Easy, super tender, and juicy turkey with crisp skin, perfectly roasted meat, and a simple, ridiculously flavorful pan gravy. Press the easy button this holiday season with a turkey that requires no basting and simple prep!
Did you know the centerpiece of the holiday meal can be an almost 'set it and forget experience? Yes, yes, yes! It can. It just takes a few steps of prep.
The simplicity and the flavor of an herb butter turkey is the reason it's my favorite way to cook a turkey. It's true, I'm also a fan of brining the turkey, this apple cider brine is my favorite because it adds so much flavor to the meat, but it's a lot of work. There are bags or buckets and lots of liquid.
For this herb butter turkey, we're salting it the night before, wrapping it, unwrapping, buttering, and roasting. That's it!
Here are the major points of why this bird stands out:
- no basting - keep that oven door closed!
- parsley thyme butter flavors without overpowering
- overnight salting will tenderize the meat and pull moisture from the skin
- apple cider and organ meat in roasting pan add richness and sweetness to pan gravy
- high heat searing followed by medium heat roasting creates crispy skin and evenly roasted bird
So if this is your first turkey or your 50th, the butter method is going to be a great solution so you can focus your time on finishing sides and enjoying entertaining friends and family. Or hiding from them...whatever fits into your holiday plan.
How to make herb butter roasted turkey
Step 1. Throw your baster in the trash. Kidding, they have other uses in the kitchen, like skimming fat from gravy. But seriously, you don't need it for this.
Prepping your turkey the night before cooking
The day before cooking is a great time to make sure that your turkey is defrosted. Depending on the size of the bird it can take 3 to 6 days to defrost in the fridge.
The night before you're going to cook, unwrap the turkey and pat dry with paper towels. You can either leave the giblets inside the cavity or take them out, but either way, you'll want to save them for roasting.
Tip: If the cavity is still a little frosty, remove the giblets and neck.
Salt the entire turkey generously with salt and pepper. Wrap in plastic wrap and store in a roasting pan in the fridge overnight.
Do you have to salt it the night before?
Can you skip this step and still have a beautifully roasted turkey? Sure, but the preseasoning the night before gives it time to tenderize the meat and pull moisture from the skin, leading to crispy bliss.
Prepping your turkey the day of cooking
Remove the plastic wrap, pat dry (again), season with salt (again) and pepper, and make your turkey armor.
No really. Take a piece of foil, mold it over the breast and wings with the shiny side up. Spray the not-shiny side of the foil with cooking spray and set aside.
Now you're going to do the creepy part. Just under the skin, between the breast meat and the skin you can slip your hand in there and separate the two just slightly. Be gentle so you don't rip the skin. You need enough space that you'll be able to rub some of the herb butter onto the breast meat.
If that option is getting a little too up close and personal with your turkey, you can wear gloves or skip that step. The point is to add moisture and fat to the leanest meat on the roast by putting some under the skin.
Let's butter up
Chop the herbs, blend with butter. Easy peasy. The food processor is the easiest way to get it done, but you can definitely do it with a knife and a cutting board if that's what you have.
Tip: grease your hands first or use gloves to spread the butter.
Time to rub the bird! After rubbing some of the herb butter under the skin, use the rest liberally on the breast, wings, and legs.
How to roast an herb butter turkey
High heat, naked. Medium heat, covered. Then move on to the panic cleaning before anyone comes over. Granted, in 2020 that's not really a problem.
While the turkey cooks, here are some great things to start working on.
- sides that can be prepped
- slow cooker or instant pot side dishes
- make a cheeseboard appetizer
- put the salad together
- set the table
- open the wine
Once the turkey reads 161°F in the deepest part of the breast and 181°F in the thigh, take it out and let it rest. Cover it with foil keep it warm.
Normally, the cooking temperature for poultry is 165°F but the turkey will continue to cook as it rests.
Other tips for roasting turkey
The amount of liquid you need in the pan will vary depending on the size of your turkey. The larger the turkey, the longer the cooking time. Check the pan about ¾ of the way through cooking to make sure there is liquid. If the liquid is low, add more turkey stock or water.
Because of the high heat roasting for the first 40 minutes, I adjusted the per pound roasting time to about 11 minutes per pound at 350°F.
Keep the oven door closed! The more it opens, the more heat escapes, the longer it takes to cook.
Using a digital thermometer is the way to go! Something you can leave in the turkey and run the wire outside the oven. That way you're not constantly opening the oven to check the temperature.
Is the turkey done early? Don't sweat it! Let it rest under foil. This can also give you time to carve it early so it's ready to go.
You can always cook your turkey in advance and reheat if you want to really relax with your company. Keep some extra turkey stock on hand and reheat the sliced turkey in a little turkey stock in a roasting pan.
And that's it! It's time to put on those roomy pants of yours and start that Thanksgiving vision board. Whether it's the perfect fluffy mashed potatoes, creamy parsnips, cranberry sauce, homemade brown bread, or savory stuffing - just make it homey and from the heart, it'll go great!
Be sure to leave a comment below with your thanksgiving must-haves! If you made this recipe leave a comment and a rating! I love to hear your feedback!
Herb Butter Turkey with Pan Gravy
- 16 to 20- pound turkey
- 1 cup packed parsley leaves (plus extra for inside the turkey)
- 15 to 20 thyme sprigs (plus extra for inside the turkey)
- ½ cup unsalted butter (softened)
- 1 yellow onion (halved)
- 1 medium carrot (cut in half)
- 1 celery rib (cut in half)
- 1 head garlic (halved)
- 1 lemon (quartered)
- 1 ½ to 2 quarts turkey stock
- 1 cup apple cider
- optional: save the giblets for the pan
- salt and pepper
- plastic wrap
- aluminum foil
- cooking spray
- roasting pan with rack
For the pan gravy
- 2 cups drippings from the pan (strained, fat skimmed)
- 2 cups low sodium turkey stock
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- Night before prep. This step is optional but does help in making a tender turkey with crispy skin. The night before cooking, remove the turkey from the packaging, pat dry all over, and season generously with salt. Wrap with saran wrap, place in a roasting pan in the fridge overnight.
- Prep the foil. Take the turkey out of the fridge 2 hours before cooking and let it sit at room temperature. Unwrap the turkey and pat dry. Take a large enough piece of aluminum foil to fit over the breast and wings of the turkey. Mold it to fit over the breast, shiny side up. Remove, spray the not shiny side with cooking spray, and set aside.
- Make the herb butter. On the day of cooking, make the herb butter. Remove the thyme leaves from the springs and cut the stems off the parsley. Pulse in a food processor until chopped. Add the butter and blend on low until combined.
- Prep the turkey. Preheat the oven 450°F and transfer the rack to the lowest setting. Season the turkey with salt and pepper all over. Using clean hands (or you can wear gloves) separate the skin from the breast of the turkey, going slow so as not to break the skin. You just want a small enough space to fit your hand. Rub about 2 tablespoons under the skin on both sides of the breast of the turkey. Rub the remaining herb butter into the breast skin and on top of the legs and wings.
- Stuff the turkey. Inside the cavity of the turkey, add the celery, carrots, a small bunch of parsley and thyme sprigs, half the garlic, half the onion, and two quarters of the lemon. Tie the leg bones together.
- Prep the pan liquid. Add the remaining onion, garlic, and lemon to the bottom of the roasting pan with the reserved organ meat and neck. Pour the apple cider and turkey stock into the roasting pan. The total amount of liquid you need will vary depending on the size of your turkey since the roasting times are different and the liquid will reduce as it cooks. A smaller turkey will need 1 to 1 ½ quarts, where a large turkey will need 2 quarts.
- Cook the turkey. Place the rack in the roasting pan and the turkey on the rack breast side up. Cook the turkey for 40 minutes at 450°F. Reduce the heat to 350°F and place the greased foil over the breast. Cook for 11 minutes per pound, about 2 to 4 hours depending on the size of your turkey. The thickest part of the breast should read 161°F and the thigh 181°F, the turkey will continue to cook as it rests.
- Rest and slice. Transfer the turkey to a cutting board and cover completely with foil. Let rest 20 to 30 minutes before carving, which will give you time to reheat and/or finish side dishes and gravy.
- Make the pan gravy. Strain 2 cups of the pan drippings into a saucepan, skim the fat from the gravy using a turkey baster or slices of bread - just lay the bread on top of the drippings for about 10 seconds, flip and repeat until the bread starts to soak up the drippings. Remove about ½ cup drippings to a bowl. Whisk in the flour until it makes a clump-free paste. Slowly add more drippings or stock until it becomes a smooth slurry. Add the slurry to the saucepan and whisk in 2 cups chicken or turkey stock. Bring to a slow boil over medium-high heat, whisking occasionally. Once the gravy is thickened and bubbling, turn off the heat and transfer to a serving dish.
- An alternative to the aluminum foil turkey shield, you can use a stock soaked cheesecloth.
- The 11-minute per pound total time estimate starts after the initial 30-minute roast.
- The amount of liquid in the pan will vary depending on the size of your turkey. A larger turkey will take longer to cook so more liquid will evaporate. Check the pan about ¾ of the way through cooking, if it needs more liquid add extra turkey stock or water to the pan.
- The pan gravy can be doubled with additional drippings or stock.
- The saltiness of the drippings will vary depending on how seasoned your turkey is. Taste the drippings and substitute some water for the stock to balance it when making the pan gravy.