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Make-Ahead Roast Turkey

This make-ahead roast turkey will be the most succulent and flavorful turkey you’ve ever made, thanks to the herb butter and balsamic vinegar!

And if all that’s not enough, you can even make it in advance of the big holiday and save yourself a lot of stress! Want to know more? Read on!

A vertical photo collage of Make-Ahead Roast Turkey with Herb Butter and Balsamic along with a title text overlay graphic in burgundy, white, and black.

**Please Note – The printable recipe card with detailed instructions, complete ingredient measurements, and nutritional information for making today’s make-ahead roast turkey recipe is available at the end of this post. OR you can click on the “jump to recipe” button (found above) to be taken directly to the recipe.

This recipe was originally shared in 2015. This post has been updated with additional information, including a recipe card complete with nutritional information, but the recipe itself has remained unchanged.

CLICK ON THIS BOX TO LIKE AND SUBSCRIBE TO MY KUDOS KITCHEN YOUTUBE CHANNEL. SEE YOU THERE! 🙂

A closeup image of carved Make-Ahead Roast Turkey with herbs, grapes, and carrots along with a burgundy boarder and a title text overlay image

The ingredient list:

Kitchen tools and equipment needed:

What’s the best way to cook a whole turkey?

Over the years, I’ve made many turkeys for Thanksgiving and various other celebrations when feeding a lot of people is the objective.

I’ve brined (soaked them in a saltwater solution) them for hours and hours, covered them in a butter-soaked cheesecloth, smoked them in an outdoor smoker, made them in a tabletop roaster, deep-fried them, and even tried to roast them upside down…

All those previous methods were in the hopes of developing great flavor, crispy skin, and, most importantly, moist and juicy white meat!

Why this recipe works:

When it comes to Thanksgiving turkey, skip the brining, people! It’s messy, time-consuming, and simply not necessary.

Today’s easy and fool-proof make-ahead turkey recipe will beat the pants off of any other kind of roast turkey recipe with absolutely no fuss, and no muss!

A vertical photo of a colorful platter of a balsamic herb roast turkey which is sliced and surrounded by grapes, carrots, herbs, and greens.

Want a less-stressful Thanksgiving?

While all those methods resulted in turkeys that were good, it wasn’t until I made this Make-Ahead Roast Turkey that my turkey was GREAT!

With only a handful of chopped fresh herbs (rosemary, sage, and thyme), a few kitchen aromatics (onion, carrots, and celery), a stick of softened butter, and some balsamic vinegar you’ll be amazed at the delicious difference spending less time and effort on your turkey will make!

And it all that is not enough, I have another great time-saving tip for you that will help get that all-important holiday dinner on the table with much less stress.

I’ll call it my Turkey-Day Hack. Keep reading to find out what it is. *teaser* 😉

A closeup horizontal photo of a beautifully browned whole roast turkey.

Who wants to wash more dishes?

To aid in the clean-up after a large dinner I like to roast my turkey in one of those large disposable aluminum roasting pans.

If I can cut down on even one dish or pan that needs to be washed after the big meal, all the better as far as I’m concerned!

But, that’s not the time and stress saving tip I was alluding to earlier.

The BEST Turkey-Day HACK:

Ready to have your mind blown on a very “non-traditional” technique, but one that will make your holiday day run smoother than ever before?

Okay, here goes…

Roast and slice your turkey THE DAY BEFORE YOU PLAN TO SERVE IT!

Yup! That’s right!

Wait, what? How does THAT work?

It’s simple!

Place all the meat back into the original roasting pan, along with all those wonderful turkey juices, and add some additional fresh herbs.

Cover the roasting pan with foil, and refrigerate overnight!

Viola!

Now, when you’re ready to eat, all you have to do it heat, plate, and serve. The hard work (relatively speaking) has been done and you can relax and enjoy.

How to reheat a make-ahead roast turkey:

On that all-important day, bring the pre-cooked and sliced turkey out of the fridge about an hour before you’re ready to reheat.

Preheat the oven to 350-degrees and reheat the turkey for 1 hour, basting all the pieces with the pan juices, occasionally.

*Note – When reheating, make sure to cover the pan with aluminum foil. This will keep the already moist turkey meat from drying out as it bastes in its own juices of butter, herbs, and balsamic vinegar.

Once the turkey is reheated, place all the meat on a serving platter, cover again with foil and you can proceed with making the gravy with all that wonderfully flavored turkey juice at the bottom of the pan (not shown).

How this recipe came to be:

I discovered this easy method for make-ahead roast turkey completely by accident.

As a food blogger, I needed to roast and style my turkey (for photography) the day before I actually wanted to serve it.

I know it was a gamble, but I was willing to take it.

Since I was a little nervous that the meat would be dry the day I wanted to serve it because it had already been cooked and sliced, I had a light-bulb moment.

I decided to add it all the sliced meat back in the same roasting pan it had originally cooked in, along with those delicious juices.

Let me tell you, it was one of the best ideas I’ve ever had. 

Not only was it the most delicious and succulent turkey I have ever made, the pre-cooking and slicing the day before saved us a whole lot of time, stress, and mess on the holiday itself!

Winner, Winner make-ahead roast turkey for dinner!!

Instructions for cooking this easy make-ahead roast turkey:

  • If a store-bought frozen turkey is what you’ll be roasting (like me), make sure to thaw your turkey properly, several days (if not a full week) in advance of when you’ll be cooking him.
  • Once properly thawed, remove the neckpiece from the inside cavity. Then, turn the bird around, lift up the back skin flap (between the wings) and remove the bag of innards.
  • *Note –  The neck and bag of innards can be roasted on the side of the turkey, and then they be used to make the gravy, or you can use them to add to your homemade turkey stock (if desired).
  • Also, to avoid cross-contamination of your salt and pepper, mix 3 tablespoons of kosher salt and 1 tablespoon of black pepper in a separate small bowl.
  • Pat the turkey dry with paper towels (inside the cavity as well as the outside skin). 
  • Season the inside cavity with approximately 1 tablespoon of the salt and pepper mix, reserve the remaining salt and pepper mix for the herbed butter.
How to make a balsamic herb roasted turkey photo tutorial.
  • Once the turkey has been dried and in inside cavity seasoned, pour balsamic vinegar over the entire turkey.
  • Allow the turkey to sit with the balsamic vinegar for 30 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, mince fresh rosemary, thyme, and sage to make 2 tablespoons.
How to make a balsamic herb roasted turkey photo tutorial.
  • Add 1 stick of softened butter to a medium bowl.
  • Stir in the minced herbs and the remaining salt and pepper.
  • Mix well to combine.
How to make a balsamic herb roasted turkey photo tutorial.
  • Wash and roughly chop ½ a medium onion, 2 carrots, and 2 ribs celery.
  • Stuff the aromatics (onion, celery, and carrots) into the cavity of the turkey.
  • Gently run your hand under the skin of the turkey breast meat, and gently lift the skin from the meat of the turkey.
  • Pour additional balsamic vinegar on the turkey breast.
How to make a balsamic herb roasted turkey photo tutorial.
  • Rub approximately 4 tablespoons of the herbed butter mixture under the skin of the turkey, and then replace the skin and rub the remaining herbed butter on the top, legs, and wings of the turkey.
  • Place the herb butter turkey in a preheated 450-degree oven for 45 minutes to brown.
How to make a balsamic herb roasted turkey photo tutorial.
  • Remove the turkey from the oven and add 2 cups of chicken stock to the roasting pan. 
  • Baste the turkey liberally by spooning the juices in the pan over the entire turkey.
  • Reduce the heat of the oven to 350-degrees and return the turkey to the oven until the internal temperature (when a meat thermometer stuck in the side) reaches 165 degrees.
  • *Note – keep an eye on the turkey in the oven and if it gets too dark, cover with aluminum foil and continue roasting until the internal temperature reaches 165-degrees.
  • Remove the turkey from the oven and allow it to sit for at least 20-30 minutes before carving.
  • Once carved you can serve immediately, or return the sliced turkey back to the pan (with the juices), and refrigerate until needed.
  • If you’re serving the turkey at a later date, make sure to take the turkey out of the refrigerator at least 30 minutes (to take the chill off) before heating.
  • Keep the turkey covered and roast in a preheated 350-degree oven for 50-60 minutes.
  • Place the turkey meat on a serving platter, and use the juices remaining in the pan to make your gravy, if desired (not shown).
How to make a balsamic herb roasted turkey photo tutorial.

Delicious side dishes to serve along with best make-ahead roast turkey:

The next best thing to the turkey on Thanksgiving is the side dishes! This popular Thanksgiving Side Dish Recipe Roundup brings you some of the best side dish recipes on the web! I hope you’re hungry!

Horizontal collage of Thanksgiving side dish recipes.

Deliciously easy and flavorful, this recipe of roasted cinnamon sweet potatoes with squash and apples is sure to become a favorite side dish for any occasion!

A vertical photo of a brown oval bowl filled with cinnamon sweet potatoes with squash and apples.

The warmth of cardamom and cinnamon mixes well with the tangy sweetness of the cranberries, pineapple juice, and orange in this delicious and easy holiday side dish recipe for Pineapple Cardamom Cranberry Sauce.

A vertical photo of a glass bowl with cranberry sauce, orange slices, and cinnamon sticks.

This adorable Turkey Crust Pumpkin Pie is easy to recreate and will amaze your family and friends this holiday season. Let me show you how easy it is to assemble and bake this fun Thanksgiving holiday treat.

Overhead photo of an entire turkey crust pumpkin pie on a woven place mat.

Below is the printable recipe card along with the nutritional information and instructions for making for today’s Make-Ahead Roast Turkey with Herb Butter and Balsamic Vinegar

If you’ve made this recipe, or are excited to make this recipe, I’d appreciate it if you’d take a moment to leave it a star rating in the recipe card, along with a comment if you’re so inclined. Thank you. 🙂

Yield: 10 servings

Make-Ahead Roast Turkey with Herb Butter and Balsamic

A beautifully browned roasted turkey on a platter with grapes, carrots, and greens.

This easy make-ahead roast turkey will be the most succulent and flavorful turkey you've ever made, thanks to the herb butter and balsamic vinegar!

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours 30 minutes
Total Time 4 hours

Ingredients

  • 1 12-14 pound turkey, completely thawed with the neck and giblets removed.
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 stick butter, softened to room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh herbs, combination of thyme, rosemary, and sage
  • 1¼ cups balsamic vinegar
  • 1 medium onion, roughy chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, roughy chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, roughy chopped
  • 2 cups chicken broth or stock

Instructions

  1. Dry the cavity and outside skin of the turkey with paper towels.
  2. Season the inside cavity with 1 tablespoon of the salt and pepper mix you've prepared in a small bowl, reserved specifically for the turkey.
  3. Pour 1 cup of balsamic vinegar liberally over the entire turkey, and allow the turkey to marinate with the vinegar at least 20 minutes, at room temperature.
  4. Preheat oven to 450-degrees.
  5. Stuff the cavity of the bird with the chopped onion, carrot, and celery.
  6. In a medium bowl, stir together the softened butter, the minced fresh herbs, and the remaining salt and pepper from the small bowl reserved for the turkey.
  7. Gently run your hand between the turkey skin and the meat of the breast and lift the skin gently.
  8. Pour ¼ cup of the remaining balsamic vinegar over the breast meat of the turkey and also rub approximately 3 tablespoons of the herbed butter mixture over the meat, under the skin.
  9. Replace the skin on the breast and liberally slather the remaining herb butter mixture over the breast and leg area of the turkey.
  10. Roast the turkey, uncovered, for 45 minutes.
  11. Remove the turkey from the oven, and reduce the oven temperature to 350-degrees.
  12. Add the chicken broth to the roasting pan, spooning the pan juices liberally over the turkey, and return the turkey back to the oven until the internal temperature of the turkey (using a meat thermometer inserted into the thigh area of the turkey) reads 165-degrees (approximately 2½ - 3 hours). *Note - If during that time the turkey appears to be browning beyond your liking, cover it with aluminum foil and continue roasting until the internal temperature reaches 165-degrees.
  13. Remove the turkey from the oven and allow it to rest for at least 30-45 minutes before slicing.
  14. Use the juices in the pan to make gravy, if desired.
  15. *See notes if you plan on making the turkey in advance.

Notes

Make sure to remove the neck (found inside the bird, between the legs) and giblets (found under the skin flap between the wings, in a small bag) before preparing the turkey.

Use paper towels to dry the turkey inside the cavity and also the outside skin.

Separate the 3 tablespoons salt and one tablespoon pepper into a small bowl so cross-contamination of your seasonings does not happen when handling raw poultry.

READ THE FOLLOWING FOR MAKING IN ADVANCE:

Roasting and slicing of the turkey can be done 2 days prior to serving.

Once sliced, return the turkey to the cooking pan with all the juices.

Add additional fresh herbs to the pan, cover, and refrigerate.

Remove the turkey from the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before heating.

Keep covered and heat the turkey in a 350-degree oven for 50-60 minutes.

Remove the turkey to a serving platter, discard the herbs, and use the turkey juices to make gravy, if desired.

Nutrition Information

Yield

10

Serving Size

1 serving

Amount Per Serving Calories 128Total Fat 9.35gSaturated Fat 5.84gUnsaturated Fat 0gCholesterol 24.37mgSodium 2369.13mgCarbohydrates 8.53gFiber 0.85gSugar 5.98gProtein 0.86g

Did you make this recipe?

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Thank you so much for visiting me here today in my Kudos Kitchen!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this easy make-ahead roasted turkey recipe as much as I’ve enjoyed bringing it to you!

A colorful vertical photo collage of Make-Ahead Roast Turkey with Herb Butter and Balsamic along with a fun title text graphic in the center with arrows.

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Allison

Saturday 14th of November 2020

Love, love, love that I can make this ahead. It's delicious!

Renée

Sunday 15th of November 2020

Thanks, Allison! So glad you like this turkey recipe! Take good care, Renee

Sharyn

Sunday 10th of November 2019

Just got this recipe for turkey in my email today. I am a vinegar lover. I plan on making this Turkey recipe as soon as possible. I want to make it for Thanksgiving, but I don't think I can wait that long. Happy Thanksgiving to all and happy eating

Renée

Sunday 10th of November 2019

Why not make it now, and then again for Thanksgiving? LOL!! I wouldn't blame you if you did! Happy Thanksgiving, Sharyn! Renee

Justine

Monday 4th of November 2019

I normally don't cook a turkey for Thanksgiving, but I'm a sucker for anything with balsamic so I think I will definitely be giving this one a try this year! I'm so excited to taste it!

Renée

Monday 4th of November 2019

Hey, Justine! I'm excited to have to try this recipe. The balsamic really makes the turkey flavorful and tender. I hope you enjoy it! Happy holidays! Renee

Beth

Monday 4th of November 2019

Wow - what a brilliant idea. And great instructions to make it come alive in the kitchen. I brine my turkey but not that wet brine - a dry brine and like this, it is foolproof and so much less hassle. But I love this method for chicken or turkey all year round. Great recipe!

Renée

Monday 4th of November 2019

Thanks so much, Beth! I love the thought of using this for chicken too! I'm totally going to do that! Renee

Brandy | Nutmeg Nanny

Tuesday 15th of November 2016

Seriously - can you send me some! Sounds amazing!

Renée

Wednesday 16th of November 2016

I only wish I could. Thanks :)

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