easy thanksgiving turkey recipe

Best Thanksgiving Roast Turkey Recipe In A Brown Paper Bag – Easy, No Basting!

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thanksgiving roast turkey in a brown bag
This Thanksgiving turkey recipe produces the best turkey I ever tasted!  The turkey comes out perfectly browned on the outside, and most, juicy and succulent on the inside!
Before I made this turkey, I always thought that I don’t like turkey breast meat because it’s too dry… but I loved the breast meat on this turkey 🙂  The turkey breast meat was also moist and melting in my mouth!

This is the Thanksgiving turkey that your guests will rave about and ask for the recipe.  And the best thing of all is that this Thanksgiving turkey recipe is super-easy – you put the turkey in the oven and forget about it until it’s done.  No messy basting is needed!This Thanksgiving turkey recipe uses the brown paper shopping bag.  Yes, the brown paper bag from the grocery store – the kind that you get when you choose paper over plastic 🙂  Don’t confuse it with the oven bag – I have tried making the turkey in the oven bag before, and it was not nearly as good as the one made in the brown paper bag!  If you are concerned about the paper bag catching on fire – be assured it does not get burned in the oven 🙂

This turkey is made without the stuffing inside.  I make the stuffing separately from the bird.  I don’t stuff the turkey because stuffing affects the cooking time – the stuffing makes the turkey cook longer resulting in the overcooked meat.

I have found my perfect recipe for the Thanksgiving turkey – this is it!  I will never make the roast turkey any other way, simply because this is the best Thanksgiving turkey recipe ever.

Thanksgiving Turkey In A Brown Paper Shopping Bag

Preparation time: 10 minute(s)
Approximate cooking time: 3 hour(s)
Number of servings:


1 turkey (10 to 20 lbs), brought to room temperature
Salt and pepper
1 onion, peeled and cut into large pieces
1 celery stick, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 lemon, quartered
6 tbsp butter, softened
1 cup chicken broth
Brown paper shopping bag (you might need 2 bags)

Directions How To Make The Thanksgiving Turkey In A Brown Bag:

The first thing you need to do is to make sure the turkey fully fits in a bag.  This step is best done while the turkey is still packaged, so you don’t have to deal with the mess of moving the raw turkey in and out of the bag 🙂  The turkey needs to go in the bag and the bag will have to be closed and stapled shut.  So put the packaged turkey in and see if there is enough paper left to close and seal the bag.  If the bag is not long enough, you’ll need to make it longer by attach the second bag to it.

My turkey was 13 lbs, and I needed the second bag.  First, cut off the handles from both bags.  To attach the second bag, cut the top half off the second bag, then attach that piece (the part without the bottom) to the first bag with a stapler or simply saw it on with a needle and a thread.  Basically, you need to make the brown paper bag long enough so the end can be closed once the turkey is in.

For the turkey, I recommend buying it fresh (not frozen) the day before making it and storing it in the refrigerator.  Fresh turkey is more expensive then frozen, but you don’t have to deal with defrosting it and it also tastes better.  If you are buying frozen, make sure the turkey is fully defrosted.

To bring the turkey to room temperature, take it out of the refrigerator 2 hours before cooking it.  It’s important to bring the turkey to room temperature so the cooking time is not affected (cold turkey will cook longer).

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Sprinkle the turkey liberally with salt and pepper on the outside and inside, and rub the salt and pepper on it.  Don’t forget to take out the giblets, sometimes they are packed inside the turkey in the plastic bags 🙂  Put the onion, celery, carrot and lemon inside the turkey, and put the giblets and neck there too.   Rub 4 tbsp of butter all over the turkey.

Butter the inside of the brown paper bag with the remaining 2 tbsp of butter.  Put the turkey inside the brown paper bag.  Put the brown paper bag with the turkey in a roasting pan.  Pour the chicken broth inside the turkey cavity.  Fold the paper bag closed, and staple it with a stapler so it stays closed.

Put the turkey in the oven.  Estimate the cooking time – it’s 2.5 hours for the first 10 lbs, plus 12 minutes for each additional pound (for example, the cooking time for 12 lb turkey is 2.5 hours + 12 minutes + 12 minutes = 2 hours 54 minutes).  Set the timer for the cooking time and forget about the turkey until the timer beeps!

When the timer beeps, take out the turkey and leave it in a bag for 15 minutes.  Then cut the bag open and take out the super delicious, perfectly brown and moist turkey!  Enjoy your Thanksgiving feast!

Here’s the picture of the turkey inside the shopping bag, before going in the oven:

making turkey in a brown paper grocery shopping bag - going in the oven

Enjoy this turkey recipe, and have a great Thanksgiving!

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44 replies
  1. Geni
    Geni says:

    I am confused. This is really cool but why doesn’t the paper bag catch on fire? I would have thought that the oven gets too hot for the paper bag to stay intact. Your turkey looks awesome though and am so intrigued by this!

  2. Tina@flourtrader
    Tina@flourtrader says:

    I have brined as well as used a plastic bag for turkey, but I have yet to try this method. I actually used a brown bag years ago for chicken, but cannot even remember the result. Perhaps I will test this out on just the breast (which is usually the driest) to see how it turns out. Your turkey here does look delicious. Yum! Happy holidays Melanie!

  3. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    Paper burns at 451 degrees. I’ve used this method for two turkeys, and using it today for the third, and it works so beautifully!



  5. sharon k
    sharon k says:

    55ish years ago this is the way my mother did her T Day turkey
    she would also turn it upside down 1/2 way thru cooking time so the juices run back into the breast
    i had totally forgotten about this method -i will be using it next week
    if it worked that many years ago im sure its ‘tried and true’

  6. renee
    renee says:

    I have always done turkey in a paper bag its always been great never burned bag it keeps all the juice in Turkey and browns perfectly

  7. Crystol
    Crystol says:

    I am planning to try this for Thanksgiving. What does it means to “Butter the inside of the brown paper bag with the remaining 2 tbsp of butter.” How do you butter a bag?!

  8. Katriona
    Katriona says:

    I/my family have made our turkey like this for at least 30 years! You don’t need to make the larger turkey difficult. We always use two bags and just ‘telescope’ the bags, one from one end and one from the other. No need to staple anything. This has made the most amazing turkey for years! Mom did once mess up and have the ‘merry christmas’ from the store across the top of the turkey!! be sure to put the bag print side down! If your pan and turkey are the right size, you can put it over the whole pan, makes for an even easier clean up!!
    Thanks for sharing!

  9. Kam
    Kam says:

    I have eaten so many turkeys and a different ways of cooking them over the years as probably readers have, and I can ASSURE you that this is the best! My mom always cooked our turkeys this way. If I happened to eat turkey anywhere else, I guarantee you I was disappointed in the outcome. you won’t believe the difference until you try it.

  10. Scott Hoffman
    Scott Hoffman says:

    I have been doing my turkeys this way for 22 years just put in a 24 pounder, Always comes out moist and with the skin crispy Only bad thing is thanksgiving is at my house every year because of this cooking method. Grate recipe thanks Scott Hoffman USN retired

  11. Yvonne
    Yvonne says:

    I did this today for Thanksgiving dinner,I would like to say thank you this is the BEST TURKEY! I was worried at first since I have electric oven. I took out the bottom rack in the oven and made sure the bag did not touch the element. 11.99 lb turkey took 3.5 hrs at 350. I will do this again for sure!

  12. Myra
    Myra says:

    I’ve heard about baking the turkey in a brown bag,so after reading the many positive comments I’m going cook mind this year in a brown bag .Happy Thanksgiving to all ! God Bless

  13. mjskitchen
    mjskitchen says:

    What a beautiful and crispy looking turkey. I would spend the day eating the skin off of this one. 🙂 At first I though you would need a special paper bag but it’s just a really grocery bag. Interesting! What a clever way to cook a turkey and very little mess.

  14. jessica
    jessica says:

    I have a question… I use turkey juices to make amazing gravy.. Doing it this way won’t there be soggy paper or make it taste like paper? Just curious. This looks super yummy

  15. Melanie Mendelson
    Melanie Mendelson says:

    Jessica – I personally use a different recipe for the gravy (“Make Ahead Turkey Gravy” that you can find on this site). However, I’ve heard of people successfully making gravy from the juices of this brown bag turkey, and they said the juices didn’t have any paper taste 🙂

  16. Sundownlady
    Sundownlady says:

    Thank you! 🙂 I have been using this method of cooking Turkey since Thanksgiving 1972 (learned from my Mom who used this method since 1960). Although my family is small, I have always been requested to prepare the turkey…. it truly is the best turkey EVER! 🙂

    To prevent the bag from catching fire, after the turkey is in the bag, I lightly rub the bag with vegetable or corn oil (olive oil tends to smoke, so I don’t use it). Once the juices start self-basting the bird, the bag remains moist throughout the roasting period.

  17. Wendt
    Wendt says:

    I have always cooked my turkey in the brown bag overnight. It goes back at least 4 generations in my family and always comes out perfectly cooked. We rub Crisco on outside of bag. It will be crisp & moist. I also use all the drippings for gravy. Enjoy……..

  18. Sundownlady
    Sundownlady says:

    I used to cook dressing in the bird by wrapping it in damp cheesecloth and it was always just as good as the Turkey. Now I like placing Rosemary, Thyme, and Sage in the cavity for added seasoning.

  19. Aime
    Aime says:

    Thanks Melanie! Our turkey is brined for 8-24 hours prior, stuffed and cooked in a brown paper bag. We ALWAYS make our own gravy with only the drippings and flour (or cornstarch). So your method will work! Over the last 5 years I have put turkey inside the bag then in the pan and have placed the bag around my pan. No difference in anything other than the bag in the pan soaks up some of the juice/fat. It doesn’t change the taste of anything… This is sincerely THE most amazing turkey cooking method ever…. Moist, flavorful, brown and perfect without basting regardless of brining/stuffing, etc. buy a turkey or chicken or pork shoulder (yum!) or anything you like to roast and try it… I’d be surprised if you don’t always use a brown bag going forward! 😉 GOBBLE GOBBLE!

  20. I'm Just Sayin
    I'm Just Sayin says:

    My grandma learned to cook a bird in a greased brown paper bag from her mother, in the 1920s. It’s the only way everyone in our family roasts meat. One thing to mention is you don’t have to fit the bird “in” the bag. You get a large brown paper bag, make a single, long tear to open the bag, then fully coat each side and all edges with butter (this was always the kid’s job lol). Once you clean and prep/season your bird, you pour some liquid (water, stock, or beer, etc) in the bottom of the pan and you tent the bag over the bird, making sure everything is covered, then you just tuck the edges and corners under the bird to keep it secured. Much easier than worrying about if the bird will fit in the bag. This also prevents pieced of paper from ending up in your gravy.

  21. Melanie Mendelson
    Melanie Mendelson says:

    Thanks for the tip! So the paper bag tent works as well as the enclosed paper bag? I’d love to hear from someone who tried it both ways (tent on top vs. enclosed) if they could tell the difference in the resulting turkey 🙂

  22. Rhonda
    Rhonda says:

    I stuff my bird all the time. The breast is very tender. I do not baste. I’m going to try and do a stuffed bird in a brown paper bag. Love the idea.


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