Cooking a Turkey is easier than ever! Follow my simple recipe for preparing and roasting a delicious and juicy Thanksgiving Turkey that will impress the whole family!
This recipe is made with a lemon butter injection marinade that gets deep in the turkey for moist and flavorful meat. Topped with a simple dry rub and a few other tricks for crispy skin and a tender and juicy bird!
Taking on the role of host or hostess at Thanksgiving can feel a little daunting, especially since it usually means you’re the one in charge of cooking the turkey.
However, it’s actually really easy to make a juicy, flavorful, and perfect turkey. It’s a multi-step process and you’ll need a few uncommon kitchen tools, but I promise you, even the most unskilled home cook can pull off this amazing turkey recipe!
Lemon Turkey Ingredients
This turkey recipe really makes a statement with bright lemon flavor. It’s not overpowering but adds acid and vibrance to what might be considered a “basic” herb-roasted turkey.
Injection Marinade: Unlike my Turkey Brine Recipe (which I also highly recommend if you plan ahead) this liquid mixture of chicken stock, butter, lemon juice, onion powder, pepper, and salt gets injected directly into the turkey.
Turkey Rub: This is a simple combination of salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder that gets rubbed all over the skin before roasting.
Filling: Skip the stuffing and opt for a dressing on the side. Then fill the turkey with halved lemons, apples, onion, thyme, sage, and rosemary. These add additional fall flavor and keep the turkey tender.
Tools Needed For Roasting A Turkey
Roasting Pan: When you’re cooking a 14lb+ turkey, you’re going to need a roasting pan. I highly recommend getting one with a roasting rack insert.
This means the heat in the oven can circulate around the entire bird for a more even cook. It also means that the turkey won’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Plus it will be easier to transfer to a turkey platter.
Meat Injector Syringe: You will need a large kitchen syringe for the injection marinade. I found one at my local grocery store, so while they’re a little uncommon, they shouldn’t be too hard to find.
You can set the temperature you want the meat to cook to and it will go off when it reaches that point. It also has a ton of other features. But using a probe thermometer will ensure that you don’t end up with a dry and overcooked turkey.
Turkey Lifters: After cooking, the turkey is going to be hot, juicy, and heavy so it’s best to use a set of turkey lifters to transfer it from the roasting pan to the serving platter.
Carving Set: Having a proper carving set for cutting the turkey will mean nice clean cuts for serving.
These sets can be really expensive, so if you don’t have one, ask a relative if you can borrow theirs before making the investment. Unless you’re going to be hosting year after year!
Aluminum Foil: I know it sounds basic, but it’s necessary. This trick from Alton Brown allows the skin to crisp up but prevents the turkey breast from overcooking while the rest is still getting up to temperature.
Best Way To Cook A Turkey
Even though there are tons of ways to cook it, the most common is by cooking a turkey in the oven. That’s the method used in this recipe and it’s pretty easy to follow.
1. Prepare the turkey by removing the neck and giblets from the cavity of the bird. Hold onto the giblets if you want to make giblet gravy.
2. Make the injection marinade by melting the butter with the chicken stock and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Whisk in the onion powder, black pepper, white pepper, and salt.
Then inject the marinade into the thickest parts of the thighs, legs, and breasts. Check out this video for a walkthrough on how to inject a turkey.
3. Marinate the turkey overnight for best results, but the turkey can be cooked in as little as 2 hours after marinating.
4. Rest the turkey at room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes before roasting. You can continue with the other preparations while it’s resting.
5. Stuff the cavity with apples, lemons, onion, sage, rosemary, and thyme.
6. Pat the turkey dry with a paper towel and then combine the onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and pepper and rub on the skin.
7. Tuck the wings under the turkey (if you remember, I don’t always).
8. Transfer the turkey to the rack in the roasting pan and roast at 450 degrees for 30 minutes.
9. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F and insert the probe thermometer into the thickest part of the breast. Then place a double layer of aluminum foil over the breast of the bird and continue to cook until the turkey reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees F.
10. Remove the turkey from the oven and allow it to rest for 30 minutes before carving.
The reason I only recommend cooking until it reaches 160 degrees F and not 165 is that the turkey will continue to cook after it is removed from the oven. By the time the resting period is over, the meat should be 165 degrees F. Doing this prevents the turkey from being overcooked.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need to brine my turkey?
No, not with this recipe. Brining is still my favorite way to prepare a turkey, but it takes a lot of preparation and time to do it right.
This recipe gets similar results in less time and you don’t need to have a huge container to submerge a giant turkey in.
While some recommend it, I personally wouldn’t do both a brine and marinade because I think the turkey can become too salty and watery.
How long do I marinade a turkey?
With an injection marinade, it’s best if you can let it sit in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours after injecting. But if you let it sit for at least 2 hours, you’ll still get a delicious turkey.
How do I thaw a frozen turkey?
If you’re starting with a frozen turkey, the easiest and safest way to thaw it is in the refrigerator. You’ll need 24 hours for every 4 to 5lbs.
If you don’t have that kind of time, you can thaw it in the sink. Fill the sink 1/3 to 1/2 way with COLD water and place the turkey in it. Change out the water every 30 minutes. It will take about 30 minutes for every 1lb. DO NOT run it under warm or hot water.
How long does a turkey take to cook?
Cooking times can vary depending on the starting temperature of the turkey, the recipe method, and your oven. And don’t forget to account for prep and rest time on both ends of roasting. But the general rule is 20 minutes per pound.
Can leftover turkey be frozen?
Absolutely! After cooling, package up any leftover turkey into freezer bags and squeeze out any excess air before freezing.
How much turkey per person?
The general rule is 1 pound per person, but I think aiming for 1 1/2 pounds per person is best because it means you’ll have a couple of days of Thanksgiving leftovers! Here are some size recommendations to guide you:
- 8 people = 12-pound turkey
- 10 people = 15-pound turkey
- 12 people = 18-pound turkey
- 14 people = 20-pound turkey
- Don’t stuff your turkey! Instead, opt for a dressing that is cooked in its own baking dish. Adding the stuffing to the cavity of the turkey usually means your stuffing is underdone or the turkey is overdone.
- Don’t rinse your turkey! The FDA recommends that you avoid rinsing any meat before cooking as it can spread bacteria around the kitchen.
- Start with high heat! Start cooking the turkey at a higher temperature to encourage a crispy skin and juicy meat. This recipe cooks at 450 degrees F for the first 30 minutes and then is reduced to 350 degrees F until done.
- Add more flavor! This recipe is already super flavorful, but if you REALLY love that buttery taste, you can use my herb butter recipe to rub between the skin and meat of the turkey.
- Only cook to 160 degrees F! Okay, hear me out! The turkey is considered done at 165 degrees F, however, the turkey also needs to rest for about 30 to 45 minutes before serving so all of the juices redistribute. During that time, the turkey will actually continue cooking which leads to an overdone bird. But pulling the turkey out of the oven at 160 degrees F, it should reach 165 degrees F about 20 to 30 minutes after being removed from the oven.
How To Serve Turkey
I like to create a beautiful presentation by arranging cranberries, lemon slices, and fresh herbs on the platter around the turkey. I recommend placing the turkey on the table whole and carving it there so it doesn’t get cold or lose a lot of juice before serving.
For Turkey Day, we like to go all out with the side dishes, they’re actually my favorite part of the meal! I’m a big fan of Corn Casserole, Mashed Potatoes, and Candied Yams! And don’t forget the Dinner Rolls! Gravy and Cranberry Sauce are also a MUST!
So there you have it, all my tips and tricks for making the perfect Roasted Thanksgiving Turkey! You can grab the full printable recipe below and I hope you all have a wonderful holiday!
And if you’re in the United States and plan on doing some online Black Friday shopping, join my Sweet Deals Group on Facebook!
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Roasted Thanksgiving Turkey
- Roasting Pan
- Meat Injector Syringe
- Kitchen Probe Thermometer
- Turkey Lifters
- Carving Set
- Aluminum Foil
- 1 (12-25lb) whole turkey fresh or thawed
- 2 lemons halved
- 2 granny smith apples quartered
- 1 large white onion quartered
- 15 fresh thyme sprigs
- 10 fresh rosemary sprigs
- 10 fresh sage sprigs
- Lemon sliced
- Make sure that your turkey is fully thawed if using a frozen turkey.
- Remove the neck and giblet from the turkey.
- Add the chicken stock, butter, lemon juice, salt, peppers, and onion powder to a small saucepan and cook over medium-low heat until the butter has melted, do not boil. Allow the marinade to cool in the pan for about 15 to 20 minutes. You want it to cool down enough so it doesn't start cooking parts of the turkey but still be liquid enough to inject.
- Use a large kitchen injector to inject the marinade into the thickest parts of the breasts, thighs, and legs of the turkey. Add the marinade until it starts to flow back over the top of the skin.
- Place the turkey in a large pan or bowl covered with plastic wrap or in a turkey bag to marinade. Marinate for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours for the best results. Marinating for 12 to 24 will give the best flavor.
- Pull the turkey out of the refrigerator to rest for 1 hour, during that time, finish the prep work by beginning stuffing the cavity full of the lemons, apples, onion, and herbs.
- Pat the turkey down with a paper towel to remove any excess moisture on the skin.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder. Then use your hands to rub the mixture all over the skin of the turkey.
- Preheat the oven to 450°F and place a roasting rack in a roasting pan.
- Transfer the prepared turkey onto the roasting rack and cook in the preheated oven for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, reduce the heat to 350°F and remove the turkey from the oven.
- Insert the probe thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey breast and cover the breast of the turkey with a double layer of aluminum foil.
- Place the turkey back in the oven and cook until the internal temperature reaches 160°F.
- Remove from the oven and allow the turkey to rest for 30 to 40 minutes so the juices redistribute. During this resting period, the internal temperature should rise to 165°F.
- After resting, carve the turkey and enjoy.
- This recipe makes enough for a turkey between 12 and 25lbs. You may have some injection marinade leftover depending on the size and how much marinade the turkey will hold.
- Opt for a dressing that is cooked in its own baking dish. Adding the stuffing to the cavity of the turkey usually means your stuffing is underdone or the turkey if overdone.
- The FDA recommends that you avoid rinsing any meat before cooking as it can spread bacteria around the kitchen.
- Start cooking the turkey at a higher temperature to encourage a crispy skin and juicy meat. This recipe cooks at 450 degrees F for the first 30 minutes and then is reduced to 350 degrees F until done.
- This recipe is already super flavorful, but if you REALLY love that buttery taste, you can use my herb butter recipe to rub between the skin and meat of the turkey.
- The turkey is considered done at 165 degrees F, however, the turkey also needs to rest for about 30 to 45 minutes before serving so all of the juices redistribute. During that time, the turkey will actually continue cooking which leads to an overdone bird. But pulling the turkey out of the oven at 160 degrees F, it should reach 165 degrees F about 20 to 30 minutes after being removed from the oven.