Thanksgiving Turkey Recipes Worthy of Center Stage
Roast turkey, turkey breasts, deep-fried turkey, even turkey sliders! Whether you’re a T-Day newbie or a seasoned pro, these turkey recipe ideas just might start a new holiday tradition.
The Pilgrims may or may not have actually served turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, though venison was on the menu for sure. I point out this fun fact to say that if you’re in the mood to mess with tradition a little and consider some new Thanksgiving turkey ideas, historical accuracy shouldn’t hold you back. (Though Grandma, expecting to eat her infamous seven-hour roasted turkey? That’s on you.)
Consider the options, turkey lovers. You can go for roasted, grilled, smoked, or deep-fried; turkey cooked sous vide, in a Crock Pot, or an Instant Pot. You can cook the bird whole, butterflied, or rolled. Just the breast? Sure, especially this year, when gatherings may be smaller. Even ground turkey can be festive, given the right recipe. Then there are the seasonings, from brines to rubs, glazes, and gravies. It’s a big, flavorful turkey world out there.
So let’s explore some of the best Thanksgiving turkey recipes for your holiday dinner. If this is your first time cooking turkey and you need pointers on how long to cook the bird, what to do with the giblets, and what kind of roasting pan and roasting rack you need, our turkey 101 guide is your friend for all those burning (but not burned!) questions.
And speaking of not burning, you’re going to need a meat thermometer for sure to measure the internal temperature and ensure a juicy roast turkey. May I recommend the new Yummly®️ Smart Thermometer for perfect results?
Thanksgiving turkey breast recipes
You’re looking especially for ideas for cooking turkey breasts? Most of the categories that follow, which are organized by cooking technique, include some turkey breast recipes. Search for “turkey breast" in this article, or just keep scrolling.
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A big oven-roasted bird fills the house with tantalizing aromas, makes a beautiful centerpiece on the holiday table, and ensures the next-best thing after Thanksgiving dinner: Thanksgiving leftovers. Start here if you're looking for traditional Thanksgiving turkey recipes.
Being a lean meat, turkey can dry out if overcooked. Brining gives you a wider margin for error, holding in the moisture using salt, sometimes sugar, and the magic of osmosis. But there’s no need to mess with a sloshy wet brine. With this dry brine you rub the whole bird with salt and seasonings and let it rest in the fridge for the mixture to be absorbed. The original Yummly guided video recipe shows you just how easy this is to do with the classic Thanksgiving turkey recipe. For added succulence and flavor (no basting needed!), the herb-roasted turkey also gets a seasoned herb butter made with fresh sage before it goes in the roasting pan.
For our paid subscription service, Yummly Pro, we teamed up with Ali Rosen of Potluck with Ali for a foolproof, easy Thanksgiving turkey recipe (this one is a dry-brined turkey) and easy ways to make the whole Thanksgiving meal. For the turkey she includes baking powder to keep the skin crisp, and she starts the bird at 500°. Bonus: She walks you through turkey carving, too!
The category of roasting-pan turkey recipes for Thanksgiving has lots more great choices. Serena Bakes Simply From Scratch drapes her bird in cheesecloth with loads of butter to guarantee it stays moist. MyRecipes takes a two-step approach for a heritage bird, roasting the breast but braising the tougher turkey legs. If you’re exploring seasonings, consider fresh rosemary, Italian fennel-spice seasoning often used for porchetta (more on that below), a pomegranate or bourbon glaze, or a turkey gravy made with apple cider. Last-minute cooks can butterfly the bird and roast it in a hurry.
Grilled and smoked turkeys
A turkey that’s grilled or smoked comes out crisp and deeply browned all over, with the flavor and fragrance of the fire. Taking the bird outside frees up space in the over-subscribed Thanksgiving Day oven, too.
In this first recipe, Serious Eats injects the turkey with a spicy butter and beer mixture instead of a brine or baste to keep it juicy during smoking.
Some cooks may want to try a traditional wet turkey brine, and the Chile and Spice Grilled Turkey takes that approach, adding a flavorful Mexican-style seasoning rub as well, before grilling. More ideas to consider: smoking with wine-infused wood chips, and smoking a butterflied, spice-rubbed bird using larger wood chunks.
Rolled and stuffed turkeys
If the idea of turkey as craft project appeals, then you may want to create a boned and seasoned porchetta or stuffed roulade. You'll have the ultimate easy-carve turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, and the beautiful slices will look like a mosaic. The trick for either type of recipe is to get a butcher to do the de-boning, which takes some expertise. That way, you get the fun part.
In the Martha Stewart Italian porchetta, you lay a whole boned turkey flat; generously season it with fennel, garlic, and herbs; roll it up with pancetta around the outside; and cook it in a sheet pan or roasting pan.
Epicurious makes their porchetta with similar classic Italian seasonings, but using a turkey breast, with bacon as the self-basting wrapper. Roulades are typically boned and stuffed; Jamie Geller’s recipe features cornbread stuffing, while the Foxes Love Lemons recipe calls for an herb stuffing with apples, kale, and blue cheese.
Sous vide turkeys
Are you a high-tech cook who’s looking for an ultra-juicy and tender turkey? Consider sous vide cooking, where you immerse food in a vacuum-sealed bag in a circulated water bath while precisely controlling the temperature.
Because the meat doesn’t brown in the sous vide circulator, Serious Eats and the next contributors add a finishing step to deep-fry, shallow-fry, or broil the turkey for a browned, crispy exterior. Choose a whole turkey, turkey breast, or for dark meat fans, turkey thighs.
Set it and (almost) forget it: That’s the promise of a slow-cooker, and it’s a welcome idea on Thanksgiving when you may be up to your elbows in pies or side dishes, which may also be hogging the oven.
The steamy environment of the Crock Pot helps keep the meat juicy, but if you want crisp skin, plan to pass the turkey under the broiler, as in this Cafe Delights whole turkey recipe.
If your family goes for turkey breast meat, The Kitchn coats it with a smoked paprika dry rub, slow-cooks the meat on top of sweet potatoes with a favorite barbecue sauce, and finishes it under the broiler for crispy skin. The next two recipes pair turkey breast with more traditional herb and garlic seasonings. These are great options if you're looking for easy Thanksgiving turkey breast recipes. The last, from Countryside Cravings, adds a simple gravy recipe.
Instant Pot turkeys
Smear a turkey breast with butter and fresh herbs, possibly give it a quick sear, and then set your Instant Pot for about 30 minutes. Seriously. That’s all the cooking time these recipes need! Add 10-15 minutes for venting the Instant Pot, and an optional quick pass under the broiler to crisp the skin, and you’re done.
Oh, Sweet Basil seasons this first recipe with the tantalizing combination of smoked paprika, fresh thyme and fresh sage, butter, and orange juice. Once the turkey is done, you’ll make a gravy from the drippings.
Maybe you’re looking for an ultra-easy recipe; the Yummly original one that follows delivers an herbed turkey in 50 minutes, start to finish. MomNoms adds a little complexity with white wine and cream in the cooking liquid, the basis for a delicious gravy. For dark meat fans, Simply Recipes cooks turkey thighs or turkey legs (drumsticks) and serves them with a white wine-Dijon mustard gravy, which makes enough to ladle over potatoes.
Is this your year for a backyard turkey adventure? To make a deep-fried turkey, you’ll need to rent an outdoor deep fryer if you don’t own one. The reward is one of the most juicy, tender turkeys you’ll try, with the crispest skin — and the typical cooking time is only 45 minutes.
Cooking with Paula Deen opts for traditional herb seasonings in her deep-fried turkey, and includes a buttery wine and shallot gravy.
Leite’s Culinaria weaves in lots of safety tips in their recipe (for example, pat the turkey completely dry with paper towels so you don't get spatters, and don't use more than a twelve pound turkey); and then there's an optional 2 tablespoons of cayenne for seasoning! The next two recipes skew toward the spicy side as well, in keeping with the adventure theme.
Maybe you’re a casual Thanksgiving cook, and if that’s the case, turkey burgers may be right up your alley for your holiday meal. Don’t plan on leftovers, though — which may be a good thing for some.
The petite sliders from MyRecipes feature ground turkey with fresh herbs and black pepper; you grill the patties, then set out sautéed mushrooms and onions and cranberry mustard for diners to build their own sandwiches. The recipe makes 16 sliders and serves eight.
Rachael Ray’s and Buns in My Oven’s pan-seared recipes each serve four diners, making them a great option for an intimate Thanksgiving celebration, while the Simply Recipes option serves eight.
We’re talking turkey
Preparing a turkey meal? Yummly's a key resource stuffed full of recipes and tips, including these articles. The first one has all the details of how to cook Thanksgiving turkey, and the next one covers the gravy! Your taste buds will feel thankful.