Whole Roasted Turkey with Lemon and Fresh Herbs

The turkey is an iconic symbol of any Thanksgiving meal. So much so, that I can’t even imagine a Thanksgiving table without it. But why save the turkey for just Thanksgiving when it’s absolutely a food that can be enjoyed year-round? This recipe for whole roasted turkey with lemon and fresh herbs is versatile and tastes great any time.

The most important part of cooking a turkey is keeping a clean, safe kitchen. If you buy a frozen turkey, it can take days to thaw. It’s a process that can’t be rushed and one that should never take place on the kitchen counter. The safest thawing method is gentle and happens in the refrigerator. The turkey should be transferred to a deep pan or other rimmed container and covered to prevent raw juices from leaking out into your refrigerator and contaminating other foods. You can take an extra preventive step against contamination by storing the thawing turkey on the lowest shelf of your refrigerator. To successfully thaw a turkey follow this basic rule of thumb: it takes about one day of thawing for every four pounds of turkey, so plan accordingly. edited turkey before and after

After your bird is thawed, staying clean is even more essential. Don’t wash the bird in the sink; the water can splash bacteria around your kitchen. Instead, remove the turkey from the packaging, place it in the roasting pan then pat it dry with clean paper towels. Give your hands a good, thorough cleaning in warm, soapy water each time you move between any tasks that don’t involve your raw turkey.

Finally, use a food thermometer to make sure you have cooked the turkey to the correct temperature. Many people make the mistake of only checking the temperature of the breast meat. While you will need to do this, it is not the only determinate of whether your turkey is done or not; also check the thigh and the wing. Insert the food thermometer in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast, avoiding bone. When it reaches the safe temperature of 165°F you know for certain that your turkey is thoroughly cooked and safe to eat.

Read more on proper turkey food safety:

Whole Roasted Turkey with Lemon and Fresh Herbs

Recipe by Sara Haas, RDN, LDN


For the compound butter

For the turkey

  • 5 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 lemon, washed, zested then quartered
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, washed
  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage, washed and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 small onion, washed, peeled and quartered
  • 1 small bunch of fresh thyme
  • 1 small bunch of sage
  • 2 medium ribs of celery, washed
  • 1 12 – 14-pound whole turkey, thawed, neck and gizzards removed


  1. Prepare the compound butter by combining the butter, lemon zest, thyme, sage, salt and black pepper in a bowl. Mash with a fork or spoon and stir to blend. Reserve 2 tablespoons to melt and serve with turkey.
  2. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
  3. Drain any juices from the turkey and pat dry with clean paper towels. Place turkey, breast-side up on a rack in a roasting pan. If you don’t have a rack, make a substitute out of foil. Simply take a long piece of foil and roll and crunch it into a circle that will fit into the bottom of the pan then sit the turkey right on top of the foil. (The goal is to keep the turkey off of the bottom of the pan.) Fold the wings under the bird to provide more stability.
  4. Carefully run your hand under the skin to loosen it from the breast meat. Then take the compound butter mixture and spread it under the skin, all over the bird.
  5. Insert the lemon, onion, thyme, sage and celery into the turkey cavity and place in the oven. Roast for about 2 hours, then cover the breast and top of legs with a sheet of foil to prevent the meat from drying out. Cook an additional 1 to 1 ½ hours, or until internal temperature has reached 165°F.
  6. Remove turkey from the oven and allow it to stand for 20 minutes before carving. Melt the reserved compound butter and drizzle it over the turkey breast just before serving.
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Sara Haas
Sara Haas, RDN, LDN, is a Chicago-based dietitian and co-author of the Fertility Foods Cookbook. Read her blog, The Cooking RD, and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.