Our roast turkey recipe is here to alleviate some of the stress of complicated cooking for holidays and special occasions. We take a simple approach with our recipe, skipping fancy cooking techniques and elaborate preparations. Instead, we return to basics. We use a roast turkey seasoning made with savory herbs to accentuate the turkey’s natural flavor. We add melted butter to give the meat a rich flavor and to help the skin crisp up to a photo-worthy, golden-brown hue.
Sifting through Thanksgiving turkey recipes can feel intimidating. After all, most of us only cook this large centerpiece once a year, so the pressure is always on to get it just right! Our roast turkey recipe is easy to pull off, and it comes out juicy and moist without needing to do a days-long brine.
We often brine turkey to add moisture to the meat, but it’s not always necessary. You really only need it if you accidentally overcook the turkey and the meat turns tough. You can ensure your turkey retains its natural juices by removing it from the oven once it reaches the ideal internal temperature: 170° to 175° in the thickest part of the thigh.
Our Test Kitchen’s guide on how to cook a turkey has more helpful tips (including how to buy and defrost a turkey).
Roast Turkey Ingredients
- Turkey: This roast turkey recipe calls for a 13- to 15-pound turkey. You can scale it up or down, depending on how much turkey you need per person. If you’re using a small turkey, adjust the cooking time accordingly.
- Roast turkey seasoning: We give the turkey a flavor boost with melted butter and savory spices—seasoned salt, garlic powder, paprika, ground ginger, pepper, dried basil and cayenne pepper. Using butter that’s already been melted makes it easy to brush the mixture onto the bird and create an even coating.
- Lemons: If you’re wondering what to stuff a turkey with, citrus fruits like lemons are a great way to add extra flavor. As a bonus, the lemons will steam inside the cavity as the turkey cooks, keeping the meat nice and juicy.
Step 1: Prepare the roast turkey seasoning
Preheat the oven to 325°F. In a small bowl, combine the melted butter, salt, garlic powder, seasoned salt, paprika, ground ginger, pepper, dried basil and cayenne pepper.
Step 2: Pat the turkey dry
Place the turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a roasting pan. Pat it dry with a paper towel.
Editor’s Tip: Should you wash your turkey first? Nope, we don’t recommend it. Any backsplash coming off the uncooked bird can contaminate your sink and countertops.
Step 3: Brush the bird with the roast turkey seasoning
Using a pastry brush, spread the roast turkey seasoning over the turkey. If desired, place lemons in the cavity. Tie the legs with butcher’s twine to give the bird a uniform shape and help it cook evenly.
Step 4: Roast the turkey
Roast the turkey, uncovered, for 2-3/4 to 3-1/4 hours or until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 170° to 175°. If the turkey begins to brown too quickly, tent it with aluminum foil to protect the skin.
Editor’s Tip: Resist the temptation to baste your turkey. Heat escapes every time you open the oven door, increasing the time you’ll need to cook the turkey, and leading to drier meat.
Step 5: Rest the turkey
Remove the turkey from the oven, and cover it loosely with foil. Let it rest for 20 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute within the meat. Carve the turkey with a sharp knife, using these top tips for how to carve a turkey like a pro.
Editor’s Tip: Don’t forget to save the drippings! We use them to make our best classic turkey gravy.
Roast Turkey Variations
- Ditch the oven: If the weather cooperates, reserve the oven for side dishes, and instead, cook this turkey outside. Use a smoker or grill to add smoky flavor to this classic dish. For extra-crispy skin, try making a deep-fried turkey.
- Use turkey breast or drumsticks: If your guest list is small, downgrade from a whole turkey to a modest roasted turkey breast. You can also use this recipe’s roast turkey seasoning to make grilled turkey drumsticks. Of course, the cooking time will vary, so have your meat thermometer on hand to confirm when these smaller cuts finish cooking.
- Add a glaze: Give the turkey a sweet vibe by making a glaze with honey (like we do in this honey-glazed turkey recipe). You could also combine maple syrup with fruit sauces like cranberry sauce to create a maple-glazed turkey.
- Include stuffing: Most of our go-to stuffing recipes for Thanksgiving are prepared outside the bird. That said, feel free to add your favorite stuffing recipe inside the turkey cavity. Stuffed turkey is safe as long as the stuffing reaches an internal temperature of 165° (so don’t forget to temp!).
How to Store Roast Turkey
Store your roast turkey in an airtight container in the refrigerator for three to four days. For longer storage, remove the turkey from the bone, then pack it into a freezer-safe resealable bag. Freeze for up to three months. (Don’t forget to freeze the carcass separately to make homemade turkey stock.)
When reheating turkey, add a little water, broth or gravy to the meat to keep it from drying out. Warm it in an aluminum foil pouch in the oven, or on a microwave-safe dish in the microwave.
Roast Turkey Tips
How can you use roast turkey leftovers?
How long does it take to roast a turkey in the oven?
Size is the most important factor when determining how long to roast a turkey. We suggest roasting this 13- to 15-pound turkey for about three hours. If you need to scale up or down on the turkey size, use our turkey-roasting chart to determine how long to cook a turkey.
How do you keep roast turkey moist?
The best way to ensure this roast turkey recipe turns out moist is to not overcook the meat. Your turkey is done when a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers between 170° and 175°. Make sure the thermometer is not touching bone; this can give an inaccurate reading. From there, let the turkey rest at room temp to reincorporate the juices into the meat before slicing.