Classic Roast Turkey


Preparation info

  • Makes


    • Difficulty


Appears in

Thanksgiving: Recipes for a Holiday Meal


By Lou Seibert Pappas

Published 2011

  • About

This recipe uses a compound butter flavored with fresh herbs and orange zest. Spreading the butter both under and over the bird’s skin helps keep the meat moist and flavorful and the skin crisp.


  • Fresh whole turkey, 1, about 12 pounds
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper


    About 2 hours before roasting, remove the turkey from the refrigerator. Remove the giblets and neck from the turkey cavity. Reserve the liver for another use or discard. If you like, refrigerate the neck, gizzard, and heart to make stock or Giblet Gravy or discard. Pull out the pale yellow pads of fat in the body cavity on both sides of the tail and discard.

    Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 325°F.

    Pat the turkey dry with paper towels. Fold the wings underneath the back of the turkey to prevent their over-browning in the oven. Season the cavity and skin of the turkey lightly with salt and pepper. Stuff the turkey and truss it if desired.

    To make the herbed orange butter, combine the butter, orange zest, sage, rosemary, and a pinch each of salt and pepper in a bowl. Mash the ingredients together with a fork or spoon. (The herbed orange butter can be prepared up to 3 days in advance, covered tightly, and refrigerated. It can also be frozen for up to 1 month. Allow it to sit at room temperature to soften before using.)

    Working from the tail end of the turkey, gently slide your fingers between the skin and flesh on the breast, legs, and as much of the thighs as you can. Next, from the neck end, slide your fingers between the skin and breast of the turkey. Once the skin is loosened, using your fingers, carefully spread about half of the herbed orange butter under the skin and over the meat on the turkey breast, legs, and thighs, distributing it as evenly as possible. Spread the remaining butter all over the outside of the skin, again distributing it as evenly as possible. Select a flameproof roasting pan just large enough to hold the turkey. (For more information on choosing the pan.) Lightly brush the roasting rack with canola oil and place the turkey on the rack. Place the pan in the oven and roast the turkey, rotating the pan’s position on the oven rack from front to back several times for more even cooking, for 1¾ hours.

    Add the onion, orange, and carrots to the pan and continue to roast, stirring the orange and the vegetables occasionally, until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the turkey thigh away from the bone registers 175°F and into the thickest part of the turkey breast away from the bone, several inches above the wings, registers 165°F, about 1¼ hours longer, for a total roasting time of about 3 hours.

    Remove the turkey from the oven. Insert a sturdy, large, metal spoon into the body cavity, and, supporting the turkey at the neck cavity with a carving fork, tilt it so that the juices in the cavity flow into the roasting pan. Transfer the turkey, breast side up, to a carving board (a cutting board with a groove to capture poultry juices). Let the bird rest for at least 20 minutes and up to 45 minutes, tenting with aluminum foil if needed to keep it warm. This resting period, which allows the juices to redistribute evenly throughout the flesh, is a key element in achieving a juicy turkey.

    If you like, place the roasting pan with the pan juices and vegetables over 2 burners to prepare the Pan Gravy, Giblet Gravy, or Herbed Citrus Gravy.

    Have ready a heated platter to hold the carved turkey. If you have used string to truss the bird, snip it with kitchen scissors and discard it. Carve the turkey and arrange it on the platter. Garnish with the fruits and herbs, if desired. Serve the turkey, asking your guests whether they prefer dark meat (from the leg and thigh), white meat (from the breast), or a combination.