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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 broth with the turkey carcass, and then I’m left fully prepared to deal with whatever else the day throws at me.

Table of Contents
  1. Recipe ingredients
  2. Ingredient notes
  3. Step-by-step instructions
  4. Recipe tips and variations
  5. Make Ahead Roasted Turkey Recipe

Recipe ingredients

Labeled ingredients for make-ahead turkey.

Ingredient notes

  • Turkey: Plan on 1 ¼ pounds per person. If you can’t find a turkey small enough for your group, consider a turkey breast instead. And if you’re feeding a large group, consider a couple of medium or large turkeys rather than an enormous one (it is easier to thaw and cook a couple of average birds rather than the biggest one you can find).
  • 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

To make the turkey

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place turkey on a rack inside a roasting pan, breast side up. Sprinkle with poultry seasoning and pepper. Tuck the wings under the turkey and tie the drumsticks together.
A raw trussed turkey in a roasting pan.
  1. 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 165°, about 3 to 3 ½ hours. While turkey is roasting, baste occasionally with broth mixture. Cover loosely with foil if turkey browns too quickly.
Baked turkey with juices in a white baking dish with a silver spoon.
  1. Remove turkey from pan; let stand at least 20 minutes before carving. Skim fat from cooking juices. 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.
Separated turkey in clear rectangular dishes.

To thaw and serve the turkey

  1. 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. 
Baked turkey slices in a white baking dish.
  1. 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.
A white gravy boat filled with turkey gravy.

Recipe tips and variations

  • Yield: Plan for 1 ¼ pounds turkey per person (some of the weight is from bones). This recipe assumes a 15-pound bird which will feed about 12 people (about 1 ½ cups turkey per person or 18 cups total). The math is: 12 people x 1.25 pounds per person = 15-pound turkey.
  • Storage: Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  • Thaw safely: The best (and safest) way to thaw a frozen turkey is slowly in the refrigerator over the course of several days. It takes longer, but it is infinitely safer. Never thaw a turkey using warm/hot water, in the microwave, or at room temperature, all of which let bacteria grow before the turkey is thawed.
  • Brine: A dry brine is a great way to infuse your turkey with extra flavor, if you have the time and inclination. If brining, look for a turkey with the words “no salt added” on the label. Stay away from “self-basting” or Kosher turkeys which are already injected with a brine.
  • Roasting times may vary: After all, you may be cooking a slightly smaller or larger turkey. An unstuffed turkey takes about 15 minutes per pound when roasted at 325 degrees. However, the best way to tell if a turkey is roasted through is with a good meat thermometer (165 degrees at the thickest part of the thigh).
  • Carving: It’s easiest to carve one entire side of the first and then move on to the second side. See my full tutorial on carving a turkey for more information.
  • Stuffing a turkeychicken, or hen: For food safety reasons, and for a more evenly cooked bird, most modern recipes don’t encourage stuffing a turkey. If you decide to stuff your turkey, make sure the stuffing is warm when it goes in so it has a head start in cooking (either because you just finished making it, or because you made it in advance and reheated it). Use a large spoon or your hands to loosely stuff the body and neck cavities (do not pack it tightly because the stuffing expands while it cooks). Truss the main cavity with trussing pins to keep the stuffing inside. The stuffing must register 165 degrees on an internal thermometer to be safe to eat.
Make ahead roasted turkey on a blue platter with two silver forks.

A Complete Make Ahead Thanksgiving

The most important feast of the year just got easier with my menu for a Complete Make Ahead Thanksgiving. Make the turkey ahead, make it all ahead, make your life easier with these great recipes!…

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More make-ahead recipes

Make ahead roasted turkey on a blue 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 10 votes
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 (15 pound) whole turkey thawed with neck, heart, and gizzards removed and discarded (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 165 degrees, 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: Plan on 1 ¼ pounds per person. If you can’t find a turkey small enough for your group, consider a turkey breast instead. And if you’re feeding a large group, consider a couple of medium or large turkeys rather than an enormous one (it is easier to thaw and cook a couple of average birds rather than the biggest one you can find).
  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. Yield: Plan for 1 ¼ pounds turkey per person (some of the weight is from bones). This recipe assumes a 15-pound bird which will feed about 12 people (about 1 ½ cups turkey per person or 18 cups total). The math is: 12 people x 1.25 pounds per person = 15-pound turkey.
  5. Storage: Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  6. Thaw safely: The best (and safest) way to thaw a frozen turkey is slowly in the refrigerator over the course of several days. It takes longer, but it is infinitely safer. Never thaw a turkey using warm/hot water, in the microwave, or at room temperature, all of which let bacteria grow before the turkey is thawed.
  7. Brine: A dry brine is a great way to infuse your turkey with extra flavor, if you have the time and inclination. If brining, look for a turkey with the words “no salt added” on the label. Stay away from “self-basting” or Kosher turkeys which are already injected with a brine.
  8. Roasting times may vary: After all, you may be cooking a slightly smaller or larger turkey. An unstuffed turkey takes about 15 minutes per pound when roasted at 325 degrees. However, the best way to tell if a turkey is roasted through is with a good meat thermometer (165 degrees at the thickest part of the thigh).
  9. Carving: It’s easiest to carve one entire side of the first and then move on to the second side. See my full tutorial on carving a turkey for more information.
  10. Stuffing a turkeychicken, or hen: For food safety reasons, and for a more evenly cooked bird, most modern recipes don’t encourage stuffing a turkey. If you decide to stuff your turkey, make sure the stuffing is warm when it goes in so it has a head start in cooking (either because you just finished making it, or because you made it in advance and reheated it). Use a large spoon or your hands to loosely stuff the body and neck cavities (do not pack it tightly because the stuffing expands while it cooks). Truss the main cavity with trussing pins to keep the stuffing inside. The stuffing must register 165 degrees on an internal thermometer to be safe to eat.

Nutrition

Calories: 413kcalCarbohydrates: 2gProtein: 61gFat: 17gSaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 203mgSodium: 567mgPotassium: 701mgFiber: 1gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 378IUVitamin C: 10mgCalcium: 42mgIron: 3mg
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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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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 Megan~
    I’m sorry if this is a silly question…. could I roast and carve a 7-8 lb turkey breast 4 days prior to serving, keep tightly wrapped in frig, and then rewarm as you described on the day of serving?

    Thank you so much for your time!

    1. Hi Mel, you can, ensuring it is heated to 165 degrees, but any leftovers on that fourth day should be discarded, since the turkey is good for 4 days. To allow for longer time, I would recommend freezing after it is made, thawing overnight, and reheating the day of. I hope this makes sense! – Meggan

  2. If I make this the Saturday before Thanksgiving is it best to freeze it to be able to serve it the day after Thanksgiving, and can any leftover turkey be refrozen again after being served in order to make use of the leftovers at a later time? Thank you.

    1. Hi Laurie, yes you should freeze before Thanksgiving. The leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator up to 4 days! – Meggan

  3. 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

  4. 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