The Best Roast Turkey
The easiest turkey ever made. This Citrus and Herb Roast Turkey Recipe is moist, tender and juicy. So simple to make and will definitely steal the show at your Thanksgiving dinner.
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This is the lazy person’s oven Roast Turkey recipe. I say this because brining a turkey is such a mess and you MUST plan ahead AND you have to be sure the turkey is kept at the right temperature so it doesn’t contract any nasty organisms. With all the other details you need to worry about on Thanksgiving….sometimes it’s best to keep it simple. No Turkey Brine necessary.
Simple being….mixing up a citrus and herb butter concoction in a cereal bowl and smearing it all over the turkey…over AND under the skin. (Under the skin is very important!) This is no time to be squeamish.
If you don’t own a meat thermometer go buy one now. Seriously…stop reading, click here and buy this thermometer. (I will make a few dimes if you buy this using the link.) It’s a life saver when roasting meats.
What is the best temperature to cook a turkey?
I like to sear the outside of my turkey at a raging 500 degrees to seal everything up. Kinda like a blanket to keep all those juices inside. So, while you’re prepping everything…preheat your oven to 500 degrees.
After 30 minutes, I turn the heat down to 350 degrees to finish the roasting process. At this point, you insert the meat thermometer to ensure you don’t over cook your turkey.
I use the same process for my roasted chicken and it works like a charm every single time.
How long do you cook a turkey?
To roast your thanksgiving turkey, timing is everything if you want tender, moist turkey meat. Your cooking time is totally dependent upon the weight of your turkey and if you have decided to stuff it. Cooking times are generally 15 minutes per pound….give or take….stuffing or not.
I do not stuff my turkey, instead I cook the stuffing in a separate casserole dish to avoid any contamination. Remember, your turkey is safe for eating when it’s reached an internal temperature of 165˚F….that’s when the probe thermometer is inserted into the thickest part of the thigh.
Here’s a guide to proper turkey cooking times according to the USDA:
For an unstuffed turkey:
- 4-8 pounds 1 1/2 – 2 1/2 hours
- 8-12 pounds 2 1/2 – 3 hours
- 12-14 pounds 3 – 3 1/2 hours
- 14-18 pounds 3 1/2 – 4 hours
- 18-20 pounds 4 -4 1/2 hours
For a stuffed turkey:
- 6-8 pounds 2 1/2 – 3 hours
- 8-12 pounds 3 – 3 1/2 hours
- 12-14 pounds 3 1/2 – 4 hours
- 14-18 pounds 4 – 4 1/2 hours
- 18-20 pounds 4 1/2 – 5 hours
These times are all based on an oven temperature of 325˚F so keep in mind we’re cooking the Turkey at a slightly higher temperature of 350 degrees. I, usually, find that my turkey is done about 1/2 hour less than the approximated times above.
How To Thaw A Turkey
Chances are….the turkey you purchase will be hard as a boulder unless you get your hands on a fresh turkey. Thawing your turkey safely is super important because you don’t want your guests to end up with bad turkey. So, follow these tips for the safe way to thaw your frozen turkey.
- Refrigerator – Thawing your turkey in the refrigerator is the safest way but it is also the longest. Simply place the turkey in a pan and allow it to thaw for a few days. Generally, your turkey will take approximately 24 hours for every five pounds. To be safe, tack on an extra 24 hours just to be sure your turkey is completely thawed.
- Quick Thaw Method – If you forgot to thaw the turkey and still have time to spare, you can thaw a frozen turkey still wrapped in it’s packaging in cold water. Submerge your turkey in cold water (either a bucket or open cooler will work) changing out the water every 30 minutes. This method will take approximately 30 minutes per pound of turkey. If you thaw your turkey using the Quick Thaw Method, you must roast the turkey immediately after thawing.
- Cooking a Turkey From Frozen – If you forgot to take the turkey out of the freezer completely…..no worries! You CAN roast a turkey from frozen BUT it will take up to 50% more time than what the chart calls for. Just rely on your trusty probe thermometer once the meat thaws enough in the oven to stick it into the thigh. And you’ll want to skip the 500 degree sear since you’ll be roasting to thaw before the actual cooking begins.
How To Cook a Turkey
Now that we have the oven temperature and oven times down….let’s get to the fun stuff! I like to fuss as little as possible with my turkey so I make a simple Citrus Herb compound butter to rub under and over the turkey. It’s easy, quick and adds so much flavor while keeping your turkey moist.
- Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
- In a bowl, mix together the citrus herb butter.
- Carefully, loosen the skin over the breast meat and legs but pushing your hand under the skin being careful not to puncture a hole in it.
- Using your hands, spread the butter under the skin, inside the cavity of the turkey and then over the skin to coat.
- Stuff the cavity of the turkey with garlic, oranges and herbs.
- Truss the turkey by tying the legs together with kitchen twine.
- Arrange the turkey in a roasting pan and transfer to the oven.
- Roast the turkey for 30 minutes at 500 degrees and then turn the oven to 350 to finish roasting according the chart above.
- Remove the turkey from the oven and rest for 30 minutes covered with foil.
- Carve and serve.
Your turkey is done cooking when the internal temperature reaches 165˚F on an instant read thermometer. Stick the probe into the thickest part of the leg for an accurate temperature and be sure it’s not touching the bone.
Make sure your thermometer is working properly by testing it out prior to roasting your turkey.
Once your turkey has rested, you can carve it! Check out my tutorial and video on how to carve a turkey!
Do you cover a turkey in the oven?
To ensure even cooking and prevent the breast skin from browning too quickly, I cover the turkey breast with a piece of foil that’s been shaped like a triangle. Brush the bottom side with oil to prevent sticking and place the foil on the breast when you lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees.
What sides do you serve with Roast Turkey?
Here are a few of our favorites that make the Thanksgiving table every year:
- Cheesy Kale Gratin
- The VERY BEST Mashed Potatoes
- My favorite Sweet Potato Casserole with Cornflake Pecan Crust (Yaaaassss!)
- The best SAUSAGE Stuffing EVER!
- Simple and classic Cranberry Sauce from scratch
What to do with leftover turkey?
There are so many things you can make with leftover turkey but I’m a purist and love a good turkey sandwich. But even those get tiresome so…..
- Ross Geller’s Turkey Sandwich (You know….the one with the moist maker!)
- Super easy Baked Turkey Croquettes
- Simple Turkey Tortilla Soup
- Easy Turkey Sliders with Cranberry
- Turkey Noodle Soup
- Turkey Tetrazzini
And just a few more tips for your turkey day….be sure your oven is really CLEAN because the high temperatures set my smoke detector off all the time when I’ve been lazy and didn’t clean.
More Easy Turkey Recipes
If you are hosting a smaller crowd this year, you might want to try these easy Roasted Turkey Legs. They’re drenched in a maple butter that’s positively sinful. Or give this easy Turkey Roulade a try.…it’s an all in one meal that, really, you don’t even need to make many more sides.
Get the Recipe: Citrus Herb Butter Roast Turkey Recipe
For the Citrus Herb Butter
- 1 large navel orange, juiced and zested
- 1 large lemon, juiced and zested
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
- pinch of salt
- pinch of pepper
- 1 stick of unsalted butter, room temperature
For the Roast Turkey
- 14-16 pound turkey, thawed if frozen)
- 1/2 large orange, cut in two wedges
- 1 lemon, cut in quarters
- 1/2 large granny smith apple, cut in two wedges
- 1 garlic head, cut in half
- 5 sprigs of sage
- 2 sprigs of rosemary
- 5 sprigs of thyme
- Kosher Salt and fresh ground pepper
- 1 roasting pan
For the Citrus Butter
- In a small bowl, combine all ingredients and stir together thoroughly. Set aside.
For the Turkey
- Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
- Rinse the turkey inside and out. Pat the skin dry and place in a roasting rack inside a large roasting pan.
- Stuff the cavity of the bird with the orange, lemon, apple, garlic and herbs.
- Tuck the wing tips under the turkey.
- Carefully loosen the skin by running your hand between the skin and the breast meat working your way down to the leg.
- Take 1/4 of the butter mixture and rub it, thoroughly, under the skin over the breast and leg meat being sure to coat as much of the turkey as possible. Repeat on the opposite side and then coat the remaining butter mixture over the skin being sure to cover the entire turkey.
- Sprinkle the breast and legs of the turkey with salt and pepper and tie the legs of the turkey together with kitchen twine.
- Roast the turkey on the lowest level of the oven at 500˚F in the oven for 30 minutes and then turn the oven temperature down to 350˚F and insert a probe thermometer into the thickest part of the breast. Set the alarm on the thermometer to 161˚F. A 14-16 pound turkey takes approximately 2 to 2 1/2 hours of roasting time total. (You can also use an instant read thermometer, just remember to check the turkey before the 2 hour mark to avoid overcooking.)
- Remove from the oven and cover with foil. Let the turkey rest for approximately 30 minutes before carving.