Make-Ahead Roasted Turkey: Your Thanksgiving Hero

If you’re pressed for time (or oven space), Make Ahead Roasted Turkey is just what you need. This method keeps the turkey tasting delicious and freshly carved even when it is cooked the day before, the week before, or even the month before.

Of all the easy Thanksgiving turkey recipes out there, this one just works. I finish all of the carving well in advance of the guests arriving, make the gravy and the broth using the turkey carcass, and then I’m ready to handle anything else the day may bring.

At a Glance: Here is a quick snapshot of what ingredients are in this recipe. Please see the recipe card below for specific quantities.

Can you make turkey breast ahead of time? Absolutely! This Make-Ahead Roasted Turkey recipe from Food Network Kitchen and Culinary Hill is your secret weapon for a stress-free Thanksgiving.

Why You’ll Love This Recipe:

  • Stress-free Thanksgiving: Brine, roast, and freeze your turkey ahead of time, leaving you free to enjoy the holiday.
  • Moist and flavorful: Brining ensures a juicy, flavorful turkey that will impress your guests.
  • Easy to reheat: Simply thaw, slice, and reheat with an herbed butter for a delicious, stress-free meal.

Here’s what you’ll need:


  • For the Turkey:
    • 1 (15-pound) whole turkey, thawed (see notes)
    • 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
    • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
    • 3 cups chicken broth (see notes)
    • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, minced
    • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
    • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
    • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
    • ¼ cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • For Reheating and Gravy:
    • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
    • 1 tablespoon butter
    • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour


  1. Brine the Turkey: Combine water, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, bay leaves, and lemon zest in a large pot. Bring to a simmer, then add 4 quarts of water and cool to room temperature. Add the turkey breast, cover, and refrigerate for 12-24 hours.
  2. Roast the Turkey: Preheat oven to 350°F. Remove the turkey from the brine, pat dry, and rub with half the herbed butter. Place on a rack in a roasting pan and roast for 1 hour 45 minutes to 2 hours, rotating as needed for even browning.
  3. Cool and Freeze: Let the turkey cool completely, then wrap tightly in plastic wrap and foil. Label, date, and freeze for up to 2 weeks.
  4. Thaw and Reheat: Two days before serving, thaw the turkey in the refrigerator. Preheat oven to 350°F. Remove the breast from the bone, slice, and arrange in a baking dish. Add 1 1/2 cups broth and dot with frozen herbed butter. Wrap tightly with foil and reheat for 40-50 minutes.
  5. Make the Gravy: Melt butter in a saucepan, whisk in flour, then gradually whisk in pan drippings. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, and cook until thickened. Serve alongside the turkey.

Tips and Variations:

  • Turkey size: Plan on 1 ¼ pounds per person. Consider a turkey breast or multiple smaller turkeys for smaller groups.
  • Brining: Use a “no salt added” turkey and avoid self-basting or kosher turkeys.
  • Roasting times: Adjust based on your turkey’s size. Use a meat thermometer to ensure it reaches 165°F.
  • Carving: Carve one side of the turkey at a time.
  • Stuffing: For food safety, avoid stuffing the turkey.

Additional Resources:

Make this Thanksgiving a breeze with this Make-Ahead Roasted Turkey!

Recipe tips and variations

  • Yield: For your Thanksgiving meal, budget 1 ¼ pounds of turkey per person (part of the weight comes from the bones). This recipe calls for a 15-pound bird, which should feed roughly 12 people (18 cups total, or 1 ½ cups of turkey per person). The math is: 12 people x 1. 25 pounds per person = 15-pound turkey.
  • Storage: For up to four days, keep leftovers covered in the refrigerator.
  • Safe thawing: Slowly thawing a frozen turkey in the refrigerator over several days is the best (and safest) method. It takes longer, but it is infinitely safer. Never thaw a turkey at room temperature, in the microwave, or in warm or hot water as these methods allow bacteria to grow before the turkey is fully thawed.
  • Brine: If you have the time and inclination, a dry brine is a great way to add extra flavor to your turkey. If brining, choose a turkey whose label states, “no salt added.” Avoid “self-basting” or Kosher turkeys that have already had a brine injection.
  • Because you might be cooking a slightly smaller or larger turkey, roasting times can vary. Roasting an unstuffed turkey at 325 degrees takes about 15 minutes per pound. Nonetheless, an excellent meat thermometer—165 degrees at the thickest part of the thigh—is the best tool for determining whether a turkey has been properly roasted.
  • Carving: Starting with the first side and working your way down to the second is the easiest. For more details, view my comprehensive carving tutorial for a turkey.

can you make turkey breast ahead of time

The majority of modern recipes discourage stuffing turkeys because it compromises food safety and results in a bird that cooks more evenly. If you choose to stuff your turkey, mix the wet and dry ingredients right before stuffing the bird; make sure that any raw meat, poultry, or seafood that is used in the stuffing has been thoroughly cooked beforehand. Do not stuff a bird with cooked stuffing. Loosely pack the body and neck cavities using a large spoon or your hands (do not pack it tightly because the stuffing expands while it cooks). Truss the main cavity with trussing pins to keep the stuffing inside. The stuffing must register 165 degrees on an internal thermometer to be safe to eat. Stuffing a chicken or Cornish hens is also discouraged. For more information, see the USDA website.

can you make turkey breast ahead of time

Can you cook a turkey ahead of time and reheat?


Can I cook my turkey breast ahead of time?

Roasting your turkey ahead will save you the time spent testing and carving, allowing you to spend more time with your guests. It’s easy: Simply cook it a day or two in advance, let it cool completely, then carve the bird into large pieces—breasts, wings, thighs and drumsticks.

Can I cook a turkey the day before and reheat it?

When serving your turkey the next day, the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline advises that cooked turkey may be eaten cold or reheated. To reheat your turkey, USDA gives the following recommendations: In the Oven: Set the oven temperature no lower than 325°F.

How do you reheat a turkey breast and keep it moist?

Simply heat your oven to 300 degrees, put the carved meat in a baking dish, and add some chicken broth or turkey stock to the pan. The meat will absorb some of the liquid as it heats, making it nice and juicy. Cover the pan tightly with foil and place it in the oven until the meat is hot, 20 to 30 minutes.

Can you partially cook turkey then finish later?

Never brown or partially cook meat or poultry to refrigerate and finish later because any bacteria present would not have been destroyed. It is safe to partially cook meat and poultry in the microwave or on the stove only if the food is transferred immediately to the hot grill to finish cooking.

How long do you cook a turkey breast in the oven?

Roast the turkey for 2 to 2 1/4 hours, until the breast meat registers 165°F (74°C) (put the thermometer in sideways) on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from the oven and place the turkey on a platter. Cut off the legs and thighs and put them back into the roasting pan, covering the breast and carcass tightly with aluminum foil.

Can I make a Turkey ahead of time?

Although making the turkey ahead takes just as much time to prepare, it requires very little time on the day of your holiday meal. Spreading out the cooking over several days and making as much ahead as possible are the best ways I know to have a low-stress, relaxing Thanksgiving or holiday meal.

Should you roast a Turkey in advance?

Roast and carve turkey in advance; reheat it to moist perfection. If it stresses you out to roast a turkey for a holiday meal on the same day it will be eaten, there’s a simple solution: make it ahead. Goodbye stress. It takes time and attention to prep a turkey, roast it for several hours, let it rest, and carve it.

Can you cook a Turkey the day before?

If you’re pressed for time (or oven space), Make Ahead Roasted Turkey is just what you need. With this technique, cooking turkey the day before, the week before, or even the month before, still tastes delicious and freshly carved. Of all the easy Thanksgiving turkey recipes out there, this one just works.

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