Butter & Herb Roast Turkey

October  6, 2011
Photo by James Ransom
Author Notes

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I slow-bake an 18 to 20–pound turkey at 325°F in my huge graniteware pan. The turkey is cooked with the steam that builds up in the pan, and then basted and finished on high heat to crisp and brown the skin. The meat is tender and juicy and very tasty. I don't load the compound butter with lots of garlic and herbs, just enough to flavor the turkey very delicately. —sdebrango

Test Kitchen Notes

I've roasted no more than three or four turkeys over the last 10 years; we discovered frying them and were hooked. When I saw this recipe, however, I was intrigued: Roast a turkey and not baste it? How could that be? Well, it was amazing! I took the liberty of roasting a 14-pounder, cut the roasting time a bit and used only about 3/4 of the compound butter (which is truly amazing in itself). I struggled to keep from peeking and basting, but followed sdebrango's directions and just cranked up the heat and basted with the compound butter once. What resulted was moist breast meat, succulent dark meat and somewhat crispy skin. This one's a keeper! —inpatskitchen

  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 4 hours
  • Serves 10 to 12
  • Compound butter
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed
  • 3 fresh sage leaves, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) salted butter, room temperature
  • Turkey
  • 1 18 to 20–pound turkey
  • Compound butter
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Olive oil
In This Recipe
  1. Compound butter
  2. In a mortar and pestle, crush garlic with a pinch of salt. Add thyme, sage, and lemon zest and pound it all together.
  3. Transfer garlic-herb mixture to a small mixing bowl and add the softened butter. Mix together. That's your compound butter!
  4. If you're cooking the turkey right away, don't refrigerate this butter. If you're cooking the turkey later, roll this butter in plastic wrap into a log and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before you apply to the turkey.
  1. Turkey
  2. Preheat oven to 325°F.
  3. Put turkey on work surface and make sure it's clean and dry. Insert fingers under skin to loosen from the breast meat. Work slowly so you don't tear the skin.
  4. Spread a generous amount of the compound butter under the skin on both sides of the breast. (Reserve a small amount of the compound butter to baste the turkey when you brown the skin.)
  5. Using butcher's twine, bind the legs together and place the turkey on a rack in your roasting pan.
  6. Rub the turkey with some olive oil and generously salt and pepper the entire surface. (I like to do this the night before; if you do this, let your bird sit at room temperature for an hour before placing in the oven.) Put lid on pan and place into the oven. No basting required! (If you don't have a roaster with a lid, just tent with aluminum foil, making sure its sealed well around the pan.)
  7. After 3 hours, check the internal temperature of your turkey by inserting a thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh. When it has reached an internal temperature of 150°F, remove from the oven, and brush the turkey with the remaining compound butter. Crank up the oven to 450°F. Put back in the oven without the lid and let it roast until the skin is a nice golden brown. The internal temperature should be 160°F when you remove from the oven. Total cooking time for an 18 to 20–pound turkey is 4 to 4 1/2 hours approximately.
  8. Let turkey rest for at least 30 minutes tented with foil. Final temperature should be 165°F to 170°F.
  9. Warning: If you use a graniteware pan, the turkey cooks VERY quickly. Depending on the size of the bird you should start checking for doneness after a couple of hours. My 19 1/4–pound turkey was completely done at 3 1/2 hours. If you use a roasting pan and foil, the cooking time is a bit more. My big bird was ready to brown and crisp at 3 hours. All of this depends on individual ovens as temps and bird sizes vary.

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I have loved to cook for as long as I can remember, am self taught learning as I go. I come from a large Italian family and food was at the center of almost every gathering. My grandfather made his own wine and I remember the barrels of wine in the cellar of my grandfathers home, I watched my mother and aunts making homemade pasta and remember how wonderful it was to sit down to a truly amazing dinner. Cooking for me is a way to express myself its my creative outlet. I enjoy making all types of food but especially enjoy baking, I live in Brooklyn, NY, and I share my home with my two dogs Izzy and Nando. I like to collect cookbooks and scour magazines and newspapers for recipes. I hope one day to organize them.