Perfect Roast Turkey

This simple 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.

Recipe ingredients:

Ingredients for roasted turkey labeled and in bowls.

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 1/2 pounds for each eater.
  • 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. 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:

  1. Thaw your turkey responsibly.
  2. Brine your turkey. This recipe includes a simple method for a dry brine. See my post on brining if you’d prefer to use a wet brine. On the day you plan to cook, take the turkey out 2 hours before you start roasting.
    A raw turkey with salt rubbed on it for briniing.
  3. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and position one oven rack in the lower third of the oven. Mix the melted butter and olive oil together for basting; set aside. Take your fingers and slide them under the skin to separate the skin from the breast meat. Then rub the half of the softened butter under the skin, sliding some sage leaves in as you go. Add the remaining sage to the cavity. Then season the turkey (inside and out) with black pepper.
    A raw trussed turkey in a roasting pan.
  4. Truss the turkey with twine, bringing the legs and wings close to the body and tying to secure. Rub the remaining softened butter over the bird and place inside a roasting pan, breast side up. Add about 1 inch of water to the bottom of the roasting pan.
    A raw trussed turkey in a roasting pan.
  5. Turn the oven down to 325 degrees, then place the turkey in the oven and roast, basting every hour with the butter and olive oil. If needed, add a little more water to the pan to prevent scorching.
    Basting a turkey roasting in the oven.
  6. Begin testing for doneness after 2 1/2 hours. A turkey is finished cooking when a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh is 165 degrees and when taken out, the juices run clear (No two turkeys are the same exact size, so timing will vary considerably). When your turkey is done, take it out of the oven, move it to the carving station, tent with aluminum foil, and let the meat rest for 30 minutes.
    A trussed, roasted turkey resting on a cutting board.
  7. Keeping the pan drippings in the bottom of the pan, place the roasting pan over two burners on the stove and cook over medium-high heat. Whisk in the broth and stir the gravy constantly, making sure to scrape any flavorful brown bits off the bottom of the pan.
    Pan drippings in a roasting pan for making gravy.
  8. Once the bits are scraped into the sauce, pour the gravy through a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl. Let the fat rise to the surface, then skim off the majority of the fat using a flat spoon (a fat separator works well, too).
    Pouring turkey gravy through a sieve.
  9. Return the liquid to a saucepan, and heat over medium-high heat until simmering. Take out a small amount of liquid and make a slurry with the cornstarch in a small bowl. Add the slurry back into the hot liquid, season with salt and pepper, and simmer until thickened.
    Thickening turkey gravy with a cornstarch slurry.
  10. Remove the truss from the turkey. Carve the turkey and serve.
    Carving a wing off a roasted turkey.

Recipe tips and variations:

  • Thaw safely: The best (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 more safe. 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.
  • Other herbs: Don’t feel limited to sage, if you can’t find it. Thyme sprigs, fresh rosemary or dried herbs mixed into the salt will be delicious too.
  • 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.

A roasted turkey on a platter with fruit.

More delicious Thanksgiving recipes:

A roasted turkey on a platter with fruit.

Perfect Roast Turkey

This simple 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 3 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1 day 5 hours
Total Time: 1 day 5 hours 30 minutes
Servings: 10 servings
Calories: 801kcal
Author: Meggan Hill

Ingredients

For the turkey:

  • 1 (14 pound) fresh turkey 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 1/2 hours, basting every hour with the butter and oil mixture. Add additional water to the pan as needed. 
  • Begin testing for doneness after 2 1/2 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.

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 1/2 pounds for each eater.
  2. 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. It is much finer and much saltier.
  3. Baking powder: Baking powder dries out the outer layer of the turkey, resulting in deliciously crispy skin. 
  4. Pan drippings: Substitute pan drippings from a roasted chicken for chicken gravy. Or if you don't have pan drippings from a freshly roasted bird, substitute 6 tablespoons butter.
  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. Thaw safely: The best (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 more safe. 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.
  8. Other herbs: Don't feel limited to sage, if you can't find it. Thyme sprigs, fresh rosemary or dried herbs mixed into the salt will be delicious too.
  9. 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).
  10. Tableside 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.

Nutrition

Calories: 801kcal | Carbohydrates: 5g | Protein: 98g | Fat: 41g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Cholesterol: 325mg | Sodium: 6601mg | Potassium: 1055mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 453IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 206mg | Iron: 5mg
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  1. Amadelo Noel Tuliao Lumagui

    You can’t go wrong with a classic oven-roasted turkey!5 stars

  2. Peyton Adkins

    Easy way to roast my turkey! The gravy is an awesome bonus too! was delicious5 stars

  3. Sue

    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. meggan

      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.

  4. Barb

    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?

    1. meggan

      Hi Barb, sorry about that. The recipe is correct! I’ll fix the typo. Have a lovely day!

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