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Moist And Juicy Make Ahead Turkey

  • Author: Cindy Gibbs
  • Prep Time: 45 minutes
  • Cook Time: 1 hour 45 min
  • Total Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
  • Yield: 10 servings 1x
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Bake
  • Cuisine: American


This make-ahead turkey is super moist & juicy and will save you SO much time on Thanksgiving day!


Units Scale


  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon fresh minced rosemary
  • Zest of 1 lemon


  • 1 (12-14) pound fresh turkey*
  • 1 large unpeeled yellow onion cut into eighths
  • 8 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 lemon, quartered
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
  • Salt & pepper



  1. In a small bowl, combine the salt, rosemary, and lemon zest.  Set aside.


  1. Two to three days before baking the turkey, wash the turkey inside and out and drain it for at least 5 minutes until it’s thoroughly drained.  Pat the turkey dry with paper towels, including the inside cavity.
  2. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the salt mixture in the cavity.  Rub the remaining salt mixture all over the turkey, making sure to get under the legs and wings.
  3. Place the turkey on a shallow baking sheet and wrap it securely with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate the turkey for at least 1 to 2 days.  Remove the turkey from the refrigerator, remove the plastic wrap, and drain any juices from the pan.  Return the turkey to the refrigerator for 1 day, unwrapped.  The skin will dry out and look semi-translucent.  Don’t skip this step, it’s important.
  4. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Place the turkey in a large roasting pan, discarding any juices from the first pan.  Place the onion, lemon, and thyme sprigs in the cavity.  Truss the turkey:  Using a long piece of kitchen twine, place the twine under the turkey and bring it up over the wings, looping the twine one time near the front of the turkey and bringing it taut.  Run the twine under the legs and bring it up taut and tie it off in a knot.  Snip off excess twine.  The twine will hold the wings and legs close to the turkey for even cooking.  Brush the turkey all over with the melted butter and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
  5. Bake the turkey for 45 minutes and reduce the heat to 325 degrees.  Bake for an additional hour and check the turkey for doneness using an instant-read thermometer.  Check the breast and thigh areas.  The breast should read 165 degrees and the thigh at 180 degrees.  If the turkey isn’t done, check it again every 15 minutes until the thermometer reads the correct temperature.
  6. Remove the turkey from the oven and place it on a carving board.  Do not discard the drippings in the roasting pan.  Cut off the legs and thighs***.  Allow the turkey to rest for at least 20 to 30 minutes.
  7. Carve the turkey:  Have ready, an ovenproof serving platter.  Remove the strings.  Carve the turkey and place it on the turkey platter in the following order.  See notes below for pouring gravy on the platter first**.   Cut off each leg, using a sharp chef’s knife.  Move the knife around the bone to release the leg. This might take a minute.  Next cut off the thighs.  Wiggle the knife around to see exactly where the joint is.  Next, remove each wing by cutting around it in one piece.  Lastly, cut off each breast.  Cut each one off in one big piece, cutting it as close to the bone as possible.  Instead of cutting thin slices of breast, cut the breast, starting at a short end, and slice it into thick pieces, about 1/2 inch in thickness.  This keeps the breast from becoming dry and stringy.  Slice the thighs on the long side in thick slices.  The dark meat doesn’t become stringy like the white.  Then place the wings on your platter whole or halved.
  8. Cover the turkey tightly with foil and refrigerate.  The following day, remove the turkey from the refrigerator 1 hour before reheating it.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Heat covered turkey for about 20 to 30 minutes until it’s heated through and serve.
  9. Cover and wrap leftovers right away to prevent them from drying out.

This recipe was slightly adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe for Make-Ahead Turkey.


  • *The ingredient amounts are for a 12 to 14-pound turkey.  However, I used the same ingredients for a 23-pound turkey and it was perfect!  Also, the 23-pound turkey took approximately 3 1/2 hours to bake.
  • **For added moistness to the turkey, make your gravy and pour some of it onto the turkey platter before placing the turkey on it.
  • ***If you don’t have a meat thermometer, and the legs and thighs look pinkish in color when you cut them from the turkey, do the following:  Cover the rest of the turkey with heavy foil.  Return the legs and thighs to the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes until an instant-read thermometer reads 180 degrees.  Transfer the dark meat back to the carving board with the white meat, cover with foil, and allow it to rest for 30 minutes.
  • Important tip: There’s a lot of kosher salt in this recipe. Be careful with adding more salt when you get ready to bake it.  Also, if you use your turkey pan to make your gravy in, it might be extra salty from the excess kosher salt falling into the bottom of the pan.  I use a skillet for my gravy and strain the drippings before adding them to the skillet.  I add extra pepper but no added salt.



Keywords: moist and juicy make ahead turkey