How to Slow Cook Turkey in the Oven

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Preparing a slow cooked turkey is an easy way to make any day feel like a holiday! Whether you’re roasting turkey on Thanksgiving – or just a regular Sunday –  follow these tips for how to slow cook turkey including defrosting, prepping, proper cooking temperature, and what to do with leftovers.

Roasted turkey on a platter.

Why You Should Make This Slow Roasted Turkey Recipe

Have you ever prepared a slow roasted turkey any other time than a holiday? I wonder why we only make turkey a few times a year? It’s such an easy dinner, the left-overs can be morphed into so many tasty dishes, and it’s a relatively inexpensive meat. 

We’re all busy, I get it. That’s why I have lots of recipes in my back pocket that take under 30 minutes. Sometimes I just don’t have the time or energy to spend more than an hour preparing a meal. Making a slow roast turkey does take a bit of prep, so it’s definitely not the meal to choose when you’re in a hurry!

But on a holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas, or even on any lazy Sunday, a slow cooked turkey is the perfect way to slow down, reflect, connect with the family, and appreciate what we have.  

Slices of turkey on plate with gravy and stuffing.

How To Slow Roast A Turkey

First, make sure your turkey is completely thawed. (See more tips on defrosting below.) It’s ok to err on the side of an extra day or two in the fridge. If you’ve bought a fresh turkey, then you’re good to go!

Prepare your turkey by tucking some butter under the skin and filling the cavity with fresh herbs and quartered lemon. I like to add plenty of kosher salt under the skin and in the cavity with the herbs. 

This method of using lemons instead of onions is one I learned in culinary school from an Italian chef who taught us Pollo al Limone. The lemon makes the breast meat unbelievably moist.

Raw turkey in a pan with lemons, herbs, and butter on a cutting board nearby.

What size turkey should I buy?

This depends on how many people you’re planning on serving. Do you want leftovers? Do more people prefer dark or light meat? Will you have plenty of side dishes? 

A good rule of thumb is to allow 1 pound of turkey per person, which includes bones and some leftovers. I find if we’re having more than 20 people, it’s easier to slow roast two smaller turkeys, provided you have access to two ovens. Two 12-pound turkeys will cook more quickly than one 24 pound bird and you’ll have twice as much breast or dark meat.

How long does it take to slow cook turkey?

It depends, of course, on the size of your turkey, the temperature of your oven and whether or not you’ve chosen to stuff your bird. If you use my slow roasted turkey recipe, with just lemons and herbs, your turkey should take about 15-17 minutes per pound.

Lifting the skin of raw turkey to separate it from the meat.

Do you slow cook a turkey at 325 degrees or 350 degrees?

What temperature should you roast your turkey? When you slow cook turkey in the oven, I recommend 325 degrees fahrenheit. But you certainly can increase the oven temperature to 350 or 375 degrees if you’re finding your turkey isn’t cooking as quickly as you thought. 

Sometimes this can be due to the stove running slower. That’s why I like to hang an oven thermometer inside my oven, because even if it’s off by 10 degrees it can slow down the roasting time.

What temperature should the meat be?

I always use a food thermometer! Looks can be deceiving and your bird could be brown and toasty on the outside and raw near the bone! 

The internal temperature of turkey should be 165 degrees F. Insert the meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast and then again into the thigh area between the leg and breast. Be sure the thermometer is not touching bone. 

Should you baste your turkey or not?

While some people will say it makes no difference whether you baste or not, I love the act of checking on the bird and basting every thirty minutes or so. It gives me a chance to check the bird’s temperature and make sure the skin isn’t getting too brown. If it is, I’ll tent it, or lower the heat a bit, depending on the timing of the dinner.

Sliding butter under the skin of the raw turkey.

Is it stuffing or dressing?

When I was growing up we always stuffed our turkey. The juices from the bird mingled with the stuffing and made it extra moist. 

After cooking school, I couldn’t imagine putting cooked stuffing into a raw bird! I haven’t roasted a turkey with stuffing for decades. It also adds time to the roasting process. An unstuffed turkey cooks faster and there’s no danger of cross-contamination.

Try these delicious sides with your slow roasted turkey: Cranberry Chutney, Cornbread Dressing, Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Browned Sage, and Homemade Creamed Corn.

Food Safety for a Slow Cooked Turkey

If nothing else, the one thing I have carried with me since culinary school in the early 80s was food safety and handling. 

I wash my hands before cooking and frequently during prepping and cooking. Hands should be washed for at least 20 seconds after handling foods like raw eggs, meats or seafood as well as vegetables and fruits.

I always keep my hair in a ponytail, even when I’m cooking for my own family. Because no one wants stray hair in their food, even if it is your mom’s! I also always wear a chef’s half apron and tuck a clean towel in my waistband. The towel is for drying my clean hands and I never use it on dishes or a counter.

I’ve partnered up with the Water Quality & Health Council to bring awareness about food safety with the campaign #IPlateItSafe.

 
Plated slices of turkey with grapes, herbs, and pomegranate as garnish.

Defrosting the turkey

I think this might be one of the biggest problems around the holidays. People seem to underestimate the amount of time needed to defrost their bird. Then when it comes time to slow roast the bird, they realize it’s still half-frozen and try to “speed thaw” it. 

To safely and completely defrost your turkey, allow about 1 day (24 hours) for every 5 pounds. I usually add an extra day for good measure. That means I’ll begin defrosting a 15 pound turkey on the Sunday before Thanksgiving.

Cross contamination

Cross-contamination occurs when two different food items are placed on the same surface without thorough cleaning in between. This is a health risk, especially at Thanksgiving when there is a lot of food preparation going on. 

It’s imperative that you have one dedicated cutting board for raw meats and another one for vegetables. If you don’t, be sure to thoroughly clean and disinfect your board between uses.

Should you rinse your turkey in the sink?

Do not rinse raw meat or poultry in the kitchen sink! For many years there was debate as to whether you should rinse your turkey or chicken before roasting. This has been proven unnecessary. 

Rinsing raw meat can spread germs to surrounding surfaces. Even though I do not rinse my turkey, after wrestling the bird around, I always disinfect the sink, counter and any other surfaces the turkey may have come in contact with. 

Once the kitchen is cleaned and sanitized, I’m ready to prep the rest of the meal.

Pouring gravy on turkey.

What Can You Make With Leftover Turkey?

We all know that the leftovers are the best part! My dad used to make us open-faced turkey sandwiches the next day with all the fixings on a slice of white bread. 

After one day, my family is ready to try something else. Luckily, there are so many ways to transform leftover turkey! Use the turkey meat just as you would leftover chicken. Here are a few of my favorite ways to repurpose leftover turkey:

While you never want to refrigerate or freeze piping hot food, leftovers should be refrigerated within two hours. Sooner in warmer climates! Make sure you wrap the turkey well or keep it in covered containers. All leftovers should be tossed within 3-4 days. (You’ll probably be sick of them by then anyway!)

Have you ever wanted to try smoking a turkey? Here’s a recipe for easy smoked turkey!

This post was originally posted on November 26th, 2014, and has been updated to contain nutritional information.

roast turkey on platter

Roast Turkey

Cynthia
Roasting a turkey does not need to be intimidating! This guide to slow roasting a turkey will ensure a perfect bird every time!
NUTRITION NOTE: Calculations are for one pound of turkey meat per person. This includes bones. Most portions will be 4 to 6 ounces.
5 from 66 votes
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours
resting time 20 minutes
Course Entee
Cuisine American
Servings 12 people
Calories 529 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 12 pounds Turkey
  • 4 ounces Butter diced
  • 1 Tablespoon Kosher salt
  • 2 Lemons cut into wedges
  • 1 bunch Fresh herbs rosemary, thyme or oregano

Instructions
 

  • Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees F.
  • Wipe turkey dry and remove giblets. There is no need to rinse! (see information in post)
  • Carefully separate skin from turkey with your fingers. Slide some butter and salt under the skin of the turkey.
  • Fill cavity of bird with lemon wedges, herbs and more salt.
  • Melt remaining butter and pour over bird. Baste turkey every 30 minutes (if desired)
  • Roast until thermometer inserted in thickest part of thigh registers 165 degrees F.
  • Remove from oven and tent with foil and allow to rest 20 minutes.

Notes

  • Cooking time varies depending on your oven, the size of the bird.
  • We usually purchase a kosher turkey which is pre-brined, thus eliminating the need to brine.
  • A general rule of thumb for an unstuffed turkey is 15-20 minutes per pound at 325 degrees F.
  • How much meat per person? Figure on 1 pound per person, which allows for bones and leftovers.

Nutrition

Serving: 1servingCalories: 529kcalCarbohydrates: 2gProtein: 70gFat: 26gSaturated Fat: 10gCholesterol: 252mgSodium: 1013mgPotassium: 773mgFiber: 1gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 817IUVitamin C: 16mgCalcium: 49mgIron: 3mg
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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89 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    A lot of great tips here, Cynthia! I’ve never stuffed the bird with my stuffing either though I know many people who still do. Your turkey looks absolutely perfect here. I prepare mine the same way and it always comes out perfect…slow roasting is the best way to go!

  2. Someone just gave us a big turkey to cook for Thanksgiving half an hour ago! Your post will help us what to do with it ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Wow what an incredible guide that is jam packed with ideas. I love the additional add in of the herbs how lovely x

  4. 5 stars
    This turkey recipe is perfection! Slow roasting is the way to go. We used this recipe last year and can’t wait to enjoy it again for the holidays.

  5. 5 stars
    It’s nearly turkey season and this recipe looks absolutely delicious! thanks for all the helpful tips, you make it seem so easy! Can’t wait to try it out!

  6. There is a lot of lemon mixed in the butter, as well as lemon zest. My husband does not like lemon. Does the butter give the turkey a lemon flavor โ€“ my husband would not want his turkey tasting like lemon.

      1. I will try tomorrow and will let you know how it goes. Do I need to cover the turkey in the owen with some foil or not?

  7. 5 stars
    Thanks for this comprehensive article, it’s very useful!
    (but PLEASE remember most of this world uses Centigrade- not everyone is an American. Why can’t you you give both scales in your recipes so they are global?

    1. Thanks Alan, as 85% of my traffic comes from America, and I am American, I gravitate to that which is familiar. However in the future I will Google the conversions for oven and meat temperatures and incorporate them into my posts. Happy Christmas.

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