Roasted turkey is the perfect showstopper for your Thanksgiving holiday spread. It’s made with flavorful aromatics, loads of fresh herbs and an incredible compound butter that takes your turkey to the next level.
I’m extremely excited to share with you this Garlic Butter Roasted Turkey recipe that has been in our family for over 30 years. This is my mother-in-law’s cherished recipe, and she has prepared it countless times. Rest assured, this tried-and-true recipe is sure to become a beloved centerpiece of your Thanksgiving dinner. I’m sure this will pleasure everyone! Believe me!!
I also love that you can make this recipe in only 3 & ½ hours. So, if you’re hosting this year, there’s no need to wake up before the sun in order to prepare this marvelous main course for your guests.
If you’re looking to make roasted turkey for a small number of people and don’t necessarily want to roast a whole bird, consider sizing down with other turkey recipes like my Roasted Turkey Breast, Roasted Turkey Leg or mouthwatering Garlic Butter Turkey Breast.
Ingredients To Make Roasted Turkey
- Whole Turkey — Purchase a 12-to-18-pound turkey depending on number of guests.
- Onions — You’ll need two onions, white or yellow will both work well.
- Citrus — I like using lemon as an aromatic, it adds amazing, bright flavor to the turkey. You can also use an orange!
- Herbs — Classic thanksgiving flavors come from fresh rosemary, thyme and sage leaves.
- Other veggies — Celery and carrots are my go to, but you can use other veggies if preferred.
- Garlic — Mince up a handful of fresh cloves and mix into your butter, you can also use a jar of pre-minced garlic to save a bit of time if desired.
- Seasonings — I keep things simple with a blend of salt and pepper.
- Butter — Unsalted is preferable, though salted can work in a pinch if you simply reduce added salt seasoning.
Instructions to Make Roasted Turkey
- Begin by preheating your oven to 325°F (163°C). Place oven rack in the lower part of your oven.
- Removed thawed turkey from the fridge and take the giblets, neck and gravy packet (if one was included) out of the turkey cavity.
- Use paper towels to pat the turkey dry, inside and out, then thoroughly season both the inside cavity and outside of the bird with salt and pepper. Tuck the wings of the turkey underneath the turkey.
- Fill the turkey cavity with peeled and quartered onion, quartered lemon and fresh herbs.
- Now make your compound butter because this is the star of your roasted turkey! Measure unsalted butter, fresh minced garlic, finely chopped rosemary/thyme and some salt and pepper into a small bowl and mix until smooth.
Add butter and bake:
- Start at the turkey cavity, and very gently work your hand or a spoon between the skin of the turkey and the breast meat. Work slowly and carefully to avoid tearing the skin.
- Generously spread compound butter (butter mixture) onto both turkey breasts under the loosened skin, reserve about a quarter of your herb butter and rub it all over the outside of the turkey. Then, add some extra salt and pepper to the outside as well.
- Get out your roasting pan and fill the bottom with chopped onion, celery and carrots to create a bed for your Turkey to lay on while it bakes. I didn’t use a roasting rack for this recipe because the vegetables serve that purpose, but if you prefer, you can definitely use one.
- Place turkey breast-side up atop veggies, cover loosely with foil and place in the preheated oven.
- Bake until an internal temperature of 160°F is reached at the thickest part of the thigh, and for the final 30 minutes of roasting time, remove foil for a golden-brown and crispy exterior. Exact roasting time will vary depending on the size of your turkey and the strength of your oven, mine took 3 hours!
ps: because we added the compound butter under the turkey skin, basting is unnecessary for this roasted turkey recipe. Also, brining is not required either.
Rest then serve!
- Remove garlic butter roasted turkey from the oven, then tent with foil and rest 30 mins.
- Meat temperature should continue to rise for a brief period and should reach a final internal temp of 165°F. Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature. This roasted turkey recipes should be tender and juicy.
- Carve, serve and enjoy. Happy Thanksgiving!
- How big should your turkey be? One and a half pounds per guest is generally recommended. So, if you’re having 8 guests, you’d want a 12-pound turkey (8 x 1.5 = 12)!
- When adding compound butter to the turkey breast, it’s best if the skin stays intact and doesn’t tear. Skin holds the butter in place, allowing it to bake into the breast meat. Be patient and work very slowly when loosening the skin to avoid tears.
- Turkey often comes frozen from the grocery store and needs to be fully thawed before roasting. Instructions for proper thawing can be found on store packaging! Keep in mind that it can take multiple days for your bird to thaw completely, so be sure to plan accordingly.
- Rest after roasting is super important. You don’t want to dive right in and carve your turkey immediately as rest time will give the juices a chance to re-distribute throughout the meat, making it extra juicy.
- If you plan to use the drippings for gravy, transfer the roasted turkey from the pan to a cutting board and cover it with foil while it rests. If you don’t need the drippings, you can simply leave the turkey in the pan and tent it with foil.
How To Store Leftovers
To Store: Allow leftovers to cool and carve remaining meat away from the bones, then place meat in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 to 4 days.
Freezer Instructions: Place leftover meat in an airtight, freezer-safe container or bag and store frozen for up to 6 months!
To Reheat: I typically reheat leftover roasted turkey in the microwave and have often found that covering it with a damp paper towel restores moisture. Spoon a little warm gravy on top and it’ll taste as fresh as it did on Thanksgiving!
What To Serve With Roasted Turkey
- Potatoes: Potatoes pair perfectly with turkey (and gravy of course)! Make classic creamy mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, cheesy potatoes au gratin or my sweet potato casserole with brown sugar topping. Need to save stovetop space? Try Instant Pot mashed potatoes.
- Any kind of bread! Crunchy garlic bread or low-carb dinner rolls and garlic butter are the perfect accompaniment for your Thanksgiving turkey.
- Veggie casserole: Make some traditional, holiday veggie casseroles to go with your main course such as my healthier green bean casserole, parmesan roasted Brussel sprouts or creamy cauliflower casserole.
- Other holiday classics: Don’t forget the homemade cranberry orange sauce, gluten-free cornbread recipe, baked brie, turkey gravy or sausage stuffing!
- Salads: Arugula salad, red cabbage salad or brussels sprouts and bacon salad are light sides that pair well with roasted turkey.
Compound butter: For this roasted turkey recipe I use a compound butter made with garlic, salt, pepper, fresh rosemary and fresh thyme. Feel free to use other mix-ins in your butter to create different flavor profiles! Try including different herbs like parsley or oregano. You can also add alternate seasonings or citrus zest.
Stuffing/Aromatics: There are lots of fabulous aromatics you can stuff your roasted turkey cavity with. Try playing around with some other options if you want! Think apples, oranges, lime, grapefruit, different spices, fennel or even ginger root.
Veggies: I use onion, carrots and celery to create a bed of veggies for my roasted turkey to roast on. Try some other options like turnips, leeks, or parsnips if desired.
Chicken: You can totally make this recipe with a whole chicken.
Frequently Asked Questions
The time it takes for a frozen turkey to thaw depends on its weight. As a general guideline, allow approximately 24 hours of thawing time in the refrigerator for every 4-5 pounds of turkey. For a more precise estimate, it’s recommended to check the packaging or label for specific thawing instructions.
To safely thaw a frozen turkey, place it in the refrigerator on a tray to catch any drips and allow approximately 24 hours of thawing time for every 4-5 pounds of turkey. Alternatively, you can use the cold water thawing method by submerging the turkey in a leak-proof plastic bag in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes. This method takes about 30 minutes per pound.
You can truss your turkey if you want, but it’s really up to personal preference. Tying the legs together can help keep the meat around them from drying out, but leaving them un-tied can create more areas with crispy skin!
You don’t need to baste your turkey! In fact, continuously opening the oven to do so will increase baking time and ultimately dry your turkey out. Don’t worry, the meat will be plenty flavorful from the aromatics, seasonings and compound butter.
It’s not necessary to add water to the bottom of your roasting pan. The veggies will provide plenty of moisture!
Watch the Garlic Butter Roasted turkey Web Stories.
For the turkey:
- 12 to 18 pound turkey fully thawed
- 1 onion peeled and quartered
- 1 lemon quartered
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 sprigs fresh sage
- kosher salt and black pepper
For the herb butter
For the vegetables under the turkey
- 1 onion peeled and quartered
- 3 ribs celery roughly chopped
- 3 carrots roughly chopped
- Preheat your oven to 325°F (163°C).
- Remove the giblets from the turkey's cavity and pat it dry with paper towels. Season the inside of the turkey with kosher salt and black pepper. Stuff it with the quartered onion, lemon, and fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, and sage).
- In a mixing bowl, combine unsalted butter, minced garlic, finely chopped rosemary and thyme, and salt and black pepper. Mix well.
- Carefully separate the skin from the turkey breast by gently sliding your fingers or spoon between the skin and the meat. Spread a generous amount of the herb butter under the skin of the turkey breast. This will help keep the breast meat moist and flavorful. Then, spread the remaining herb butter all over the entire outside of the turkey. Season the outside of the turkey with additional salt and black pepper to taste.
- In the bottom of a roasting pan, place the quartered onion, chopped celery, and chopped carrots. These will serve as a flavorful bed for the turkey.
- Place the seasoned turkey on top of the bed of vegetables in the roasting pan. Cover the turkey loosely with aluminum foil and transfer it to the preheated oven. Roast until the internal temperature of the turkey reaches 160°F in the thickest part of the thigh; it will continue to rise to 165°F as it rests outside the oven. The exact cooking time depends on the size of your turkey; for reference, mine took 3 hours. During the final 30 minutes, remove the foil to allow the turkey to achieve that desirable golden brown color.
- Once the turkey is done, remove it from the oven, tent it with foil, and allow it to rest for at least 30 minutes. This allows the juices to redistribute, resulting in a moist and flavorful turkey. Then, carve the turkey and serve it with your favorite Thanksgiving side dishes.
- I recommend purchasing 1 & 1/2 pounds of turkey per guest. For 8 people, you’d want want a 12-pound turkey (8 x 1.5 = 12)!
- Be patient and work very slowly when loosening the skin over the breast meat for compound butter. Try to avoid tears.
- It can take multiple days for a turkey to fully thaw in the refrigerator, so be sure to plan accordingly.
- Be sure to let your turkey rest before carving for extra juicy meat!
- To Store: Allow leftovers to cool. Carve remaining meat from the bone and place in an airtight container. Refrigerate for up to 3 to 4 days.
- To Freeze: Place leftover meat in an airtight, freezer-safe container or bag and store frozen for up to 6 months!
- To Reheat: I typically reheat leftover turkey in the microwave and have often found that covering it with a damp paper towel restores moisture.
Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.