Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I am excited to share with all of you the best Thanksgiving turkey recipe. This recipe is a recipe I have been working on for about 10 years now, and it is a never fail, juicy, delicious turkey that your whole family will love.
This turkey has all the traditional flavors of Thanksgiving, but it is revamped to make it so flavorful and moist. Some people tend to go a little experimental with holidays, but I like to keep with the classic flavors that remind me of family.
What equipment do I need to cook a turkey?
Turkey is not overly complicated, nor does it need a ton of fancy equipment. You can read more about my Essential tools to cook your perfect Thanksgiving feast in my Thanksgiving Ebook, but you will just need a roasting pan with a rack, a thermometer, aluminum foil, cooking twine, and a cutting board.
Two things I am adamant about ditching in 2020 if you still have them in your kitchen: your turkey baster and your electric knife. We are not wasting with basting in 2020.
Your family deserves a high quality turkey
This year, I bought my turkey from Stoltzfus Family Foods at the Ardmore Farmer's Market in Suburban Square, Ardmore, PA. They source their poultry from local, small family farms in Lancaster County, PA, and they have some of the best quality meats around. What's great about their selection is that I was able to pick up turkey wings too for my ultimate turkey stock; you can even skip the roasting step and buy their rotisserie turkey wings.
When I picked the turkey up from Ardmore Farmer's Market, I also grabbed the vegetables and herbs needed at Ardmore Produce. If you're going to make the best Thanksgiving turkey recipe, you're going to need the best products. If you are local to the Philly suburbs, Suburban Square is the one stop shop for Thanksgiving.
To Brine or Not to Brine
If you are buying a supermarket frozen turkey, you have to read the packaging to see if the supplier already brined your turkey. This is another reason why I prefer buying fresh and local turkey when possible. It is an added step, but turkey should be brined for the best flavor.
I choose to dry brine my turkey because it is so much easier than a wet brine and it makes for a crispier skin. A typical wet brine involves submerging a turkey in a salt water bath in a controlled temperature bucket. A dry brine, however, allows you to keep your turkey in your refrigerator and dry the skin for extra crispiness. It is possible to get crispy skin with a wet brine, but it adds a whole extra 24 hours to the process.
How to Dry Brine a Turkey
For this turkey, I am making a Thanksgiving Turkey Citrus Herb Dry Brine. It is flavored with thyme, rosemary, sage, orange zest, kosher salt, and a little bit of brown sugar.
Remove the turkey neck and package of gizzards (typically they are a package found in the cavity or in the neck cavity), and simply rub the entire turkey, inside and out, with this salt mixture. It won't be too salty--I promise.
How to get crispy turkey skin
Dry skin makes a crispy, golden skin. There are four steps I use to achieve golden, delicious turkey skin:
You need to allow your turkey to dry uncovered in your refrigerator for 24 hours.
I do this with the dry brine. Even if you choose to buy a pre-brined turkey, this is something you should do. The cold, dry air of your refrigerator will help dry the skin in a safe way.
Dry Brining > Wet Brining
This is discussed more on the dry brine recipe page, but dry brining will draw moisture out of the skin while adding moisture back into the turkey. Wet brining will leave your turkey juicy, but a bit water logged unless you leave it dry out in your fridge.
Dry it again with paper towels
Before I roast my turkey, I also pat dry one final time with paper towels both inside and outside the bird. Again, dry skin is crispy skin and I swear by one final go through.
Give your turkey a thin brush of oil
I lightly brush oil onto my turkey before it goes in the oven. Doing this helps brown the turkey to get that perfect, Instagrammable turkey.
Thanksgiving Compound Butter
Another way to ensure your turkey is flavorful, juicy, and moist is by making a compound butter and slathering it underneath the skin of your turkey. This flavor profile is similar to the dry brine using the same herbs and citrus, but the butter will melt into the turkey and make everything juicy and delicious.
How do you put butter under the skin of a turkey?
It's not pretty, but you are going to have to run your hand under the skin of the turkey. Starting at the turkey cavity, work your finger under the skin of the turkey. Once you loosen the skin enough to get your fingers underneath, slowly work your hand under the skin. Do this before you add the butter to make it easier to work the butter in.
Work the butter all the way down to the front of the turkey breast. Try to spread the butter evenly, but don't worry if there are clumps--the butter will melt. The goal is to get 1/4 pound of the butter underneath the skin for each turkey breast. Any leftover butter can be spread on the skin of the legs and wings before the oil.
What do you stuff a turkey with?
You better not say stuffing. Nope. Stuffing a turkey with stuffing gives you a higher chance of giving your loved ones salmonella (the stuffing needs to reach 165°F to be safe to eat), increasing cook time, makes you overcook your turkey (if you cook your stuffing to temp), and it makes you lose out on stuffing your bird with aromatics.
I stuff my turkey with fresh produce and herbs to add even more flavor. Specifically for this, the best Thanksgiving turkey recipe, I add sage, rosemary, thyme, cinnamon, onion, and orange (the one I zested for the compound butter). If you notice, these flavors have been consistent and complimentary to each step of the turkey seasoning. You can add apples, garlic, fennel, celery, or other flavors here if you'd like.
What temperature is best when roasting a turkey?
Please stop waking up and cooking your turkey "low and slow" all day long--I beg you. This cooking method uses the high low technique. For the first thirty minutes, you will roast it at 500° F followed by 350° F for the remainder of the time.
Roasting at 500°F will develop the golden, crispy skin by rendering the fat, the low temperature will help cook evenly. Doing it this way also drastically cuts the time down for a turkey. Using this method, you can roast a 14 lb. turkey in about 2 hours (remember each oven is different so time is a suggestion). For every 2 pounds more of your turkey, add 30 minutes to your 350° F roast. For instance: 16 lb. = 2.5 hours, 18 lb. = 3 hours, 20 lb. = 3.5 hours.
Make the most of your cooking and resting time
While the turkey is cooking at 350°F, you can use the remaining oven space to heat your sides like your Classic Stuffing or finish your Candied Sweet Potatoes. When your turkey is ready to come out (I pull mine at 162°F), you need to let it rest for 20-30 minutes. During the resting time, I make my pan drippings turkey gravy, mashed potatoes, and simple roasted green beans.
How to reheat Thanksgiving turkey
If you accidentally let your turkey rest a little too long during the chaos of the last half hour before dinner, ladle some warm turkey stock on your sliced turkey. Works like a charm. This also works if you accidentally overcook your stuffing and it's dry.
- 14 lb. turkey, brined with citrus herb dry brine
- canola oil
- 0.5 lb. salted butter
- 6 sage leaves, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp. fresh thyme
- 1 tbsp. fresh rosemary
- zest of one orange
- 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
- 1 orange, sliced
- 1 onion, quartered
- 1/2 green apple
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 8 sage leaves
- 1 rosemary sprig
- 10 sprigs of fresh thyme
- Combine all ingredients of compound butter. This can be done 2 days in advance.
- Dry brine your turkey using the citrus herb dry brine.
- Allow turkey to sit in refrigerator for at least 24 hours uncovered to dry the skin. This allows for a crisp skin.
- Remove turkey from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before roasting.
- Fill turkey cavity with aromatics: orange, apple, onion, cinnamon, and herbs.
- Rub compound butter under the skin of the turkey breast. Try to get 1/2 lb. of the butter on each turkey breast.
- Tuck turkey wings and truss turkey.
- Rub the outside of turkey with oil.
- Pour 3 cups of water into the bottom of the roasting pan.
- Roast at 500° F for 30 minutes.
- When 30 minutes is over, remove turkey from the pan, cover turkey breast portion with aluminum foil, and continue roasting at 350° F until turkey comes to 162° F. If more water is needed at the bottom of the pan, add water.
- Remove turkey at 162° F (the temperature will continue rising once removed) and allow turkey to rest for 30 minutes before carving.
12 lb turkey - 30 minutes at 500, 1-1.5 hours at 350
14 lb turkey - 30 minutes at 500, 1.5-2 hours at 350
16 lb turkey - 30 minutes at 500, 2-2.5 hours at 350
18 lb turkey - 30 minutes at 500, 2.5-3 hours at 350
20 lb turkey - 30 minutes at 500, 3-3.5 hours at 350