How to…Roast a Turkey!

How-to Roast a Turkey!
Growing up, turkeys in our home were always smoked, never roasted. When I decided I wanted to roast a turkey, I had no idea where to start. Salt rub, brine, oven bags, roasting pan, the possiblilites were endless! After interviewing dozens of my fellow foodie friends and studying the November food magazines like I was trying to pass the bar exam, I decided to stick with what I know. At least twice a month, I roast a chicken in a simple brine and stuff it with lemon and herbs. I decided that I would pretty much do the same thing, but on a larger scale. The meat was super moist, the skin nice and crispy, and the flavor amazing. Below you will find my step by step and very detailed instructions on how to ensure that your Thanksgiving bird turns out as great as mine!

Are you wondering what our little family of four is going to do with all of the leftover turkey meat? Shred it, freeze it, and then use it in any recipe that calls for cooked chicken. Incredibly versatile, shredded turkey tastes great in chili, enchiladas, soups, stews, and curries. Even if you are not in charge of this year’s Thanksgiving bird (I’m not), roasting a November turkey is a super ecomonical way to stretch your family’s food dollar throughout the holiday season. After all, doesn’t it seem like everyone has turkeys on sale this week? I got a pure free-range bird at Whole Foods for just $1.49/lb. After turning the carcass into 4-quarts of turkey stock, I figure I saved $20.00 more than if I would have bought the same amount of chicken!

As far as the health benefits of turkey? They are huge! Just one 4-oz portion of turkey provides over half of your daily protein needs, almost half of your daily selenium needs, and over 100% of your daily trytophan needs. Turkey is also a good source of niacin and vitamin B6. Tryptophan is believed to help fight depression, migraines, and irritable bowel syndrome (all conditions that tend to plague people during the holiday season). Niacin is a great energy boost, and selenium can help fight the cells that cause cancer, asthma, and alzheimer’s. Plus, when nice and moist, turkey tastes great and is super kid-friendly. Even little Ellie and her four teeth gobbled it up! (Don’t forget to teach your kids about the wish bone!)

Ingredients (serves lots):

Free-range turkey, 12 – 14 pounds

For the brine:
Sea salt, ⅔ cup
Organic sugar, ⅔ cup
Lemon, 1
Filtered water, enough to cover the turkey

For the cavity of the bird:
Fresh sage, 1 bunch
Fresh thyme, 1 bunch
Celery, 3 stalks
Onion, ½
Lemon, ½

For the compound butter:
Real butter, 3 tbsp
Crushed sage, 1 tsp
Garlic powder, 1 tsp
Sea salt, 1 tsp
Black pepper, 1 tsp

Additional ingredients:
Chicken broth, 2 cups
Extra virgin olive oil, 1 tbsp

Special equipment:
A pot large enough to hold your turkey while it brines
2 oven bags and a rimmed baking sheet
Space in your fridge large enough for the turkey to brine for 2 days
Roasting pan
Meat thermometer

Instructions (2 days, 20 minutes active):

Two days before you want to roast your turkey, start the brining process: Dissolve ⅔ cup each sea salt and organic sugar in 1 quart of warm water. Rinse turkey inside and out with cool water. If using oven bags, place one inside the other (in case of a leak) and open. Place turkey in oven bags or large stockpot. Cut lemon in half, squeeze the juice over the turkey, and then drop the lemons in the bag/pot. Pour dissolved salt and sugar mixture over bird and then add enough water to completely cover. Close bags with a rubber band or put lid on pot. As an extra leak precaution, place oven bags on a rimmed baking sheet. Refrigerate for two days.

About 3 hours before you wish to serve your Thanksgiving feast, preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Place oven rack on the lowest level.

Prepare your compound butter: In a small saucepan or microwave, heat butter just until melted. Stir in all remaining ingredients listed under “for the compound butter”. When salt has dissolved, set aside.

Dress your turkey: Cut ½ of an onion into wedges, Cut celery into small enough pieces to fit inside the bird. Remove turkey from brine, discarding brine and dumping out any excess liquid in the bird’s cavity. Remove the heart and gizzard (reserve if making gravy) and use paper towels to pat the turkey dry inside and out. Using clean hands, very gently begin to loosen the skin from the breast of the bird. Be patient, this will take a minute or two. (If the thought of doing this grosses you out, feel free to wear latex gloves.) Once loose, rub all but 2 tsp of the compound butter directly onto the breast of the bird (under the skin) so that the flavor will infuse the meat. Try not to tear the skin, but if you do, it’s not the end of the world. Squeeze half a lemon over the bird, and rub the remaining 2 tsp of compound butter directly on the skin. Stuff prepared onions, celery, sage, thyme, and squeezed lemon inside cavity of the bird. Place turkey breast side up in roasting pan. Wash hands very thoroughly. Pour 2 cups chicken broth into the bottom of the roasting pan (to keep the meat moist and the oven steamy).

Roast your turkey: Place turkey in hot oven and bake for 1 hour. When hour has lapsed, rotate turkey 180 degrees (because most ovens cook unevenly) and drizzle with 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (to encourage a nice brown, crispy skin). Roast turkey for an additional hour. If the wings (or really any part) of the turkey are getting to brown, place a small piece of foil over them. When the second hour has lapsed, insert a digital meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh of the bird (the thigh is directly under the breast on the opposite end of the leg). If the temperature has reached 158 degrees, your turkey is done roasting. Let rest on the countertop for 15 – 20 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute and to allow the turkey to reach 165 degrees, the temperature necessary to kill food borne illnesses. This is why roasted turkey is so often dried out. People keep it in the oven until it reaches 165 degrees. They don’t realize that the turkey will continue to cook while it rests. (You can thank my husband’s culinary degree for that tidbit of information.)

Carve your turkey: Well, this is where I let Darren take over. Luckily, I watched him do it. In the middle of the bird is the breast bone. Using a chef’s knife and our serving fork, he made a vertical cut down each side of the breast bone. He then made a perpendicular cut at the bottom of the breast and transferred the breasts to the cutting board. He removed the legs with his bare hands (ooh la la), and then removed the thighs in a method similar to the breast. After slicing the breast and thighs, dinner was served. Once dinner was over, I picked the rest of the meat off of the turkey and wings for a future use, and turned the carcass into stock. Enjoy!

Notes: My girls loved this turkey! That is awesome! My roasted turkey recipe is naturally gluten-free and nut-free. Vegetarian friends, if any of you are still reading this article, we must go way back. Obviously, this recipe isn’t for you. When freezing your leftover shredded turkey, keep in mind that 3 cups is equal to about 1 pound of cooked shredded chicken. I hope that everyone has a marvelous Thanksgiving!

What is your favorite thing to do with leftover turkey?

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  1. i never cook a roasted turkey and beside here in the Philippines turkey is very rare it is hard to have one of it.But thanks for your guide, i have a friends asking a help from me on how to make a roasted turkey.

  2. This sounds WONDERFUL!! I am hosting my first Thanksgiving dinner this next week, and both sides of the family are coming. It's a little scary (only because I've never roasted ANYTHING, ha) but I might have to give your recipe a try. Thank you so much for posting it!! 🙂

  3. You're welcome Elpi! I didn't realize that turkey was rare in the Philippines. I hope your friends enjoy it!

  4. Stacy — I was scared too! Something about that big ol' bird is intimidating. That is why I decided to write in out in detail. I hope that it takes some of the intimidation away! Let me know how your turkey turns out!

  5. Hi again! So…another family member was kind enough to provide the turkey…and it's 20.9 lbs!! I know I need to increase the other ing. to compensate, but I would like to know your thoughts on cook time and temp…do you think that the greater time needed would dry out (or burn) the outer, smaller parts of the bird, whether I use foil to cover them or not, when cooked at 375? Not sure how to handle that part with such a large bird! Thanks again for your help and sorry to bother! 🙂

  6. You are not bothering me whatsoever. Just based on what I know (but I've never roasted a 21 lb bird), I would guess that you would need to roast your bird for 3 – 3 1/2 hours. When the wings, legs whatever have become crispy, cover them with foil. Also, I would pull it out when the thigh reaches 155 degrees. The larger the bird, the more it will continue to cook once removed from the oven. Also, increase resting time to 20 – 30 minutes. Please let me know how it goes! I am so excited for you. (And yea for a free turkey!)

  7. Katie YOU ROCK!!!!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 The turkey turned out BEAUTIFULLY. 🙂 It had such great flavor and was so pretty and golden! Didn't do the olive oil because I was a little worried about everything getting burned with the longer cooking time, but everything else I followed to a T and it was terrific!!! 🙂 The white meat did dry out a little after it was served, but that was definitely all me, as I had purchased an in-oven thermometer and it went bonkers. Because of that I couldn't rely on it, and I think I left the turkey in a touch too long. Even so, everyone still RAVED about it. Thank you so very, very much for taking the time to walk us newbies through your terrifically tasty turkey recipe! 🙂 🙂 🙂 Hope you and your family are having a wonderfully blessed Thanksgiving. You and your recipe were definitely a blessing to ours! 🙂

  8. Stacy — What an amazing comment! You are so very welcome. I am so glad that your turkey turned out so well. When I first started cooking chicken, I always dried out the white meat. I was always so scared about undercooked poultry. Once Darren proved to me that it really does keep cooking, it was all uphill from there! I'm sorry that your thermometer went bonkers, I would be in big trouble without mine too!

    Just out of curiousity…do we know each other in real life? When I click on your name it doesn't give me any more information. Regardless, you seem like a really cool person…who successfully wow'ed their in-laws!!!

  9. Katie – Yes, I think I will have more confidence in the future with taking it out a little earlier (and I might invest in a non-last minute, non-grocery store oven thermometer so I can keep a closer eye on the actual temperature to be sure). Thanks again for all of your help! I even passed your site along to a friend (who will also be a turkey first-timer) today so she can try. 🙂

    Yes, we did go to high school together, though I don't know if you would remember me (maiden name was Moyer, and graduated in '97). I saw a post from a high school friend on facebook with a link to your site a while back, saying it was really great and that it was someone she had gone to high school with. I was curious, and was amazed when I read your story…I had no idea of the struggles you had with your health growing up. I respect, so much, what you have done by taking charge of your health and the energy you put into making sure healthy things go into the bodies of your family members. I am newer into the organic/healthy food arena (grew up eating pretty unhealthy, actually), but with age and energy loss, along with now no longer being able to count how many people I know who have been affected by cancer and various diseases, I am more and more convinced that we put harmful things into our bodies every day. It's still a challenge to turn that ship around when full-time jobs, evening activities, etc. are involved, but you and your site give me hope that even I can learn, even though I may be a little slow at it. 🙂 Really appreciate you and the time you take to share what you've learned! 🙂 🙂

  10. Stacy- First of all, I am so sorry that it has taken me so long to get back to you. We published a “friends and family” version of my cookbook last week and it took all of my extra time and energy! I absolutely remember you and I am so excited to reconnect with you!

    I am so glad that you are starting to understand the importance of real food. Let me know if you ever want to connect in person and dive deeper. My biggest tip? Don't get frustrated! It took me almost 10 years to get where I am today (and almost as long to get Darren on board). Every small change you make will help take your family's health to the next level. So great to see you on here!!!


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