This Easy Roast Turkey with Lemon and Herbs recipe is all you need for Thanksgiving, or holiday dinner! There aren't any complicated steps to follow. With the classic combination of lemon and fresh herbs, your turkey roasts to juicy and delicious perfection! A simple recipe that's perfect for beginners!
Why you'll love this simple roast turkey recipe:
- It's perfect for any occasion: Whether it's Thanksgiving, Christmas, or even a special family dinner, this easy roast turkey recipe is a crowd-pleaser and it is sure to impress your guests.
- Simple yet delicious flavors: Basic seasonings and herbs are used in this reicpe, which lets the natural flavors of the turkey shine through.
- It's easy to make: Whether you're a novice or experienced cook, you will enjoy making this recipe...the oven does all the work!
- You can customize it to your liking: We use traditional herbs like thyme and sage, but feel free to experiment with different herbs and spices to make it your own.
- Fantastic leftovers: Roasted turkey leftovers are perfect for sandwiches, soups and everything in between! You'll have a tasty meal for days to come!
Easy No-Fuss Thanksgiving Turkey
Now I will confess, this is mom’s recipe! Why would I have to make the Thanksgiving turkey when nonna (aka, my mom), is the Thanksgiving turkey queen?
Actually, nonna is the queen of everything in the kitchen. Since we were kids, she and my very Sicilian dad would make the most incredible Thanksgiving feast. Growing up in an Italian (well, Sicilian) American home, meant there was always quite a feast for Thanksgiving.
The planning and prepping of a Thanksgiving feast can be so intimidating. If you've never roasted a whole bird of any sort, it could seem a bit daunting. I roast whole chickens pretty often. And the method I use is pretty much what nonna does to roast the turkey.
So, this year we decided to show you a no-stress, truly not complicated way to roast a turkey. There is no frying, no spatch-cocking, no brining or even basting. No prep at all the night before for the turkey. It all gets put together on the holiday!
There was one glitch on the big turkey roasting day! Nonna was upset she left her very nice roasting pan at her place. Guess what? You don't even need a fancy roasting pan. I had a disposable aluminum pan leftover from last Thanksgiving I got at a Dollar store. When she saw me pull it out of the drawer, she was so excited!
A happy nonna about a roasting pan means a happy turkey roasting day! And that's exactly what happened.
I never was in charge of the turkey because nonna would not let me touch the bird! That meant I have always been in charge of all the Thanksgiving desserts (pies, cakes, and crumbles), and a handful of sides. Nonna (my mom) also was in charge of the easiest homemade gravy and the dreamiest mashed potatoes.
- Why you'll love this simple roast turkey recipe:
- Easy No-Fuss Thanksgiving Turkey
- What ingredients are in a recipe for Italian roasted turkey?
- What is the best size turkey to buy for roasting?
- How to prepare and cook turkey:
- How to thaw the turkey:
- Do not wash your turkey
- Butter or olive oil for oven baked turkey?
- How long does it take to cook a whole turkey?
- How to store:
- How long does leftover oven baked turkey last in the refrigerator?
- Can you freeze leftover frozen turkey?
- How long is frozen leftover turkey safe to eat?
- Some other turkey recipes to enjoy:
- Easy Roast Turkey
What ingredients are in a recipe for Italian roasted turkey?
Here are the simple ingredients you need to make the best roast turkey. Seasonings, herbs, and aromatics, plus the turkey (full printable recipe is below).
- Turkey: You could use frozen or fresh turkey. Get whatever is on sale (for this recipe, I used a fabulous fresh turkey that was on sale). More info on what size turkey can be found below.
- Fresh Herbs: The herbs are what bring a basic turkey to a magical level of deliciousness. The best herbs for turkey are the classics for poultry: a trio of rosemary, sage, and thyme. Fresh or dried (we used fresh).
- Onion: The onion is cut in half and goes into the cavity of the turkey.
- Carrots and Celery: Along with the onion, some carrots and celery goes on the inside of the turkey to add some lovely savory flavor.
- Citrus: Lemon or even orange slices are added into the turkey to brighten up the flavor.
- Oil or Butter: Nonna typically uses regular oil. She sometimes uses olive oil. She said you could even use butter. But for this recipe, it was a vegetable oil.
- Salt and Pepper: Without enough salt, you'll have a very bland turkey. Nonna always uses sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
What is the best size turkey to buy for roasting?
Keep in mind that you need 1 pound of turkey per person. Or calculate 1.5 pounds of turkey per person so there will be some leftovers. This should give you a good guideline on what size to buy: .
- For 6-8 people: 10-12 pound turkey
- For 9-12 people: get a 14-18 pound turkey
- For 13-16 people: get an 18-24 pound turkey
For less than 8 people: I would always buy a 10-12 pound turkey. If you buy a smaller turkey than 10 lbs, there won’t be much meat. It’s so nice to send your guests home with leftovers, or freeze any turkey.
For more than 16 people: Consider making two smaller turkeys. It will be easier than dealing with a gigantic turkey.
How to prepare and cook turkey:
- Step 1: If turkey is frozen, thaw and remove giblets. If you used frozen turkey, thaw it out ahead of time. If it was frozen and thawed out turkey, let it rest for one hour. While it rests, heat up the oven. Now get your hand into the cavity to remove what’s in there. Use a disposable glove if you have one. Feel around in the smaller neck cavity and the large cavity and take out the neck and the giblets. Save them in a zipped lock bag in the refrigerator to make a nice gravy. Or toss them out if you already have a gravy.
- Step 2: Dry the turkey. Again, if you have disposable gloves, it's best to use them to deal with the raw turkey (it's fine if you don't have any. Just wash your hands very well after touching it). Grab some paper towels and pat dry the whole turkey.
- Step 3: Season generously. Season the inside and outside with sea salt or kosher salt and some ground pepper. Make sure you also season underneath the bird and all around it. If you have sweet paprika on hand, season generously with some of it (optional, but nonna always uses it).
- Step 4. Brush on the oil. Nonna used vegetable oil. You could also use olive oil, coconut oil, or butter. She brushes the whole turkey with the oil and rubs it all into the skin and under the skin.
- Step 4. Onions, herbs and citrus. Add in quartered onion, lemon, and fresh herbs (fresh is best...I never use dried). Keep in mind that fresh thyme has a VERY strong flavor. Less is more!
- Step 5: No need to truss the legs. Everyone's mom, grandmother, aunt trussed turkey legs. Having the legs loose instead of tied helps the turkey cook evenly. The heat distributes better throughout the entire bird while it roasts in the oven. It's fussy step you could skip! This turkey happened to have a hock lock.
- Step 6: Add some liquid. Nonna always adds about a half-inch of liquid (water or stock) to the roasting pan. This keeps the turkey very juicy.
- Step 7: Cook the turkey. I like to prep the turkey with it already on my roasting pan or roasting rack. Place the turkey in the heated oven. Place the turkey in the oven and cook it. While it cooks, prep whatever sides you have left to make.
- Step 8: Let the turkey rest. As soon as the turkey is removed from the oven, it needs to rest 30 (up to maximum 1 hour, depending on how big the turkey is) minutes. The juices gets absorbed and you get a much juicier turkey when you slice it.
- Step 9: Carve your turkey. You did it! You made a beautiful stuffing and gravy. All that you need to do now is to carve your turkey and impress your guests!
Here was the bird just out of the oven. See all the gorgeous juices and how crispy the skin is!
Once the turkey rested, nonna carved it all up. You can place it on any serving tray with fresh herbs.
How to thaw the turkey:
For every 5 pounds of turkey, you will need a full 24 hours to thaw the turkey in the refrigerator. The bigger the turkey, the longer time it will need to thaw out in the refrigerator. Plan on a full 2-4 days to thaw out the turkey. Place the turkey on a pan or a cookie sheet while it defrosts in the refrigerator.
Do not wash your turkey
Just like with a chicken, there is no need to wash out the turkey. It is a huge mess and could contaminate everything. Remember that as the same with chicken, any bacteria will get cooked away in the oven.
Butter or olive oil for oven baked turkey?
This may be something you've considered. There are so many recipes that show you how to rub the turkey with butter. You could substitute the butter with vegetable oil, coconut oil or olive oil. For the best oven roasted turkey, you could use olive oil instead of butter.
Olive oil won't change the flavor of the roasted turkey and is a nice and healthy substitute for the butter.
How long does it take to cook a whole turkey?
For this recipe, we did not stuff the cavity. And the great news is, it cooks up much faster! Not stuffing means the turkey cooks about 30 minutes less.
Keep in mind when planning that cooking the turkey could take 15 minutes per pound of turkey. Use a digital internal thermometer and check the temperature on the thickest part of the breast or even, the thigh. Every oven is different, so times will vary. The turkey’s temperature when checked with internal thermometer should be 158°-160°F. Follow this turkey cooking time cheatsheet:
- 10-14 pound turkey: 2.5 hours-3.5 hours
- 14-18 pound turkey: 3.5-4.5 hours
- 18-22 pound turkey: 4.5-5.5 hours
It’s important to check your timer. You don’t want an overcooked turkey (or undercooked). When your timer is at about ¾ done, start checking the temperature every 10 minutes. Like I said, every oven is different, so these cooking times I offer are a guideline. Best bet is to check the turkey’s internal temperature.
How to store:
How long does leftover oven baked turkey last in the refrigerator?
This may disappoint you, but the leftover turkey is safe in the fridge for up to 4 days. You can read about it here on the USDA FoodKeeper App.
Can you freeze leftover frozen turkey?
Yes, you can. Slice any meat off the bone. Place the leftovers in a freezer safe container (or a large zipped lock freezer bag. If you happen to have any leftover gravy, pour it over the sliced meat.
How long is frozen leftover turkey safe to eat?
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)If you have a really good freezer that maintains a temp of 0°F or below, frozen leftover turkey could be fine for even 6 months. When you're ready to enjoy your turkey, thaw it (if frozen)and reheat in the oven at 325 °F in the oven.
You could loosely tent the turkey with foil paper and let it rest up to an hour. While it's resting, use the giblets to make the gravy.
If you're following the USDA's recommendation's, they say to cook your turkey unstuffed. The reason being that if the stuffing doesn't reach 165°F, you could get bacteria that survives.
If the stuffing is cooked in a dish, it is called "dressing". When the stuffing mixture is cooked inside the turkey, it is called "stuffing". The problem is, when you stuff the turkey, yes, the stuffing gets all of the wonderful flavors from the bird, but it makes it much more difficult to cook the bird.
Yes, you can. If you want to eat a turkey that is still hot, 45 minutes is enough resting time. If it's a very large turkey (18 lbs or more), you could rest it up to one hour.
What happens if my turkey skin is burning, but it’s not yet done inside?
It's important to keep an eye on the bird and if it's browning too quickly, tent with aluminum foil. If it gets to the point that some turkey skin is burning before you have tented it, lower the oven temperature, and tent it with foil paper.
Yes, it really does! But, stuffing the cavity of the turkey does make it more difficult to cook. It takes longer and also, you would have to make sure the stuffing reaches 165°F to avoid any harmful bacteria.
According to the USDA , it is normal to have a little bit of pink, and will be more likely to occur if it's a younger bird. The USDA says to check for readiness by temperature, and not by the color. Turkey that is cooked to 165°F will be safe to eat.
To store the turkey leftovers the safest way, follow what the CDC recommends. Within two hours of cooking, divide up the leftovers and slice into small portions to store in an airtight container. Slicing it up lets it cool down evenly and makes it safer for fridge storage.
I give instructions in this recipe the way my mom made it: cooking the turkey uncovered. That's the way she and I both roast our chickens. You could tent the turkey for some of the roasting and uncover at the end. You could also start it uncovered (following the way this recipe instructs)and monitor and cover with foil if it's starting to brown too quickly. It all depends on the size of the turkey and stuffing.
You have to make sure you don't overcook the turkey. The best way to test for readiness is with a meat thermometer. When the breast temperature reach 165 degrees F at the thickest part, the turkey is ready. It should rest for 30 minutes before slicing.
You could even safely take out the turkey at 160F and while it rests, it will reach 165F. It's best to check temperature of the breast, because the is the turkey part that if it's overcooked will be super dry!
My mom cooks the stuffed turkey at 325F and that is what I suggest in this recipe (since it's her recipe!). A lower temperature let's it take it's time to roast the thickest parts to be nice and juicy!
Again, since this is nonna (my mom's) roasted turkey recipe, here is what she suggests: Nonna does recommend to add some liquid to the bottom of the pan. She typically adds about a half-inch of liquid (water or stock) to the roasting pan. Nonna does say that this will help keep the turkey very juicy!
Once again, as she does for roasting a chicken, she does add citrus! She always adds a quartered lemon in the turkey.
Originally published November 2022 and updated for content November 2023.
Some other turkey recipes to enjoy:
- Very Easy Turkey Pot Pie
- Easy Recipe for Turkey Stock (Homemade)
- Slow Roasted Turkey Wings
- Mojo Turkey Tenderloin
Did you make this? Please RATE THE RECIPE below:)
Easy Roast Turkey
- 1 15 pound whole turkey neck and giblets removed fully thawed
- 1 onion peeled and quartered
- 3 stalk celery peeled and cut into large pieces
- 1 carrot cut into large pieces
- 1 lemon quartered
- 2 Tablespoons sea salt
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
- ¼ cup vegetable oil or olive oil, or butter
- 6 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 2-4 sprigs fresh thyme
- ¼ cup fresh sage leaves
- 1 cup water or low-sodium chicken broth
- If the turkey is frozen: Thaw in the fridge, 24 hours for every 5 pounds of Turkey (so if it’s 15 lb turkey, will take 3 full days to defrost in the fridge).
- Bring turkey to room temp: Remove the thawed turkey from the fridge 1 hour before roasting, and let it come to room temperature.
- Prep and heat the oven: Adjust your oven rack so the turkey will sit in the center of the oven. Preheat your oven to 325°F (160°C).
- Remove turkey from packaging: Put your hand deep in the cavity and remove the neck and giblets. (Reserve them for gravy, if you want, or discard them).
- Place turkey in pan: Place the turkey, breast side up in the roasting pan. You could place the turkey on a roasting rack in the pan (it’s fine if you don’t have one) or even on top of carrots and celery to elevate it a little. Tuck the wing tips under the turkey to prevent them from burning.
- Dry the turkey: Pat the outside and inside of the turkey very dry with paper towels.
- Season the turkey: Season the cavity of the turkey with salt and pepper (I give amount above in ingredients, but use more, to your taste). If you have sweet paprika on hand, season the turkey with 2 teaspoons (optional). Drizzle on the oil and massage it into the skin.
- Stuff the cavity: Stuff the inside of the turkey with the quartered lemon, onion, carrots, celery, and herbs. Keep in mind if you have a smaller turkey, use less to stuff the cavity as you do want airflow to help cook the turkey evenly.
- Cook the turkey: Place the turkey in the oven and roast uncovered for about 15 minutes per pound, or until a or until the internal temperature reaches 158°-160°F. The turkey will continue to cook once it's removed from the oven and will rise in temperature to 165°F, after it's rested.
- Let the turkey rest: Remove the turkey from the oven and let the turkey rest for 30 minutes before carving. Letting the turkey rest lets the juices redistribute, which makes the turkey very juicy (be patient and make some sides while it rests). To keep the turkey warm, cover the turkey with aluminum foil on the counter.
- Carve and serve the turkey: With a very sharp knife (or electric knife), carve the turkey and place on a serving platter. Dispose of the vegetables and herbs that were inside the cavity.
- Save the drippings: Be sure to reserve any juice and drippings leftover in the roasting pan to make turkey gravy.
Please keep in mind that the nutritional information presented below is an approximation and may vary depending on the exact ingredients used.
- Make Ahead Tips: Be sure to remember to thaw turkey in advance. If it’s a 15 lb turkey, it will take 3 days to thaw in the refrigerator (24 hours per 5 pounds in the refrigerator to thaw).
- Turkey Size: if you're cooking for a smaller crowd (or just like white meat), try my cranberry glazed turkey tenderloin.
- Herbs: I prefer to always use fresh herbs, but to substitute dried herbs, use 1 teaspoon dried herbs per 1 tablespoon fresh chopped herbs.
- Baste: There isn’t a need to baste the turkey, keep checking on it once it’s 75% done. At this point (or even earlier), if the skin is browning too quickly, tent with some aluminum foil.
- Tips for covering with tinfoil: Start with the bird uncovered. If the turkey is browning too much, tent with a large piece of aluminum foil. If you have a roasting pan with a lid, cover it with the lid instead of foil paper.
- For Disposable Roasting Pan: If you don’t have a roasting rack, you could use some chopped vegetables (carrots + celery) on the bottom of the pan to elevate the turkey. Dispose them after the turkey is roasted (optional).
- Convection Oven: You can use the same method to cook the turkey in a convection oven, just check the temperature sooner (start checking after 2 hours) as it will cook faster.
- Storage: Store any leftovers in an airtight container. Leftovers are fine for about 3-4 days in the refrigerator.