Holiday Turkey Recipe-Amazing Every Time!

I’m sharing this recipe for those of you who are looking for a great easy way to roast your turkey this year.

Our family has used this one for decades and we always get rave reviews about how moist and tender it is.  Never dry! Make note that the turkey needs to be started in the oven the night before you plan to eat it.

And if it’s not quite thawed the day before, you can quick thaw it by following these instructions from Butterball.

Turkey in the Oven

It’s great because you can put your turkey in the night before. YES, the NIGHT BEFORE you want to eat it and you wake up in the morning with the delicious aromas filling the house. Another awesome thing about this recipe is that even if you cook a large turkey, it comes out moist and tender.

I first found the recipe in a book by Emilie Barnes called “The Complete Holiday Organizer”. I was going to add a link to buy the book, but it appears to be out of print. Sorry. For those of you who haven’t heard of her, she was a homemaking guru before anyone ever heard of The Martha. I’m going to include the text from the book to give you some background. I hope you try it and enjoy it. It’s SO easy!

“Perfect Turkey Every Time”

” Trust me on this one. The white meat melts in your mouth. This is a SLOW roasting method, but once in the oven, you can forget it until it comes out.

Choose desired size turkey, wash it well, and remove the neck and giblets from inside the cavity. Dry turkey with paper towels. Rub the outside well with pure olive oil.  If you want to cook your stuffing inside the turkey, stuff with dressing of your choice.  This is optional.  It can be cooked with or without stuffing/dressing.  (Sometimes if I’m not stuffing the turkey, I’ll add a few whole pieces of celery, carrots and onion to add a bit more flavor to the bird.)

Set the turkey BREAST side down  on a rack in a roasting pan (this bastes itself, making the white meat very moist).

VERY IMPORTANT: Place into a 325 degree F [preheated] oven for one hour to destroy bacteria on the surface. Then adjust the heat to 180-185 degrees for any size turkey. (note: I’ve updated the temp for the first hour of cooking to 325 merely as a precaution since many recipes now call for roasting temps to be at that level.)

This is important. The turkey can go in the oven the night before eating it!

Turkey Slow Roast Chart
Turkey Slow Roast Chart

Example: I have a 22 pound turkey. At 5:00 p.m. Thanksgiving Eve I put the turkey in the oven prepared at 325 degrees for one hour. I turn the temperature down to 185 degrees and leave the turkey uncovered until it’s done the NEXT day about 10 or 11 a.m.

Although the cooking times seem startling at first , the meat is amazingly delicious, juicy and tender. It slices beautifully and shrinks so little that a turkey cooked at regular temperatures no longer tastes good. It cannot burn so it needs no watching. It literally cooks itself. ” I do feel the need to baste every once in a while, but that’s probably more habit than anything, besides I like to open the oven and smell the turkey.

A good rule for timing is about 3 times longer than a standard recipe. For example: a 20 pound turkey that normally takes 15 minutes per pound to cook would take 5 hours. This slow cook method would be 3 times 5, so it equals 15 HOURS to cook the slow way. A smaller turkey cooks 20 minutes per pound, so an 11 pound turkey takes 3 hours, 40 mins standard, times 3 which equals 11 hours for the slow roast way.

ANOTHER IMPORTANT NOTE:  Many newer ovens are set to automatically turn off after 12 hours (I guess it’s assuming that you forgot to turn it off.) You don’t want your turkey sitting in an oven for hours without any heat.  It will be uncooked and dangerous to eat, plus you’ll have lots of unhappy and hungry guests come dinner time.  If your turkey will be reaching the 12 hour mark while you’re sleeping, just before you go to bed, be sure to turn off the oven temperature for a few seconds, then turn it back on to 185 degrees.  This will reset the oven’s internal timer so as not to automatically turn off. Be sure to make note of any time that 12 hour window ends, so you can be sure to “reset” the oven before that.

Now here’s the cool part. Once it’s done, it will NOT overcook or dry out. You can leave it in the oven an additional 3 – 6 hours and it will still be perfect! Thus your roasting can be adjusted totally to your convenience. So allow yourself plenty of time. It’s better to put it in a little early than too late though, since you want to be sure that it’s done. That’s it. That’s all you need to do. Can it be more simple?

Many standard recipes call for allowing the turkey to “rest” outside the oven for about 30 minutes before cutting. This can be done with the slow roast method as well.  Besides allowing the juices to settle in the turkey, it also allows you to have your oven free to cook or warm other items for the meal just before serving.

I’ve been using this recipe for probably 25 years and have never been disappointed when I followed the directions.

One item I need to point out. If your family actually puts the whole turkey on the table as a nice presentation, then you need to know that cooking it breast side down will not be quite as pretty as what you’re accustomed to.  There will still be some crispy skin on the top side, but the breast will not be crisp since it was on the bottom of the pan. If you’re like our family and you just take it out of the oven and slice it up on platters, no one will even know that you cooked it upside-down, except that it will taste AMAZING!

Have fun and let me know how your dinner turns out.

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59 thoughts on “Holiday Turkey Recipe-Amazing Every Time!

  1. Kirsti

    I would like to try this at Christmas this year. I’m unsure of what to do with the turkey once it’s cooked before eating your actual meal? We usually eat our meal around 5 pm. Also do you need to add time on for a stuffed turkey? Thanks. Looking forward to trying this method out

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    1. Hi Kristi,
      According to the original recipe, once it’s done it won’t overcook or dry out. You can leave it in the oven (on 180 degrees) an additional 3 – 6 hours and it will still be perfect. I haven’t left mine in more than an hour or two after the recommended cook time though, so I don’t have first hand knowledge of that.

      No extra time is needed for a stuffed turkey.

      A 5pm meal is a little trickier, but if you let me know the approximate size, we can work thru the best time to put it in.

      Or maybe you want to do a test run sometime this month with a smaller turkey, just to see how it goes when you leave it in a lot longer.

      Like

    1. Jody Gibson

      Hi Lauren–My mother-in-law taught me about this, and it is FANTASTIC. I usually put mine in after the dishes are done and I’m ready to go to bed. My most important tip I can leave you with is—Make sure that your oven does not self turn off (auto-off) after so many hours, because this will ruin your efforts. If you have a timer on your oven (cook timer; the kind you set and then it turns off after that time is over), I put it at 12hrs because then I know it will stay on until I get up and turn it off myself. Example: If you put your bird in at 8pm and get up before 8am, it will be sure to have stayed on and cooking. I usually get up way before the 12 hrs on the timer because I smell it and am eager to check it. First I peek at it, then I temperature check it to be sure.
      I go from there-if it doesn’t look done, I leave it longer. And if it looks done but doesn’t temperature check, I leave it until it is done.
      When it is done–I take it out of the oven (still in the pan) cover it with foil, and put it into the trunk of the car (this is just to save space, the temperature where I live is usually in the 30’s – 40’s for T-day. That way the fridge is not crowded with the bird, and can be used for other things). The bird does not freeze by the time we eat, but has cooled and can be cut/carved easily. I don’t try to reheat the meat because the dressing and gravy are hot and usually it isn’t that big of a deal.
      Good luck-I know this was long, but just tried to explain my method.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jessie

    Cooking my first turkey ever! I wanted to cook it over night and read that you said you can keep it in the oven for a remaining 3-6 hours. I was wondering does that still mean that the oven is on and at what temperature? Also will I be ok using a disposable roasting pan?

    Thank you :0

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    1. Catherine, I haven’t used a roaster oven, so unfortunately, I’m not sure. If it has the same temperature controls as a normal oven, I would guess it would work. Does anyone else have input on this one?

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    1. You can season lightly depending on personal preference. If I don’t put stuffing in the turkey, sometimes I add a half onion, a few stalks of celery and a carrot or two to the cavity. This add nice flavor to the whole bird.

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    1. Hi “Ryan’s mommy”, Hmmm, Since this is a boneless roast, I’m not sure. I would say that if you’re going to try it, you have a backup plan in case it doesn’t work. Let me know if you try it. Thanks for asking.

      Like

  3. Talya

    I have two questions: can you brine with this recipe? Also, could you flip the bird to breast side up the 1/2-2/3 way through the cooking time to crisp the skin on the breasts?

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  4. Karla

    Tried your recipe for Christmas dinner and it was delicious!!!! So moist and flavorful. I rubbed a whole stick of butter, seasoning salt, pepper and poured some Italian dressing over it. My first turkey was a success!!! 15 hours and the house smelled amazing!!! Thank you!!!!!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Karla

    I’m excited to make my first turkey for Christmas dinner. This method sounds amazing. Just a question, does the skin still brown up although it’s breast side down? Thank you!

    Like

    1. Hi Karla, Margie is right. The skin that exposed to the air will brown & crisp – legs, wings, back, etc. Since the breast is closest to the pan it won’t be crispy but will be juicy and flavorful!

      Like

  6. Margie B

    I’m hoping I can get an answer but I just called Zacky Farms to see if they could help me and they wouldn’t (couldn’t) answer this question. I put my turkey in last night as recommended and I was planning on turning off the oven at 7am which would be 2 hours more than the correct amount of time. When we got up around 6am, the oven was off and cold. I have no idea when it turned itself off nor how long the turkey cooked. I last checked it at midnight before going to bed and it was still on. Any idea what I can do now? Stick it back in the oven? Thank you in advance for any suggestions.

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    1. Oh, that’s a tough one. On my oven, it automatically turns off after 12 hours so I have to keep an eye on it to reset it. Did you have it in that long? Does it look like the turkey is cooked all the way? Did you check it with a meat thermometer? If it looks undercooked at all, I wouldn’t take the chance of eating it because bacteria can grow in a warm environment if it’s not hot enough and could make you ill. Sorry, but I can’t help any more than that. Does everything smell o.k.? Tough call, but better to be safe than sorry.

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      1. Margie B

        My oven must also have that feature because yes, it is a 14 lb. turkey so I used the 12 hour suggestion you gave to Julie below. The turkey and oven were cold by the time we got up so a meat thermometer wouldn’t have shown the temp it would have gone to at the time it shut off. It smells fine, it looks maybe a tad bit pink…..I hate to throw this turkey out. Do you think if I made a soup out of it, cooking it cut up for a long time and in a liquid so as not to dry it out, it would be ok?

        But you are right, better safe than sorry – doctor bill would be more than the $25. we paid for the turkey.

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      2. Margie B

        I just checked with my oven mfg. Bosch and my oven does have an automatic shutoff at 12 hours so that means it cooked at the lower temperature for 11 hours (I’m subtracting the first hour at 300 degrees) so it was almost there when it shut off. Do you have any opinion about that amount of time? Thanks again.

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    2. Hi again Margie, It sounds like it probably cooked enough because even when it shut off, the oven would have been warm for a little while. Because of the low temp baking, my turkeys sometimes have a little bit of pink, which is fine. I think you’re recommendation of cooking it in a soup or casserole is a good one. That way you know it will cook a little more and won’t go to waste. I have a great recipe for turkey enchiladas if you’re interested or soup is a great idea as well. Thanks for asking

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  7. Jesslade

    Success!!!!! I can’t thank you enough! Dinner was amazing and the turkey was beyond fabulous!!! Not one of us can move we’re so full! I will roast my turkey this way for here on out! Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

    Like

  8. Searaygirl

    I did everything as described above but the final temp came to only 150 degrees which caused enough concern, that husband insisted that it go back in oven at higher temp until the breast was 165. We did love the flavor and the ease of this method but the low final temp may cause hesitation for next years bird. What is your opinion about the final temp? Did I do it wrong somehow or is it ok to eat poultry at 150 degrees?

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    1. Hi Searaygirl! Hmmm, I don’t think I’d take a chance on serving turkey at too much of a lower temperature.

      Do you live at a higher altitude?
      How much did your turkey weigh and how long did you bake it?
      Did you bake it at 300 for the first hour?
      Was it fully thawed?

      If everything was followed correctly, I’d recommend having the thermostat on your oven checked to be sure that it’s actually cooking at the temp that it’s set at. If you find that it’s correct then I’m not sure what the issue would be.

      Let me know what you find out.

      Here’s a link that says to take it out at a temp of 155-160 degrees.
      http://www.cooks.com/rec/story/66/

      Like

  9. lisa

    Do u just use olive oil and pepper? What other seasonings do you recommend? This is my first time making a turkey, just want it to be good and juicy. 🙂

    Like

    1. Hi Lisa, Actually, I don’t even use pepper. Just olive oil. The turkey is really delicious with no seasonings. You can see another suggestion after Amber Marie’s comment below if you don’t stuff the turkey.

      Like

  10. Jennifer

    I’m going to try this, but I keep reading that the low temp won’t kill the bacteria. Especially if the turkey is stuffed. Is this something I should worry ??

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  11. Jaye

    I’m excited to try this tonight, 1 quick question though; do I add water or broth to the bottom of the roasting pan? In the past years I’ve always added some broth to baste with… thanks in advance for the advice 🙂

    Like

    1. Hi Jaye, Sorry this is a little late. I don’t add anything to the bottom of the roaster. When you get up in the morning you should have drippings in the bottom of the pan that you can use for basting. There won’t be a huge amount because most of the juices stay in the turkey where you want them anyway. I don’t think it would hurt it if you decided to do it anyway. Let me know how it goes.

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      1. Jaye

        Hi Nancy, I just wanted to update you; I did add a little bit of water and the turkey turned out amazingly!!!!! When I told everyone how I cooked it, they couldn’t believe it wasn’t dry or over cooked!! Thank you so much and Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!!

        Like

  12. Jesslade

    I married my soul mate 3 years ago, and was so excited to prepare our first Thanksgiving dinner! After spending all day baking and roasting it was finally time to carve the turkey. I could have died when my husband lifted the lid and said, “Babe, this is a chicken”!!! So last year I took the year off, lol, and we joined his parents for dinner. This year I’ve put my big girl panties back on and I’m taking another crack at it using ur slow roasting method, and yes I double checked to be sure I bought a real turkey!!! Wish me luck!

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    1. LOL! What a sweet story and a great reminder that there’s always something new to learn. Congratulations on taking the big step of making the holiday meal! I don’t really believe in luck, but I’ll wish you much success in your endeavor. What a thrill it will be to be able to say you’ve accomplished it. Thanks for sharing Jesslade.

      Like

  13. missysaunders

    What you recommend on cooking this in an electric roaster? We have small double ovens and a turkey doesn’t quite fit! Hence the electric roaster my mom gave me. I’d love your recommendation!

    Like

    1. Hi Missysaunders,

      Hmmm, I’ve never used an electric roaster. If it cooks pretty much the same way as your oven, then it would probably work. With that said, I’m not sure that Thanksgiving is the time to try it out if you’re not confident in it. That might be a good question for the folks at the Butterball Turkey Hotline.

      http://www.butterball.com/contact-us

      Let me know what you decide.

      Like

  14. Melissa

    What if my turkey is a little frozen still? I had it in cold water all day yesterday and in the refrigerator all night but it is still a little frozen. Thanks I am excited to try this!!

    Like

  15. Laura R.

    Sounds like a great recipe, but my concern is how do I get all my other baking done if the turkey takes so much time in the oven and on such a low temp? Any suggestions. 🙂

    Like

    1. Hi Laura, I guess it depends on how much you’re baking. Here are a few ideas:

      – The turkey usually needs to “rest” outside the oven for a half hour or so before cutting.
      – After you know it’s done, you can also take it out, cover with foil to keep warm and finish up your baking that last hour or so. Most of the things we bake take less than an hour.
      – Depending on the size of the turkey you may have room for some other items too. You’d just need to adjust the cooking time.
      – Some things can be baked the day before, then warmed up on the big day.
      – Try doing rolls or smaller items in a toaster oven.
      – Or some lucky folks have 2 ovens or friends and relatives to bring over some of the other baked items.

      Does anyone else have other suggestions?

      Like

      1. Laura R.

        Thanks for the hints. We won’t be eating until later in the day (like 5 or 6) so I will probably be doing a lot of my sides the day before and heating them up quickly on Thursday. I did think of my toaster oven also…will for sure be using it! This is my first time actually doing Thanksgiving…kinda crazy for a 43 year old, but we always had Thanksgiving at my parents. However this is our first year without my dear mother who we lost last December 16th. I’m sure she will be helping me in spirit this year! Blessing to you and your family for a wonderful Thanksgiving!

        Like

    2. Laura, So sorry to hear of the loss of your mother. I’m sure this will be a bittersweet time this year. My mom is turning 90 in January and we cherish every day that we get to spend with her.

      I trust that this new season of cooking for Thanksgiving will be a blessing to you and all those you love. Sounds like you’re planning well and I’m sure it will be delicious!

      Blessings to you and yours.

      Like

    3. Tracy

      Cook some of the other items in your slow cooker (potatoes, yams, etc.). And do your baking the day before. While you’re eating the meal, put your baking in the cooling oven to warm.

      Like

  16. I learned this technique from my mother-in-law 37 yrs ago. I was amazed the first time she told me how it was done. I gave it a try, and have used it every year ever since then. When I tell others how I do it, they look at me like I’m crazy, but let me tell you-I’m not. I’m the one with the best turkey every year!! This REALLY does work!!

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    1. Hi Amber, No need to cover it at all. A couple more important tips:
      – You want to put it breast-side down on the rack in the pan. This allows all the juices to go into the breast to keep it moist and juicy.
      – Also, since the temperature is so low, it won’t dry out without a cover or foil.
      – I normally don’t salt the turkey. Folks can do that later if they think it’s needed.
      – It’s your choice if you want to stuff the turkey. Just adjust the cooking time if you do. If you don’t put stuffing in the cavities, you can always just throw a couple of stalks of celery, carrots and a cut up onion in the cavity and it will add the same kind of flavor as stuffing.

      Let me know if you have other questions. This is a great no-fail recipe. Your guests will rave about it!

      Like

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