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Perfect Roast Turkey Recipe

  • Serves: 10
  • Prep Time: 20 min
  • Cook Time: 3 hrs 30 min
  • Calories: 758
best roast turkey recipe with oranges and sage butter on a serving platter with sage leaves

A dry brine, an entire gardens’ worth of aromatics and plenty of butter make this totally fool-proof Thanksgiving turkey recipe an absolute, all-American show-stopper of a Thanksgiving centerpiece.

The Best Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe Ever + Everything You Need To Know About Buying and Cooking A Whole Turkey

Thanksgiving is all about that gorgeous, crispy golden-brown turkey. We don’t need to tell you that a Thanksgiving turkey is the iconic symbol of every food lover's favorite holiday. It’s got to be stunning—picturesque even—and it’s got to be really delicious. Yes, it really can be both of those things! Our Thanksgiving turkey recipe is a no-fail recipe for turkey day success. You’ll find the turkey recipe at the bottom of this page, but you might want to settle in and take your time getting there. Why? Because this entire post is loaded with a TON of extra tips and tricks, how-to instructions and even links to some of our favorite instructional videos to help you get a turkey that you’re proud of—and that everyone will rave about for years to come—onto the Thanksgiving table without breaking (too much of) a sweat. So read on! If you’re a turkey cooking pro, you may want to skip to the recipe, but if you’re a newbie, or someone who always feels a little bit in over your head when it comes to tackling the turkey, grab our (virtual) hand—we’ll be with you every step of the way. You’ve SO got this.

raw thanksgiving turkey on a baking sheet a bowl of carrots, celery, onions, oranges, sage, salt pepper and butter
sage butter for best roast turkey recipe in a sauce pan

What Size Turkey to Buy for Thanksgiving Dinner

Let’s talk turkey size! Whenever it’s time to order a turkey, have you ever found yourself at the butcher counter or farmers market booth and when they ask what size turkey you need suddenly you’re a total deer-in-headlights? How many people does a 10-pound turkey feed? If we’re having 25 people over for Thanksgiving, is a 15-pound turkey enough? (No, no it’s not.) Deep breath. OK, so you’ll actually find some variance about what exactly the rule of thumb is for figuring out how many pounds of turkey you need per person. Some sources say one pound per person, and if you’re serving a crowd with small appetites, that’ll do just fine. Meanwhile, other sources say you should plan on 1.25 or even 1.5 pounds of turkey per person. As for us, we like to err on the side of leftovers, and so we favor that 1.5 pounds of turkey per person number. That means that this recipe, which calls for a 15-pound bird, serves 10. Or 6, or 8, with plenty left for sandwiches and salads and all of the other delicious things we love to do with leftover turkey!

raw dry brined turkey on a baking sheet
raw dry brined turkey stuffed with herbs and oranges in a roasting pan with vegetables

How Long to Thaw a Turkey

Forgetting to thaw your turkey soon enough is a rookie mistake...that almost everyone has made. Don’t let it be you this year! Keep in mind that this recipe—and most Thanksgiving turkey recipes that involve any sort of brine—take 24-48 hours and you’ll need to begin with a thawed turkey. So that means you need your Thanksgiving turkey thawed by Wednesday morning, at least. Here’s how to thaw that turkey:

  • To thaw it in the fridge: thawing the turkey in the fridge is far and away the best and safest way to do it, even though it takes a long time. A frozen turkey needs 24 hours in the fridge for every five pounds of turkey, so that means a 15-pound turkey will take THREE DAYS to fully thaw in the fridge. Yes, that means that to have it thawed by 10 a.m. on Wednesday (which is a good target) you need to move it to the fridge by 10 a.m. on Sunday. We KNOW. It’s crazy. But it’s Thanksgiving. All-out or bust!
  • Less ideal, but doable is to thaw the turkey in a cold water bath: if you’re in a hurry, you can submerge the turkey (still in its packaging, if it is packaged) in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes, and if you can’t get the whole turkey submerged, rotate the bird to keep it cold. With this method, plan on about 30 minutes per pound of turkey. This is a good thawing method to have up your sleeve if you get to Wednesday morning and the turkey isn’t thawed yet. If you have that problem, just pull it from the fridge and begin the water bath method. Only ever do this with cold water, though—to use warm water is dangerous and could render your turkey unsafe.
raw dry brined turkey with oranges and sage butter in a roasting pan
roast turkey recipe with oranges and sage butter halfway cooked in a roasting pan with foil covering the turkey breast

How to Season a Turkey for Thanksgiving

Two words: dry brine! Well, you’ll actually season this Thanksgiving turkey in quite a few ways. These seasonings all serve multiple purposes, actually. A barrage of herbs, citrus, alliums and salt all serve to add loads of flavor to the turkey, but they also work together to keep your turkey moist as it roasts. Here are all of the ways that this Thanksgiving turkey recipe gets flavor and juiciness into that bird:

  • A dry brine: a dry brine is just what it sounds like—brining without added water. You’ll coat the bird in salt and spices, and then let it sit in the fridge for 24 hours. As it sits, the salt will pull out the turkey’s natural juices, meld with them and then reabsorb into the bird, filling it with flavor and helping to make sure that it’ll stay moist as it roasts.
  • Sage butter: Right before roasting you’ll rub the whole turkey with a simple sage-butter mixture, and that’s it—no basting necessary!
  • Stuffing the cavity with aromatics: onions, the spent clementines, carrots and celery
  • Roasting on a bed of veggies: more goodness! More onions, more carrots, more celery and of course, a big, delicious head of garlic. These will flavor the drippings, which you can use after the turkey is cooked to make gravy. If you want, you can also nestle the neck and giblets into the mix as well.
best roast turkey recipe with oranges and sage butter on a serving platter with sage leaves

How to Cook a Turkey

If you’ve never cooked a turkey before, don’t worry! You can do this! Yes, it’s a whole *thing*. But just set aside a little time, roll up those sleeves and dive on in! And if you’re an old pro, well, consider this a refresher course. Seeing as most of us only do this whole “roast an entire turkey” thing once a year, a refresher is usually a good idea. Here are our very best tips for cooking a Thanksgiving turkey that’s moist and juicy and Norman Rockwell-level perfect:

  1. Prep the turkey for cooking AKA what to do with the turkey neck and other assorted bits. We’ve already covered thawing the bird, but once it’s thawed and ready, you’ll want to pull the turkey bits out from inside the cavity. Usually, turkeys come with the neck and giblets (the offal of the bird—gizzard, liver and other organs) stuffed inside the cavity of the turkey. Don’t toss them out! They’re great for gravy, or even for making turkey stock for leftover soup.
  2. Tuck the wings. Tucking the wings is a way of helping the turkey to cook evenly. Just take the wing in your hand and point it underneath the bird—you might have to force it a bit. Tuck it underneath, and it will sort of prop the bird up just a bit.
  3. Truss that turkey! You don’t absolutely have to truss the turkey, but we do feel like it’s worth the fuss! Here’s a great step-by-step video that’ll show you exactly how to truss a turkey. If it just feels like one thing too much, skip it!
  4. Check for doneness by checking the internal temperature of the turkey. This is the number one most important way to make sure that your turkey is the juiciest turkey ever: do not overcook the bird! And how do you do that? Well, when you get close to the end of your cooking time, watch the internal temp like a hawk, and make sure you’re checking the temperature in the right way. You’re looking for an internal temperature of 165°F, and you’ll want to check the breast as well as the drumstick. As you check, be sure that the tip of the thermometer is not touching bone. To do so, slip the thermometer into the breast or drumstick until you hit bone, and then pull it back about an inch. Then wait for your reading! Need a video? Here’s a great one showing exactly how to check the internal temperature of your turkey so you get a super juicy turkey, every time.
  5. Rest. Sadly, we don’t mean that you get to rest. We mean the turkey! It needs to rest for at least 20 (and up to 40) minutes before you carve it, so plan your start time accordingly! We actually always feel grateful for this resting time, because it means that the oven is free! That means it’s a perfect moment to finish or warm up any side dishes you’ve made ahead of time, like stuffing or green beans.
best roast turkey recipe with oranges and sage butter on a serving platter with sage leaves
best roast turkey recipe with oranges and sage butter on a serving platter with sage leaves

Tools You’ll Need

More Thanksgiving Recipes to Add To Your T-Day Menu

We’ve got the rest of your Thanksgiving menu right here! Just add some good wine—Pinot Noir is a perfect Thanksgiving wine—and good company. and you’ll be full of good food and gratitude and ready to dive into the rest of the holiday season:

best roast turkey recipe with oranges and sage butter on a serving platter with sage leaves

Thanksgiving Turkey—Not Just For Thanksgiving!

Once you’ve got this recipe mastered, you might find yourself wanting to make it more than once a year, and while we love prime rib as much as the next guy, there’s no rule that you can’t serve turkey on Christmas, too you know! Whenever you make it, we hope you love it as much as we do. Let us know how you like it, and who you share it with! Share a photo and tag us on Instagram using @themodernproper and #themodernproper so that we can see your stuff! Happy eating!

Perfect Roast Turkey Recipe

  • Serves: 10
  • Prep Time: 20 min
  • Cook Time: 3 hrs 30 min
  • Calories: 758

Ingredients

  • 1 (15 pound) Turkey, thawed
  • 1 cup Butter, softened
  • 1 Large white onion
  • 2 Clementines
  • 4 Celery stalks, roughly chopped
  • 4 Large carrots, peeled, roughly chopped
  • 1 Garlic head, cut in half
  • 1 cup Water
  • 3 tablespoons Fresh sage, chopped (plus extra whole leaves for garnishing)

Dry Brine

  • 1/3 cup Kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoons Turmeric
  • 1 tablespoons Granulated garlic
  • 1 tablespoons Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Smoked paprika

Method

  1. In a small bowl, combine all ingredients for the dry brine. Rub the bird with the mixture inside and out, and allow to sit, uncovered, overnight in your refrigerator.
  2. Rinse the dry brine off of your bird in cold, running water and pat the turkey dry with paper towels (inside and out). Let the bird rest at room temperature for one hour before cooking.
  3. Preheat oven to 450° F.
  4. In a small sauce pan over low heat, melt the butter with fresh sage. Keep warm over low heat until ready to use.
  5. Squeeze the juice from the clementines over the turkey. Stuff the cavity of the turkey with half of the carrots, half of the onion, half of the celery and the squeezed clementine rinds.
  6. Rub or brush the outside of the bird with the melted sage butter.
  7. In the bottom of a large roasting pan, arrange the remaining aromatics, (celery, carrots, onions and garlic ends) along with 1 cup of water to keep the drippings from burning.
  8. Prepare the turkey for roasting by tucking the wings and trussing the legs—see the post above for more info about how to do that—to ensure that the turkey breasts don’t dry out. Set your bird on a rack in the roasting pan.
  9. Roast the turkey at 450°F for 30 minutes.
  10. After 30 minutes, take a large piece of tin foil create a foil "tent" to cover the turkey breasts, leaving legs and thighs exposed. Reduce to 325°F and continue roasting for about three hours, or roughly 15 minutes per pound of turkey. Allow 15 minutes per lb. (about 3 hours longer). When the turkey has about 45 minutes left to roast, take the foil tent off to let the turkey breast get golden brown and the skin to crisp.
  11. The turkey is done when the internal temperature reads 160°F with an instant read thermometer. ** Rest the turkey for at least 30 minutes before carving.
  12. Garnish with leftover sage and any other herbs you have on hand.

Note: To avoid drying out the turkey, start checking the internal temperature of your bird when you have about 30 minutes of roasting time left.