How to roast a turkey is an easy recipe for beginners that want to cook a whole turkey in a roasting pan with a homemade rack for Thanksgiving.  It shows you what herbs are best for seasoning a bird so your unstuffed turkey comes out moist when cooked in your kitchen oven.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
roasted turkey in a pan
Main Course, Thanksgiving, Turkey

How to Roast a Turkey Recipe

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This post was originally published on September 7, 2017.

How to roast a turkey is a question that gets pondered a lot in the fall.  Since roasted turkey is a meat that will be forever associated with Thanksgiving, knowing how to cook one is a valuable skill every home chef should master.  With this roasted turkey recipe, you can rest assured that your turkey will turn out when the big day arrives.

side view of a roasted turkey on a tray with kale and cranberries

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What is the safest way to thaw a turkey?

The safest way to thaw a frozen turkey is in the fridge.  A good rule to follow is to allow the turkey to thaw 24 hours for every 5 pounds. 

This means if you have a 14-pound turkey, it will take 72 hours for it to thaw.  Place the packaged turkey on a baking tray, large platter, or small roasting pan and let it thaw in the fridge.

See what the USDA says about thawing a turkey safely.

How to Roast a Turkey without a Rack

It’s a good idea to raise the turkey up in the pan so when it roasts, air can circulate around the bird.  This will allow the bird to cook evenly, and will prevent a soggy bottom if there is liquids added to the roasting pan.

If you find yourself with no rack for your roasting pan, make do with what you have on hand.  Some ideas are:

  • Use Root Vegetables: carrots, onions, and potatoes
  • Use a Foil Rope: place it in a spiral, U shape, or figure eight
  • Use Foil-Covered Paving Bricks

top view of a roasted turkey on a tray

What should I do with the neck and giblets?

Keep them to make giblet gravy or giblet stuffing.  You can boil them in water and fresh herbs to make a giblet stock, roast the turkey neck in an ovenproof dish alongside the turkey, or pan fry them in butter, olive oil, or duck fat.

How can I have a crispy, golden brown turkey?

  • Pat dry the inside cavity and outside skin with paper towel.
  • Allow the skin to dry out.  Let the bird’s skin dry out some more by letting it sit on the counter to warm up to room temperature, or place it on a baking tray and let it sit in the fridge for 4 to 24 hours.
  • Apply a fat to the outer skin.  Butter, olive oil, and duck fat are all good options
  • Baste the skin.  Use pan drippings, melted butter, olive oil, or melted duck fat.

sliced roasted turkey with fork

Should I let my turkey sit out before cooking?

Yes, whenever you are roasting a turkey its a good idea to let the meat warm up to room temperature.  This will allow for more even cooking and a more juicier bird.  To do this simply take the turkey out of the fridge and let it rest on a cookie sheet on the counter for 30 minutes for a small turkey to 1 hour for a larger one.

What can you put in a turkey if not stuffing?

Placing aromatics, fresh herbs, and fruit inside the turkey cavity is a great way to help flavor the turkey from the inside out.  Some ideas are:

  • Aromatics: carrots, onions, celery, garlic
  • Fresh herbs: parsley, thyme, sage, rosemary, bay leaves
  • Fruit: apples, lemons

sliced roasted turkey

What side is breast side up on a turkey?

The most common way to roast a turkey is breast side up.  To tell if your bird is place breast side up in the roasting pan, the drumsticks will be up.

What are some tips to have a moist, juicy roasted turkey?

  • Roast two small turkeys instead of one large one.
  • Brine the turkey for 8 to 24 hours, turning the bird at least once.
  • Start with a room temperature turkey.
  • Use a roasting rack.
  • Season the inside cavity and the skin.
  • Butter under the skin and on top of the skin.
  • Don’t overcook.
  • Cover areas that are browning too quickly.
  • Let it rest, tented, for 30 minutes to 1 hour before carving.
  • Slice the breast and dark meat thicker.

front view of a roasted turkey on a tray

Do I need to remove the plastic clamp from the turkey legs?

Yes, it would be a good idea as it makes it a lot easier to remove the neck and giblets that are placed inside the cavity.  It also makes it easier to salt and pepper inside the cavity, and to stuff it with aromatics, fresh herbs or fruit. 

Should I truss the turkey legs?

If you want your whole turkey to look it’s best on the platter, trussing the legs is the way to go.  By trussing the legs, the turkey will have a more compact shape and it won’t spread out when roasting. 

Use kitchen twine, unflavored dental floss, 100% cotton thread, or fishing line to tie the ends of the legs together.  Most chefs choose to cross the legs before tying, others place them side by side. 

If you choose not to truss the legs, it will not affect the taste.  Chefs who choose not to say the leg meat cooks quicker as the air circulation is better.

roasted turkey on a tray with kale and sage leaves

Should I tuck the turkey’s wings before roasting?

Many chefs do tuck the turkey’s wings under the bird’s shoulders before roasting to prevent the wing tips from burning, and the wing meat from drying out.  Another reason to tuck the wings before roasting is it helps stabilize the bird by creating a flat surface for carving.  It also gives the turkey a more compact shape.

How do you carve a turkey?

There is more than one way to carve a turkey, so you’ll have to find a method that suits you best.  Here is a popular way to carve a turkey.  Watch this video for a visual demonstration.

  • Let the turkey rest for 1 hour, tented with foil, or until you can touch the turkey without burning your hands.
  • Remove the legs.
  • Remove the wishbone by cutting an upside down V in the flap of the neck cavity.
  • Remove the breast meat and carve it 1/2 inch thick.
  • Separate the drumsticks from the thigh.
  • Debone and carve the thigh meat 1/2 inch thick.
  • Remove the wings and separate the wing tip, wingette, and drumette.
  • Keep the carcass, 2 thigh bones, 2 wing bones, and 1 wish bone.

plate of roasted turkey slices with kale, cranberry sauce, and a biscuit

What can I make with the turkey carcass and bones?

Don’t throw away the turkey bones.  If you don’t have time to use them right away, seal them shut in a freezer zip top bag and store them in the freezer for up to one year.   I always have a stash of chicken or turkey bones in my freezer.

In the past, I would normally make turkey frame soup, but now I’m leaning more towards turkey stock and bone broth and then making turkey noodle soup or turkey gravy.  Check out our recipes for turkey stock, turkey soup, and giblet gravy.

How to Reheat Turkey in the Oven and Keep It Moist

The first step is  to carve the turkey.  The breast and thigh meat should be sliced to a uniform thickness of 1/4 to 1/2 inch.  The meat can stay on the drumsticks and wings.

Place the leftover turkey meat in a pan with sides.  Add some moisture (roughly 1 cup of chicken stock) and some fat (1 tablespoon of butter) and cook at 350 F for 30 minutes.  This method does require patience, but will produce moist leftover turkey.

How to Roast a Turkey

Start by preparing the roasting pan.  If you don’t own a rack for the turkey to rest on, make your own. 

Take three lengths of foil and crunch it up to make a snake.  Place the coil in the roasting pan in a spiral, U shape or figure 8.

metal lasagna pan with a coil of foil in the middle

Pat the inside and outside dry with paper towel.

patting the turkey dry

Gather the aromatics to use for stuffing the cavity: fresh celery tops, yellow onion, and carrots.

onions, celery, and carrots to put in the turkey cavity

Center the turkey on the rack and in the roasting pan for the best air circulation.  Measure out the softened butter, kosher salt, black pepper, and chicken stock.

turkey in a pan with broth, spices, and butter

Make sure to keep the turkey neck and giblets.  They can be used to make giblet stock, giblet gravy, or giblet stuffing.

turkey in a pan with giblets and neck

Rub kosher salt and black pepper in the inside of the cavity, then loosely stuff it with your aromatics, fresh herbs, or fruit.

stuffing the turkey cavity with aromatics

Rub the turkey all over with a fat (butter, olive oil, or duck fat), then liberally salt and pepper the skin.  Cover the cavity opening with a piece of crumpled foil.

If you want to truss the cavity, tuck in the tail, pull the skin together, and overlap it.  Secure the skin in place with kitchen twine, 100% cotton thread, toothpicks, or a wooden skewer.

sprinkling salt and pepper on the turkey

Pour a liquid in the roasting pan to prevent the turkey drippings from drying out.  I used low sodium chicken broth, but water or wine would also work.

pouring chicken stock into the pan

If you want a pretty presentation when serving the whole roasted turkey on a platter, truss the legs with kitchen twine.  You can choose to cross the legs or place them side by side.  Instead of tucking the wings under the bird, we choose to secure the wings by tying them with kitchen twine.  This helps the wings stay out of the cooking liquid, allows the wings to nicely brown, and helps the bird keep a compact shape.

tying the ends of the turkey drumsticks together

Preheat the oven to 400F, then lower the temperature to 350 F just before putting the turkey in the oven.

Place the uncovered turkey on the bottom or second to the bottom rack, with the drumsticks pointing toward the back of the oven.

After 1 1/2 hours of cooking, take the turkey out to baste it.  You can use the pan drippings, melted butter, olive oil, or melted duck fat.  I used a large metal spoon to baste the turkey with the drippings, but you can also use a turkey baster, ladle, or a pastry brush.

basting the turkey with a spoon

If you find the top of the breast or the tips of the wings are browning too fast, cover them loosely with foil.

covering the turkey with aluminum foil

Continue basting the turkey every 30 minutes until the turkey is 165 F when it’s temperature is taken.  For this 14 pound turkey, I basted it at the 90 minute mark, two hours, two and a half hours, three hours and three hour 20 minutes. 

Each time I put it back into the oven, I would rotate the pan, so it the turkey legs would face to the right then to the left.  I wouldn’t recommend putting the legs facing forward as it would dry out the breast meat since it’s hotter at the back of the oven.

basting the turkey with a large spoon

The turkey is done when the temperature is 165 F and the juices run clear when the meat is sliced.  Take the reading by placing the meat thermometer on the thickest part of the thigh, but not touching the bone.  It’s vitally important that you check the temperature and not just go by eye; you can get sick if the turkey isn’t cooked properly.

checking the temperature of a roasted turkey

If you want to present the turkey on a platter, gather some garnishes.  I choose fresh kale, sliced orange peel, lemon wedges, frozen cranberries, and fresh sage leaves.

garnishes for roasted turkey

Once the turkey is cooked, let it rest for 30 minutes to 1 hour, tented with foil, on a grooved cutting board.  This will let the juices redistribute throughout the turkey, making it more moist.  Also, when the turkey is cooled, it is much easier to carve.

Before serving, remove the kitchen twine.  Place the turkey on a large platter and arrange the kale, lemon wedges, orange peel slices, cranberries and fresh sage leaves around the edges.

roasted turkey resting on a cutting board

Pro Tips for Roasting a Turkey

  • Roast the turkey for 13 minutes per pound unstuffed, or 15 minutes per pound stuffed at 350 F.
  • A 13-pound turkey will feed 13 to 14 adults.
  • Let the turkey warm up to room temperature for 30-60 minutes before roasting.
  • Put the oven rack at the bottom.  The turkey should roast in the center of the oven.
  • Stuff the turkey with aromatics to flavor the meat from the inside out.
  • Rub the turkey all over with butter and kosher salt for crispy golden skin.
  • Tie the legs together with twine for the most pleasing presentation.
  • Start the oven at 400 F, then lower it to 350 F.
  • Add chicken broth to the pan for more flavorful drippings.
  • Roast the turkey with the drumsticks at the back of the oven for the first hour and a half.
  • Baste the turkey with pan juices or brush with melted butter.
  • If the turkey browns too quickly, cover partially with foil.
  • Save the pan juices to make homemade gravy.
  • Tent the bird with foil and let it rest for 30 minutes to 1 hour before carving.  This will let the juices redistribute.

holding a forkful of roasted turkey with gravy

If you have never roasted a turkey, I encourage you to try it this year for the holidays. 

Our how to roast a turkey recipe is easy and foolproof.  The turkey is slathered in butter, stuffed with aromatics, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and placed breast side up in a pan of chicken stock.  It’s simple to do and gets wonderful reviews from hungry family members and friends.

aluminum foil, spoons, thermometer, lasagna pan, and cutting board

Our Go-To Kitchen Tools for Roasting a Turkey

  • Lasagna Pan: this sturdy pan is big enough to roast a 15-pound turkey.
  • Aluminum Foil: make your own turkey rack with this durable foil.
  • Metal Spoons: these spoons are great for basting the turkey.
  • Meat Thermometer: know for sure that your turkey is cooked with this thermometer.
  • Cutting Board: the grooves on this board catches the juices from the resting turkey.

Serve your roasted turkey with these other classic dishes.

pouring giblet gravy onto sliced turkey bowl of sour cream mashed potatoes with spoon turkey stuffing in a pan

The pleasure of a 5 star review of this how to roast a turkey recipe would be greatly appreciated.

roasted turkey in a pan

How to Roast a Turkey Recipe

  • Author: Brooke
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 3 hours 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 3 hours 40 minutes
  • Yield: 14 servings 1x


How to roast a turkey is an easy recipe for beginners that want to cook a whole turkey in a roasting pan with a homemade rack for Thanksgiving.  It shows you what herbs are best for seasoning a bird so your unstuffed turkey comes out moist when cooked in your kitchen oven.



For the Turkey

  • 14-pound turkey, fully thawed
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter, softened
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups chicken broth

For the Aromatics

  • 2 carrots, cut in 1 1/2 chunks
  • 1 onion, cut in quarters
  • handful of celery leaves


Preparing the Turkey

  1. Allow the turkey 3-4 days to defrost in the refrigerator.
  2. Take the thawed turkey out of the fridge so it can warm up to room temperature.  This can take 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  3. Remove the neck, giblets (heart, liver, gizzard) and possibly a gravy bag from the body or neck cavity.  You can throw them out or keep them for giblet gravy or giblet stuffing.
  4. Clean the turkey inside and out by rinsing it with cold water.
  5. Place the turkey breast side up on a baking tray and pat it dry with paper towels.
  6. If you don’t have a roasting rack for the turkey, make your own with foil.  Take a long sheet of aluminum foil and roll it up tightly from one of its long sides to make a snake.  Cut two more sheets of foil and wrap them tightly around the snake to make a firm rope.  The snake needs to be able to support a 14-pound turkey without flattening.  Shape the coil into a lowercase “e” shape and place in the roasting pan.

Preparing the Oven & Aromatics

  1. Lower the oven rack to the bottom, or second from the bottom.  This helps the turkey roast in the center of the oven.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400F.
  3. Place the quartered onion, carrots, and celery leaves inside the cavity.  These vegetables will flavor the turkey from the inside, but will be thrown out after the turkey is roasted.  Crumple up a piece of aluminum foil to cover the cavity opening.
  4. For ease, leave the turkey un-trussed.

Last-Minute Touches

  1. Rub the turkey all over with softened butter.  Make sure it is dry otherwise the butter won’t stick. Generously sprinkle with salt and pepper to help add extra flavor.
  2. Using kitchen twine, cross the legs and tie the drumstick ends tightly together, then bring the twine under the wings to lift them up higher so they can brown better.  Tie the twine in a knot at the neck opening.  If you prefer, tuck the wings under the body, for a more compact look.
  3. Pour 2 cups of chicken stock into the roasting pan.

Roasting the Turkey

  1. Place the turkey uncovered in the oven.
  2. Decrease the oven temperature from the preheat temperature of 400 F to 350 F.
  3. Roast the turkey for 1 1/2 hours.  Using a turkey baster or big spoon, baste the drippings all over the turkey.  Do this at the 1 1/2 hour mark and every 30 minutes afterward until it’s done.  A 14-pound turkey would be basted for a maximum of 5 times: 1 1/2 hours, 2 hours, 2 1/2 hours, 3 hours and when it comes out of the oven.  If the turkey is browning too quickly, cover loosely with foil.
  4. Roast the turkey for 13 minutes per pound.  A 14-pound turkey will take just over 3 hours.  Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature in the deepest part of the thigh away from any bones.  The temperature should read 165 F, and the juices should be clear when the thermometer is pulled out.
  5. Save the pan juices to make homemade giblet gravy.

Resting the Turkey

  1. Let the turkey rest, breast side up, on a large cutting board with grooves or on a large tray with sides for 30 minutes to 1 hour.  Tent the turkey loosely with foil.  When it rests, the internal temperature will continue to rise to 170 F.  The resting time allows the juices to redistribute, so the turkey will be more moist.  The turkey will release juices onto the cutting board during this time.  Tent it loosely with foil to keep it warm.
  2. Carve the turkey in this order: drumsticks, thighs, breasts, wings.  Don’t keep the cooked turkey at room temperature for more than 2 hours.  Refrigerate or freeze any leftovers.  Keep the bones for turkey stock, bone broth, or turkey soup.


  • The pleasure of a 5-star review of this how to roast a turkey recipe would be greatly appreciated.
  • 👩🏻‍🍳 Want to see our latest recipes?  Subscribe to our email newsletter to get our latest recipes, fun food facts, food puns, and behind the scenes news about our blog.
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Roasted
  • Cuisine: American

Keywords: roasted turkey, Thanksgiving

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4 thoughts on “How to Roast a Turkey Recipe

  1. The vegetables add more flavor to this classic roasted turkey. I prefer dark meat over white meat. The turkey is nice looking and tastes delicious!

  2. I really enjoy turkey 🦃 at Thanksgiving time; it wouldn’t be the same without it. This turkey looks great and I like the pictures!

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