angela says:

        Okay, thanks! I guess I was asking if there was any way to estimate the cook time. The directions are clear on the 30 min at 500 degrees and the rest time for 1 hour, but wasn’t sure if Chris knew how much time he allowed for the turkey to get to the desired temp after turning down the oven to 350. In my experience, the turkey ALWAYS cooks hours faster than what standard cookbooks show for hr/lb. I’m thinking it has to do with starting out roasting the turkey at 500 before reducing the temp?

      • Chris says:

        The cook time really depends on the weight of the turkey, but a 12-14lb turkey will do the main cook for about 2 hours – maybe 2.5.

  30. Hilary says:

    I’ve been using your original turkey brine recipe ever since you posted it and I’m excited to try this one! Brining really makes such a difference. Thank you!

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We believe we should all love where we live.

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