After countless years of cooking up the holiday bird, here’s our tried-and-true recipe for how to brine and roast turkey. Extra Bonus: homemade gravy so good you’ll want to pour it over everything!
In This Article
- Video: Watch Us Make This Recipe
- Why This Recipe Stands Out
- What Is A Brine?
- Key Recipe Ingredients
- Substitutions And Variations
- Step-By-Step Recipe Instructions
- How To Prep Ahead
- What To Serve With Roast Turkey
- Commonly Asked Questions
- Did you make this?
- How to Brine and Roast Turkey (with Homemade Gravy) Recipe
- More To Cook And Eat
Video: Watch Us Make This Recipe
Why This Recipe Stands Out
It’s that time of year again where we take out all our favorite Thanksgiving recipes. And what Thanksgiving dinner is complete without Roast Turkey? Here’s why we love this recipe:
- Super Tender – We let this turkey sit in a brine for at least 24 hours which leaves it super succulent and tender right out of the oven.
- Extra Flavorful – This turkey is anything but bland. The brine, spice rub, and gravy ensure the most flavorful Thanksgiving bird.
- The Best Gravy – Once your family tastes this homemade gravy, you’ll never go back to any other.
- Clear Instructions – We know cooking a turkey can be intimidating. So, we include detailed instructions in this recipe making it completely approachable for beginners.
- Amazing Leftovers – Roast turkey can complete so many prep-ahead meals. Whether it be a Curried Turkey Salad or a hearty Turkey Pot Pie, there are endless options for leftovers.
What Is A Brine?
A brine is a mixture of salt, water (or some other liquid), and often sugar and spices. Brines are often used in cooking to make meat extremely tender and flavorful.
In this recipe, we soak our turkey in a wet brine for 24-48 hours. You may be surprised to see that we use a whole cup of fine salt. This is normal and essential for a brine. Salt is actually the most important ingredient. It basically breaks down some of the proteins in the turkey allowing the meat to hold onto more salt and water. The results: a juicy, succulent, and tender slice of turkey that’s bursting with flavor. For more information on brining, check out this Food Network article.
Key Recipe Ingredients
- Turkey – We recommend a 16-20 pound turkey for this recipe. Make sure it has the neck and giblets included, as we’ll need them for the gravy.
- Apple – Putting apple inside the turkey doesn’t only add sweet fall flavors, it also helps it retain moisture.
- Aromatics – Onions, cinnamon, carrots, and celery provide fragrant aromatics while roasting.
- Fresh Herbs – Fresh rosemary and thyme is placed inside the turkey for optimal flavor and amazing smells.
- Salt – 1 whole cup of fine table salt (not Kosher salt) is added to the brine to infuse the turkey with moisture and flavor.
- Brown Sugar – Brown sugar adds a hint of sweetness balancing the salt and also helping to create a crispy exterior.
- Vegetable Stock – We use this instead of water for added flavor.
- Spices – Whole peppercorns, ginger, and allspice add depth to the brine.
- Neck and Giblets – The neck and giblets are fried in olive oil, and the drippings are used as the base for the gravy.
- Garlic – 10 whole cloves of garlic add serious flavor to this gravy.
- Veggies – A classic combo in French cooking: onions, carrots, and celery bring the perfect ratios of sweet and savory to the table.
Substitutions And Variations
There are so many different flavor spins for dressing a turkey! Take a look at these ideas:
- Brine: Once you have the basis of salt and some sort of liquid for a brine, the flavor combos are endless. Try using apple or orange juice in your brine. You could also add fresh garlic, onions, and herbs. Or even fresh slices of citrus fruit.
- Filling: Feel free to get creative with what you stuff the cavity of your turkey with. In addition to what we use in this recipe, we think oranges, pears, leeks, garlic, and even beer would be great.
- Bird: Although this recipe is specifically for a turkey, the same methods and ingredients can be used when roasting a chicken, duck, or pheasant. Just check the weight of your bird. If it weighs half the amount of the turkey in this recipe, cut everything in half. Note that baking times will vary.
Step-By-Step Recipe Instructions
- Add all brine ingredients (except ice and water) to large stockpot and heat on the stove until dissolved. Let cool completely.
- Gently add turkey to the stockpot and cover with ice. Add cold water until the turkey is completely submerged. Store in the fridge for 24-48 hours.
- Remove turkey from brine and place upright on roasting pan’s wire rack to fully drain for several hours. Dry turkey skin thoroughly with paper towels.
- Mix dry rub ingredients together. Begin patting dry rub between skin and meat of the turkey. Pat remaining dry rub on the outside of the turkey.
- Add the aromatics, including cinnamon, apples, herbs, onion, carrots, and celery to the bottom of the turkey roaster.
- Place turkey breast-side down on the foil-lined rack. Roast for 1 hour at 450F. Drop heat to 300F and roast for another 30 min. Insert meat thermometer into center of turkey breast and return to oven until it reads 160F.
- While turkey is roasting, heat oil in a large pot. Add giblets/neck to hot oil, cooking until well-browned. Remove the neck and throw out the giblets.
- Add remaining oil, garlic, onions, carrots, and celery, cooking until onions become translucent. Add water and bring to a boil. Add neck back in and boil until reduced by half.
- Place the turkey roasting pan with juices and vegetables over two stovetop burners. Pour reduced gravy into roasting pan and bring to a boil. Boil and reduce by at least half.
- Strain mixture so you are left with just the au jus. Skim fat off the top and serve with sliced turkey!
For full list of ingredients and instructions, see recipe card below.
How To Prep Ahead
Chances are you’re making this Roast Turkey for Thanksgiving which means you’ve got a plethora of side dishes in the works. Here’s a few prep-ahead tips to help things run smoothly:
- Rub: Feel free to mix the spices for the rub as far ahead of time as you’d like.
- Vegetables: All the vegetables in this recipe can be chopped up and stored in the fridge several days in advance.
- Turkey: Make sure to give your turkey plenty of time to thaw. Remember, it takes at least 6 days for a large turkey to fully defrost in the fridge. So, make plenty of room in your fridge a week in advance!
What To Serve With Roast Turkey
- Try serving up a big helping of these Instant Pot Mashed Potatoes with Roast Turkey.
- We also devour this amazing Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecan Topping every Thanksgiving.
- We seriously can’t get enough of this Homemade Stuffing with Apples and Sausage.
- Try this Gluten-Free Wild Rice Stuffing. They’re way better than boxed!
- Serve these Homemade Dinner Rolls that take just about an hour from start to finish.
- Try Sweet Corn Muffins fresh-out-of-the-oven at your Thanksgiving table this year.
- For a veggie side, try serving these Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Butternut Squash.
- Also, these Easy Roasted Vegetables are always a hit!
- Take a look at The Best Pumpkin Pie for the ultimate classic dessert.
- Try this Streusel Pumpkin Pie recipe for a delicious spin.
- For all the apple pie lovers, we highly recommend this recipe for The Best Apple Pie with Flaky Butter Crust.
Commonly Asked Questions
Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 to 4 days. You can also store them in the freezer for up to 4 months. Turkey leftovers make great prep-ahead lunches and dinners!
Yes! Whether you buy a fresh turkey or a frozen one that’s been treated with a solution, still brine it for at least 24 hours. The brine is the secret to that juicy, tender turkey that we’re going for.
This recipe makes more of an au jus (basically thin gravy) than a thick gravy. So, if you really want a thicker gravy, you’ll have to thicken it with flour or dissolved cornstarch. We really like the saucy aspect of au jus, so we don’t thicken ours. Take a look at the recipe card notes for tips on thickening the gravy.
Rubbing the spices under the skin helps them infuse the meat better than just keeping it on the outside of the skin. Just make sure not to rip the skin when doing this.
This is one of those recipes where we highly recommend a food thermometer. Without one, it can be tricky knowing whether your turkey is done or not. Stick a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the turkey breast, and when it reaches 160F, it’s done!
Did you make this?
Please give us a rating and comment below. We love hearing from you!
How to Brine and Roast Turkey (with Homemade Gravy)
For the Brine
For the Turkey
- 16-20 lb turkey, whole
- 1 apple, quartered
- 2 onions, quartered
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 cup water
- 4 sprigs rosemary
- 6 leaves sage
- 4 carrots, roughly cut
- 4 celery stalks, roughly cut
For the Gravy
- 4 TB olive oil
- turkey giblets
- turkey neck
- 10 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed flat
- 1 onion, roughly cut into pieces
- 4 carrots, sliced into 1/4″ coins
- 4 stalks celery, cut into 1/4″ pieces
- 6 quarts water
For the Brine
- In a very large/tall stockpot, add all brine ingredients, except for ice and water. Heat over high heat* and stir until dissolved. Allow to cool.
- Gently submerge turkey into the brine. Cover the top with ice. Pour in enough cold water to completely submerge turkey in liquid. Stir the liquid to combine. Store in fridge or cool location (below 40F). Swirl/stir a couple of times during brine time – 48 hours recommended, but 24 hours minimum.
For the Turkey
- Drain and place turkey upright on roasting pan’s wire rack to fully drain for several hours and allow it to reach room temp. Pat dry turkey skin thoroughly with paper towels.
- Preheat oven to 450F, with rack on a lower position. Combine dry rub ingredients in bowl. Gently spread one-third of the dry rub between skin and flesh throughout entire bird, taking care not to rip the skin. Sprinkle and press remaining dry rub on outside of skin throughout entire bird. Seal together loose skin of neck area with toothpicks.
- Bring 1 cup water to a boil in a small pot. Remove from heat and add apples, 1 quartered onion, cinnamon stick, rosemary, and sage and let steep for 1 minute. Dispose of water and insert the steeped aromatics into the turkey cavity.
- Add 1 quartered onion, carrots, and celery to the bottom pan of a turkey roaster. Place sheet of foil onto the roaster's wire rack and poke holes in the foil to allow juice to flow through. (The foil keeps the bird from sticking to the rack and makes it much easier to flip halfway through the cooking process.) Place turkey breast-side down on the foil-lined rack.
- Roast for 1 hour at 450F. Drop heat to 300F and roast for another 30 min. Remove turkey from oven and carefully flip it over, breast-side up. Insert meat thermometer into center of turkey breast and return to oven. Continue roasting until meat thermometer registers 160F.
- Transfer rack with turkey to cutting board, tent with foil, and let it rest – do not cut into it, nor remove the thermometer probe for at least 15 minutes. Set roasting pan with roasted vegetables and pan drippings aside for later.
For the Gravy
- While turkey is roasting, heat 2 TB oil in a large pot. Add giblets/neck to hot oil and sear until well-browned. Remove neck and set aside. Throw out giblets.
- Add remaining 2TB oil to the pot and heat until almost smoking. Add garlic and sauté until golden brown. Add onions, carrots, and celery, cooking until onions become translucent. Add water and bring to a boil.
- Add neck back in and boil over heat. Continue to boil until liquid is reduced by about half. Keep warm.
- Place the turkey roasting pan with roasted vegetables over two stovetop burners. Pour reduced gravy with veggies into the roasting pan and bring to a boil. Use spatula to loosen all brown bits from bottom of roasting pan. Boil and reduce by at least half again, or until gravy has the desired flavor strength. It should taste amazing when it's done!
- Strain mixture so you are left with just the au jus. Skim fat off the top and serve with sliced turkey.
- Meat Thermometer, with Stainless Steel Probe
- If your turkey is frozen, thaw it in fridge before starting recipe. It takes about 6 days for a large frozen turkey to completely thaw in the fridge.
- For fast cooling of brine: boil only half of the vegetable stock. After everything is dissolved, add the other half of the stock; this instantly cools off brine.
- If you don’t own a large enough stockpot, you can brine the turkey in a clean bucket.
- Prep Ahead Tip: All vegetables and aromatics can be cut up to 2 days in advance and chilled until use. Dry rub can be mixed several days in advance.
- The video should show vegetables in the bottom of turkey roaster, not on the foil-lined rack. Please accept our apologies for that mis-shoot.
- The gravy is a sauce-like au jus, which is thinner than classic gravy. If you prefer a thicker gravy, add 2-3TB flour to the boiling liquid while stirring, OR use dissolved cornstarch for a gluten free option (start with 2TB cornstarch fully dissolved in 2TB water; no trace of white cornstarch should be visible upon use.)
- Make sure to let turkey sit for at least 15 minutes out of the oven before slicing.
- If you enjoyed this recipe, please come back and give it a rating – we love hearing from you! ❤️
Nutrition (per serving)
More To Cook And Eat
- Instant Pot Whole Chicken – This Instant Pot Whole Chicken is juicy, succulent, and flavorful. It’s just like your favorite deli rotisserie chicken, but only takes 25 minutes to make!
- 5-Ingredient Honey Baked Ham – This ham is drenched in a sauce made from apple cider, honey, mustard, and brown sugar. And we can’t get enough of the sweet and savory goodness!
- Prime Rib with Au Jus – Prime Rib with Au Jus features tender, melt-in-your-mouth beef covered in a savory au jus sauce. It’s the perfect holiday main meal to serve at your table.
- Slow Cooker Pork Loin and Gravy – We love meals like these that are good enough for special occasions, but easy enough for weekdays. Just throw everything in the slow cooker and come home to a kitchen full of amazing smells.