For all of you who are making the big Thanksgiving turkey or thinking of making the turkey or dreaming of making the turkey, this one’s for you–the OBB turkey that people fall in love with year after year.

The best Thanksgiving Turkey recipe

We know that Thanksgiving is not the time when people generally go and start experimenting with other peoples’ recipes. One of the reasons why we do what we do is because we feel like we can express love to those we care about through food and food-related traditions, and those food-related traditions are never stronger than during the holiday season.

That said, I make a mean turkey. I don’t mean that in a braggy way–in fact, I didn’t always make a mean turkey–I’ve made some very sad turkeys in my day. So for those of you to whom the turkey torch has been passed, or if you’re wanting to one-up your Great Aunt Sheila, or if you’re like me and you don’t have family close by, so it’s either learn to make a turkey or do something sad and unspeakable like pour gravy over some slices of sandwich meat, this one’s for you.

I’ve got a whole list of disclaimers for this recipe, like so many that you guys would think I was completely neurotic if I listed them all, but here are my top ones:

disclaimers

  • Yes, I’m using a Butterball turkey store-bought chicken broth rather than a fresh turkey from a local farm and homemade stock. It’s just not gonna happen.
  • I’m brining a turkey, which involves salt. The broth has salt. The butter (and lots of it, which is another disclaimer) has salt. Salt salt salt. Turkey Day comes but once a year and salt makes that day delicious and the turkey moist and flavorful. That said. Try to find a turkey that has as little added salt as possible because you’re going to be adding plenty.
  • The turkey and brine are in a plastic bucket. Like…a plastic paint bucket (brand-new and clean, of course). You can buy food-grade plastic buckets for less than $5 at places like Walmart.  If you don’t find one labeled food-grade and are not comfortable with that, you can line it with a large food-safe bag of some sort, but, like I said, this happens once a year for us and I’m not particularly concerned about it. There are lots of suggestions in the comments on how to do it other ways.
  • If you think turkey bags are an abomination, I am here to tell you that they will give you a delicious, moist, well-cooked, nicely browned turkey. If you think I’m a cheater, I’m sad for all of us, but that will not change my feelings. I am a true believer in turkey bags.

So are we cool? I know there are a million ways to cook a Thanksgiving turkey, but this is how I do it.

The best Thanksgiving Turkey recipe

Because I’m neurotic and because I have deep-seated poultry issues, I have always had some problems with turkey. First, it can be dry and flavorless. Second, it can taste gamey. Third, if it’s not overcooked, you run the risk of under-cooking the turkey, especially when you’ve got large quantities of light and dark meat involved.

My solution? Brining the turkey overnight and then injecting it (literally – using one of these) with chicken broth, butter, and garlic for flavor and moisture, then using an oven bag to ensure that it’s evenly cooked and moist. The result? A super-flavorful, super-moist Thanksgiving turkey that my husband has deemed the most perfect turkey in the world.

supplies Needed for thanksgiving Turkey

In terms of supplies, you’ll need a 5-gallon bucket (or something similar).  I bought this one at Walmart in the paint department and as you can see it’s labeled safe for food. Even if it’s not labeled as such- I don’t stress too much about it.

The best Thanksgiving Turkey recipe

Other Supplies:

Thermometer– You’ll also need an accurate meat thermometer that can be inserted into the turkey and left there while it’s roasting in the oven.  Our very favorite is this Chef Alarm from Thermoworks, but there are lots of affordable options on Amazon as well.

A Turkey Injector (you can find them in the small cooking tools aisle of a department or grocery store, or I have this one and it is THE best I’ve ever used.)

Pan– A heavy roasting pan

Roasting Bags – you can find turkey-size disposable roasting bags in the grocery store, usually near the foil and zip-lock bags.

The best thanksgiving turkey recipe

other factors

Size Matters– When it comes to your turkey, bigger isn’t always better. Or ever, actually. A big turkey is super impressive, but I wouldn’t buy a turkey larger than 12-14 pounds; if you need more turkey, just buy another one or buy a bone-in breast. Bigger turkeys are older turkeys, meaning their meat is not as tender and often more gamey. Also, it’s more difficult to properly cook a a very large turkey; if the outside is perfect, the inside may not be quite done.

Time Matters – The other thing you’re going to need is lots of time, especially if you’re buying a frozen turkey. Even if they tell you that your turkey will be defrosted in a couple of days in the fridge, I would give the turkey a week in the fridge to thaw or about 1 day for every 4 pounds.

Ready? Scared? Don’t be! The thing I love MOST about this recipe is that it’s nearly fail-proof.

Step 1: Brine the Turkey

The day before you roast your Thanksgiving turkey, make sure your turkey is thawed. Open the packaging and remove all the insides. This means you’ll have to check the body cavity and the neck cavity because that is where the pieces are usually hidden. If you’re planning on using the giblets and the neck to make gravy, rinse them off and refrigerate them in a Ziploc bag. Otherwise, discard them. Rinse the turkey inside and out and let it drain.

In a very large stock pot, combine 1 gallon of chicken stock.  That’s 4 boxes/cartons or 8 normal cans.  OR if you can find these jumbo cans it’s a little less than 3 of those.

The best thanksgiving turkey recipe


You’ll add a whole cup of kosher salt and an array of spices and herbs, like peppercorns, sugar, dehydrated onions, garlic, parsley, thyme, sage, and rosemary.

The best thanksgiving turkey recipe

Bring this mixture to a boil and then let it cool to room temperature.

The best thanksgiving turkey recipe

When the brine mixture has cooled, place the turkey in the 5-gallon bucket and cover it with 8 cups of cold water and 8 cups of ice.  Then pour the cooled brine mixture over it.

The best thanksgiving turkey recipe

Then cover the bucket with a lid (you can get the lid at the same time and place that you get the bucket) and place it in a cold place. If it’s cold outside, you can keep the bucket outside–a tight-fitting lid should keep the yummy smells inside and animals away. If it’s VERY cold outside, you could keep it in a cold garage. If it’s not cold at all and you’re wondering if winter will ever happen (like me), you can keep it in one side of a sink or in a bathtub and then regularly pack it with ice so it stays cold. If you have an ice maker, it probably won’t be sufficient for your icy needs and you’ll probably have to go buy bags of ice from the grocery store. This is a small price to pay for deliciousness. Brine the turkey for 24 hours.

Now…because I used the roasting bag, I roasted my turkey according to the times and temperatures on the roasting bag packaging. This meant 350 for about 2-2 1/2 hours. So when you’re ready to begin roasting your turkey, preheat the oven according to the temperature on the roasting bag box.

Step 2: Make an Herbed Butter rub

Soften a stick of butter and mix it with a tablespoon of freshly chopped sage.

The best thanksgiving turkey recipeRemove the turkey from the brine and rinse it in cool water. Tuck the wings behind the body of the turkey and then slip your hand between the turkey breast and the body to loosen the sink.

The best thanksgiving turkey recipe

Grab some of the sage butter with  your hand and rub it all between the turkey breast and the skin.  It helps to pop your butter in the microwave until it’s part-way melted.

The best thanksgiving turkey recipeIf you can get your hand between the skin and the dark meat of the turkey, more power to you–the more sage butter under the skin, the better.  You will probably not use all the sage butter under the skin. Rub the rest of it on top of the skin and all over the bird.

Step 3:  Inject the turkey

In a blender, combine about 2-3 cloves garlic, 1/2 c. chicken broth, and 1/4 c. melted butter until completely smooth. Retrieve your flavor injector.

This part is kind of fun. Suck up the mixture into the syringe and then insert it all over the turkey–in the breast, in the thighs, everywhere. This particular syringe I have is no joke.  Stainless steel and super strong.  It also comes with 2 different tips depending on what type of marinades you are using.

The best thanksgiving turkey recipeStep 4: Stuff the Turkey with aromatics

Slip any remaining rosemary and thyme under the skin of the turkey.  Now is a great time to transfer the turkey into your roasting bag (according to the directions on the roasting bag, although there’s, like, a 99% chance they’re going to have  you shake some flour around in the bag first). Chop a few apples, onions, and some celery

The best thanksgiving turkey recipeand then stuff them into the cavity of the turkey.

The best thanksgiving turkey recipeInsert the meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast and then seal up the roasting bag, making slits in the bag if you’re instructed to do so.

Step 5: Roast the Turkey

Roast the turkey according to the directions on the turkey bag until the meat thermometer registers 165 in the breasts and 180 in the thighs. My 12 pounder took about 2 hours, maybe a bit more. Remove from oven, cut the bag off the turkey, and then let it stand tented with foil for about 15-20 minutes so the juices can redistribute and the turkey will remain moist after slicing. Serve with all your favorite Thanksgiving goodies!

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If you want your turkey skin extra browned and crisp, Sara says she sometimes slips the bag off about 30 minutes before the turkey is done and turns on the convection oven.  That crisps and browns the skin really well while still keeping the meat tender and moist.

Here’s a quick summary of all of the supplies you’ll need:

The best thanksgiving turkey recipe

This Thanksgiving turkey has become a family tradition in thousands of homes across the country and we’re so pleased!  I’m so glad that so many of you love it as much as I do!

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Description

Hands-down the best Turkey for the holidays! Tender, juicy, flavorful results every time!


Ingredients

Equipment Needed

  • 1 5-gallon bucket and lid (like a brand-new paint bucket and lid, washed well)
  • A reliable oven-safe meat thermometer
  • Flavor injector/meat syringe
  • Turkey roasting bags
  • Heavy-duty roasting pan

Ingredients

  • 1 turkey, no larger than 12-14 pounds
  • 1 gallon chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
  • 1/2 cup brown or white sugar
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 56 cloves smashed garlic
  • 1 tablespoon dehydrated onion
  • 1 large sprig fresh thyme
  • 1 large sprig fresh sage
  • 1 large sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 handful fresh parsley
  • 8 cups cold water
  • 8 cups ice
  • 3/4 c. salted butter, divided
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
  • 1/2 c. chicken broth
  • 23 cloves garlic
  • 1 apple, chopped in half
  • 12 small onions, chopped in half
  • 4 stalks celery, cut into thirds

Instructions

  1. About a week before you begin brining your turkey, place it in the refrigerator to defrost.
  2. The day before you roast your turkey, combine the chicken broth and the remaining brine ingredients (through the parsley) in a very large stockpot. Bring to a boil and then remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
  3. Remove the packaging from the turkey. Remove the neck and giblets (be sure to check both the body and neck cavities) and reserve for later use if desired. Rinse the turkey in cool water and then place it in the 5-gallon bucket. Add the cold water and the ice cubes, then add the brine mixture. Stir to combine. Cover with the lid and then place in a cold place for up to 24 hours.
  4. When you’re ready to roast your turkey, preheat the oven according to the directions on the roasting bag packaging (usually 350 F). Soften 1/2 cup butter and mix it with 1 tablespoon fresh sage and set aside. Remove the turkey from the brine, rinse it in cool water, and place in the roasting pan. Use your hands to loosen the skin between over the breast. Spread handfuls of the sage butter between the breast and the skin, rubbing any excess over the outside of the skin.
  5. In a blender, combine 1/2 c. chicken broth, 2-3 cloves garlic, and 1/4 c. melted butter until completely smooth. Use the flavor injector to inject the mixture all over the turkey.
  6. Slip any remaining rosemary and thyme sprigs under the skin.
  7. Stuff the apple, onion, and celery into the cavity of the turkey. Insert the meat thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey breast and then place the turkey into the roasting bag and roast until the thermometer registers 165 according to the roasting bag directions. When you’ve reached 165, remove the turkey from the oven and cut the bag away from the turkey. Allow it to stand for 15-20 minutes before slicing to allow the juices to redistribute and keep the turkey juice.

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The Best Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe from Our Best BitesAnd don’t forget dessert!
Best Fall Baking Recipes

 

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283 comments

  1. You are so awesome. I was going to email and ask if you could do a turkey recipe. This is hopefully my year to shine and, I don’t dare make forays into the unknown without you! My MIL is coming and I don’t want her to do the turkey. Its always so dry. Can’t wait to try this out. Actually, she probably won’t even say if she likes it… but who cares! I want my moist, succulent turkey!

  2. Kate will you clarify…it looks like you have the thermometer right through the bag is that correct? I don’t have one (thermometer) so I will have to get one but I have been wanting one anyway…also have you ever used an electric roaster (on top of the counter roaster)? I have to save room in my oven so I am considering using one for the turkey…any thoughts?
    Thanks for your help!

    1. Well, I used this thermometer:
      http://www.walmart.com/ip/Mainstays-Digital-Meat-Thermometer-with-Removable-Stand-00994W/14913173
      It has a metal probe with a wire coming out of it and then the wire plugs into the temperature register which sits outside of your oven. So I inserted the probe into the turkey breast and the wire is coming out the opening of the bag (before I sealed it all up). Does that make sense?

      As far as a roaster goes, I’ve never used one at home, but I worked at a sandwich shop in college that specialized in hand-pulled turkey and they roasted all their turkeys in roasters and they were delicious. I would totally use one if oven space is an issue.

        1. Just curious-did you work at Kneaders? I only ask because a) I love Kneaders and b) my cousin used to work at the one in Provo (I assume that’s where it would have been since you went to BYU). Her name is Lindsay Lovell. Any chance you might know her? Just thought I’d ask. And your turkey looks awesome! Can’t decide if I’ll try it or not since I may be making the entire dinner on my own this year. This one looks like a bit more work than what I do, but probably worth it!

          1. No, I’m not related to him, so it must have been on her other side. Hopefully you liked working with her. 🙂 We just got a Kneaders in St. George, but I haven’t made it over there yet mostly because I keep forgetting it’s there. Mmmm, I loved their sandwiches–always fresh! And I love your site and cookbook. I use it regularly. I had decided I wouldn’t get any more cookbooks because I already had too many recipes to try. Then I saw yours at DB and decided it was a must have. I use it more than most of my other cookbooks. Plus I love reading your blog just because it’s entertaining and I love all the cooking tips. I love to cook and bake and it so awesome to keep learning how to do it better!

  3. The best part about this post is that you told me to go get my turkey today. I’m cooking the meal and didn’t even think that it’s “time” to go buy the bird! The worst part about this post is knowing I’m going to have to get my hand all buttery trying to slap that stuff on between the skin and the bird, but I’m going to do it anyway because I trust you completely. Can’t wait to make it your way!

  4. We have turkey for Xmas in the UK. I’ve never heard of brining a turkey before though…we tend to butter the skin, lay bacon (british style- so more like fatty Canadian bacon, soft and not crispy) as a lattice over the top and baste rather than injecting. I guess the bacon lattice is the fat/salt provider in ‘our’ version!

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