If you’re pressed for time (or oven space), Make Ahead Roasted Turkey is just what you need. With this technique, cooking turkey the day before, the week before, or even the month before, still tastes delicious and freshly carved.

Make ahead roasted turkey on a blue platter.

Of all the easy turkey recipes out there, this one just works. Well before guests arrive, I get all the carving out of the way, make the gravy, make stock with the turkey carcass, and then I’m left fully prepared to deal with whatever else the day throws at me.

Ingredient notes:

  • Turkey: Look for a natural or heritage turkey with the words “no salt added” on the label. Stay away from “self-basting” or Kosher turkeys, which are injected with a salt solution. Brining an already salted turkey will make the bird way too salty. How much turkey per person? Plan on 1 1/4- 1 ½ pounds for each eater.
  • Poultry seasoning: For extra flavor, season the outside of your turkey with homemade poultry seasoning. It’s a simple blend of sage, thyme, marjoram, rosemary, nutmeg, and black pepper. Or, substitute store-bought.
  • Chicken broth: Homemade chicken broth, or turkey broth, if you’re one step ahead of things. If you like, you can simmer the neck and gizzards in water while the turkey roasts to make a quick version of turkey broth (discard the liver). Store-bought works, too.

Step-by-step instructions:

  1. First, place the thawed turkey, breast side up, on a rack inside a roasting pan. Sprinkle the whole turkey with poultry seasoning and some freshly ground pepper. Then truss the turkey: tuck the rings under the turkey and tie the drumsticks together with kitchen twine.  Roast the turkey uncovered in an oven set to 325 degrees for 30 minutes.
  2. Next, mix together the chicken broth, herbs, lemon zest, lemon juice, and garlic. Pour this mixture over the turkey and continue to cook the turkey, uncovered, until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reads 170 to 175 degrees.
    Make Ahead Roasted Turkey for Thanksgiving or any feast is perfect when you’re pressed for time. With this technique, cooking turkey the day before, the week before, or even the month before— tastes delicious and freshly carved.
  3. Depending on the size of the turkey you buy, this could take 3 to 3 ½ hours. You can baste the turkey with the broth mixture occasionally during cooking. If the turkey is browning too much before it’s completely done, cover the bird with a sheet of loose foil. When done, take the turkey out o the oven and let sit for about 20 minutes before carving.
    Baked turkey slices in a white baking dish.
  4. To get the turkey ready for freezing, carve the turkey and place in shallow freezer containers. Pour the cooking juices over the slices of meat, cover, and freeze up to 3 months. The cooking juices will protect the turkey and keep the meat moist and tender.
    Make Ahead Roasted Turkey for Thanksgiving or any feast is perfect when you’re pressed for time. With this technique, cooking turkey the day before, the week before, or even the month before— tastes delicious and freshly carved.

Recipe tips and variations:

  • Thawing and reheating the turkey: Thaw out the frozen turkey overnight in the refrigerator, then preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the turkey, covered, for about an hour, until a thermometer reads 165 degrees. Remove the turkey to a platter. Hold on to those cooking juices for gravy.
  • Make ahead gravy: In a saucepan, melt some butter over medium heat and whisk in some flour until smooth. Drizzle in the reserved cooking juices and keep whisking. Bring everything to a boil. Keep stirring until the mixture thickens, usually in a couple minutes. Then give the gravy a taste and adjust the seasoning before serving.

Make ahead roasted turkey on a blue platter with two silver forks.

Make Ahead Thanksgiving menu:

Make ahead roasted turkey on a blue serving platter.

Make Ahead Roasted Turkey

If you're pressed for time (or oven space), Make Ahead Roasted Turkey is just what you need. With this technique, cooking turkey the day before, the week before, or even the month before, still tastes delicious and freshly carved.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 5 hrs
cooling 30 mins
Total Time 5 hrs 15 mins
Servings 16 people
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Calories 413

Ingredients 

For the turkey:

  • 1 whole turkey 14-16 pounds (see note 1)
  • 2 teaspoon poultry seasoning (see note 2)
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 cups chicken broth (see note 3)
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme minced, or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary minced, or 1 teaspoon dried and crushed
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • ¼ cup lemon juice freshly squeezed
  • 2 cloves garlic minced

For reheating and making the gravy:

  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Instructions 

To make the turkey:

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place turkey on a rack inside a roasting pan, breast side up. Sprinkle with poultry seasoning and pepper. Tuck wings under turkey; tie drumsticks together.
  • Roast, uncovered, 30 minutes. In a 4-cup measuring cup, mix broth, herbs, lemon zest and juice, and garlic; pour over turkey. Roast, uncovered, until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reads 170- 175°, about 3 to 3 ½ hours. 
  • While turkey is roasting, baste occasionally with broth mixture. Cover loosely with foil if turkey browns too quickly.
  • Remove turkey from pan; let stand at least 20 minutes before carving. Skim fat from cooking juices.

To freeze the roasted turkey:

  • Carve the turkey and place in shallow freezer containers. Pour cooking juices over turkey then let cool slightly, about one hour. Cover and freeze up to 3 months.

To thaw and reheat the roasted turkey:

  • Partially thaw the turkey in refrigerator overnight. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Transfer turkey and cooking juices to a baking dish.
  • Pour 1 ½ cups broth over top. Bake, covered, until a thermometer inserted in the turkey reads 165 degrees, 50-60 minutes. Remove turkey to a platter, reserving cooking juices, and keep warm. 

To make the gravy and serve:

  • In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat, stir in flour until smooth. Gradually whisk in the cooking juices; bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Cook and stir until thickened, about 2 minutes. Serve gravy alongside turkey.

Notes

  1. Turkey: Look for a natural or heritage turkey with the words “no salt added” on the label. Stay away from “self-basting” or Kosher turkeys, which are injected with a salt solution. Brining an already salted turkey will make the bird way too salty. How much turkey per person? Plan on 1 1/4- 1 ½ pounds for each eater.
  2. Poultry seasoning: For extra flavor, season the outside of your turkey with homemade poultry seasoning. It's a simple blend of sage, thyme, marjoram, rosemary, nutmeg, and black pepper. Or, substitute store-bought.
  3. Chicken broth: Homemade chicken broth, or turkey broth, if you’re one step ahead of things. If you like, you can simmer the neck and gizzards in water while the turkey roasts to make a quick version of turkey broth (discard the liver). Store-bought works, too.
  4. Thawing and reheating the turkey: Thaw out the frozen turkey overnight in the refrigerator, then preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the turkey, covered, for about an hour, until a thermometer reads 165 degrees. Remove the turkey to a platter. Hold on to those cooking juices for gravy.
  5. Make ahead gravy: In a saucepan, melt some butter over medium heat and whisk in some flour until smooth. Drizzle in the reserved cooking juices and keep whisking. Bring everything to a boil. Keep stirring until the mixture thickens, usually in a couple minutes. Then give the gravy a taste and adjust the seasoning before serving.

Nutrition

Calories: 413kcalCarbohydrates: 2gProtein: 61gFat: 17gSaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 203mgSodium: 567mgPotassium: 701mgFiber: 1gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 378IUVitamin C: 10mgCalcium: 42mgIron: 3mg
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Meggan Hill

I’m the Executive Chef and head of the Culinary Hill Test Kitchen. Every recipe is developed, tested, and approved just for you.

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Comments

  1. Hi Meggan,
    I wanted to know if the turkey pieces need to be completely submerged in the broth before freezing. Hoping to try your make-ahead turkey recipe. Thank you for your recipe.

    1. Hi Cami, they don’t need to be completely submerged for freezing, just covered with the cooking juices when you pour it in. Hope this helps! – Meggan

  2. Cooking the turkey ahead is great. Can it be carved one day ahead and then reheated? How would you reheat a carved turkey?

    1. Hi Mary, yes! You can refrigerate up tp 4 days. To reheat: preheat oven to 350 degrees. Transfer turkey and cooking juices to a baking dish. Pour 1 ½ cups broth over top. Bake, covered, until a thermometer inserted in the turkey reads 165 degrees, 50-60 minutes. Remove turkey to a platter, reserving cooking juices, and keep warm. Hope this helps! – Meggan