Making A Whole Thanksgiving Turkey Your Family Will Love

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Here are steps to making a perfect whole Thanksgiving turkey flavored with lemon, sage, and a secret marinade that may already be in your pantry.

perfect lemon sage roasted turkey

Impress your guests this holiday by serving this lemon sage roasted turkey that is moist, flavorful, and beautiful on a platter. It is anything but boring!!!


Mastering a whole Thanksgiving turkey.

I’ve never been able to master the art of making a whole turkey. It has always turned out bland and super dry. Thankfully, my friend Iris has taught me how to make a turkey that rivals anything I could buy from a caterer. She created this recipe for me to share with my followers just in time for Thanksgiving. Iris’s years at Oxmoor House as a taste tester and food stylist gave her just the skills needed to create this turkey that we can all enjoy on our table. She also took all of the photos of this beautiful bird. She is amazing!!!

Save money by roasting your own turkey.

For many years, I have ordered our Thanksgiving turkey from various caterers or kitchens in town. I’ve spent about $50 for every turkey, most of which averaged 10-12 pounds. The turkey in these photos was 18 pounds and cost less than $20. Add the marinade, lemons, and sage, and I spent roughly $25. That is a huge savings.

What kind of turkey do you buy?

For this recipe, I used an 18-pound frozen turkey from Publix that was not pre-brined. Fresh turkey would definitely work well, but I haven’t seen whole turkeys at the meat counters lately. Fresh turkey usually start showing up in stores just before Thanksgiving, and they are usually sold at a great price.

Do you brine a whole Thanksgiving turkey?

You could brine a whole Thanksgiving turkey, but that would be a definite challenge due to the size of the bird and refrigerator space needed to keep it overnight. Iris created this recipe to do an “internal brine” where marinade is injected into the turkey. It acts as a brine due to the high salt content in the Dales, but it just works from within. A meat injector can be found almost anywhere, often attached to marinades in the grocery store.

How do you marinate a turkey?

A marinade is key to getting a full deep flavor into the turkey.  This recipe calls for a marinade of melted butter, Dale’s hickory marinade, lemon juice and garlic powder. This is injected into the turkey at most of the meaty spots (breasts, thighs, legs). Dale’s has a high salt content (even the low-sodium version), but it is perfect for brining. The hickory flavor is also so delicious. The lemon juice adds flavor and is also a good acid to tenderize the meat.

How else do you flavor the turkey?

In addition to injecting the turkey with marinade, you use fresh lemon and sage to round out the flavors. Lemon slices and sage leaves are tucked underneath the turkey skin. The lemon rinds are tucked inside the turkey cavity along with onion wedges.   In the photo below, you can see the skin peeled back to reveal the lemon and sage underneath.

Truss the legs with cooking twine before roasting

How do you get a brown exterior on the turkey?

The brown crispy looking skin on the Thanksgiving turkey comes from roasting on high first (475 F) and then reducing heat to 300 for slower cooking. This brown exterior acts as a “seal” to prevent the turkey from drying out as it cooks. It almost acts like an oven bag made of turkey skin.

How long do you cook a whole turkey?

Once you cook the turkey at 475 F for 15 minutes to brown the skin, you reduce the heat to 300 F. Before closing the oven door, you’ll want to insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh (being careful not to touch the bone). You cook at 300 F until the thermometer registers 165 F. This takes generally 2-3 hours for a 15-16 pound turkey. When you see the thermometer reach 165 F, remove the turkey and allow it to sit for at least half an hour to settle.

In the video below, I show how the Thanksgiving turkey looks from the oven and share some tips that make this recipe turn out well every time.

What foods go best with a roasted Thanksgiving turkey?

The time of year that I make a whole turkey is either Thanksgiving or Christmas. Below are some of the menu items we put on our holiday table.

I hope that you will try making your own turkey this year; you can do it!!!! If you make this one, please let me hear how it turns out. As always, thanks so much for stopping by. Be blessed, and stay savvy!!!

Perfect Whole Roasted Turkey

Yield: 25 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Additional Time: 1 day
Total Time: 1 day 30 minutes

Lemon Sage Oven Roasted Whole Turkey


  • 1 (14-to16-pound) turkey, thawed 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper 2 lemons
  • 1/4 cup fresh sage leaves
  • 2 onions, quartered
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1/2 cup Dale’s low-sodium hickory marinade 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder


  1. Remove giblets and neck from turkey; reserve for another use. Rinse turkey thoroughly inside and out with cold water; pat dry with paper towels.
  2. Carefully separate skin from body of turkey at neck area, working down to breast and thigh area. Rub ground pepper between skin and breast meat of turkey.
  3. Thinly slice 1 lemon. Place lemon slices and sage leaves between skin and meat of turkey.
  4. Cut remaining lemon in half; squeeze juice evenly on top of turkey. Place lemon halves and onion quarters inside of turkey cavity.
  5. Truss turkey legs with kitchen twine. Lift wingtips up and over back, and tuck under turkey.
  6. Combine melted butter and next 3 ingredients. Load butter mixture into a meat injector and slowly inject into several spots in the turkey, including the breast legs and thighs. Massage around the injection sites to distribute the mixture throughout the bird. Pour remaining butter mixture over turkey.
  7. Place turkey on a rack in a roasting pan, breast side up; refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.
  8. Remove turkey from refrigerator.
  9. Preheat oven to 475’. Insert meat thermometer into the meaty part of the thigh, making sure it does not touch bone.
  10. Bake turkey for 15 minutes; reduce heat to 300’ and bake for an additional 2 to 2 1/2 hours to 3 hours, or until meat thermometer registers 165’. If Turkey starts to brown too much, cover with aluminum foil. Turkey is done when drumsticks are easy to move up and down.
  11. Let turkey stand at least 30 minutes before carving. Garnish, if desired. Yield: 25 servings.
Nutrition Information
Yield 25 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 62Total Fat 6gSaturated Fat 3gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 3gCholesterol 10mgSodium 229mgCarbohydrates 3gFiber 0gSugar 1gProtein 1g

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  1. Hi Linda! The photo shoot was taken at my food editor’s home! I love the pizza oven also. She has had it for decades~thus the “settled in” look!!!! I hope the turkey turns out well for you!!!!

  2. Hi Rachel! It is a different brand with a bit of a different flavor. Honestly, I prefer Dale’s to Moore’s in some recipes. It should be fine for this recipe!!!!

  3. Hi Jamie! I’m thinking I might have to do a trial run on this turkey before Thanksgiving. It looks beautiful and I bet it tastes as good as it looks. Also, that’s such a beautiful backyard with the pizza ovens behind you!!! I love it. We are wanting to incorporate a pizza oven in our backyard but we want it to look like its been there for a long time just like the one in your video. :)

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