The Best Thanksgiving Turkey

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.

The best Thanksgiving Turkey recipe

There are some common complaints out there about 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.

The 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.

Ingredient and Supply Notes

  • Bucket – 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

  • 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 Grill Beast 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.
  • Nitrile Gloves – If you’ve been around awhile, you know I always have a box of nitrile gloves in my kitchen. They make working with raw meat much easier. If you are squeamish about handling a large, raw turkey, these are a must!
  • Fat Separator – While not 100% necessary for cooking the turkey, you will want a fat separator (like this OXO Fat Separator ) to help separate the cooking juices, which makes making the gravy a breeze!

The best thanksgiving turkey recipe

Recipe Notes

  • 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.

How to Make the Best Thanksgiving Turkey

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.

To a very large stock pot, add 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, 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 cup chicken broth, and 1/4 cup 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!


If you want your turkey skin extra browned and crisp, slip the bag off about 30 minutes before the turkey is done (and turn on the convection oven if you have one). That crisps and browns the skin really well while still keeping the meat tender and moist.

The best thanksgiving turkey recipe

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

Other Holiday Menu Items You’ll Love

Pressure Cooker & Slow Cooker Mashed Potatoes

Homemade Gravy

Candied Coconut Sweet Potatoes

One Hour Dinner Rolls

Caramelized Green Beans

Candied Walnut Salad

Layered Pumpkin Pie Toffee Cheesecake




Kate's Thanksgiving Turkey

5 from 2 votes
Hands-down the best Turkey for the holidays! Tender, juicy, flavorful results every time!


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


  • 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
  • 5-6 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 cup salted butter divided
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 1 apple chopped in half
  • 1-2 small onions chopped in half
  • 4 stalks celery cut into thirds


  • About a week before you begin brining your turkey, place it in the refrigerator to defrost.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 over the breast. Spread handfuls of the sage butter between the breast and the skin, rubbing any excess over the outside of the skin.
  • 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.
  • Slip any remaining rosemary and thyme sprigs under the skin.
  • 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.
Author: Our Best Bites
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Meet The Author

Sara Wells

Sara Wells co-founded Our Best Bites in 2008. She is the author of three Bestselling Cook Books, Best Bites: 150 Family Favorite RecipesSavoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites, and 400 Calories or Less from Our Best Bites. Sara’s work has been featured in many local and national news outlets and publications such as Parenting MagazineBetter Homes & GardensFine CookingThe Rachel Ray Show and the New York Times.

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Questions & Reviews

  1. Oh my goodness that sounds delicious. And a ton of work. Definitely sounds like it’s worth it though. I’ve printed this out; it’s my first year really hosting Thanksgiving and I am so going to look like a rock star thanks to Kate. Thank you!

  2. Last year was the first time I was in charge of Thanksgiving and I totally used all brand new recipes from your site and everything was awesome. The only thing I didn’t do was the turkey because my Mom did that for me, and I actually dodged the turkey bullet again this year but next year I will definitely be trying this.

  3. This is where I wish someone else was cooking. I am not a fan of touching raw poultry…even with gloves. Looks fantastic.

  4. Kate: I am doing the turkey for the first time and I had already bought my turkey before I read your post, which I am totally going to use this recipe. Here is the problem… My turkey is 21 lbs. ACK… Does this just guarantee that it’s going to be dried out? HELP!

    1. I’ve never cooked a turkey that large, BUT I will say that brining and a turkey bag will help things out IMMENSELY. I think you’ll be fine. 🙂

  5. I’m gonna admit that the turkey is actually my least favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner, maybe because I’ve never had turkey cooked the right way :)but this! THIS one you make look good!! thanks for taking the time to post such detailed instructions. I’m definitely trying this recipe this year.

  6. I agree about the bags! I have friends who freak out when they make their turkeys, but I asked my MIL when I made my first one and she said just put it in a bag. I thought she was crazy, but its so easy and so fast! We eat a late lunch for Thanksgiving and my mom always ahd to get up at the crack of dawn to make the turkey…I am sooo glad I don’t do that ;o) I think I will give this a try. We just make it plain…sounds lame, but it’s actually really good in the bag. I think I’ll get adventurous =) So it doesn’t taste too salty you said…my MIL and husband are not fans of salty foods (I AM!!!),,,they won’t hate me and spit it out if I make this right ;o)

  7. I don’t have a roasting pan, but I assume I could use one of those disposable ones. Do you agree?

  8. Brining is awesome but what’s awesomer 🙂 is deep frying a turkey. You have to do both, though. Brine and deep fry. My first deep fried turkey was dry. I’ve been brining ever since (about 10 years now) and it comes out fantastic. Do you like bacon? Then deep frying is for you. The skin comes out crispy and slightly salty. I used to think the skin was icky but deep fried turkey skin is essentially bacon. Soooo good.

    Peanut oil is kind of expensive but I’ve been using the same batch for 10 years. Really! After I fry in it and let it cool down, I pour it through cheese cloth back into the container then pop it in the freezer until the next time I cook a turkey. So the peanut oil has only been unfrozen for like 10 days total, making it quite ‘fresh’.

    Feel free to email me if you want/need more details.

    When you brine and fry, make sure you don’t have any sugary juice in the bring (like apple juice) because the sugar will caramelize when it’s fried. But that’s mostly for aesthetic reasons. The turkey will come out black but it’s not burnt. It just looks weird because all the sugar caramelized and make the turkey very dark. I just avoid the sugar so my guests aren’t freaked out.

    1. Oops, “make sure you don’t have any sugary juice in the bring”.

      “brine” not “bring”.

  9. Looks amazing. Going to have to give it a go. I never have to cook a bird for Thanksgiving, cause we are always with family. But I always buy one and freeze to for later use. Have to try your method this year. I also love roasting bags.

  10. I have to try this! I’ve never had too much trouble with turkey – the roasting bags really are magic. But my turkeys have never been anything special. I’ll have to do this one for Christmas (I live in Canada, where Thanksgiving was a few weeks ago).

  11. This looks unbelievably delicious! I am not fortunate to be able to cook the T-day turkey around here, since that job still always falls to my Mom or Grandma or mother-in-law. About every other year I cook a turkey for Mother’s Day and invite my whole extended family over. I’ve had a lot of success with an Emeril turkey recipe but I think I’ll give yours a try next time!

  12. I have never cooked a turkey for Thanksgiving or otherwise. I have been terrified. Thank you for your instructions!!! I don’t have to do it this year either, but I saved it so when the time comes, I will know what to do!!!

  13. You ladies make the best food.
    That sounds like and amazing turkey!!
    Makes me sad I won’t get any this year.

  14. I use one of those roaster ovens that sits on the counter (saves oven space! And works great) can you use a turkey bag in one of those? Or is it fine to do without the bag?

  15. I have seen many recipes for brining a turkey and your looks easy and delicious. One recipe I read said DO NOT brine a frozen turkey because it has already been injected with some sort of salt solution and it would be to salty. Have you ever had a problem with it being too salty, I would really like to try this.


    1. See comment #13. 🙂 Never had a problem, although I do try to stay on the turkeys with lower sodium. 🙂

  16. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I do not have a good turkey recipe, and this one looks delicious and foolproof…two great things!

  17. Yum! I made my first turkey last year and I brined it, but just in salt water. It still was great, but I’m itching to trying it with all those yummy things in the brine too. Great post!

  18. This sounds delicious! Wish I were making the turkey this year! 🙂 Thanks for the recipe!

  19. You say 12-14 pounds, what would your max be for doing it this way? My Dad wants a “big turkey”, not two small ones (he’s so high maintenance!)

    1. Ha! Ohhhh, I don’t know. I would say if you’re going larger than 14-15 pounds, you should make more brine, just because the liquid needs to completely cover the turkey. You also may run into problems with the turkey not fitting into the bucket. You could ALSO tell your dad that he should trust you and that 2 turkeys is the way to go, haha! 😉

  20. Oh my gosh! Thanksgiving is at my house this year, and I have NEVER cooked a turkey before. This is exactly what I needed! Thanks!

  21. Fabulous!! Makes me kind of wish I was in charge of the turkey this year. Almost. But I will try this on another day of the year.

  22. That is one gorgeous-looking turkey!! I’ve never cooked a turkey before and I’m not hosting this year, but if I get my hands on a turkey, I will definitely be giving this a try!

  23. My mom is doing the turkey this year but I might just call her up and volunteer to do it instead! This looks So good. I am still a little confused about gravy, is there a way to tell if your drippings are going to make salty gravy? Or a way to salvage if is too salty? My boys would not be happy if there wasn’t gravy.

    1. Check out my response on comment #13 for some ideas. 🙂 Really, the drippings themselves are salty but not SUPER salty, you just can’t have anything else that has salt in it or it will push it over the edge.

  24. Kate,
    My family does not eat dark meat so I buy the bone in turkey breast, typically
    two 8-10 pounders. Should I adapt the recipe in any way for smaller birds? Thanks!

    1. Nah. 🙂 You just may not end up using everything, but aside from a shorter cooking time, there’s not really any changes you’ll need to make.

  25. My mother always cooked her turkey breast down until done then would turn it just to brown. make the breast meat real juicy..! We brimed one with lemonade for a citrus flavor.