It's Thanksgiving morning and you're staring down a giant turkey on the counter. Too late to do any brining, but is there a way to still make a moist, flavorful turkey and gravy? This easy roast turkey recipe uses a secret weapon — compound butter, loaded with citrus and herbs — to make a delicious turkey that you'll be proud to carve and serve at your Thanksgiving table.
A Flavorful Compound Butter Is All You Need
Compound butter is basically flavored butter. Seasoned with lots of orange and lemon zest, plus some finely chopped fresh oregano and thyme, this butter is a flavor boost that gets smeared under the skin of the turkey so that it both perfumes and bastes the turkey as it roasts. Take the extra time to loosen the skin so the butter really gets to flavor the meat itself. After the turkey roasts, turn those flavorful drippings at the bottom of the roasting pan into a tasty gravy to ladle over slices of tender, moist turkey breast.
And don't be afraid if this is your first time roasting a turkey — we've got you covered! There's no fancy trussing or flipping of a hot bird to make you nervous here.
Citrus-Herb Roast Turkey Breast
To adapt this recipe for a 3- to 7-pound bone-in turkey breast, make a half recipe of the citrus, herb, and butter mixture, then rub it under the skin of the turkey breast (you might not need all of it if you have a small turkey breast). Season the turkey breast all over with salt and pepper. Save the zested citrus for another use.
Follow the same roasting directions as below, including placing broth in the bottom of the pan. Baste the turkey every 20 minutes. Start checking the turkey for doneness after 1 hour of roasting time. Proceed with making the gravy with the same amounts and method as below.
Citrus-Herb Roast Turkey
For the turkey:
1 medium orange
1 medium lemon
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh oregano leaves
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
1 (12- to 15-pound) whole turkey, thawed if frozen
2 cups low-sodium chicken or turkey broth
For the gravy:
Vegetable oil or unsalted butter, as needed
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Up to 1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken or turkey broth, as needed
Freshly ground black pepper
Roast the turkey: Arrange a rack in the lower third of the oven, remove any racks above it, and heat to 450°F. Have a roasting pan fitted with a roasting rack ready. (If you don't have a roasting rack, crumple up a few sheets of aluminum foil and place them on the bottom of a regular or disposable roasting pan.)
Finely grate the zests of the lemon and orange and place in a small bowl. Quarter the lemon and orange and set aside for stuffing the turkey. Add the butter, oregano, thyme, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper to the bowl of zest, and smash together with a spoon or rubber spatula until combined; set aside.
Remove the turkey's neck and giblets, or save for another use. Pat the cavity and the outside of the turkey dry with paper towels and place breast-side up on a cutting board or rimmed baking sheet. Loosen the skin on the breast and the legs by gently sliding your hand between the meat and the skin and separating it without tearing it. Distribute the butter evenly under the loosened skin. Season the outside and cavity of the turkey generously with salt and pepper.
Place the turkey breast-side up on the roasting rack. Stuff the lemon and orange quarters into the cavity. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine if desired. Pour the broth into the roasting pan.
Place the roasting pan in the oven. Immediately turn the temperature down to 350°F. Roast, using a baster or brush to baste the turkey with the pan juices every 45 minutes, until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh not touching bone registers at least 165°F, 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours total (about 13 minutes per pound). Start checking the temperature after 2 hours roasting time.
When the turkey is ready, place the roasting pan on the stove or heatproof surface. Lift the neck end of the turkey up at an angle with a wadded-up paper towel so that the juices in the cavity pour out into the roasting pan. Transfer the turkey to a clean cutting board or serving platter and let rest at least 30 minutes before carving. Meanwhile, remove the roasting rack and make the gravy.
Make the gravy: Fit a fine-mesh strainer over a heatproof medium bowl. Using a wooden spoon, scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the roasting pan. Pour the pan juices through the strainer and discard the contents of the strainer. Set aside for a few minutes for the fat to rise to the surface.
Spoon off 1/4 cup of the fat from the surface of the pan juices into a medium saucepan (if you don't have enough fat, add oil or butter as needed to get to 1/4 cup). Spoon off and discard the remaining fat. Measure the remaining juices, known as drippings, and add broth as needed to get to 2 1/2 cups (if you have more than 2 1/2 cups of drippings already, that's fine); set aside.
Place the saucepan over medium-high heat until the fat is shimmering. Whisk in the flour and cook until slightly darkened in color, about 1 minute. Pour in the reserved pan juices, whisk to combine, and bring to a simmer. Simmer until thickened to the desired consistency. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Pour the gravy into a serving bowl or gravy boat and serve with the carved turkey.
- Thawing instructions: The simplest and safest way to thaw a whole frozen turkey is in the refrigerator. It will need 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey.
- Make ahead: The compound butter can be made and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance. Let come to room temperature before using.
- Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.