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. I am doing just a turkey breast for my family soon, would you half the brine recipe? 1/4 it?

    1. I wouldn’t…I think it will probably melt and the roaster and bag serve the same purpose.

  2. I’ve never brined a turkey before and am excited to gives this a try. This may be a dumb question but I have room in my garage fridge to store this so can I just put it in there and skip the ice part??

    1. Not dumb at all, haha! You still need the ice because it’s part of the water/salt ratio, but yay for having room in your fridge! That makes things so much easier!!

  3. The stores are all out of fresh herbs, would it be awful to use dried herbs?? So excited to try this and make my non-turkey loving hubby into a lover. 🙂

  4. I know you said don’t get a turkey larger than 14 lbs, but…I got a free turkey given to me that is 20 lbs. I want to try your brine and turkey recipe but wondered if I need to adjust the ingredient quantities for a larger bird? Or will it be fine to have those 6 extra lbs.
    Thanks!
    ~Augusta

  5. If you are using a roaster would you still use the bag? And I am a fan of stuffing inside my bird, is there a reason why that wouldn’t work? (too much salt from the drippings or something?)

    1. Yep, I think the stuffing would get too salty. You could always put a little inside to try it out, but that seems to be the general consensus. 🙂

    1. I don’t think you could fit it in a crockpot, but you could definitely use a turkey roaster! 🙂

  6. I really want to make this recipe, but I have a 22lb bird. Should I double the brine? or leave as is? Do you think it will still fit in a 5 gallon bucket?

    Thanks!

  7. Last year was my first time making a turkey, and I used this
    recipe. It turned out perfect!! So this year I braved it again, we loved it
    Once again!! Thank you so much

  8. Any reason why you said “don’t use a turkey more then 12 to 14 pounds? I have an almost 19 pounder and I will just up the recipe a tiny bit. But i was wondering if you had reasoning behind what you said?

  9. I have a guest for dinner coming that is allergic to dairy. I know nothing is as delicious as butter, but is there anything I can substitute for the butter to make it dairy free and still turn out yummy?

    1. Just a suggestion…If it’s only 1 guest that’s allergic maybe cook a separate bone -in breast and leg especially for that person! 🙂

  10. I made this this for Thanksgiving two years ago, and let me tell you my family is dying for it again this year and I am so excited! I recommend this recipe to everyone! Brining is truly the key to this perfect Turkey 🙂 This year I did end up buying a 23.59lb turkey!! OH BOY, I have a lot of people to feed. How do you recommend I adjust brine for this recipe?

  11. Thank you for this recipe and the step-by-step instructions. It was not my first turkey but it was by far my best. (I can now also say I make a mean turkey!) I can’t even imagine how much more delicious it would be if I did the flavor injection. I did use the drippings as 1/3 of the liquids that I used for the gravy and it was just the right amount of saltiness.

  12. My husband and I made this for Thanksgiving yesterday and it was AMAZING!!! It turned out so well, we will make this every year. Thanks so much!!

  13. My turkey is in the brine. It was so yummy last year I can’t wait to eat it again this year!

  14. I’ve used this recipe every year since it was posted! Can’t wait till tomorrow when I do my brine again!

    Amy, I always dump mine down the sink. My pipes have seen worse lol! 🙂

  15. I read through your comments to see if anyone had substituted apple cider for the chicken broth. I have seen other recipes that use apple cider and thought it might help with the salty drippings. Any thoughts? Love your blog!

  16. I have brined our turkey for the past few years and it makes a huge difference. I am excited to try this recipe, although the bag scares me because I am wondering about the turkey sitting in all the juices instead of being held over the juices by the rack. Still, I will try it.
    My main question I am hoping someone can answer is how do you dispose of the turkey brine when the turkey is done brining? My husband does not want to pour it down the sink because he thinks all the salt will mess up the pipes. He usually takes the cooler down into the woods and dumps it far from the house. I think that is too much effort! Do you all just dump it down the sink? (He does not want me to dump eggshells or potato peels down the garbage disposal, either, so I am thinking he is probably over cautious.)

  17. Would you suggest this brining/injecting method for a bone-in turkey breast cooked in a slow cooker? I’m assuming I would just reduce the amounts according to the size of the breast I’m using. Should I put the apples, onions, etc. in the slow cooker with the breast? This is my first time making a turkey and since it’s just my young family and 3 guests, we don’t need a ton of turkey. Thanks!!

  18. Will this method of cooking provide enough juice to make gravy for a large group of people?

  19. Ever use wine to brine with or just water? after the brine process, I read to leave uncovered in fridge overnight to get crispier skin.. true?

    1. I haven’t tried wine and I haven’t tried leaving it in the fridge overnight. I’m a delinquent. 🙂

  20. Just got assigned to do THE TURKEY for Thanksgiving with the in-laws this year…they are a freezer food type of family, so I’m thrilled that at least the main course will be homemade, and even more excited to try this recipe!

  21. Made this for Christmas dinner. WOW! I’ve experimented with several turkey recipes, this one is by far the best I’ve tried…so far 🙂 I’m always trying new recipes, but I don’t think I’ll be able to top this one. The meat was tender and juicy. I cooked it till it was just at 180 degrees, the thermometer was really trying to push it’s way up to the 180 and was about a hair away and I took it out of the oven…oh so delicious!!! I think one of my main problems with turkey cooking was that I always over cooked it, so thanks for that info about not over cooking.

  22. Just popped my bird in the oven, I can’t wait! I think this will be the best Christmas dinner ever. Thanks for the recipe!!

  23. Thanks for saving the Thanksgiving (and Christmas!) turkey ladies. As a mom of a household with food allergies I want to gently remind you that this recipe is not gluten free if wheat flour is used in the roasting bag. Those of us used to cooking gluten or wheat free will quickly pick up on this but for all of those in-laws (bless them!) and grandparents who are cooking a special meal for visitors, this may need to be spelled out. From experience, it is sad to see many hours of preparation and cooking negated by something so simple as a Tablespoon of flour in the turkey bag.

  24. I didn’t do the injection part of the recipe so I can only imagine how much better it makes the turkey but even without it, this was the best turkey I’ve ever had! And it was the first turkey that I ever made that didn’t just taste like meat (if that makes any sense) Thanks so much!

  25. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! This was my first attempt on doing the turkey and it was a huge success. Everyone loved it. This is definitely a keeper.