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!

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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

 

FAQs

 

Kate's Thanksgiving Turkey

5 from 2 votes
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

  • TURKEY AND BRINE
  • 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
  • HERB BUTTER
  • 3/4 cup salted butter divided
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
  • FOR ROASTING
  • 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

Instructions

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

 

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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. this is my husbands exact facebook quote ” Don’t know how my wife does it but our Holiday meals get better and better every year. Is it Christmas time yet? By the way, if you’re wondering if you should brine your turkey next year, the answer is YES!”
    Thank you so much for this turkey recipe. My husband, my mother in law and my friend and her husband all complemented me greatly on how moist and yummy it was. The gravy was left on the stove and not even one drop used. It was way too good to cover.

  2. My first turkey was a hit yesterday!! I did it exactly the way you said and it was delicious! THANK YOU!!!

  3. It’s Friday night – a little late to find this, but I’ll bookmark for next year. I noticed you used a Butterball, but doesn’t that already have broth injected into it?

    1. Some of them do, but don’t stress it–I promise, it will be delicious! 🙂

  4. Wow – what an awesome turkey! It was also my first turkey, and everyone was so impressed!

    On a side note I too noticed that in the area where you describe what to do (with all the pictures), there was no mention of the sugar – I didn’t look for the onion. I just went with what was listed in the bottom instruction part, so I did get them in.

    Thanks again!!!

  5. So, I have a delayed question since my turkey turned out like crap. Should have used your recipe… so, if you brine a turkey, can you use the drippings to make gravy? What do you do for gravy?

  6. I know it’s kind of late, but we had Thanksgiving at MIL’s, and the turkey was way dry and small. We have no leftovers, so I went to Walmart and bought a boneless breast. Could I use a smaller version of this brine, do you think? I would love to have good turkey even if it is a little late. I really should just do the turkey next year so I don’t have to suffer again.

    1. Yep, absolutely! I wouldn’t even stress THAT much about cutting down on the brine–the turkey will take what it needs, but it might be tricky to cut down on some of that stuff (like the fresh herbs).

  7. Thanks for this recipe! I used it today and it was AWESOME! My husband liked it and he doesn’t like turkey, so you know it was good. Our Thanksgiving guests all loved it as well.

  8. I followed your recipe almost exactly (except I couldn’t find a turkey injector!) and we all swear it was the best turkey we’ve ever had. I feel very grown up (at 25) for making my very own turkey!

  9. I used the brining portion of this recipe, and got many comments on how moist and flavorful the turkey was. I’ve always been intimidated by Alton’s brine recipe, but you made it much more accessible (I wouldn’t have a clue where to find an allspice berry!). Thanks!

  10. Can I just say YUM?! I made this for our Thanksgiving dinner today and it turned out absolutely perfect! I did, however, use a larger bird, 19 lbs. in fact, but it still turned out very moist and absolutely scrumptious. As someone posted earlier, I also realized after I’d already brined my turkey that I left out the dehydrated onions and sugar but I just ended up omitting them altogether and it still turned out great. The fact that the bird was stuffed with onions I think added enough of that flavor it needed. The flavors were so good, the seasoning was perfect, and I ended up using this particular recipe because I love using sage butter (I used it on a couple of small cornish hens for my husband and I on Christmas last year) and I also wanted to do a brine. And so you know, this was my very first time making a turkey and although I felt a little intimidated to attempt it in the beginning, this recipe helped take out the guess work and I’m quite proud of the result! Thanks so much for such an awesome recipe that made our Thanksgiving Day dinner!

  11. Hey Kate! Thanks so much for the terrific turkey tutorial! Our turkey totally rocked this Thanksgiving . . . the meat was so flavorful and moist! My husband was impressed (which is hard to do) We also used your World’s Best Dinner Rolls 🙂 Awesome. Thanks again 🙂

  12. Absolute best turkey I’ve ever had! Super moist and so much flavor. Thank you for sharing! This will be the only way we cook our turkeys from now on.

  13. What do you do if your turkey has a pop up timer? Do you take it out or do you just leave it in?

  14. @ Mandy, that’s exactly what I did! Typically I’m intimidated to try recipes that call for fresh herbs as I think they might be pricey and at Walmart for each of the separate fresh herbs it would’ve been over $2 a package, but then when I looked, I found one called “poultry blend” that has the rosemary, thyme,and sage! So I got it all for $2 something. =)

  15. Hi there,

    We will be trying your recipe this year! I’m excited, but I made the brine earlier this afternoon and man it smelled awful to both my husband and I. Hoping the flavors will mesh and translate better once the turkey is cooked!!!

  16. You’re probably not going to be checking your comments today, but I hope you do. In your ingredients list for the brine, you call for 1/2 cup of sugar, but then when you’re describing putting everything in, you don’t mention the sugar. So, sugar or no sugar?? Mine brine is already boiling without it!

    1. The instructions say to add the chicken broth and everything through the fresh herbs, which includes the sugar. 🙂

  17. Just a quick note…
    I just realized after cooking and starting my brine tonight, that I missed the dehydrated onion and sugar! Unfortunately, in the step-by-step picture directions, these 2 ingredients are left out. Hopefully no one else made the same mistake. I’m just going to add these later and hope for the best.

    Thanks for the recipe. I’m excited to try the result.

    1. I think this recipe is so long that people are missing stuff because it’s all there… 🙂 The instructions say to add the chicken broth and then everything through the fresh herbs, which includes the garlic and onion. 🙂 Either way, I’m sure adding it a littler later will be completely fine.

  18. Look for a fresh spice pack called poultry blend-it gives you fresh thyme, sage, and Rosemary-plenty to do the Turkey 1/3 of the cost.

  19. I DID IT!! This was my first ever turkey for my new husband and my parents! IT WAS SO GOOD! (and yes, it has to be in capitals like I am yelling!) I even forgot to put in the apples, onion and celery inside and it still was great in flavor and MOIST. The family gave a both thunbs up on this and now I will stick by this for sure!! I did an 11 lb turkey and it was amazzzing. Thank you OBB, have loved every recipe I have tried. You guys sure do make me look good!

  20. Tried reading through all the comments just to make sure and I didn’t see anyone ask…have you ever tried doing just the turkey boob this way in the crockpot? Just wondering since I get to do Thanksgiving Round II on Sunday when we get back in town.

    1. I imagine it would be fine! 🙂 The only potential problem I see is maybe it not getting very brown, but I bet it would taste amazing! 🙂

  21. I may be too late in the discussion to receive a response but….Last year I bought an Electric Roaster…Do you think this could be done (without the bag) in my roaster?

  22. I think I’m going to try your brining recipe this year! I’ve heard of people quartering their turkeys before cooking. Is it possible to brine the whole turkey and then quarter it before cooking?

  23. I kind of think the answer is no, but can you still do this with one of those disposable roasting pans? I don’t own a real one!

  24. Hi I was just wondering if you have ever stuffed your turkey with stuffing? I am planning on making your turkey but my family insists on a particular family suffing. I was wondering if I do not use the apple onion celery in the cavity does it make that big of a difference in the flavor?

  25. I just read your recipe and unfortunatly I have already ordered my fresh turkey. It is 22 lbs!!! I really want to use this recipe and was curious if you think I will be ok with such a large turkey?

  26. I’ve done the Alton Brown method for about 4 years now. I think I’m ready to try the injection and the turkey bag for cooking. Here’s a tip for brining… Instead of a 5 gallon bucket, I use my 5 gallon drink cooler. The turkey fits perfectly in there, the lid is tight, and I can just brine it indoors cuz it’s insulated. (I clean it thoroughly afterward with bleach and everything:-)

  27. I am so excited to try this! I volunteered for Thanksgiving this year just so I could make the turkey your way 🙂

  28. thank you.i have been married 23 years and i have to make my first turkey this year! i’m a little scared but this helped, especially to know it takes a week to defrost!!!

  29. Kate, if you were to guesstimate, how many people would you say a 10-12lb turkey would feed. We are having 8 adults 4 kids. I just don’t know how I would time it with cooking 2 turkeys, can i leave one out for a bit or what would you recommend? I think last year I had 12 adults and 5 kids and I ended up BBQ one of the turkeys…which was fine, but def not as good as the oven bag one. Any good tips!?

    1. Look at Butterball’s website for a turkey needs calculator. I had no idea how much to get either, but it solved my problems 🙂

  30. I live in Canada so we already had Thanksgiving in October, but I am so having another Thanksgiving dinner so I can make this turkey!