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.
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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. We followed your recipe step by step and everything was delicious. Thanks for a detailed tutorial.

  2. Made this yesterday. Awesome! Well worth the extra effort. All my guests said it was the best turkey ever.

  3. Best turkey ever! We had the 4 elders serving in our ward over for Thanksgiving dinner and I feel really bad for their future wives because they all went on about how great the turkey was. Hopefully their future wives all know about your blog and cookbooks.

  4. The bucket is a great idea! I feel so ghetto… I use a garbage bag and a cooler for brining. LOL

  5. I was wondering, if I am keeping the bucket in the fridge, do I still need to add the 8 cups cold water and 8 cups ice to the mixture? Thanks!

  6. I bought a turkey that states that it has 8% of a solution to enhance juicenss and tenderness. contains broth, salt, etc etc. should I still brine or would it be too salty?

  7. Okay, I am going to try this…..brining always seemed way too intimidating! I was wondering how cold is cold enough to have the turkey outside for 24 hrs? Unfortunately I don’t think I need to worry about it being too cold.
    Thanks!

  8. I am making this turkey and I am super excited! I start the brining process tomorrow. Wish me luck…first turkey ever!

  9. Totally going to try this! However, I won’t have a full 24 hours to brine the turkey, and I’m hoping that’s not a problem. Have you ever cooked two turkeys in the same oven and had a problem with it? I’ve heard from multiple sources to get two smaller turkeys…I’m just worried about them fitting, and still having the air circulate… Any thoughts?

  10. Hi,
    Some people say to tie the legs together, but I did not see that in your instructions. What are the pros/cons to doing that? Also, for those people who like to touch raw meat as little as possible, you can loosen some of the skin with a flat spatula–nothing sharp so you don’t tear the skin–but then you don’t have to put your hand in there!

  11. So with using the turkey bag I’m assuming all the dripping stay in the bag with the turkey? Does the skin still get crispy?

  12. Ladies!!!!
    Seriously, your recipes have NEVER let me down! We celebrated Thanksgiving on Saturday – this turkey preparation ROCKS! Our turkey was the best yet! I normally do all the baking of sweets and make all the salads as our family is full of professionally trained chefs. This year none were on hand to make the turkey – so as you do frequently OBB had my back and I made this turkey. Best ever! I want to tell everyone – make your turkey just this way and you will smile all day!!!
    Mahalo for the awesome recipe!
    April in Maui

  13. You say make sure to get a turkey with little salt… What measure per serving would you say?!
    Every turkey in our stores had salt, all had some injected solution so I just want to make sure my first turkey doesn’t turn out all salty.

    Is it typical for a turkey to have salt already?! What is the most in a serving you would buy?

  14. I made Alton Browns turkey last year…which is basically this and it was a hit! Made my first turkey for my inlaws who always serve dry and tasteless turkey and I was so proud;) thank you for all the extra tips!!! Love it!

  15. I am nervous and excited to host Thanksgiving this year! I never dreamed I would be doing a turkey anytime in my youngish life, but here I am and I’m so grateful you have shared your delicious recipe! OBB has never steered me wrong. 🙂 two things: I bought a disposable turkey cooking pan, and have yet to purchase the meat thermometer. This may be the dumbest question, but where will I place the box part of the thermometer with the numbers once in the oven? :/ On top of the turkey? Also, being that I just found your recipe last night and I honestly didn’t/ don’t know the first thing about cooking a turkey, I just bought my 13.5 lb Butterball today. Do you think it’ll be thawed by Wed? I’m a little nervous! PS: I followed one of your commenter’s advice and got my bucket today from the bakery! 🙂

    1. those really were dumb questions…I’m so embarrassed! how I wish there were a way to delete my comment! ha!

  16. You mentioned to keep the turkey in a cold place while brining…can I put the bucket back into the fridge? Or is it better to put the bucket in the tub? I live in Southern Cali and its not real cold here.

  17. I am so excited to try this recipe this year! It’s my second time cooking a turkey–last year was my first and I didn’t find this in time, but it turned out just fine. This year we are having company, so I’m a little nervous about my turkey cooking abilities. 🙂 This might be a silly question…is it okay to use vegetable broth instead of chicken? Or is the chicken broth a must? Thanks!

  18. We brine our turkey in one of those orange drink containers! haha. It gets washed out REALLY well. 🙂

  19. I do use your recipes for Thanksgiving – I must be unusual in that I am always searching for new recipes to go with traditional family recipes. This year I plan on making the Banana Cream Pie, I have been requested to make the Bacon wrapped Green Beans and the corn spoonbread posted today looks great! Did you do a recipe compilation a few years ago for Thanksgiving?

  20. I am so excited to try this recipe, but I have a question about the best way to cook stuffing. Because it isn’t “stuffed” inside the turkey, what is they best way to make it so that it stays really moist?

    1. I usually just make it in a casserole dish covered with foil or in a Dutch Oven with a heavy lid. You can always add a little additional broth or liquid to the stuffing to keep it moist. Hope that helps!

      1. I have been trying to ask how much sodium the turkey should have I begin with… I don’t want to have a salty non edible turkey! I know you say the least possible but all the turkeys in our store already were injectedwith a salt solution. So when looking at the amount of salt per serving what amount would you be looking for?! I have never cooked a turkey before and don’t want to ruin the big meal!!

  21. Hey I too just wanted to say your so awesome for answering all these questions. I’m sure it takes a lot of time, It’s nice your trying to make everyones thanksgiving work:)

  22. Hey I didn’t read all the comments but I was wondering about flour in the bag. I know you talked about it but I didn’t catch if you actually do it or not. My bag says to do the flour… so should I? Can I just skip that step?
    Thanks this is awesome. I’m so excited!

  23. Mmm-KaY. That just looks outta this WoRLD DeLiCiOuS!!! I so wanna try it. Thanks for sharing…your recipes never disappoint. <3

  24. I made this turkey last year exactly as directed but used a slightly larger bird. In any case it is IMPERATIVE to cut slits in the BOTTOM OF THE BAG so some of the juices can drain out. I didn’t do that last year and the bottom of the turkey basically boiled in it’s juices and the skin was all white and rubbery down there. I had to remove it from the bag and put back in the oven to try and get the skin browned on the lower half of the turkey. Which made for overcooked meat. I will try again this year with some slits in the bottom so it can drain.

  25. So I’m hosting Thanksgiving for the first time ever! I’ve decided that this recipe sounds AMAZING! But I am curious as to what you do for gravey then? Should I just put the Gibblets in the bottom of the roasting pan with some stock and use that for the gravey?

  26. Gorgeous!
    Very interesting roasted turkey. I really love the idea of inserting the thermometer into the bag. Never think about it. Can I do it with other kinds of food? (But I fridge it instead of using some ice tubes.