The bay leaf-black pepper dry rub on this roasted turkey is truly the Best Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe I’ve ever made. This recipe will walk you step-by-step on how to make the turkey for your Thanksgiving dinner absolute perfection.
If you’ve never cooked a turkey before, this recipe is for you. If you’ve cooked hundreds of turkeys, this recipe is still for you.
Like all good recipes it relies on the same basic techniques for cooking a turkey but also contains a few hidden gems of wisdom that even the most accomplished cooks might not know.
It uses a dry-brine method (far superior to a wet brine any day of the week), a tip for getting crispy skin and a roasting and carving method that will make your Thanksgiving significantly less stressful.
It’s already starting to sound like the best, right?! You are going to make this every year. I certainly do.
Ingredients For Making the Best Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe
One of the best things about this recipe, is the short ingredients list. Plus no butter makes this a dairy-free turkey which is a plus for some of us. That being said, if you want to use butter instead of the olive oil, go for it.
- Kosher salt. I always use Morton Kosher Salt unless otherwise specified.
- Dried bay leaves
- 12-16 pound fresh or thawed turkey. I don’t have any specifics here other than, buy the best turkey you can afford and stay away from ones that are pre-brined.
- Freshly ground black pepper. This recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of ground black pepper. Don’t use the pre-ground stuff, use a coffee or spice grinder instead.
- Dry white wine
- Olive oil
- A head of garlic
- Fresh herbs like thyme, sage, or whatever you have already bought to prepare the rest of the meal.
- Wire rack
- Rimmed baking sheet
- Roasting pan with rack
- Instant-read meat thermometer
- Cutting board with a moat
- Quart-sized liquid measuring cup
How To Make The Best Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe
Okay, here we go. You ready for this? Yes! Yes you are!
Make the salt rub. This is the plan-ahead step: 24-48 hours in advance you need to brine the turkey. I like to give it 48 hours but 24 hours in advance in fine if you forgot or your turkey wasn’t thawed yet.
Crush 10 dried bay leaves and place them in a small bowl. Add the salt and pepper and mix together.
Prep the turkey. Place the completely thawed turkey on a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. Pour off any excess juices. Remove the giblets (the bagged heart, kidneys and liver, and the neck) from the cavity. Save these for making stock and gravy. Pat the turkey dry inside and out with paper towels. If the wings are not tucked behind the turkey’s back do that now. This exposes, what I like to call, the turkey’s triceps so they brown evenly.
Brine the turkey. Rub the salt mixture all over the turkey, inside and out, back and front. You don’t need to worry about getting it under the skin though. Place the turkey, uncovered, in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours and up to 48 hours in advance.
Remove the turkey from the refrigerator. Take the turkey out of the refrigerator an hour before you plan on roasting it and let it sit at room temperature. Heat oven to 325°F and arrange rack to the bottom of the oven.
Make the basting elixir. Combine 1/2 cup olive oil, the white wine, and 4 more bay leaves in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer, remove from the heat but keep near the oven.
Prep the turkey for roasting. Transfer turkey to a rack inside a roasting pan. You don’t need to rinse off the brine. Drizzle with a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Don’t brush it on or you’ll lose a lot of the bay leaf and pepper. Stuff the cavity with onion, garlic, and herbs. Tie the legs together if they aren’t already. If you have extra aromatics like onion, carrots, celery, etc. you can scatter those into the bottom of the roasting pan, this will flavor the pan drippings.
Roast the turkey. Place the turkey into the oven and roast for 30 minutes. Spoon some of the basting liquid over the top of the turkey and the legs and return to the oven, rotating the pan. Continue basting and rotating every 30 minutes for 3 hours or until the temperature on an instant read thermometer reaches 165°F. If you run out of basting elixir just use the juices from the bottom of the pan.
Let it rest. Remove the turkey from the oven and let it rest at least 15 minutes and up to 30 minutes before carving.
Carve. Before you ever carve a turkey make sure you transfer it to a cutting board with a moat to collect the juices. Remove the breast meat as a whole piece then slice the turkey breast into individual slices. Remove the thigh and drumstick as two whole pieces. Slice the thigh meat and leave the drumstick whole or slice that as well if large.
Serve! Arrange all the pieces on a warm platter, spoon up any sauce from the cutting board and spoon over the turkey and serve with Whiskey Cream Gravy or make a simple gravy from the drippings.
How To Make A Simple Gravy
To make a simple gravy from the pan drippings, pour all the juices from the roasting pan through a fine mesh strainer into a 4-cup-sized heatproof liquid measuring cup. You should have 4 cups, add more turkey or chicken stock to make 4 cups if it is under.
Melt 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter or 1/4 cup of oil in a medium saucepan. Add 1/4 cup of all purpose flour and whisk until combined. Keep whisking for a few minutes to give the flour a chance to brown slightly. Slowly add the liquid little by little while whisking. It will be clumpy at first and then get smooth as you go, just keep whisking.
The gravy will be thin at first but will thicken up as it simmers. Now you can flavor it with a bit of sage or thyme, maybe a spoonful of Dijon mustard, or even a splash of wine. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your liking. Let simmer until it is as thick as you’d like it.
Why This Is The Best Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe
- It produces a super flavorful and juicy turkey without being overly complicated. Simple ingredients list, delicious bird!
- Dry-brining and leaving to cure in the refrigerator uncovered, results in shatteringly crisp skin.
- The flavor is tasty without being overpowering. Bay leaf and black pepper go seamlessly with everything else on the table.
- You can even make it ahead! See below for more on that.
I promised tips and I deliver.
- The best tip I can give you is to roast and carve the turkey up to a day in advance. Everyone always leaves carving the turkey and making the turkey gravy for the very end but that’s actually the worst time to make it. Make the turkey all the way through, carve it then put the pieces back in the roasting pan, add a bit of turkey stock or chicken broth, cover and refrigerate until you’re almost ready to eat. Rewarm for 30 minutes at 400°F right before dinner, arrange on a platter and serve.
- The meat thermometer is your best friend. Don’t rely on that thing that pops up on the breast to know when the turkey is done. Insert the thermometer where the breast meets the thigh but without hitting any bone. It should read 165°F.
- Don’t buy a gigantic turkey. If you are feeding a lot of people opt for two smaller turkeys instead of one large one. The meat gets tougher the larger the bird. I like to have leftovers so I also figure 1 1/2 pounds of turkey per person.
- Make sure that turkey is thawed! If using a frozen turkey it must be thawed completely before roasting. I like to have my frozen turkey thawing in the refrigerator starting the Saturday or Sunday before Thanksgiving to give it plenty of time.
More Thanksgiving Recipes To Try!
- The Best Garlicky Broccolini Recipe (simple and goes with everything)
- Brown Rice with Scallions and Dried Cranberries (soaks up all the gravy)
- Old Fashioned Apple Pie (a classic)
- Soft Pumpkin Cookies with Walnuts (like pumpkin pie but so much easier)
- Garlic Mashed Potatoes with Spanish Chorizo (from our sister site, ¡Hola! Jalapeño)
- Butternut, Kale, and Walnut Stuffing (another favorite from HJ)
- No-Bake Pumpkin Chipotle Cheesecake (an awesome make-ahead dessert)
Relax. Turkey Will Be Perfect This Year
Just follow this recipe! When you try them, let me know how it goes by snapping a pic and tagging me on Instagram @katesbestrecipes so I can see or leave me a comment below (don’t forget to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating)!
The Best Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe
- 1 Rimmed Baking Sheet
- 1 Instant Read Meat Thermometer
- 1 Cutting Board with Moat
- 1 Quart-Sized Liquid Measuring Cup
- 2/3 cup kosher salt
- 1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
- 14 dried bay leaves 10 crushed, 4 left whole
- 1 whole fresh or thawed frozen turkey (12-16 pounds), neck and giblets removed
- 3/4 cup olive oil divided
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1-2 cups aromatics like onion, garlic, celery leaves, fresh herbs, etc. For stuffing inside the turkey
- Brine the turkey. Combine kosher salt, black pepper and crushed bay leaves in a small bowl. Remove turkey neck and giblets (the package of heart, liver, and kidneys) and save for making gravy. If the legs are being held together with plastic, cut that off and remove. Pat inside and outside of the turkey dry with paper towels.If the wings are not tucked behind the turkey's back do that now. Set turkey on a baking sheet lined with a rack. Rub the salt mixture all over the turkey, inside and out, back and front. You don't need to worry about getting it under the skin though. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 24 hours and up to 48 hours.
- Make the basting elixir. Remove turkey from refrigerator 1 hour before roasting. Combine 1/2 cup of the olive oil, wine and whole bay leaves in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Prep turkey for roasting. Heat oven to 325°F and arrange rack in the lowest position. Drizzle remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil all over turkey. Stuff turkey cavity with some aromatics this can be whatever you have that you are already prepping. Celery leaves, fresh herbs, a head of garlic, onion, just something to perfume the inside of the turkey. Place turkey in a rack set over a roasting pan and tie legs together with twine.
- Roast turkey. Place turkey, legs first into the oven (if it will fit this way. If not, just put it in sideways and make sure to rotate from side to side). Roast for 30 minutes, then spoon the basting elixir over the top and legs, rotate pan and return to oven. Continue rotating pan and basting every 30 minutes, for 3 hours or until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh without touching any bone reads 165°F. The cooking time will vary depending on the size of the turkey. If it is a little less than 165°F, that's okay it will continue to cook after you take it out of the oven.
- Let rest. Remove from oven and let sit 30 minutes before carving.
- Carve. Before you ever carve a turkey make sure you transfer it to a cutting board with a moat to collect the juices. Remove the breast meat as a whole piece then slice the turkey breast into individual slices. Remove the thigh and drumstick as two whole pieces. Slice the thigh meat and leave the drumstick whole or slice that as well if large.
- Serve! Arrange all the pieces on a warm platter, spoon up any sauce from the cutting board and spoon over the turkey and serve.