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
- Prep time 15 minutes
- Cook time 4 hours
- Serves 10 to 12
- Compound butter
fresh thyme, leaves removed
fresh sage leaves, chopped
(2 sticks) salted butter, room temperature
18 to 20–pound turkey
Compound butter (recipe above)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Compound butter
- In a mortar and pestle, crush garlic with a pinch of salt. Add thyme, sage, and lemon zest and pound it all together.
- Transfer garlic-herb mixture to a small mixing bowl and add the softened butter. Mix together. That's your compound butter!
- 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.
- Preheat oven to 325°F.
- 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.
- 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.)
- Using butcher's twine, bind the legs together and place the turkey on a rack in your roasting pan.
- 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.)
- 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.
- Let turkey rest for at least 30 minutes tented with foil. Final temperature should be 165°F to 170°F.
- 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.