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

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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!
Best Turkey Recipe In Brown Paper Bag - I'll never make Thanksgiving turkey any other way!
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 roast turkey in a brown bag

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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    1. About 40 yrs ago Betty Crocker Kitchens did a study on roasting turkey. Paper bag gave best results according to study. However, the turkey was placed on a rack in a shallow pan and pan and turkey were placed in bag. Turkey rubbed with olive oil and stuffed. Dry bag. Reynolds makes a food safe paper roasting bag. Available Amazon and Target.

    2. I’ve used this method for several years. I season and rub the turkey all over with mayonnaise. Turns out fantastic.

    3. I’ve been doing turkey in a brown paper bag every Thanksgiving and Christmas years and years, Loved by everyone.

  1. 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!

    1. The flash point of paper is 480 dehrees. It won’t catch fire. I’ve been cooking my turkey this way for years

    2. the moisture from the bird has always soaked all parts of the bag when I have done this. I have never had a bird turn out better than when cooking it this method.

    3. trust me it doesn’t burn. I have been cooking in a paper bag for over 20 years. The only difference is I oil my bag before roasting, it spreads easily and its not oily

  2. 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. I’ve been curious about this technique of roasting, and from the look of your gorgeous turkey, I now know it’s a winning method!

  4. That looks excellent! I’d be scared that the bag would burn, but I guess the fat would keep the paper oiled/protected, right?

    Very neat!

  5. 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!


  7. 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’

  8. 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

  9. 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?!

    1. I would use plastic gloves or put a plastic ziplock type bag on your hand, grab the soft butter and rub it all over the inside of the bag.

    2. Crystol, you can use cooking oil also. It doesn’t matter which type. I’ve always poured oil in to the bag and jostled the bag around. The goal is to make sure that the bag is wetted with oil. You’ll see once you put oil in the bag it changes to a darker brown. Just make sure that the ENTIRE bag is dark brown with oil. I’ve used gloves, paper towels and even bare hands. Once you get you turkey in the bag, make sure that you staple it completely closed.

  10. 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!

  11. 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.

  12. 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

  13. 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!

  14. 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

  15. 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.

  16. 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

    1. I’ve been using the bag method for years now. I’m a gravy junkie, too, and the way to do this is to use the bottom half of a roaster pan with the rack in the bottom, laid out as flat as it goes. After you get the turkey out of the over, make a hole in the corner of the bag to drain out any drippings inside. Most will probably be in the roaster pan. Pour all the drippings into a fat separator cup and get rid of the fat. I brown my giblets in butter, then simmer for an hour or so in chicken broth. I combine all the liquids, make the gravy, and add the minced up giblet meat to my portion of the gravy. Most of my family likes the gravy without giblets, so I get the best of it.

  17. 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 :)

    1. My family has been doing turkey this way for about 100 years, always stuffed ( cornbread stuffing). My grandmother then my mother and now me and i am in my seventies. The main difference with our recipe is that we coat the paper bag with oil and poultry spices mixed in. The oil makes a more efficient vapor barrier and keeps more of the juices in the bag. The spices enhance the anticipation. My rule for a stuffed 13 pounder is 15 minutes per pound at 350 degrees.

  18. 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.

  19. 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……..

  20. 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.

  21. 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!

  22. 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.

  23. 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 :)

  24. 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.

  25. This takes me back My mom used to do it. She used to use Crisco instead of butter. I’ve never seen another roasting method give such a golden brown

    1. You can always use the “butter flavored” Crisco. I’ve been using them for a long time–they’re quite handy.

  26. I’ve been making my turkey in a bag for 30 years. I like to use the turkey drippings for my gravy, so I started putting the turkey in a roasting pan, then put the pan in the bag. The turkey is still perfect!

    1. I guess it depends on where you live. I’m in Chicago, and all large supermarkets have paper bags… and the little ethnic stores have plastic. Go to the largest grocery store in your area and ask if they have paper bags.

      1. I save the big ones I get when we get Chinese takeout. They’re big and have no print/ink on them. I have discovered over the years that some inks tend to fill the house with smoke soon after putting it in the oven. I have also always buttered both the inside and outside of the bag, I’m not sure if it makes much difference since I’ve never tried just doing the inside, but every turkey has been perfect!

  27. I too have used this method for 40 years. I have overcome no paper bags by using brown wrapping paper and a butchers fold. I was taught to use mayonnaise for the rub, then season with salt pepper and fresh thyme. Always brown and crispy.

  28. Does everyone rinse their turkey out before prepping ?
    Does it taste as good if you don’t put the giblets, etc back in to cook ?

    Trying this in 2 days for Christmas !

  29. I have always cooked a turkey in a brown paper bag.I get many complaments Turns out very moist Happy Thanksgiving everyone

  30. I can’t tell in the pic, is tha turkey/bag on a rack in the pan? Or does that defeat the purpose. My first time cooking a turkey so I may be asking silly questions.

  31. I have a 20lb turkey this year, so I got paper lawn bags, like for leaves, and it fit perfectly once I trimmed it to size.

  32. My Mom did this from the time I WAS A little girl, till the day she died and my whole family continues doing this every time we make stuffed turkey. It is absolutely the tastiest and most moist bird we have ever eaten. We never do it any other way. I am now 72 years old and with continue the brown bag method of cooking turkey until I can no longer cook. My Mom had the best receipes for many edibles and we all still use them. Thanks, Mom for everything! ?

    1. Betsy, the timing varies on whether or not you stuff the bird. Google it stuffed or not stuffed (just to be sure).

    1. A 15# bird cooked at 375°Per the time chart produced an overcooked bird. People use a meat thermometer! My bad as I didn’t hone in on the 375° cook temp!!! And I didn’t use a thermometer for the first time!!

  33. Hi, this will be my first year making a turkey using this recipe/method, I’m so nervous!!. I’ve read a handful of other recipes and this one seems the easiest to follow. Many other brown bag recipies call for 13-15 minute per pound, yours calls for 12 minutes per pound after 2.5 hours. Will this cook through?. I’m tempted to try 13 minutes because I’m scared it won’t cook through.

  34. Made this today EXACTLY as the recipe directed.?BEST TURKEY I’ve ever had. So moist and juice and tender… the breast meat was falling apart it was so tender. Will never cook a turkey any other way again. Baked a 19 lb bird using 2 paper Whole Foods bags for 4 hours. Excellent!!! Brown and beautiful bird ?

  35. My husband missed Thanksgiving because of work so I’m hosting a turkey dinner in his honor next weekend. SO excited to try this!! Quick question though, which rack should this be cooked on? The bottom?

  36. Have done this paper bag method for 30yrs. Even roast chickens perfect. In this plastic bag age, all the stores were out this year for paper bags….so I tried a Reynolds baking bag. Did flour and vents and sealed up exactly. Mid cooking the bag (supposedly factory sealed…end.).’ blew out and i had turkey drippings all over the oven. Never ever again. As usual, my simple green and my little green scrubbie and 30min. With papertowels and my oven was like new.

  37. I heard about this method about 25 years ago, from a good friend, but I never tried it. According to him, his family refused to eat turkey any other way. I did all kinds of cooking over my career, and this never occurred me to try the bag method. I’m glad you brought this memory to me.

    Thank you.

  38. I have never been able to cook a Turkey where it is moist. They always come out dry. However, one year I got very drunk at a party the night before Thanksgiving and the next morning I was really hungover. My husband came in and asked me if I was going to cook the Turkey, and I told him I would put the Turkey into the oven but asked if he could cook the potatoes and veggies. He said okay. He wasn’t feeling that great either. Anyway, one look at the Turkey and I was nauseous and didn’t want to deal with all the primping that Turkey’s require. Then I remembered how my grandma would put a Turkey into a brown bag and roast it. So, I buttered it, salt and peppered it and put in a bag and threw it in the oven and set the timer for however long it would take to bake! It came out perfect! My husband said the best Turkey I ever baked! He said I should get drunk every year! LOL! And no, I never got drunk on Thanksgiving again!

  39. I have a question. I usually use tin-foil when baking my turkey. I’ve found that it locks in the moisture, and provides tender results. So I’m curious as to how a porous material such as a paper bag can create an environment which produces better results. Instead of reflecting and capturing the moisture, wouldn’t a paper bag absorb and allow a greater amount of evaporation? I’m just trying to understand the science behind the method. Perhaps I’m missing something, so if you could let me know, that would be great!

  40. I always wipe butter in the bag and spice the butter with my favorite spices. I also stuff it with a little bit of fruit. The last thing i do is put butter under the skin.

  41. I got this technique from my deceased mom and been cooking my turkeys in a brown paper bag for close to 45-50 years. It always turns our wonderful!!

  42. Butter before seasoning with S&P. The butter takes off all the seasoning – from experience :/ great recipe otherwise

  43. I have never heard of a paper bag roasted turkey and I plan to do a trial-run next week and I only have a convection oven. I’m asking if anyone has converted Melanie’s recipe to convection? I know to lower the temp or decrease the time, but if you’ve cooked a turkey in a convection oven how did it turn out? Did it turn out as good as these reviews for a conventional oven? Thanks to whomever can answer.

    1. Jack, after roasting turkeys for 50 years, I had my first “fail” yesterday when I used my new oven with the “convection roast” setting. It never went over 305° and took forever, with the turkey still almost raw in places. At that point, I had to remove the stuffing, cut the legs off and put everything back in the oven at non convection at 350° for about 15-20 mins. All in all, it took 4 hrs for a 10 lb stuffed turkey. It and the stuffing finally reached safe temps but I will never do convection again. (My oven works perfectly for everything else.)

  44. My mother taught me this brown bag miracle for a perfect moist, brown turkey and I others for over 60 years along with her “golden rule” – no matter what anyone says or suggests in your kitchen or how nervous you might be, DO NOT TAKE A PEEK IN THE BAG UNTIL IT IS DONE!! Every child of mine, their mates, friends and all have learned this foolproof, simple way to cook the PERFECT bird every time! I do not stuff.

  45. Hello, I just read your Turkey Roasting Recipe and just wanted to say, From the 60’s I have also been cooking my Hams in paper bags also. Went to a dinner one day with a Greek Family, Stephanopoulos, delicious, I ask her for recipe, she said, Paper Bag. And, they had the cutest pet I have ever seen and so friendly, Who Knew? A Skunk, Two Stripe, I fell in love, when a baby they had it de-skunked, glands removed. .Yep! I am that old, now 82.

  46. This is good unless you want to make gravy with the pan drippings. In that case this will not allow you to use drippings for the gravy.

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