This perfect baste for turkey recipe includes a delicious lemon orange herb rub made with olive oil for a perfect crispy skin. The turkey is stuffed with fresh sage and thyme, orange and lemon slices, and green onion. It’s then basted with more lemons, herbs, and olive oil for a deliciously juicy turkey! This turkey is so flavorful you’ll want it at your next Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner!
This recipe is THE BEST recipe for your holiday turkey! It includes everything you need – what to stuff your turkey with, what to season the skin with, and the perfect basting recipe. And of course step-by-step instructions to take all the stress out of cooking your main entree.
Whether it’s your first time cooking a turkey or you are a seasoned pro – this citrus herb baste for turkey along with the tasty seasoned rub will give you the absolute perfect turkey!
Scroll to the end to find all my tips for a juicy turkey!
How to Prepare Your Turkey
Thawing Your Turkey
Most turkeys come frozen. You’ll need to thaw your turkey out in the refrigerator for a few days prior to roasting it. Give your turkey 24 hours to thaw for each 3 to 4 pounds. If you have a 15 pound turkey then let it thaw for 3 days in the refrigerator. If you have a 20-pound turkey then it will take 4 to 5 days to completely thaw. I like to add one extra day above what I think it will need – just in case!
Allow Your Turkey to Come to Room Temperature
You’ll want to let your turkey come to room temperature, or close to it, before you roast it. This will help it to roast evenly. Give it around 2 hours to come to room temperature. The last hour of that time you can spend prepping it for roasting. Such as patting it dry, removing the giblets, stuffing it, making the citrus herb rub, and preparing the baste for the turkey.
Remove the Neck and Giblets
This is my very least favorite part of cooking a turkey but it must be done! Remove the neck and giblets and discard them. Rinse the inside of the turkey or use a wet paper towel to clean the inside.
What You Need
- Roasting pan: Make sure it has a rack! You’ll need the rack inside the roasting pan to keep the turkey up out of the drippings.
- Basting brush: I like the silicone kind but whatever you have will work just fine.
- Citrus juicer: A juicer will simplify the process but in a pinch you can also do the juicing yourself by squeezing the lemon and orange halves over a bowl.
- Citrus zester: If you don’t have one you can also use the smallest grate holes on a cheese grater.
- Foil: About 2 hours into the cooking time you’ll want to cover the turkey with foil to protect the turkey breast from drying out. When the turkey is close to done, around 155 degrees, you can remove the foil to crisp up the skin while it cooks those last 10 degrees. We love a turkey with crispy skin!
Ingredients for Citrus Rub and Baste for Turkey:
- 15-to-20-pound turkey: Choose whichever size is best for you. A 15-pound turkey will feed about 12 guests. A 20-pound turkey will feed about 15. I always like leftovers though!
- Olive oil: You can choose regular olive oil or extra virgin. This recipe uses olive oil rather than butter to make it dairy-free and because it makes such a delicious crispy skin!
- Chicken broth: This will be used to make the baste for the turkey.
- Oranges: Essential for the delicious citrus herb flavor!
- Lemons: Another essential. These will be used every step of the way!
- Green onions: I like the green onions for something different, but you can use a regular white, yellow, or red onion too.
- Fresh thyme leaves: Thanksgiving is the one time I always go with fresh herbs. I love the flavor!
- Fresh sage: So fragrant!
- Minced garlic: Pre-minced or you can mince yourself.
- Salt: Salt really brings out the flavor of the turkey!
- Pepper: Another flavor enhancer
How to Make This Turkey and Basting Sauce
Stuffing the Turkey
- After you have allowed your turkey to come to room temperature, have removed the neck and giblets, and have rinsed the inside of the turkey, it is time to stuff it! Wash the oranges and lemons. Quarter the orange and one of the lemons. Then slice the remaining lemon into thin slices.
- Trim the ends of the green onions and cut them in half.
- Chop your fresh herbs. The sage leaves are easy to remove from the stems. The thyme leaves are a little harder. Run you fingers down the stem in the opposite direction the leaves grow. This will remove the leaves in the easiest possible way!
- Stuff the inside of the turkey with the quartered lemon and orange, green onions, and 1 tbsp each of fresh chopped thyme and sage leaves. Reserve the sliced lemon for the next step.
Citrus Herb Rub
- After you have stuffed the turkey then go ahead and make your citrus herb rub. Wash one lemon and one orange. Zest them both and then juice them. Reserve the lemon juice for the basting sauce.
- Mix the fresh orange juice (about 1/4 cup) with the olive oil, fresh herbs, lemon zest, orange zest, minced garlic, and salt and pepper.
- Use a paper towel to pat the turkey very dry.
- Carefully loosen the skin at the neck of the turkey by sliding your fingers under it. Spread 3 to 4 tablespoons of the olive oil mixture on top of the turkey breast underneath the skin. Place half the lemon slices there as well, then pull down the skin to keep the lemons in place. See picture below.
- Do the same at the bottom cavity of the turkey. Carefully loosen the skin and spread 1 to 2 tablespoons of the olive oil citrus rub under the skin. Place the remaining lemon slices there and pull the skin down to keep them in place.
- Use the basting brush to spread the remaining rub all over the outside skin of the turkey. The breast, wings, legs, everything.
Baste for Turkey
- Mix together your reserved lemon juice with the chicken broth, 1/2 cup olive oil, and the dried herbs. You can use fresh herbs here instead of the dried herbs if you have any left.
- Starting 1 hour into the cooking time, you will baste the bird every 30 minutes. If you run out of the citrus baste then simply use the pan drippings.
Cooking the Turkey
- Cook the turkey at 325 degrees. Cooking the turkey at this lower temperature helps ensure you end up with a juicy turkey instead of a dry one!
- It will probably take between 4 and 5 hours to cook the turkey. The turkey is cooked when it reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. ALWAYS verify the temperature of the turkey. Thanksgiving is not the time for food poisoning!
- The cooking time takes about 14 minutes per pound of turkey. A 15 pound turkey will take about 210 minutes (3 hours and 30 minutes) A 20-pound turkey will take around 280 minutes (4 hours and 40 minutes). This is just an approximation. Once again, always take the temperature!
- Baste the turkey with the basting sauce every 30 minutes, after the first hour of cooking.
- Check the turkey about 2 hours into the cook time. If the turkey breast is looking golden, cover it with foil. Keep it covered until the end, carefully removing and replacing with each basting. Remove the foil when the turkey reaches about 155 degrees to crisp up the skin at the end.
Tips for a Juicy Turkey
Everyone wants a juicy Thanksgiving turkey! Or Christmas turkey, whichever. Follow these tips to get the juiciest turkey possible!
- Forget about trussing! Tying the turkey legs too tightly together means a longer cooking time that can potentially dry out the turkey breast meat. Forgo it altogether or tie the legs together loosely.
- Rub the olive oil rub under the skin. This is an important step in keeping that breast meat juicy and not dry!
- Use an oven-safe leave-in thermometer to keep an eye on your turkey. This will prevent you from overcooking the turkey and from stabbing it repeatedly and letting out the juice!
- Baste often! This recipe has you baste the bird every 30 minutes to keep it nice and moist!
- Cover the turkey with foil once it is golden in color. This will protect the meat, especially the breast meat, from drying out.
- Pull the turkey out of the oven a tad bit early. You can pull the turkey out of the oven once it reaches 160 degrees and let it finish cooking under the foil as it rests. Always double check to make sure the turkey has reached 165 degrees! This step is of course optional. If you feel more comfortable leaving the turkey in the oven until it reaches 165 degrees then do it.
- Let the turkey rest after it’s done cooking. This will help the juice to redistribute throughout the bird so you don’t lose all the juice when you cut it open! Let the turkey rest for about 20 to 30 minutes.
Do you have any questions about cooking a turkey? If you do then please ask away in the comment section below! I’d be happy to answer any of your questions!
Need a recipe to use up the leftover turkey? Try this dairy-free Turkey Rice Soup! It’s my absolute favorite way to use up leftover Thanksgiving turkey. Pair it with this gluten-free and vegan Honey Cornbread for a complete meal!Print
Citrus Herb Baste for Turkey
This recipe is THE BEST recipe for your holiday turkey! It includes everything you need – what to stuff your turkey with, what to season the skin with, and the perfect baste for turkey recipe.
- 15-to-20-pound turkey
- 1 orange
- 2 lemons, divided
- 1/2 bunch green onions
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh sage leaves
Citrus Herb Rub
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup fresh orange juice (1 orange)
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
- 1 tbsp fresh sage
- 2 tsps minced garlic
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- Zest from 1 lemon
- Zest from 1 orange
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 lemons, juiced
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp dried sage
- 1 tsp dried rosemary
- Remove your thawed turkey from the refrigerator 2 hours before roasting time to let it come to room temperature. Remove turkey from packaging. Remove neck and giblets and discard them. Rinse the inside of the turkey.
- Remove the fresh herb leaves from the stems. Chop the sage leaves into small pieces.
- Make the olive oil citrus rub by first zesting and then juicing the orange. Zest the lemon. Mix the orange juice with olive oil, orange zest, lemon zest, 1 tbsp fresh thyme, 1 tbsp fresh sage, minced garlic, salt, and pepper.
- To stuff the turkey, first slice the ends of the orange and 1 of the lemons and then quarter. Slice the ends and tops off the green onions and discard. Cut the green onions in half. Stuff the turkey with the orange and lemon pieces, green onions, and 1 tbsp each of fresh thyme and sage leaves.
- Slice the other lemon into thin slices. Use your fingers to carefully loosen the skin above the breast of the turkey. Rub 3 to 4 tablespoons of the olive oil citrus rub onto the turkey under the skin. Place a few of the lemon slices under the skin and pull the skin down to keep them in place.
- Do the same at the bottom cavity of the turkey. Carefully loosen the skin and rub 1 to 2 tablespoons of the olive oil rub onto the turkey. Place the remaining lemon slices under the skin and pull the skin down to keep the lemon slices in place.
- Place the turkey on a rack in a roasting pan. Tuck the wings under the turkey.
- Pat the turkey very dry with a paper towel. Use a basting brush to baste all over the outside of the turkey with the remaining olive oil citrus rub.
- Roast the turkey at 325 degrees F for about 4 hours to 5. Cooking time is about 14 minutes per pound of turkey. Cook until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165 degrees F. *See note below
- Beginning 1 hour after cooking, baste the turkey every 30 minutes. To make the baste for the turkey, juice the lemons. Mix the lemon juice with the chicken broth, olive oil, and dried herbs.
- Check the turkey about 2 hours into cooking. Once the skin, particularly the breast, becomes a golden brown, cover the whole roasting pan with foil. This will protect the breast from drying out.
- Allow the turkey to sit and rest for about 20 to 30 minutes before carving.
- You may use any pan drippings to make turkey gravy.
* In order to avoid an overcooked turkey, I remove the turkey from the oven at 160 degrees. I then let it rest, under foil, for a few minutes. It will continue to cook and reach 165 degrees. Always use a meat thermometer to check it has reached 165 degrees.