Make Ahead Roasted Turkey Recipe

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.

Roast this turkey and serve it alongside my Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes, Make Ahead Stuffing, and a Make Ahead Pumpkin Pie for the perfect Thanksgiving Dinner with less stress on the big day.

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.
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So when it comes to Thanksgiving, I try to take as much stress out of the dinner as possible. This year I’m focusing on make ahead holiday meals, like the best, juiciest roasted turkey with gravy, all made well ahead of time.

But roasting is the only way you can cook a turkey the day before and reheat it, to keep the turkey moist. Instead of reheating a whole turkey, the bird gets carved and stored in its cooking juices, which protect the meat if you need to freeze it, and get turned into a delicious gravy ahead of time. Easy as can be.

Plus it frees up oven space so you can concentrate on the important stuff…like pumpkin pie or my Grandma’s homemade crescent rolls!

How to make Make Ahead Roasted Turkey:

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 stock and make ahead gravy with the turkey carcass, and then I’m left fully prepared to deal with whatever else the day throws at me. And that’s why I think this is the best turkey recipe ever.

These photos take you through the basic steps of how to roast a whole turkey. For details and exact quantities, scroll down to the recipe card below.

  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.
  2. Then truss the turkey: tuck the rings under the turkey and tie the drumsticks together with kitchen twine. That’s it for prep!
  3. Roast the turkey uncovered in an oven set to 325 degrees for 30 minutes.
  4. 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.
  5. Depending on the size of the turkey you buy, this could take 3 to 3 1/2 hours.
  6. 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.
  7. When done, take the turkey out o the oven and let sit for about 20 minutes before carving.
  8. How to freeze turkey ahead of time: If you’re planning on freezing the turkey meat, 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.

How to thaw and reheat frozen turkey:

  1. Thaw out the frozen turkey overnight in the refrigerator.
  2. Then preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the turkey, covered, for about an hour, until a thermometer reads 165 degrees.
  3. Next, remove the turkey to a platter. Hold on to those cooking juices for gravy.

How to make easy Make Ahead Gravy:

  1. 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.
  2. Then give the gravy a taste and adjust the seasoning before serving.

Why is turkey cheaper around Thanksgiving?

If you’ve ever compared prices of Butterball or heritage turkey breeds, you may discover that turkey is surprisingly affordable, especially around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

This is because from September through December, the turkey supply is at an all-time high, with 500 to 600 million pounds of turkey waiting to be roasted for the holidays.

Also, grocery stores and markets keep turkey prices low to maximize their profits. After all, no one buys just turkey at the store; they buy all the trimmings, too.

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.

How to thaw a frozen turkey (the right way):

Buying a frozen turkey has advantages and disadvantages. While frozen whole turkey can be less expensive, it requires a lot of extra time to thaw. (If you don’t have time, please look for a fresh bird that can be cooked right away.)

So, how do you thaw a frozen turkey, anyways?
Here’s the best answer: thawing in the refrigerator is the only official, recommended way to defrost a frozen turkey.

Therefore, plan your feast accordingly: you will need 24 hours of defrosting time for every 4 to 5 pounds of bird. A large turkey from 15-20 pounds will probably need to spend 4 to 5 days in the refrigerator.

  1. First, check your refrigerator’s internal temperature; it should be 40 degrees F or colder.
  2. Keep the turkey in its original wrapping.
  3. Place the turkey on a tray or shallow pan to collect any juices that may leak out as it thaws.
  4. Store it at or near the bottom of your refrigerator so if it leaks, it won’t contaminate anything under it.
  5. Allow 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds of frozen turkey. As you can see, thawing a 20-pound turkey in the refrigerator can take the better part of a week. So make sure you plan ahead!
  • Up to 12 pounds: 1-3 days
  • 12-16 pounds: 3-4 days
  • 16-20 pounds: 4-5 days
  • 20-24 pounds: 5-6 days
    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.

Can you thaw a frozen turkey using cold water?

While it’s possible to thaw a frozen turkey in a sink full of cold water, It’s difficult to do safely. You need to keep the water temperature at a constant 40 degrees or colder the entire time it thaws.

This means that you need to monitor the temperature of the water with an instant-read thermometer, and change the water about every half hour to maintain that temperature.

Because you need to allow 30 minutes of thawing time for every pound of frozen turkey, a 20 pound bird could take up to 10 hours to thaw— requiring constant water changes every thirty minutes.

Why? If you don’t keep the water cold, you run the risk of contaminating your beautiful turkey with salmonella without even realizing it. In my opinion, it’s just too risky and troublesome to do it this way.

How NOT to thaw a turkey:

  • Never thaw a turkey using hot water. The risk for salmonella is very high when you use hot or lukewarm water to thaw a frozen turkey.
  • Never thaw a turkey using a microwave. It’s probably much too big to fit in your microwave, but also, microwave cooking doesn’t make the juiciest turkey in the world, either.
  • Whatever you do, do not thaw a turkey at room temperature. Whatever people may say, uncooked meat or poultry (including frozen) shouldn’t be left at room temperature for more than two hours due to an increased risk of food-borne illness.

How do you truss a turkey?

No need to get fancy. All you have to do is fold the wings under the turkey and tie together the legs. If you want to learn another way to truss a turkey, I explain the easiest way in my post How to Truss a Chicken; you can apply that technique to a bigger bird, too. Just make sure you have some butcher’s twine!

Hands down delicious poultry seasoning:

If you think of a turkey as just an extra-large chicken, it makes things a little less intimidating when you’re seasoning the bird.

Anything that tastes good on chicken is just as wonderful on turkey. Try an easy, homemade poultry seasoning like this one.

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon ground dried marjoram
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
    Along with salt, rub the seasoning all over the carcass, under the skin, inside the cavity, and on the legs.

How do you make turkey stuffing?

Like most other recipes, this make-ahead roast turkey doesn’t allow for in-the-bird stuffing, but I have a great recipe for Make-Ahead Stuffing, if you just can’t even this season and you want everything to be ready in advance.

The most important feast of the year just got easier with my menu for a complete make-ahead Thanksgiving. I included all the tips, tricks, and advice to make your holiday smooth sailing, at least when it comes to the food...I can't guarantee everyone will arrive on time.

And that’s not all! If you’re looking for other make ahead Thanksgiving recipes, here’s two different ways to make the best green bean casserole: an oven version, and a slow cooker version.

Need a foolproof recipe for smooth and buttery Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes? They’re to die for.

And here’s the Best Pumpkin Pie recipe anywhere, plus one that you can make ahead and freeze. (And about that pie crust? I can show you a few tricks for that, too.)
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

 

Make Ahead Roasted Turkey Recipe

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.
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Keyword gravy, turkey
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 5 hours
cooling 30 minutes
Total Time 5 hours 15 minutes
Servings 16 people
Calories 524kcal

For the Roasted Turkey:

  • 1 whole turkey 14-16 pounds
  • 2 teaspoon poultry seasoning (see Notes)
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 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
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice freshly squeezed
  • 2 cloves garlic minced

For serving:

  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour

To make the Roasted 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 1/2 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 Serve the Roasted Turkey:

  • Partially thaw out turkey in refrigerator overnight. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Transfer turkey and cooking juices to a baking dish.
  • Pour 1 1/2 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. 
  • 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.

Recipe Notes

It's easy to make your own poultry seasoning: 
Store the remainder seasoning in an airtight jar and keep in pantry. 

Nutrition

Serving: 8ounces | Calories: 524kcal

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