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The most Perfect Roast Turkey recipe relies on dry-brining and butter-basting for the juiciest, most delicious turkey you’ve ever had. Save your pan drippings too for an easy classic gravy recipe.

A roasted turkey on a platter with fruit.

My idea of perfectly roasted turkey involves juicy meat, butter-crisp skin, and plenty of flavor.

Luckily, there’s a way to get all three of those things without a giant bucket of salted water (taking up precious fridge space) or a vat of boiling oil (too risky and unpredictable.)

Whether you’re a first-time turkey roaster or a seasoned Thanksgiving host, this recipe is easy to follow and always makes people come back for seconds.

Table of Contents
  1. Recipe ingredients
  2. Ingredient notes
  3. Step-by-step instructions
  4. Recipe tips and variations
  5. Recipe FAQs
  6. Perfect Roast Turkey Recipe

Recipe ingredients

Labeled ingredients for perfect roast turkey.

At a Glance: Here is a quick snapshot of what ingredients are in this recipe.
Please see the recipe card below for specific quantities.

Ingredient notes

  • Turkey: 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. The best (and safest) way to thaw a frozen turkey is slowly in the refrigerator over the course of several days (about 4 days for a 15-pound turkey). 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.
  • How much 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).
ServingsHow much turkey
2-3 adults4 pounds
3-4 adults5 pounds
5-6 adults8 pounds
7-8 adults10 pounds
8-10 adults13 pounds
10-12 adults15 pounds
12-15 adults20 pounds
15-20 adults25 pounds
20-25 adults32 pounds
This chart shows what size turkey to buy depending on how many you are feeding.
  • Kosher salt: Used for dry-brining (aka pre-salting). The salt draws out the extra moisture in the turkey, forms a salt solution on the outer layer of the bird, and then is reabsorbed back into the meat to season it. For a wet-brine recipe, see my post on how to brine a turkey. Don’t substitute standard table salt for the Kosher salt because it is much finer and much saltier.
  • Baking powder: Baking powder dries out the outer layer of the turkey resulting in deliciously crispy skin.
  • 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.
  • Cornstarch: My trick for making an easy gravy that’s also gluten-free.

Step-by-step instructions

Brine the turkey:

  1. Rinse the thawed turkey well inside and out under cold running cold water. Set on a rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. Remove any excess fat or pin feathers and pat dry with paper towels.
Patting a raw turkey dry with paper towels.
  1. In a small bowl, add kosher salt and baking powder and stir to combine. Sprinkle the salt mixture over the bird. Coat well, stopping before a crust forms (you may not need all of the salt mixture). Transfer the turkey to a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered, for 12 to 24 hours (or loosely cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days). Remove the turkey from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature 2 hours prior to roasting. 
Patting a dry brine on a raw turkey.

Roast the turkey:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and place a rack in the lower third of the oven. In a small bowl, stir together the melted butter and olive oil (for basting) and set aside. Gently slide your fingers between the skin and the breast of the turkey to loosen the skin. Spread half of the softened butter between the breast and the skin.  Arrange twelve sage leaves evenly between the skin and the breast. Place the remaining sage in the cavity. Season with black pepper, including the cavity.
Sliding fresh sage leaves under the skin of a raw turkey.
  1. Truss the turkey, place the bird on it’s back, and rub the remaining 2 tablespoons softened butter all over. Place in a roasting pan breast-side up.
A raw trussed turkey in a roasting pan.
  1. Pour 1 inch water into the bottom of the roasting pan. Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Roast the turkey for 3 to 3 ½ hours, basting every hour with the butter and oil mixture. Add additional water to the pan as needed. 
Basting a turkey roasting in the oven.
  1. Begin testing for doneness after 2 ½ hours. A thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh should reach 165 degrees, and the juices should run clear.  Transfer the turkey to the carving board and tent with aluminum foil and allow to rest for 30 minutes.
A trussed, roasted turkey resting on a cutting board.

Make the gravy:

  1. Place the roasting pan with drippings over 2 burners and turn heat to medium-high. Add broth and bring to a simmer, scraping up the browned bits off the bottom of the pan.
Whisking turkey drippings in a pan to make gravy.
  1. Pour the contents through a fine-mesh strainer set over a large bowl. Using a large flat spoon, skim off and discard the layer of fat that floats to the surface, or pour the liquid into a fat separator and pour off the liquid, leaving the grease behind.
Straining turkey broth through a fine mesh strainer.
  1. Transfer the liquid to a saucepan, place over medium-high heat, and simmer briskly. In a small bowl, add some of the liquid and the cornstarch and whisk together to make a slurry. Gradually whisk the slurry into the simmering liquid, then cook until the gravy thickens, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Thickening turkey gravy with a cornstarch slurry.
  1. Remove the truss and carve the turkey. Carving one side at a time, cut through the shoulder joint to remove the wing. Cut through the thigh joint to remove the whole leg. Cut through the joint that separates the drumstick from the thigh. To remove the breast, cut along the breastbone while following the curvature of the bones. Place the breast on the cutting board, then slice the breast meat on an angle.
Carving a turkey breast.

Serve the turkey:

  1. Serve the turkey with the gravy and all your favorite sides.
A roasted turkey on a platter with fruit.

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.
  • Make ahead: Get a jump start on your Thanksgiving prep with my easy Make Ahead Turkey recipe. Roast, carve, and freeze the turkey in its juices. Then thaw, reheat, and make the gravy.
  • 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).
  • Table-side carving: Follow this method if you prefer to carve the turkey at the table, rather than handle everything backstage. Just above the thigh and shoulder joints, carve a deep horizontal cut through the breast toward the bone to create a base cut. Starting near the breastbone, carve thin slices vertically, cutting downward to end each slice at the base cut.
  • 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.
A plate of roasted trukey, stuffing, vegetables, mashed potatoes and gravy, and cranberries.
A Classic Midwestern Thanksgiving: Perfect Roast Turkey, Mashed Potatoes with Gravy, Classic Bread StuffingVegetable CasseroleRoasted Asparagus, and Cranberry Sauce with Apples.

Recipe FAQs

What size turkey should I buy?

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).

How do I know my turkey is done?

Your turkey is done when a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165 degrees for 15 seconds and the juices run clear.

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Best sides for roast turkey

A platter of roast turkey garnished with grapes.

Perfect Roast Turkey

The most Perfect Roast Turkey recipe relies on dry-brining and butter-basting for the juiciest, most delicious turkey you've ever had. Save your pan drippings too for an easy classic gravy recipe.
5 from 14 votes
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 1 d 5 hrs
Total Time 1 d 5 hrs 30 mins
Servings 12 servings
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Calories 801

Ingredients 

For the turkey:

  • 1 (15 pound) frozen turkey thawed, neck, heart, and gizzards removed and discarded (see note 1)
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt (see note 2)
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder (see note 3)
  • 4 tablespoons butter softened, plus 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 bunch fresh sage
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

For the gravy:

  • Reserved pan drippings from roasted turkey (see note 4)
  • 7 cups chicken broth or turkey broth (see note 5)
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch (see note 6)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions 

To dry-brine the turkey (see note 2):

  • Rinse the turkey well inside and out under cold running cold water. Set on a rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. Remove any excess fat or pin feathers and pat dry with paper towels.
  • In a small bowl, add kosher salt and baking powder and stir to combine. Sprinkle the salt mixture over the bird. Coat well, stopping before a crust forms (you may not need all of the salt mixture).
  • Transfer the turkey to a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered, for 12 to 24 hours (or loosely cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days).
  • Remove the turkey from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature 2 hours prior to roasting. 

To roast the turkey:

  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and place a rack in the lower third of the oven. In a small bowl, stir together the melted butter and olive oil (for basting) and set aside.
  • Using paper towels, dry both the inside and outside of the turkey. Gently slide your fingers between the skin and the breast of the turkey to loosen the skin. Spread half of the softened butter between the breast and the skin. 
  • Arrange twelve sage leaves evenly between the skin and the breast. Place the remaining sage in the cavity. Season with black pepper, including the cavity.
  • Truss the turkey, place the bird on it's back, and rub the remaining 2 tablespoons softened butter all over. Place in a roasting pan breast-side up. Pour 1 inch water into the bottom of the roasting pan. Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Roast the turkey for 3 to 3 ½ hours, basting every hour with the butter and oil mixture. Add additional water to the pan as needed. 
  • Begin testing for doneness after 2 ½ hours. A thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh should reach 165 degrees, and the juices should run clear.  Transfer the turkey to the carving board and tent with aluminum foil and allow to rest for 30 minutes. 

To make the gravy:

  • Place the roasting pan with drippings over 2 burners and turn heat to medium-high. Add broth and bring to a simmer, scraping up the browned bits off the bottom of the pan.
  • Pour the contents through a fine-mesh strainer set over a large bowl. Using a large flat spoon, skim off and discard the layer of fat that floats to the surface, or pour the liquid into a fat separator and pour off the liquid, leaving the grease behind.
  • Transfer the liquid to a saucepan, place over medium-high heat, and simmer briskly. In a small bowl, add some of the liquid and the cornstarch and whisk together to make a slurry. Gradually whisk the slurry into the simmering liquid, then cook until the gravy thickens, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To carve the turkey:

  • On a large cutting board, place the turkey breast side up. Remove the truss. Begin carving one side of the turkey completely before moving on to the other side.
  • Removing the wing: Pull the wing away from the body and slice through the skin to locate the shoulder joint. Cut through the joint to remove the wing.
  • Removing the whole leg: Pull the leg away from the body and slice through the skin to locate the thigh joint. Cut through the joint to remove the entire leg.
  • Separating the thigh and leg: Cut through the joint that separates the drumstick from the thigh. Serve these pieces whole, or carve them by cutting off the meat in thin slices parallel to the bone.
  • Removing the breast: Cut along the breastbone while following the curvature of the bones. Using your hand or a carving fork, gently pull the breast meat away while using the knife to remove the meat from the ribs. Place turkey breast on the cutting board. For larger slices, slice the breast meat on an angle.
  • Repeat with the second side of the turkey. Arrange cut portions on a serving platter and pass the gravy separately.

Recipe Video

Notes

  1. Turkey: 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. The best (and safest) way to thaw a frozen turkey is slowly in the refrigerator over the course of several days (about 4 days for a 15-pound turkey). 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.
  2. How much 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).
  3. Kosher salt: Used for dry-brining (aka pre-salting). The salt draws out the extra moisture in the turkey, forms a salt solution on the outer layer of the bird, and then is reabsorbed back into the meat to season it. For a wet-brine recipe, see my post on how to brine a turkey. Don’t substitute standard table salt for the Kosher salt because it is much finer and much saltier.
  4. Baking powder: Baking powder dries out the outer layer of the turkey resulting in deliciously crispy skin.
  5. 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.
  6. Cornstarch: My trick for making an easy gravy that’s also gluten-free.
  7. 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.
  8. Storage: Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  9. Make ahead: Get a jump start on your Thanksgiving prep with my easy Make Ahead Turkey recipe. Roast, carve, and freeze the turkey in its juices. Then thaw, reheat, and make the gravy.

Nutrition

Calories: 801kcalCarbohydrates: 5gProtein: 98gFat: 41gSaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 325mgSodium: 6601mgPotassium: 1055mgFiber: 1gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 453IUVitamin C: 2mgCalcium: 206mgIron: 5mg
Tried this Recipe? Pin it for Later!Mention @CulinaryHill or tag #CulinaryHill!

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Executive Chef and CEO at | Website | + posts

Meggan Hill is the Executive Chef and CEO of Culinary Hill, a popular digital publication in the food space. She loves to combine her Midwestern food memories with her culinary school education to create her own delicious take on modern family fare. Millions of readers visit Culinary Hill each month for meticulously-tested recipes as well as skills and tricks for ingredient prep, cooking ahead, menu planning, and entertaining. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the iCUE Culinary Arts program at College of the Canyons.

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Comments

  1. You will have an amazing, amazing turkey if you place the turkey breast side down!!! Please try it! It will really amaze you!!!!

  2. Meggan, in direction number 4 where it says to place the turkey on it’s back and rub the remaining melted butter all over, do you mean the remaining softened butter. We are rubbing it all over the outside of the breast and legs, is that correct? It sounds wonderful. I didn’t want to cook a turkey this year, hoping my son-in-law would share his with me, but this sounds so tempting I may have to cook one after all.

    1. Hi Sue, yes! Thank you for finding that and sorry about the typo. It should be the remaining melted butter. I will fix it right now. I appreciate your support and patience and I hope you love the turkey! Please let me know if you need anything else.

  3. The “How to Dry Brine a Turkey” section states baking soda should be mixed with the salt, however the recipe lists baking powder. Which is correct?