This juicy herb butter turkey is the perfect Thanksgiving recipe for beginner chefs. Rubbed with an easy citrus herb butter mix and roasted for a golden brown, crispy top.
The first year I hosted Thanksgiving, I was terrified to cook the turkey. It always seemed like the most intimidating part of the holiday meal to me.
All it really takes is having the perfect easy turkey recipe for beginners.
We have used this exact roasted herb butter turkey recipe every year for over 10 years and it makes the most delicious easy turkey gravy ever.
In fact, this turkey is so easy that my husband is the one in charge of preparing it every Thanksgiving morning!
Why This is the Best Recipe
- Simple Herb Butter for Turkey: Softened butter is mixed with chopped fresh herbs and citrus zest, it takes just minutes to prep.
- Perfect Browned Turkey Skin: The butter helps naturally baste the turkey before the bird has released it's own juices into the pan. This keeps everything moist and juicy as it cooks and gives a gorgeous golden brown color to your baked turkey.
- NOT Fruity Tasting: Yes, there are oranges and lemons involved but I promise neither the turkey nor the gravy will have any kind of "fruity flavor." My mom is especially sensitive to it and even she LOVES our turkey. The citrus just helps accent the savory flavor of the turkey.
If you want the full Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving recipe, this herb butter turkey will be the showstopper for your holiday table.
However, if you're looking for an easier recipe for a much smaller serving, you'll love my slow cooker boneless turkey breast recipe, too.
The ingredients for the herb butter turkey are very simple but it is important that you buy fresh wherever possible:
- Fresh Turkey: We use a bird that is 12 to 18 pounds. It needs to be completely thawed, giblets and neck removed.
- Fresh Lemon & Orange
- Fresh Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme: Dried herbs could be substituted if necessary but fresh tastes far better. You can usually find a "turkey herb bundle" in the grocery store produce section around Thanksgiving time that will work perfectly.
- Salt & Pepper
How to Roast an Herb Butter Turkey
My husband and I usually work together to prep the turkey.
While I prep the herb butter and citrus, he gets the turkey ready by removing the neck and giblets and placing it in the roasting pan.
Prepare the Herb Butter
Place softened butter into a small mixing bowl.
Add the citrus zest and minced fresh herbs and combine with a fork.
How to Mince Fresh Herbs
Sage: Carefully trim the stems from the sage leaf and just chop the leafy part.
Rosemary: Hold each sprig of rosemary by the tip in one hand, with your other hand, run your fingers down the stalk from top to bottom to pull and drag each little rosemary needle off the branch. Chop and use just the needles part.
Thyme: Similar to the rosemary, hold each sprig and slide your fingers down the branches to remove the little leaves. Thyme leaves are so small already, they won't require much chopping.
Prepare the Turkey
My husband is my turkey hero.
The thought of going elbow deep to clean the bird is part of what horrified me that first year. Thank goodness for my handy husband.
Remove the neck and giblets from the turkey and discard them.
Sprinkle a tablespoon of salt around the inside of the cavity of the bird.
Place the turkey in a large roasting pan with a rack in the bottom.
Pat the turkey top and legs dry with paper towels and discard the paper towels.
Cut the fresh lemon and orange into quarters. Peel the onion and cut it into quarters as well.
Stuff the fruit and onion inside the cavity of the turkey.
Spread the herb butter over the top and legs of the turkey.
Top Tip: If the turkey is still chilled from the fridge, you will find the butter hard to spread. My husband uses his fingers to pinch the butter into smooth dollops and just pats them into place. Once the turkey begins to cook, the butter will melt and spread more evenly.
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Roast the turkey for 30 minutes. Baste the top with melted butter from the bottom of the roasting pan.
Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F. Continue to roast for 15 minutes per pound.
Baste the turkey every 30 minutes.
The turkey should cook until it a temperature probe reads 165°F and the juices run clear.
Let the turkey rest for 30 minutes before carving.
Top Tip: If the turkey starts to get too dark but still needs more time to cook, you can cover it loosely with aluminum foil to prevent more browning.
When I tell you this recipe is perfect for beginners, you can believe it because Tim cooks almost nothing else.
If he can rock a Thanksgiving turkey, so can you! He takes so much pride in basting his turkey and getting the color just so.
Turkey: While we use a whole turkey for Thanksgiving, you could also use the herb butter on a simple turkey breast. Simply skip stuffing the cavity of the bird.
Herbs: Rosemary, thyme, and sage complement the turkey best but chives, basil, or oregano could also be used.
- A deep metal roasting pan with a rack in the bottom: This helps keep the turkey off the bottom of the pan and makes basting easier.
- A turkey baster: You could use a cooking spoon, but the baster will make it much easier.
- A remote temperature probe: I love using this oven-safe temperature probe because I can set an alarm for the finished temperature and not worry about the turkey getting overdone when I'm busy making the other Thanksgiving dishes.
How to Use Leftover Turkey
Once you've finished your turkey dinner, you will be able to turn any leftovers into one of these incredibly delicious leftover turkey recipes.
If you don't want to eat it all right now, simply freeze the leftover meat and your future dinner prep will be just that much easier!
Just be sure to look through how much turkey is called for in each of the recipes and freeze the right portion so you don't have to thaw the whole container at once.
This recipe is perfect for a 12 - 18 pound turkey. 12 pounds serves 8 people. After that, calculate an additional pound per person.
My husband is an engineer. There is no way I could convince him to cook the turkey without using a probe thermometer. He needs to know, scientifically, whether the turkey is actually done or not. For full instructions on how to probe your turkey, check out this handy article.
The gravy that comes from this herb butter turkey is the best you'll ever have and it is super easy to do. You can get the easy gravy recipe here.
Herb Butter Turkey
- 1 12 to 18- pound turkey thawed, giblets and neck removed
- 3 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 ½ tablespoon black pepper
- 1 lemon zested and then quartered
- 1 onion peeled and quartered
- 1 orange quartered
- 6 tablespoon butter softened
- 1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme minced
- Remove your turkey from the refrigerator so it loses some of its chill while you prep the herb butter and let the oven pre-heat.
- Heat the oven to 425°F.
- Sprinkle the kosher salt and pepper all over the outside and inside of the turkey and rub it in. Stuff the cavity of the bird with the quartered onion and fruit. Place the bird on a rack inside your roasting pan.
- In a small bowl, combine the softened butter with the minced fresh herbs and zest of the lemon. Use a fork to blend them together. Pat and rub the butter all over the top of the turkey.
- Place a probe thermometer into the turkey.
- Place the prepped turkey into the oven and roast for 30 minutes. Baste the bird with the juices from the bottom of the pan. Don't worry if there isn't much there yet, more juices will come as the turkey cooks.
- Reduce the oven to 325°F. The turkey should cook about 15 minutes per pound at this temperature.
- If the top of the turkey starts to get too dark before it has reached the proper temperature, you can cover it with some aluminum foil to keep it from browning too much.
- The turkey is done once the thigh meat reaches 165 degrees and the juices run clear.
- Remove the turkey from the oven and tent it with foil for at least 30 minutes while you prepare the turkey gravy and side dishes.
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