Hi, my name is Amanda. I’m 39 years old and I just roasted my first Thanksgiving turkey. Whew, it feels good to say that! Our family usually hosts Thanksgiving dinner every year and my husband’s family visits. Typically my husband is in charge of making the delicious turkey, but this year I stepped in. My sister-in-law and her husband just happen to be on a round of Whole30 (not the most convenient timing with holiday meals, but I support their efforts!), so I decided I would create an amazing Whole30 Thanksgiving menu for us – including a Whole30 Thanksgiving turkey!
My friend Juli over at Tangled With Taste recently shared her aromatic lemon, apple, and herb turkey recipe – and it looks AMAZING. I salivate when I look at her turkey pictures. While I would love love love to make her recipe, but I figured the next best thing would be to use it as a base for my own Whole30 turkey recipe! The perfect start to a Whole30 Thanksgiving menu, along with our beloved fruit turkey, my delicious sweet potato apple cranberry bake, and some yummy sausage stuffed mushrooms. (Full Whole30 Thanksgiving menu at the bottom of this post)
I feel like I need to clarify something: I’m not a food blogger. (But thank goodness I’m friends with one, woohoo!) Yes I blog about food, but I stumble my way around my kitchen. I typically google recipes, although I’m getting better about tweaking things and not following every ingredient and direction to a T. So I’m about to say goodbye to pride and give you the real life low down of how this hot mess mom just barely made a delicious Whole30 Thanksgiving turkey.
Step-by-Step Whole30 Turkey Recipe
Ok y’all, I’m about to break this down into little bitty steps. So if you’re an experienced turkey cooker, you may want to scroll down and just skim my ingredients list. But in case there’s someone out there who lives the Murphy’s Law kind of life (whatever can go wrong will go wrong seems to be my motto), I’ll just spell it all out. Hopefully it will save someone from the mistakes I made in the past 24 hours.
First of all, you need to buy a turkey. Juli’s recipe called for a 12-18 pound turkey, so I set out to find one that size. You’d think turkeys are easy to find 2 weeks before Thanksgiving. Not so much. My local Kroger didn’t have any set out yet, but the super nice guy at the meat counter found one for me in the back. That meant I couldn’t be picky, so I graciously took my frozen solid 12 pound Butterball turkey and the rest of my ingredients and went home.
But I really wanted to cook that turkey the next day. So I had to thaw the turkey fast.
At 4:00 PM, after googling “how to thaw a frozen turkey fast,” I cut off the mesh cover and put my plastic-wrapped turkey in the kitchen sink. I ran a sink full of cold water (you’re supposed to soak the frozen turkey in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes until thawed – about 30 minutes per pound) around my turkey and then realized my sink wasn’t deep enough for the turkey to be covered.
Then I remembered that we have some 5 gallon orange buckets from Home Depot (they are clean – my son uses them for drum practice), so I ran to the basement and grabbed one. Two minutes later, my turkey was chilling in a bucket in my bathroom tub. Super quick and easy to dump and refill the water that way, and the turkey was safely covered!
Making the Turkey Brine
About an hour before I expected the turkey to be thawed, I began making the brine. It was also at this point that I started really hoping this Whole30 Thanksgiving turkey plan wasn’t going to flop. I was already tired and the cooking part hadn’t even started!
Juli’s brine called for molasses or brown sugar, but that would be noncompliant in a Whole30 turkey recipe so I just omitted any sweetener. I also added an extra bay leaf (because I dropped it accidentally) and an extra clove of garlic (because garlic is life). Butterball turkeys are supposedly slightly brined already, so I reduced the salt from 1.5 cups to just 1 cup. The rest of the instructions I followed as directed. I put everything into a pot and brought it to a boil. Fun fact: if you boil pink Himalayan salt, it turns the water pink! It’s pretty.
Oh, and because I was trying to work quickly before falling asleep at my kitchen table, I also reduced the water amount in the brine. I used about a gallon of water (totally guessing on that amount) and then added in some ice afterwards to help the brine cool off faster. I also poured the somewhat cooled brine into a pitcher and put it into the fridge to help it cool a little faster (this might not be the best idea since it could raise the temp inside your fridge, but just being honest about what I did).
After six hours of the cold bath thawing process, I was tired and my turkey was expected to be thawed. I figured it was safe to stop, so I dumped the bucket and took the turkey to the kitchen for brining.
Brining the Turkey
I had one of those flimsy foil roasting pans, and a leftover turkey oven bag from last year. The bag went inside the pan, and the turkey went inside the bag. After pouring the delicious smelling brine over the turkey, I closed the bag up and set the whole pan/bag/brine/turkey combo in the fridge. Juli recommends brining a lightly pre-brined turkey for about an hour per pound – so 12 hours for my bird!
Make sure your brine is fully cooled before pouring it on your turkey. Otherwise it could warm your turkey too much and you risk getting sick!
The brining was the easiest part of this entire Whole30 turkey recipe! I got to sleep while my turkey soaked up citrus herb deliciousness in the fridge overnight.
How to not Ruin Your Whole30 Thanksgiving Turkey
Ok but for real.
Here’s where I help you to NOT mess up the way I did. First of all, make sure you have a good roasting pan. I’ve only ever used those flimsy foil pans, so I had to go buy a pan at Target.
Don’t wait until you’ve preheated your oven to 500 degrees to realize you need a roasting pan.
I had to turn off my oven, drive to Target, and RUN to find a pan (and some eggs for my sausage stuffed mushrooms). I grabbed this Farberware nonstick roasting pan, and it’s what I used to cook this turkey. It’s fine, but I didn’t realize until after I got back home that it’s only oven safe to 450 degrees. Not helpful when you want to start your turkey at 500 degrees. Wish I had bought this pan instead – but I’ll do that next time.
Food blogger inside tip: Protect your roasting pan.
Also, after you wash and dry your new roasting pan, you’re going to line the bottom of the pan in foil. (Juli gave me that tip AFTER my turkey was in the oven. Terrible timing, Juli! Haha!) Then pour a cup of water in the bottom to help keep the drippings from burning and sticking to the bottom of the pan.
If you’re doing things last minute like me and you need to cook your turkey immediately after brining, read this carefully. Take your turkey out of the bag of brine. Rinse well in cold water (did you clean out your sink of dirty dishes yet?). Set it on the roasting rack and pat the turkey dry with paper towels. Discard your brine.
THEN, make your turkey a hat. I’m not going into all the details but trust me. Juli has a video that demonstrates this perfectly and explains why your turkey needs a hat. (Scroll to the bottom of her recipe post to watch.) I’m just saying to make your hat RIGHT NOW, before you have a greasy turkey and BEFORE IT GETS TO 450 DEGREES OR MORE.
Ok, I think that should cover all the bases. Let’s cook our Whole30 Thanksgiving turkey!
Roasting a Whole30 Thanksgiving Turkey
So we’ve thawed, brined, washed and dried our turkey to this point. We’ve bought our pan and we are ready for the Whole30 turkey recipe – or the roasting portion anyway.
While Juli’s herb butter sounds delicious, we know butter isn’t allowed on Whole30. But ghee is! And so is bacon grease. I used 2 Tbsp of each and combined them with my chopped parsley. (Hint: I found lightly dried parsley in the produce section. One container is about 1/2 cup lightly dried parsley, which is about the same as 1 cup fresh parsley! Yay for less chopping in the kitchen!)
I didn’t add salt to the herb butter mixture since the ghee contained Himalayan salt and the bacon grease is salty as well. I’d rather have an undersalted turkey than an oversalted one, so I was being cautious.
I put the ghee, bacon grease, and parsley into a glass measuring cup. Then I microwaved it for a few seconds until the grease and ghee softened.
More tips to not ruin your Whole30 Thanksgiving turkey here
Right here – get your kitchen towel handy and prepare your hand soap because you will soon need it. A lot. And preheat your oven to 500 degrees now (or 450 if you bought the wrong roasting pan).
Before greasing up my turkey, I prepared my aromatics. I chopped the apple and onion and sprinkled cinnamon on top. Instead of using ginger ale (not Whole30 compliant), I used cranberry flavored sparkling water! Lacroix is one of my favorite Whole30 compliant drinks, so I always have some on hand. I put everything together in a small glass baking dish and nuked it for 5 minutes.
While the aromatics steeped in the microwave, I applied the herb butter between the skin and the meat. (Just to clarify, we all know this isn’t herb butter right? Saying herb ghee grease just doesn’t sound appealing though.) This is MESSY. Oh my gosh. My hands were yellow green and it took a few washings to get clean. But if Juli says it’s necessary, I’m doing it!
I hope you bought extra dish soap on your last minute Target run.
After washing my hands forever, I added the aromatics into the turkey’s cavity. The ingredients were hot, so I used tongs to stick everything inside without burning my hands.
Then I tucked the wings under the turkey. Or at least I tried – and yes I had to google how to do that too. Then I coated the skin liberally with avocado oil (better than canola and has a high smoke point). As much as I hate wasting plastic, I didn’t want super greasy hands again. My little Earth-loving heart didn’t hesitate to use a sandwich bag to cover my hand while I smeared oil on that turkey skin.
Before you put the turkey in the oven, salt the skin generously. Otherwise you’ll have to pull the turkey back out to salt it.
Also make sure you put ALL of the aromatics inside before putting the roasting pan in the oven. It’s not easy to use tongs to shove rosemary and sage up a hot turkey’s butt. But I’m here to say it CAN be done when necessary.
Roast that turkey.
Now for the last step in my Whole30 turkey recipe: your turkey is ready to roast! Hopefully you remembered to preheat the oven when you started the herb butter step. Put the turkey in, uncovered, for 30-45 minutes. If you have to take your turkey back out multiple times to salt it, to shove the herbs in the cavity, and to make the hat, you’ll probably need to lean closer to 45 minutes.
Then put the hat on the turkey, turn down to 350 degrees, and finish roasting until it’s done! The FDA says to cook until the thickest part of the turkey breast is 165 degrees Fahrenheit, or until the inner thigh is 180 degrees. If a 14-16 pound turkey takes approx. 2.5 hours after the 30 minute high roast, a 12 pound turkey should be done in 2 to 2.5 hours. Use a good meat thermometer to check, because nobody enjoys food poisoning.
After cooking my turkey for 2.5 hours, guess what I realized I don’t have? A meat thermometer. I forgot the kids broke it. Sigh… thank goodness there’s Google. To be safe, I cooked this turkey for 3 hours. Luckily it turned out perfectly!
Whole30 Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe Card
For the original turkey recipe and lots of insider tips, please check out Juli’s post at Tangled With Taste! She is a fantastic cook and without her help, I wouldn’t have made this delicious Whole30 Thanksgiving turkey version for you guys!
Here is how I changed her delicious turkey recipe to be Whole30 compliant:
- 1 Turkey, fresh or frozen (12-18 pounds)
- 1 sheet aluminum foil (approx length of a baking sheet)
- 1-1.5 cup salt
- 1.5 gallons water
- 8 bay leaves
- 6 lemons washed and quartered
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 2 sprigs thyme
- Herb "Butter"
- 2 Tbsp ghee
- 2 Tbsp bacon grease (from Whole30 compliant bacon)
- 1 c chopped parsley or 1/2 c lightly dried parsley
- 1 red apple, quartered
- 1 sweet onion, peeled and quartered
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 6 sage leaves
- 1 can Lacroix (cranberry or preferred flavor)
- Thaw Turkey
- If turkey is frozen, thaw in fridge before cooking. Or use quick thaw method, using bath of cold water for 30 minutes per pound. Change water every 30 minutes.
- Brine Turkey
- Combine all brining ingredients in large pot.
- Boil for 2-3 minutes, gently stirring to dissolve salt.
- Remove from heat and let cool completely.
- Option: Reduce water in brine solution to 1 gallon. Add in ice after cooking to help brine cool faster.
- Place turkey inside large oven bag or brining bag. Pour fully cooled brine over the turkey. Close bag and place in refrigerator. Let turkey soak, approx 1 hour per pound.
- After brining has finished, remove turkey and rinse with cold water.
- Discard brine and bag.
- Prepare turkey for immediate roasting, or cover and return turkey to fridge until ready to cook.
- Turkey Prep Instructions
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Place foil in bottom of roasting pan. Pour 1 c water on top of foil. Place rack inside of roasting pan.
- Place washed turkey on top of rack. Blot turkey dry with paper towels.
- Use foil to create turkey hat.
- Herb "Butter" Instructions
- Starting at turkey cavity, gently separate the skin from the meat, working your way up to the breast area.
- Combine herb "butter" ingredients and mix well.
- Gently place herb "butter" mixture under the skin, coating the meat well all over the top of the turkey.
- Aromatics Instructions
- Place all dry aromatic ingredients into a microwave safe dish and pour sparkling water over the top. Microwave on high for 5 minutes to steep. Allow to cool before handling, or use tongs to protect hands. Add the steeped aromatics to the turkey's cavity. (Keep drumsticks tied together)
- Roasting Instructions
- Tuck wings under the turkey.
- Coat the turkey skin well with avocado oil.
- Sprinkle salt generously all over the turkey.
- Place turkey in oven on the bottom rack at lowest level. Roast uncovered at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 30-45 minutes.
- Remove roasting pan and apply hat to top of turkey. Return turkey to oven and lower temp to 350 degrees. Continue cooking until deepest part of thigh reaches 180 degrees F, or until thigh juices run clear and are no longer pink. (A 12 pound bird takes approx 3 hours of cooking time.)
- Remove from oven and allow to rest for 30 minutes before carving.
If you try this Whole30 Thanksgiving turkey recipe, or any of the others on my Whole30 Thanksgiving menu, I’d love to hear what you think! And if you haven’t already, be sure to follow Juli’s blog, Instagram, and Facebook for lots of delicious recipes! You’re gonna love her!
Whole30 Thanksgiving Menu
Surround your Whole30 Thanksgiving turkey with these delicious Whole30 Thanksgiving side dishes: