Make Ahead Roasted Turkey

Let’s talk turkey, and by turkey, I mean the best, juiciest, make ahead roasted turkey you can get. Whether you roast it up the day before, the week before, or even the month before—this turkey comes out tasting freshly carved and frees up oven space so you can concentrate on the important stuff…like pumpkin pie.

I get it: not everyone is blessed with double convection ovens, our favorite relatives within walking distance, or a natural talent for the flakiest pie crust ever. When it comes to Thanksgiving, I try to take as much stress out of the dinner as possible, and this year I’m roasting my turkey ahead of time. Brilliant!

Let’s talk turkey, and by turkey, I mean the best, juiciest, make ahead roasted turkey you can get. Whether you roast it up the day before, the week before, or even the month before—this turkey comes out tasting freshly carved and frees up oven space so you can concentrate on the important stuff…like pumpkin pie.

The traditional roast turkey is usually the main event at my Thanksgiving table, but everyone seems to have their own preferred way to cook it. Turkey on the grill, deep-fried turkey, spatchcocked turkey, the list goes on…but this is my favorite way to get a head start on the festivities, as well as leave room in the oven for my Grandma’s homemade crescent rolls!

Of all the easy turkey recipes, this one just works. Well before guests arrive, I get all the carving out of the way, make stock and 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 one of the reasons why I think this is the best turkey recipe ever.

After the big dinner comes off without a hitch, the next day, Turkey a la King or Turkey Tetrazzini beckons with the leftovers while I’m cozied up at home scrolling through the online sales with the last slice of pie.

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And that’s something to really be thankful for.

Why is turkey cheaper around Thanksgiving?

If you’ve ever compared prices, you may discover that turkey makes an economical meal, 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.

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

Let’s talk turkey, and by turkey, I mean the best, juiciest, make ahead roasted turkey you can get. Whether you roast it up the day before, the week before, or even the month before—this turkey comes out tasting freshly carved and frees up oven space so you can concentrate on the important stuff…like pumpkin pie.

How do you thaw a frozen turkey?

Buying a frozen turkey has advantages and disadvantages. We already know birds will be at their cheapest if bought during the holidays, but the downside is that they require careful advance planning so they can be thawed correctly, and safely. So, how do you thaw a frozen turkey, anyways?

The answer is this: thawing in the refrigerator is the only official recommended way to defrost a frozen turkey. For it to work, however, you’ll need plenty of time: 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.

Here’s how to thaw a frozen turkey:

  • First, check your refrigerator’s internal temperature; it should be 40 degrees F or colder.
  • Keep the turkey in its original wrapping.
  • Place the turkey on a tray or shallow pan to collect any juices that may leak out as it thaws.
  • Store it at or near the bottom of your refrigerator so if it leaks, it won’t contaminate anything under it.
  • 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

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, I don’t recommend it. To safely thaw a frozen turkey using cold water, 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 the 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 with constant water changes every thirty minutes.

If you don’t keep the water cold, you’re running the risk of contaminating your beautiful turkey with salmonella without even realizing it. 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 cook the juiciest turkey in the world, either.
  • 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?

In this recipe, 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!

At first glance it may seem unnecessary, but trussing a chicken for roasting ensures delicious, evenly-cooked poultry that looks as good as it tastes. Here I’ll show you how to truss a chicken using twine, to make your best roast chicken yet. 

How to season a turkey for baking:

If you think of a turkey as just an extra-large chicken, it’s makes things a little less intimidating when you’re seasoning the bird. Anything that works well for chicken is just as great for turkey. You can chop up a bunch of green herbs, some garlic, sage, or you can use a poultry seasoning, like this one.

It’s easy to make your own poultry seasoning:

  • 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, I 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.

And that’s not all! If you’re looking for the best green bean casserole, I’ve got an oven version, and a slow cooker version. I have a foolproof recipe for smooth and butter Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes, and I have the Best Pumpkin Pie recipe anywhere, plus one that you can make ahead, too. (And about that pie crust? I can show you a few tricks for that, too.)

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Let’s talk turkey, and by turkey, I mean the best, juiciest, make ahead roasted turkey you can get. Whether you roast it up the day before, the week before, or even the month before—this turkey comes out tasting freshly carved and frees up oven space so you can concentrate on the important stuff…like pumpkin pie.

 

Make Ahead Roasted Turkey

Let’s talk turkey, and by turkey, I mean the best, juiciest, make ahead roasted turkey you can get. Whether you roast it up the day before, the week before, or even the month before—this turkey comes out tasting freshly carved and frees up oven space so you can concentrate on the important stuff…like pumpkin pie.

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 524 kcal

Ingredients

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

Instructions

To make the Roasted 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 wings under turkey; tie drumsticks together.

  2. 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 five reads 170- 175°, about 3 to 3 1/2 hours. 

  3. While turkey is roasting, baste occasionally with broth mixture. Cover loosely with foil if turkey browns too quickly.

  4. Remove turkey from pan; let stand at least 20 minutes before carving. Skim fat from cooking juices.

To freeze the Roasted Turkey:

  1. 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:

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

  2. Pour 1 1/2 cups broth over top. Bake, covered, until a thermometer inserted in the turkey reads 165 degrees, 50-60 minutes.

  3. Remove turkey to a platter, reserving cooking juices, and keep warm. 

  4. 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. 

Let’s talk turkey, and by turkey, I mean the best, juiciest, make-ahead roasted turkey you can get. Whether you roast it up the day before, the week before, or even the month before—this turkey comes out tasting freshly carved and frees up oven space so you can concentrate on the important stuff…like pumpkin pie.

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