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.
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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. Just wanted to add that using the XL (10 gallon) Ziplocks to line your brine container makes clean up super easy!

  2. So, I saw your gravy comment. Let’s just say you don’t want to use the packet. Would you just not brine so you could use the drippings? Or would you tell me to get over myself and just use the packet?

    I will admit that I’ve been a bag hater, my mom always tells me I should use one but I just want to do it the old fashioned way I guess. You’re changing my mind…don’t tell my mom though.

    I just really like making home made gravy and I’m pretty good at it…maybe I’ll get over myself this year and try it your way LOL!

  3. A turkey bag in a roaster oven will only work if the bag does not touch the roaster at all. Any part that touches the roaster will stick and melt!

  4. I come to your site prior to every holiday – I love your recipe compilations. I have already looked at last years 🙂 I think my kids would love the greenbean bundles and the stuffed blue cheese potatoes, as much as I like to use traditional time tested recipes, I am also like to mix in something new, or at least browse for something new.

  5. I made my turkey tonight following your recipe! The flavor was fantastic, but I must say, my turkey never got brown. Any advice? I floured the bag, rubbed my extra sage butter on the bird, and it was basically white:(

    1. When I used to cook the turkey in the oven (I fry it now), I would uncover it or remove it from the bag for the last 20 min or so. That will brown it up as it gets direct heat from the heating elements. I used a baster (the big sucky syringe thing) to squirt the juice on top of the bird every 5-10 min at the end and that would help brown it.

  6. This looks amazing!! I think you’ve given me the courage to try cooking a turkey on my own. Funny thing, I was reading through your comments and saw that someone asked if you knew Lindsay Lovell and I thought at first it couldn’t be my husbands cousin and then you asked if she was related to Kirk Shaw. She wasn’t but I am, he’s my brother-in-law. I’ve followed your blog for over a year now and love your recipes and he just barely told me he knew you after his mom told him she bought me your cookbook. Anyways, long story short, he had great things to say about you and just wanted you to know the Shaws (and Lovells) LOVE your recipes!! Thanks so much for sharing

  7. I’m going to cook my turkeys in a pit overnight this year. What would you recommend seasoning it with – the way that you did, including brining and stuffing it, or some other way? The turkey pit is actually a scout fundraiser, and they’ll have poultry seasoning to put on, but after reading your recipe and directions, that just doesn’t seem to be enough.

  8. I’m doing the turkey this year….first time in 16 years of marriage, sad, I know…anyway, I think I can follow this pretty well. Thank you. I am feeling pressure from my MIL to get the ‘biggest turkey out there’….if I do, I just follow all your posted steps, correct?

  9. Just wanted to add that I brine my turkey and I now do it in the Coleman Cooler and just add some ice to that and keep it overnight in the garage!

  10. That looks like the most amazing turkey! I have a question, though… we have always deep fried our turkey (sounds like a heart attack waiting to happen, I know, but it is so good! And fast, which is even better.). I want to brine our turkey this year too, so do I need to adapt your brine recipe at all if I am going to fry rather than bake? Thanks, and keep up the good work – you ladies are amazing!

    1. Yes, Jenny, you can (and should) brine before you fry. Check my comment #51. Just note that you don’t want any fruit juices in the brine because the sugar caramelizes when you fry it, making the turkey very dark. Kate’s recipe will work fine if you leave out the brown sugar.

  11. I would love to win on the calendars! Never won anything but that would be one thing I would love and would use.
    Thanks for giving me a chance.

  12. Do you think I could get away with using a chicken boullion base for the broth? I have 2- 20+ pounders that I need to brine and that would be around 4+ gallons of chicken broth. The boullion base would be slightly cheaper which catches my eye…

    Thanks in advance!

  13. When are you guys going to come up with an iphone app?? Your website is not the easiest to maneuver on a phone. I would totally use the app often.

  14. Several years ago, I wrote up a step-by-step Turkey 101 for my kids. As I told them, it’s not so much a recipe as it is a technique. I’ve only recently started blogging and have just posted my “how to”, but I don’t have the wonderful photos you do in your great post (maybe next year!). Also, after reviewing your post, I realize that I need a flavor injector! I did include my fabulously delicious stuffing recipe along with the turkey instructions. Enjoy…and happy Thanksgiving!

  15. Sorry if you’ve already answered this…just wondering about brining a previously frozen turkey. I had heard (well, read…on Pioneer Woman) that you should only brine a turkey that has never been frozen or else it will be too salty. Thoughts?? Thanks! Oh and I absolutely LOVE this website and your cookbook. I’ve made at least a dozen of your recipes and have loved all of them!!

    1. Check out the discussion on comment 13 and see if that answers your questions–if not, let me know! 🙂

  16. Kate, I hate to keep coming back to the stuffing but we LOVE the stuffing inside the turkey. Do you think it is OK to remove it when the turkey is done and resting and put that stuffing back into the oven for 20-30 minutes? Would that make it safe to eat? Thanks for all of the recipes – I love this blog!

    1. Yep, you could definitely do that. Or you could even (gasp!!) microwave it. 🙂

  17. The roaster bags have always been my secret trick. It makes the turkey a success EVERY. TIME.

    1. Oh, Nicholle, I kind of feel like gravy is even MORE personal the stuffing or turkey, so I’m scared to tell people what to do, haha!

      You’ve got a few options. With this particular turkey, this is what I’d do:

      1. Rinse the giblets (neck and internal organs that are in the turkey) in cool water and place in a saucepan with a sprig each of rosemary, thyme, and sage, 2-3 cloves of smashed garlic, and half an onion. Cover with water. Bring to a boil, cover, and then simmer it for about an hour.

      2. When you’re ready to make the gravy, strain the solids from the liquid and discard them. Take a gravy packet (I just use McCormick turkey gravy) and follow the instructions for gravy, but instead of water, use the liquid from the giblets. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.

      3. Congratulations! You’ve got gravy. 🙂

      Normally, you can just use the drippings from the turkey, but the drippings from this turkey are SO salty that when you combine them with a gravy packet, it’s a super, super salty gravy.

      Does that help?

      1. First of all, this was my very first turkey ever, and I followed your directions word for word (except I forgot to use a bag), and it was AMAZING! Best turkey ever – so said my husband, and so say I! I can’t imagine wanting to change a thing!!! It was so moist and flavorful.

        But second, in response to the above discussion, I used the drippings for gravy from the brined turkey and it wasn’t salty at all. In fact, I ended up adding a bit of salt at the end. I didn’t use a gravy packet – I just followed a recipe I found online. Boiled the giblets with a bit of chicken stock with some onion and fresh rosemary, thyme and sage for about 2 hours, skimmed the fat off of the turkey drippings, made a roux with some of the fat and then combined the strained stock with the drippings to make a really yummy gravy. Anyway, just wanted to say: it wasn’t too salty at all, so maybe give it a try!

  18. Ha ha, I just discovered comment 25. I know it’s probably dumb to ask if below freezing is too cold to have it out but I just want to make sure.

  19. Ooh I’m so excited to try this! I have often wondered how to brine the huge old bird NOT in the fridge because I simply don’t have the space for it. Okay–so I need a bit of clarification as to how cold it can be outside for me to leave it out there. I live in South Dakota which is often synonymous with the North Pole at Thanksgiving–so tell me the temperature difference between cold outside and VERY cold outside? Like I figured below zero is too cold, but what about below freezing? We have been unseasonably warm lately–I fret about giving people food poisoning so what is too warm? Do you leave it outside the whole 24 hours it is brining?

    And would you still use an oven bag if you were cooking it in a roaster? Thanks for being patient with all my silly questions. 🙂 You guys are the best.

  20. I am going to be brave and try this for Thanksgiving! You guys have not failed me yet so I know this will be a success too! Thanks for this!

  21. Ummmm Yummm… I must bookmark this so when I’m in charge of the turkey for Christmas, I can do it your way. Do you eat the stuff inside the turkey after you’ve roasted it??? (that just seems gross to me LOL)

    1. You can puree them into a delicious soup.

      Just kidding. That would be disgusting. Toss ’em. I shall go make that more clear. 🙂

  22. Question about brining time- ideally, this would be done Wednesday morning but I am working normal business hours that day. What is the minimum and maximum times? Should I do it after work on Wednesday so it has about 16 hours under its belt, really early Wednesday morning so it has about 28 hours, or what do you suggest? Thanks!

    1. I would just do it Wednesday after work–I’ve brined as little as 10 hours before and it’s still been delicious. 🙂

  23. This looks amazing! I’m cooking my first Thanksgiving turkey this year, and will use this as my guide!

  24. This is Sooo close to the recipe I (kinda) follow I’m going to say it’s the same. Only difference is I use our Summer cooler for the brining. EASY to fit even a huge turkey into it and holds it to Cold temperature. And, no buying a new bucket every year (’cause you know you’re gonna use that bucket for car washes come Summer!

  25. I’m not a big turkey fan, but that most be the prettiest turkey I’ve ever seen, and it really make me want some.

  26. So my oven bag always sticks to my turkey and I loose the delicious skin on the breast meat. What am I doing wrong? Yes, I DO flour the bag. Any thought? Anybody?

      1. What I try to do is have the bag as tight on the bottom of the turkey as possible and then I don’t cinch it too tight, so when the bag heats up and inflates, it kind of forms a bubble around the turkey. I also move the turkey down to one of the lower racks in the oven so it will have plenty of space to inflate.

  27. I’ve always bought the biggest turkey I can find (I had heard that it’s cheaper that way– more meat per bone ratio). Besides not having a big enough bucket, is there a reason not to buy a big 20+ pounder?

    1. As long as the taste of a big turkey doesn’t bother you, nope, not a good reason! 🙂