Compound Butter & Herb Roast Turkey

October  6, 2011
12 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland. Food stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop stylist: Amanda Widis.
  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 4 hours
  • Serves 10 to 12
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.

Thanksgiving 2020 Update:

Thanksgiving is right around the corner and the turkey is traditionally considered the star of the show on most holiday tables. While it’s the natural focal point, it can also be the most challenging to execute. I remember my mom’s turkey from when I was growing up: always moist, tender, and delicious every single time. As an adult, cooking my own Thanksgiving dinner I learned that roasting turkey can present some challenges, sometimes overcooked and dry or undercooked, requiring constant monitoring, watching, basting etc… but it doesn’t have to be that way.

After several sad attempts I called Mom asking her secret to a consistently perfect turkey, and the answer was simple: She used a graniteware pan. My recipe for Butter and Herb Roast Turkey is based on my mom’s method updated by adding a compound butter with garlic, sage, thyme, and lemon zest that is generously placed under the skin. Not only does it keep the breast meat moist, it adds incredible flavor.

When you use a covered roasting pan (e.g., graniteware), the meat or poultry is steam roasted; this seals in the juices and results in a turkey that is tender, moist, and cuts the cooking time almost in half. Another perk is that you do not have to baste the turkey until the very end, when you remove the lid and let the skin crisp and brown. Suggestion: Prepare the turkey by placing the compound butter under the skin and rubbing it all over the outside of the turkey as well, then let it sit overnight in the refrigerator.

This holiday—just like every year!—I will be making this recipe. Most of the time, there are at least a dozen guests at my home, but this year will be different—the pandemic has impacted all of us and holidays for many will not be the same. Instead of having family over, I am making Thanksgiving dinner and delivering to some neighbors and friends who are alone and do not or cannot cook. It is all about happy memories, and food prepared with love and shared. —sdebrango

Test Kitchen Notes

This video is shared in partnership with Yummly®—their Smart Bluetooth Meat Thermometer calculates cook time and signals when the recipe's ready, so your roast turkey, steak, salmon, and more comes out juuuust right.

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

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Compound Butter & Herb Roast Turkey
  • 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 (recipe above)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Olive oil
  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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Eric Kim
    Eric Kim
  • Transcendancing
  • Sharon
  • Virginia Waters
    Virginia Waters
  • TheWimpyVegetarian
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.

43 Reviews

Atiya H. November 27, 2020
Well...that was a thing that happened. Let's just say that even if you use foil and not a covered roasting pan, the turkey cooks _fast_. I did a 15 lb. bird, which by my normal recipe would take ~5 hours. I checked at 3:15, and my turkey was already reduced to some sort of zombie carcass with exposed bone. The skin was lovely and the meat was vaguely edible (fortunately, my husband likes dry turkey), but obviously it wasn't how the recipe was meant to come out. I'm a bit sad that (pandemic willing) hopefully I will never have to cook a turkey again (I started enjoying Thanksgiving at the point that we realized we could just go out and each eat the things we actually like), since I'm sure this recipe is lovely if stopped soon enough. I wonder if one could do a chicken this way?
sdebrango November 27, 2020
It really does cook fast I have had 20 lb turkeys cook in 3 hrs. I’m so sorry your turkey did not turn out for you. The answer is yes!! I use this method for chickens ( which I prefer) to turkey. This year I did a turkey breast on the bone using this method but instead of a covered roaster I used an oven bag and my temperature probe that came with my oven. Cooked to 165 and it turned out well. Chicken is wonderful using this recipe !!! Happy thanksgiving.
Atiya H. November 30, 2020
Thank you for the response! It was entirely my fault mis-estimating the competing effects of smaller turkey vs. foil, and not really believing that sealing the foil tent would be so different from my normal loose foil tent. In retrospect, I should have put my thermometer through the foil somehow so I could check in-progress, instead of taking the tent off and stabbing it in and being shocked (I don't think it's instant-read, but it pretty instantly went way past the desired point.) I will definitely try a chicken in future!
AlliB October 28, 2020
can you use one of their canners in the oven for turkey?
sdebrango October 28, 2020
Hi Alli; I think the canner would be too deep but it might work honestly never tried that. If you do let me know how it goes. If you have a covered braiser that might work better if it’s large enough and deep enough for a turkey.
Laurene November 25, 2019
Hi, What is the technique for turning the hot turkey from breast side down to breast side up?
Traveler November 25, 2019
There may be easier ways and I am so open to suggestions. But I just take two clean oven mitts and turn the thing over. Then throw the mitts into the washing machine.
sdebrango November 25, 2019
I’ve never roasted a turkey or chicken breast side down or had to flip it. Because this is steam roasted the breast meat is moist but Travellers idea using oven mits sounds good. If you roast covered and use the compound butter under the skin it stays pretty moist and granite ware pans cut cooking time tremendously!
Eric K. October 28, 2019
This turkey rules.
mjmuller November 20, 2018
Does a brined turkey effect anything more than the salt levels?
sdebrango November 20, 2018
A brined turkey would work fine in my opinion. It would be even juicier. You are correct that the only difference would be the salt level. Happy Thanksgiving and hope you enjoy. One thing you might have more liquid than normal because the turkey is brined. You may want to check half way through cooking and if it looks like it’s too much remove some.
mjmuller November 20, 2018
Thanks a ton! Happy Thanksgiving to you too.
Kathryn L. August 23, 2018
I’ve never heard of graniteware pans or pans that have lids big enough to bake a 20 pound turkey in. Where can I find one? Are they still sold? What are they made of? Thank you so much for your help!
sdebrango August 27, 2018
Hi Kathryn, Graniteware are the best. I absolutely love and have assorted sizes. Yes you can purchase them google graniteware and you can buy directly from the company or from another source. I ordered mine directly from graniteware
Kathryn L. August 27, 2018
Thank you for the information! I’ll look them up.
sdebrango August 27, 2018
Enjoy, you will see that the turkey will brown in the pan with the lid on and it roasts very quickly. I always make a 18-20 lb turkey and it is done in just over 3 hours. It’s amazing and frees the oven for other things.
Transcendancing December 27, 2016
We increased the herb amounts quite a lot but this was a great recipe for our Christmas Turkey - bird was flavourful and moist, so delicious. Thank you!
D L. December 4, 2016
I just made this bird yesterday for my family's belated Thanksgiving dinner (my sister just got back from out of the country). It was the first whole turkey I've ever made, and it went perfectly! My family members all said it was one of the best turkeys they'd ever had.

I didn't have any granite ware or even roasting pans, so I stuffed my bird into my dutch oven, covered it with foil, and set the pan on the top a little askew. Uncovered it for the last 40-60 minutes. It was really delicious, thank you for sharing this recipe!
Sharon November 24, 2016
Help, i have a 12lb bird. I am using this recipe except I will be stuffing it and roasting in an open pan. How long should I cook it?
Sharon November 25, 2016
We did cover with foil during roasting. We cooked at the lower temp until it reached 155. Took it out for approx. 30 min. to cook other things, then finished it at the higher temp. Turned out wonderful. Several years ago I tried the upside down method with a larger turkey and it came out beautiful. Thanks.
gisele P. November 10, 2016
Got it...and one last question (hopefully!)...what time adjustments would you make for a 22 pound turkey? Thank you so much!
gisele P. November 9, 2016
Thank you Suzanne for the quick response! For your 18-20 pd turkeys what size roaster would you recommend? 18-19-21"? Thanks so much!
gisele P. November 9, 2016
Can anyone recommend a brand for a granite ware roaster? Thanks...
Traveler November 9, 2015
I have not used anything but a granite ware roaster in all my years of making turkeys. Always turns out beautifully. I usually use a baster to squirt brandy underneath the skin and insert bay leaves on the breast to make a flower-like design under the skin. I also roast with the breast down until the last hour or so. Then I turn it over to get the breast brown. That way the turkey bastes itself with the juices flowing down. I think this year I will try the compound butter
Gabbie T. November 29, 2013
I made my first turkey yesterday using this recipe and it came out excellent! I made the 14 pound bird exactly as the recipe says and it took about 4 hours to cook. We all commented how juicy the bird was and how tasty the compound butter was. Thank you for such a wonderful recipe!
Virginia W. November 24, 2013
My first turkey was from "The Joy of Cooking," and the recipe was great, easy and juicy. Gravy from the gizzards and dressing not inside the turkey but cooked in a pan for an hour, with lots of pecans. Turkey was wrapped over the breast with a thin cloth which was great. I basted it a few times and the cloth did the rest. If you can find the original JOY use that recipe.
sharij December 1, 2012
Disaster! We followed the instructions, and after 3 hours the internal temperature of the turkey was 200 degrees! Not only that, but there were 4 cups of turkey juice sitting on the bottom of the granite ware (we made lots of gravy). We dry brined the bird for 3 days before, so maybe the combination was the cause of the disaster, but it's back to the drawing board for us!
TheWimpyVegetarian November 16, 2012
Congrats on the CP!!! I'm not a huge turkey eater, but I love the simplicity of your technique. I would bet that cooking it covered keeps it more moist?? And your compound butter looks like a great one to always have around in the freezer!
karen C. November 11, 2012
not regarding cooking, just that your recipes are becoming increasingly difficult to print. Many of ingredients are in lighter print and come out almost indistinguishable. What's going on? HAVE REALLY ENJOYED YOUR SIGHT OTHERWISE.
EmilyC November 9, 2012
Many congrats on the CP, sdebrango! I SO want to try this method with a turkey, but in the meantime, I may make the full amount of compound butter and use it on several roast chickens. Yum! Great recipe!
Kukla November 9, 2012
Congratulations on the CP Suzanne!! I love the low and slow and your compound butter has all my favorite flavors.