Easy Thanksgiving Turkey

4.70 from 88 votes

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In this Thanksgiving turkey 🦃 recipe, I’ll guide you through the process of cooking a delicious and juicy turkey using the Julia Child method. From thawing to roasting, I’ve got you covered. Whether you’re a seasoned chef or a first-time Thanksgiving cook, this recipe is sure to please. Follow these steps for a turkey that’s juicy on the inside, beautifully browned on the outside, and bursting with flavors.

How To Thaw Thanksgiving Turkey

Thawing the turkey properly is the crucial first step in preparing your Thanksgiving feast. Thaw your turkey based on the package directions provided by the manufacturer. These directions are essential as they consider the specific weight and size of your turkey.

The ideal method for thawing a frozen turkey is to use your refrigerator. This ensures a controlled temperature environment, keeping the turkey safe from bacteria growth. However, keep in mind that thawing can take time, so plan ahead. Thawing times in the refrigerator can vary depending on the size of the bird. Here’s a general guideline:

  • For turkeys weighing 4-12 pounds: Allow 2 to 4 days.
  • For turkeys weighing 12-16 pounds: Plan for 4 to 5 days.
  • For turkeys weighing 16-20 pounds: Expect 5 to 6 days.
  • For larger turkeys weighing 20-24 pounds: Allocate 6 to 7 days for thawing.

Do We Brine The Turkey?

A lot of turkeys come “seasoned” which means they were pre-brined. You can absolutely brine it yourself though by soaking the turkey in 4% brine (40grams of salt per 1000ml water) for at least 24 hours. If you brine the turkey, you don’t have to worry about basting as you’ll be left with the juiciest bird!

Remove The Giblets

Once the turkey has fully thawed, carefully remove it from the refrigerator. Begin by patting the turkey dry with paper towels. This helps remove excess moisture from the surface, which is essential for achieving crispy skin during roasting. Now, it’s time to deal with the giblets and neck. These are typically found nestled inside the turkey.

Check inside the main cavity of the bird, which is usually located in the body cavity. Additionally, look into the neck cavity, positioned between the wings of the turkey. Once you’ve located the giblet package and neck, gently remove them. It’s crucial to ensure they are fully detached from the turkey’s cavities. After removal, set the giblets and neck aside. They can be used to enhance the flavor of your gravy or other dishes. Store them in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use them.

Note: Sometimes, giblets are packaged in plastic, so be sure to remove the plastic packaging before use. Leaving the giblets in plastic inside the turkey can have adverse effects on the turkey’s flavor and overall cooking process, so always double-check.

Taking these steps to thaw your turkey and remove the giblets properly sets the foundation for a perfectly cooked Thanksgiving centerpiece. It ensures that your turkey is safe to cook and that you’re making the most of every component.

Nonna’s Tip

Thawing time depends on the turkey’s size. For a typical turkey: 4-12 pounds takes 2 to 4 days, 12-16 pounds takes 4 to 5 days, 16-20 pounds takes 5 to 6 days, and 20-24 pounds takes 6 to 7 days.

How to Prepare Thanksgiving Turkey

Now that your turkey is prepped, you can preheat the oven to 325°F/165°C and gather the other ingredients. For the exterior, prepare a spice-infused butter mixture and coat the turkey evenly. I also like to gently loosen the skin under the breast and add some butter there as well. This is not an easy step and it is completely optional. Make sure to spread the butter in the crevice along with a whole orange. Tuck the wings under the rack and tie the legs with twine.

What makes this recipe special is the use of the Julia Child method. To implement this technique, soak a cheesecloth in melted butter (I also add some beer or wine) and lay it on top of the turkey. Place the prepared turkey on a roasting rack for even cooking.

Throughout the roasting process, it’s essential to maintain the turkey’s moisture to enhance its flavor. To accomplish this, baste the turkey with its own juices approximately every 30-45 minutes. If you want to add an extra layer of flavor, consider introducing some broth, white wine, or even a mixture of beer and water to the roasting pan. These liquids not only contribute to taste but also serve as the foundation for a delicious pan gravy.

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Final Touches

As you approach the last 30 to 45 minutes of roasting time, take the final step to perfect your turkey. Carefully remove the cheesecloth, allowing the skin to crisp and develop a delightful golden brown color. This simple step adds a satisfying crunch to the turkey’s exterior while preserving its succulent interior.

When the turkey is done, letting it rest for a minimum of 30 minutes is crucial. Carve and soak the carved turkey into the remaining juices that sit on the bottom of the pot.

By following these steps and incorporating the Julia Child method, your Thanksgiving turkey will be a flavorful and moist centerpiece that your guests will savor. Say goodbye to dry turkey breast, and hello to a turkey that’s both delicious and visually stunning.

Variations and Substitutions

These variations offer a chance to infuse your personal touch into this time-honored holiday centerpiece.

  • Experiment with different herb combinations for your butter mixture. Rosemary, thyme, sage, are classic choices, but you can also try tarragon, marjoram, or cilantro for a unique twist.
  • While orange adds a lovely citrusy note, you can switch it up with lemon or lime.
  • Add a bit of heat by incorporating spices like paprika, cayenne pepper, or chili powder into your herb butter mixture for a spicy turkey variation.

Other Holiday Recipes

Common Questions


What type of salt do you use? 

I use Redmond Real Salt, but please note that depending on the salt you use, your dish may be less or more salty. Salt is always to taste, therefore always taste and adjust as you cook.

Why isn’t the butter sticking to the turkey?

The bird may be condensating or your butter may be too cold and firm. Make sure the turkey comes to room temperature for an hour and pat it with paper towels to remove moisture before you butter it.

What if my turkey didn’t come with the neck or giblets?

This can happen, so be sure to check both areas to double-check. If you do find the neck and giblets, remove them. You can use them for another recipe (to make gravy or stock).

Do I need to baste the turkey every 30 minutes?

No, you don’t need to baste it, it’s totally up to you. You will get a crispier, juicier bird if you do.

Can I stuff the turkey before roasting it?

Yes, you can stuff the turkey, but it’s essential to ensure that the stuffing reaches a safe internal temperature of 165°F (74°C). It’s often safer to cook stuffing separately to avoid undercooking the bird. Cooking the stuffing inside the bird can also create soggy stuffing.

What’s the purpose of the cheesecloth during roasting?

The cheesecloth soaked in melted butter serves as a basting tool that helps keep the turkey moist during roasting. It also prevents the skin from drying out and protects the breast meat, ensuring it stays juicy.

How often should I baste the turkey?

Baste the turkey approximately every 30 minutes to enhance flavor and moisture. Use the turkey’s own juices or a flavorful liquid like broth, white wine, or a beer and water mixture.

How can I ensure a crispy skin on the turkey?

To achieve crispy skin, remove the cheesecloth during the last 30 minutes of roasting. This allows the skin to brown and crisp up while keeping the meat juicy.

How do I know when the turkey is done cooking?

The turkey is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees Celsius) in the thickest part of both the thigh and the breast. Use a meat thermometer to ensure accuracy.

What should I do if I forgot to thaw my turkey in advance?

If you’re short on time, you can use the cold water thawing method. Submerge the turkey in its packaging in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes. This method takes about 30 minutes per pound.

How long does it take to thaw a frozen turkey in the fridge?

Thawing time depends on the turkey’s size. For a typical turkey: 4-12 pounds takes 2 to 4 days, 12-16 pounds takes 4 to 5 days, 16-20 pounds takes 5 to 6 days, and 20-24 pounds takes 6 to 7 days.

A whole cooked turkey on a white oval plate with sprigs of rosemary and thyme for garnish

Easy Thanksgiving Turkey

In this Thanksgiving turkey recipe, I'll guide you through the process of cooking a delicious and juicy turkey using the Julia Child method. From thawing to roasting, I've got you covered.
4.70 from 88 votes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Servings: 8
Author: The Modern Nonna
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 4 hours
Resting Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 5 hours

Ingredients 

  • 1 5kg turkey , 11 lbs
  • 2 sticks butter , unsalted
  • ½ tablespoon paprika
  • 3 teaspoons salt, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon dry oregano
  • ½ tablespoon garlic powder, optional
  • 1 orange, washed
  • 3 cups water, for the bottom of the roasting dish
  • 1 cup beer, white wine or broth will work as well

Cheesecloth Method

  • 1 stick butter, unsalted
  • cup beer, (or white wine) optional

Instructions 

The Compound Butter

  • Leave the butter on the counter the night before to soften. Once the butter is soft, mix in the seasonings of choice. Feel free to add herbs like thyme or sage as well. Set aside and work on the turkey.

The Turkey

  • Take the thawed turkey out of the fridge. Mine thawed in the fridge for 4 days.
  • Take it out of the package and drain it from any liquids. Remove the giblets (if any) mine didn't come with any this year but be sure to check in the cavity or under the neck at the back.
  • Pat it dry really well with a paper towel and let it come to room temp for at least one hour.
  • Preheat the oven to 325F (mine was at 350F) as my oven is slow.
  • Put the turkey on the rack in the roasting dish.
  • Massage the turkey all over with the seasoned butter.
  • NOTE: If the turkey is cold and not at room temp, the butter will solidify and be hard to spread so keep that in mind.
  • I like to butter the top, inside the cavity, and I gently loosen up the skin under the breasts and add some in there as well. You don't need to add any under the skin if it's intimidating for you.
  • Once the turkey is buttered, add a whole orange in the cavity.
  • Tuck the wings under so they don't burn (you can tuck them under the rack) and tie the legs with butchers twine.
  • Pour in the 3 cups of water and 1 cup beer (or wine) to the bottom of the baking dish.

Cheesecloth Method

  • In a separate pot on the stove, melt a stick of butter. Add a touch of beer (or wine) and soak the cheesecloth in this goodness.
  • When the cheesecloth is cool enough to handle, place it on top of the turkey making sure to cover it.
  • Place the turkey in a preheated 325F oven and bake making sure to baste every 40 minutes. Basting is optional but ensures a juicy bird.
  • Note: The most reliable way to see if your turkey is thoroughly cooked is by using a meat thermometer. A reading of 180F in the breast and 170F in the thigh means you’re ready to serve the turkey. Some birds come with a pop-up thermometer that pops when it has finished cooking. 
  • Take off the cheesecloth 30-45minutes before the Turkey is done. I lift it up with cooking tongs, baste it and let it get golden for the rest of the time.
  • When the turkey has a reading of 180F in the breast and 170F in the thigh means you’re ready to serve the turkey.
  • Take it out of the oven and let is rest for a minimum of 30 minutes.
  • I like to carve it and soak it in the extra juices from the pan. Enjoy!

Video

Nutrition

Calories: 333kcal, Carbohydrates: 4g, Protein: 1g, Fat: 34g, Saturated Fat: 22g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 9g, Trans Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 91mg, Sodium: 1151mg, Potassium: 75mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 2g, Vitamin A: 1322IU, Vitamin C: 9mg, Calcium: 33mg, Iron: 0.4mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
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Hi! I'm Sneji. Nice to meet you!

I am more commonly known as “The Modern Nonna” on social media where I create easy home cooked meals with a modern twist. I was born and raised in Sofia, Bulgaria and learned how to cook at the best culinary school in the world – my grandma’s kitchen. I lived in Greece on the Island of Crete with my parents for a while and then moved to Toronto, Canada when I was in grade 5. I started to really cook and experiment with food 11 years ago when I was 21 years old. Everything I currently know is a reflection of some part of my life…

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20 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Made this recipe for Thanksgiving and doing it again for Christmas. Absolutely delicious and juicy. I used chicken broth instead of white wine or beer and it was perfect! Everyone loved it!

  2. 5 stars
    This is THE BEST turkey recipe ever!! My turkey was picture perfect and tasted delicious! I will never stray from this recipe. Thank you!!

  3. How long per pound do you cook the Turkey esp if on lower end of scale ie 21 lb vs 20-24 lb per minute. My new oven is wall electric and efficient so tends to cook things fast. Trying to not over cook this year. Thank you !

  4. Hi!

    Do you have a recommendation of where to buy the turkey or what brand to choose? Ideally I will try to get something pre-brined. So many options!!

    1. Hi Jimmy, yes pre-brined is always best but it really depends on your preference and budget. Places like “thebutchershoppe” sell fresh turkeys or you can even check whole foods as well. I have used a pre-brined butterball before as well which was always a hit too! You can’t go wrong with whatever you choose

  5. No offense, but if you cook a turkey until the breast is 180°F, then remove it from the oven, it will be as dry as the bird on Christmas Vacation, no matter the brine technique, how much butter u use, or how many times u baste it (which isn’t necessary & let’s out a lot of heat every 30 mins).
    U can safely remove the bird when the thickest part of the breast is 155-158 & let it sit for at least 30 mins to allow carryover heat to finish cooking it to 165.
    U are guaranteed a juicy bird if u follow the aforementioned Temps & rub the bird all over with flavored butter (esp* under the skin) and cook at 325°F.
    Ever since I started cooking Tgiving turkey, I’ve done it this way & received rave reviews for its juiciness every year.

    1. Thank you for the tips Natalie, we have never had a dry bird but my oven is VERY old and probably weaker than others so it will depend on the oven too.

    1. The only thing I would change is adding a bit more seasoning if needed. Everything else remains the same.

  6. How much of each fresh herb do you add to the butter paste? Is it better to whip the butter and herbs together with a mixer before applying it to the bird?

    1. I don’t add fresh herbs to the butter paste but I like to add them in the crevice of the bird for aroma 🙂 a handful of thyme or sage would be lovely.

    1. Hi Daniele, if the turkey says “seasoned” on it it’s already been brined. Mine was “seasoned”