Savory Thanksgiving Turkey


Ready for the oven!!!

After three years of cooking Thanksgiving turkey in a row, I think I've finally got my recipes down.

Which is a really good thing, considering this year I cooked Thanksgiving dinner for 17 people and 5 dogs and hosted them all in our 500 square foot beach bungalow. #yikes

But after sharing my methods while talking a few first-timers through their turkey prep this year, I realized that I should probably take the time to write it all down. So I decided to put together a little guide to my no-fuss Savory Thanksgiving Turkey: from the kitchen essentials to the shopping list to the day-of timeline right down to the recipes for the roasting pan, herb butter, and gravy... I compiled it all here for future reference.

If you're into a relatively uncomplicated bird and have a local Trader Joe's nearby, this guide may be all you need for a delicious, stress-free Thanksgiving turkey!

Kitchen Equipment Checklist

Shopping List

  • Turkey 
  • 6 celery stalks
  • 4 yellow or white onions
  • 4 lemons
  • 6 carrots
  • 2 shallots
  • 1 garlic bulb (12 cloves)
  • Fresh chives
  • Fresh rosemary
  • Fresh sage
  • Fresh thyme
  • Bay leaves (hard to find fresh, so dried works too)
  • 1 bottle Sauvignon Blanc or other dry white wine
  • 1 32oz carton of turkey stock (or chicken stock/broth) 
  • 1 32oz jug of Apple Cider
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • EVOO (1/2 cup)
  • Flour (1/2 cup)
  • Sea salt
  • Black peppercorn pepper

Picking a Turkey
There are plenty of guides to picking a turkey out there, so I'd recommend doing more research if you're really nervous. But for me, my favorite turkey is Trader Joe's All Natural Brined Fresh Young Turkey. They come in 12-16lbs or 18-22lbs sizes... very rarely will you see a TJoe's turkey over 22lbs, but there are some unicorns sprinkled around.

I don't brine my own turkey because ain't nobody got time for that, so I love that Trader Joe's turkeys come pre-brined. My local Trader Joe's stores (all 3 of them!) tend to sell out by Monday before Thanksgiving, sometimes earlier if you're looking for a bigger bird. To be safe, I like to by my turkey by noon on Saturday at the latest.

If you don't have a Trader Joe's nearby and/or you waited until Monday before Thanksgiving to get your bird, I highly recommend trying to buy a fresh turkey. I just think they taste better and require less work on the defrosting side. Case in point, if it's not pre-brined you can dry brine it and don't have to wait for it to defrost.

The general rule of thumb for turkey size is 1.5lbs per person if you want some leftovers, 2lbs per person if you want a lot of leftovers. I had 16 people eating turkey this year. I bought a 22lb turkey and had enough leftovers for Ryan and I for probably 4-6 lunches/dinners.

The Days Before
If you purchase your turkey the Friday or Saturday before Thanksgiving and you have room in your refrigerator, I recommend just putting the turkey straight in there when you get home to avoid forgetting to defrost it.

No matter which way (fresh or frozen) or when you buy your turkey, I highly encourage visiting the USDA's guidelines for safe defrosting and their timelines.

Personally, if I can't buy a TJoe's pre-brined turkey, I don't brine it at all, so if you're wet or dry brining yours, this guide is not the best for you. But if you're wanting to brine a turkey in the days before, this is the time to do it.

I can't take credit for this gorgeous cheese spread... this was all Claire's sister, Allie!

My Day-Of Timeline
This is my rough timeline for Thanksgiving Day based on a 22lb bird and a dinner time target of around 3:30-4pm. I followed this timeline and we actually ended up letting the bird rest on the heated stove top uncarved from 2:45-4pm, then started carving it around 4pm and ended up eating around 5pm. You will want to adjust based on the size of your turkey and your preferred time to gobble it down!
  • 7:30am - Move your oven rack to the bottom third of the oven and make sure there's enough room above the rack to fit the turkey. If not, remove other racks as needed. Preheat oven to 425°. Take turkey out of refrigerator and place it on a dish on the counter to start coming to room temperature. Wash or rinse then dry the roasting pan and rack. Start chopping vegetables and herbs for the roasting pan. Make the herb butter.
  • 8:30am - Cover the counter in paper towels. Place the roasting rack (not the pan) in the sink and then the turkey on the rack. Cut the plastic off of the turkey. Remove the temporary wire or plastic truss from the legs and discard. Check both the main and back cavity for the neck and giblets and remove and discard (or set aside if you want to use them for gravy, etc.). Rinse inside both cavities and all over the bird with cool water then pat dry with a paper towel. Move the turkey to the counter and prepare the roasting pan and the bird. Truss the bird. 
  • 9:30am - Put the turkey and rack into the roasting pan and place it (uncovered) into the oven.
  • 9:50am - Reduce the oven temperature to 350° degrees.
  • 11:45am - Check to ensure the turkey is a nice golden brown, then remove from the oven, loosely tent with foil. Add 1-3 total cups of liquid to the roasting pan (broth, turkey stock, white wine, cider) until there's 1.5-2 inches of liquid in the pan and put it back in.
  • 2pm - Take the turkey out and check the temperature in the thickest part of the thigh, making sure the thermometer is not touching the bone (that will mess with the accuracy of the temperature). If over 175°, the turkey is definitely done. Pour out some of the juices (but not all - save at least an inch for gravy!) from the roasting pan to ensure the turkey is not sitting in liquid while cooling in the rack in the pan. Put the roasting pan (still tented) on top of the stove to let it rest. If under 175°, put it back in the oven and check the temperature every 10-15 minutes. Keep the oven on for side dishes and if you have a gas stove, keep the roasting pan on two burners on the top of the stove to keep it warm.
  • Anytime after 2:45pm - Carve then serve! 

Preparing the Roasting Pan
This is my favorite part of the turkey cooking process and I honestly believe this is the key to how juicy and flavorful my turkeys have come out over the years. This is inspired by both the New York Times recipe and Ali Later's recipe from Kitchen Revelry.


  • 1 1/2 cups of turkey stock or chicken broth
  • 2 1/2 onions peeled and sliced
  • 6 celery stalks, rinsed and cut into 2 inch pieces 
  • 4 carrots, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 2 lemons, quartered
  • 2-5 bay leaves
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/3 - 1/2 of the bottle of Sauvignon Blanc 
  • 1 1/2  cups of apple cider
  • Fresh sage leaves
  • Fresh thyme bunches
  • Fresh rosemary stalks
1. Wash and cut the vegetables and place in bottom of the roasting pan.
2. Toss in the fresh herbs.
3. Add the liquids, starting with the turkey stock/broth and cider and topping off with the wine until there is about 1.5inches of the roasting mixture in the bottom of the pan.
4. Drink a glass of the white wine.  

Preparing the Bird
I already mentioned that I don't do my own brine, but I also don't dry out the skin in the fridge and I don't stuff it with stuffing to eat. So this is about as low key as turkey prep gets. This recipe is also inspired by both the New York Times recipe and Ali Later's recipe from Kitchen Revelry.

Herb Butter Ingredients

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 shallot, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 cup of EVOO
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
  • Sea salt
  • Black peppercorn pepper, freshly ground
"Stuffing" Ingredients 
  • 1 1/2 onions peeled and quartered
  • 2 lemons, quartered
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • Fistful of herb butter
  • Fresh sage leaves
  • Fresh thyme bunches
  • Fresh rosemary stalks
1. Place the two sticks of butter on top of the preheating stove for a few minutes on both sides to soften.
2. Combine all the herb butter ingredients in a small bowl or food processor until blended. It will likely resemble a soup or stew.
3. Ensuring the turkey is breast up on the rack, place the stuffing ingredients inside the turkey and then truss the bird using the kitchen twine. There's a lot of great trussing instructional videos on YouTube that I'd recommend. I also weave some rosemary stalks around the twine to make it look more festive. 
4. After it's been trussed, using your hands, rub the herb butter mixture all over the outside of the turkey. Then rub on a generous amount of sea salt and black peppercorn. 

Cooking Time
There are plenty of cooking time guidelines on the internet that will help you to ensure you are cooking your turkey for the exact right amount of time, but I generally leave about 1-2 hours for prep, 4-5 hours for cooking and 1 hour for resting and carving.

Making the Gravy
Once the turkey is out and has rested, transfer the rack to a large cutting board and assign the job of carving it.

In the sink, place a strainer over a large mixing bowl. Pour the bottom of the roasting pan into the bowls and strain out as much of the vegetables and fat as possible.

If your roasting pan can be used on the stovetop, don't rinse it out after straining. Instead, following Ali Larter's Kitchen Revelry recipe, you can put it onto two burners and melt the remaining herb butter in it over medium heat. Add the 1/2 cup of flour and whisk it constantly for about 2-3 minutes to get a thick mixture.

Add in the remaining wine from the bottle and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Gradually pour in the juices from the mixing bowl, whisking until smooth, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat until the gravy is at it's desired consistency, whisking occasionally for up to 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

If your roasting pan can't be used on the stove top, follow the same instructions in a cast iron pot or other deep skillet big enough to hold the gravy.

Carving and Serving
I have no idea how to carve a turkey, so I assign this to someone else every year. But I do have a few suggestions: 1. Don't forget to have the carver take out the wishbone in case anyone wants to make a wish, which was something my brother and I used to do every year as kids; 2. Don't forget to remove and discard the kitchen twine; and 3. Feel free to make your guests wait while you style the carved turkey on the platter with herbs and fruit to get that Insta-worthy shot.