The best way to make a turkey – moist, with a golden skin and tons of flavor without hours of work – the perfect centerpiece to your holiday meal
How I found this perfect method for cooking a moist turkey
I love Turkey, Like seriously one of my all time favorite meals! I make a Turkey as often as I can, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter at least!
I’ve made around 30+ turkey’s over the last 16 years since I’ve been hosting Thanksgiving. And I have tried a lot of different techniques to get a flavorful, juicy turkey. Injecting, brining, roasting, deep frying, basting, stuffed, unstuffed, etc…
Some of these taste amazing, most of them are very dry and ALL of them take a lot of work.
And now I’m going to share my all time favorite way with you guy! In the early years I used Reynolds bags, I loved how moist and juicy the turkey ends up, BUT because your cooking it in a plastic bag your turkey isn’t very pretty, kind of unattractive and sickly looking.
It tastes amazing and it’s super easy though so I wanted to find a similar way to cook the Turkey, Easy and Moist.
THEN I learned this brown bag method! BRILLIANT! The bag keeps your turkey juicy and moist without the extra work of basting.
AND because brown paper bags breath better than plastic you still get a great brown on the skin, you end up with a gorgeous centerpiece that tastes great!
Just tell me how long to cook a turkey already!
If you’d rather skip my tips and tricks for cooking a brown bag turkey, along with links to other Thanksgiving recipes and get straight to learning how to cook a turkey – simply scroll to the bottom of the page where you can find the printable recipe card.
Tips to Make the Perfect Brown Bag Turkey
– You can prepare the Turkey before cooking ANY way you want, injections, stuffed, putting a mixture under the skin, etc… I like to use a compound butter!
– The key to knowing how long to cook a turkey is a Meat Thermometer. It’s a MUST for cooking a Turkey and not OVER cooking it. A digital one is easy to use and takes a lot of the work out of your turkey.
– I prefer to use a disposable pan as well. That way I save room AND (this is the most important part to me) I can pop a hole in the bottom corner and easily pour out all the turkey juice. (to use in the other recipes!)
– I dressed mine up with some Lemon branches, but you can add anything you want to yours, I’ve seen really pretty ones with bright berries, stuffing, potatoes, apples, and more! How do you like to dress up your turkey?
Will the Brown paper bag catch on fire?
Paper ignites and burns at 451 degrees. Since the oven is set to 375 degrees it won’t just catch on fire simply by being in the oven.
Make sure none of the bag is touching any of the heating elements or the sides of the oven and it won’t catch on fire. I’ve made over 40 brown bag turkeys and I’ve never had a bag so much as start smoking, let alone burn.
Is it safe to cook in a brown paper bag?
Things to consider:
- a brown paper bag is put together with glue – which could create fumes
- is often made of recycled paper – who knows what is in that bag
- grocery bags have ink on them – but the ink is on the outside, not where they’d touch the turkey
- Paper bags aren’t made with the idea that they will be used to be food/baking safe
At the end of the day I can’t say it’s perfectly safe – but I also can’t say how dangerous any of these things are. There are probably worst things I’ve eaten and to be fair so have my kids.
I personally have chosen to use this method anyway and I don’t worry about it. 40 turkeys later and we’re all alive, healthy and no one has gotten sick after eating it.
To cook this turkey you’ll need
- A good Meat thermometer – I like electric ones that will make a loud beep when it hits the right temperature.
- two Brown bag – I just grab some at my local grocery store. but some people have worried about the ink in the bag – here are some extra large blank paper bags
- Disposable Turkey pan – obviously if you have a nice turkey roaster that’s a great way to go – I just like to easily get the drippings out by poking a hole in the disposable pan over the gravy pot.
- herb cutter – one of my favorite tools!
How to cook a Brown Bag turkey
If you love these thanksgiving turkey recipes as much as I do, I’d love a 5 star review. Be sure to share on social media and tag me if you make it @ashleemariecakes! If you want to stay updated on new recipes sign up for my newsletter and join my Facebook Group!
If you love Brown Bag Turkey you’ll love these other Thanksgiving recipes!
Turkey and Wild Rice Soup | Spatchcock Smoked Turkey | Turkey Stock
Crescent Rolls | Turkey Pot Pie | Homemade Gravy
If you love my turkey recipe I have created digital Thanksgiving cookbook with all the recipes I use for my own Thanksgiving dinner!
To watch me make this brown bag turkey and gravy play the video in the recipe card. There should also be a short teaser auto playing for you.
You can find all my cooking show style recipe videos on YouTube, or my short recipe videos on Facebook Watch, or my Facebook Page, or right here on our website with their corresponding recipes.
How to Cook a Turkey
- 18 lbs Turkey any size will work
- 2 large Brown paper bags
- 2 onions sliced
- 4 cloves garlic crushed
- 1 C softened butter
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1 Tbsp rosemary’
- 1 Tbsp thyme
- 1/2 Tbsp sage
- 8 cloves garlic diced
- 1 shallot finely diced
- I like to make a compound butter a few days before
- mix the softened butter with the minced herbs, salt and pepper, garlic and shallots, wrap and refrigerate
- IF you don’t make a compound butter you simply rube the butter and spices into the turkey the day of
- Preheat your oven to 375
- clean your thawed turkey with cool water, making sure to take out the neck and gizzards (you can save for making Turkey Stock or throw out)
- Pat your turkey dry and place it into a pan (I use a disposable one for easy access to the drippings later)
- toss the sliced onions and crushed garlic into the pan and cavity of your turkey (not filling the cavity, just a small sprinkling), this will help flavor the drippings as well (for gravy)
- Pull the skin away from the meat in the breast and thigh areas – place thin slices of the compound butter in between the skin and meat, use MOST of the compound butter
- now rub it all over the outside of the turkey with the compound butter, don’t forget the legs, wings and underside.
- massage it in very well.
- Put your meat thermometer into the breast of the turkey, making sure it doesn’t touch any bone.
- Open your brown paper bags, slide the turkey/pan into one bag, then from the opposite side slide the turkey/pan and first bag into the second bag.
- They will overlap and encase the turkey, it’s perfect.
- the butter on your turkey will keep it from sticking, and as long as your paper bag isn’t touching a heating element it won’t burn (paper burns at 451 degrees)
- Place your turkey into the oven and cook until your meat thermometer reads 165 about 13-15 mins per lbs unstuffed.
- Pull your turkey out and let it rest for 15 mins, then pour the drippings into a pan to make your gravy
- then plate and serve!
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I have a confession – I have never cooked a turkey. It overwhelms me a bit. I think one day I will get brave and try it out – pinned your recipe!
really? I love making the turkey! Go for it, you’ll be so surprised at how easy it is!
Unbelievable, Summer. Go buy a turkey and while in the store ask for an extra brown bag…I never use plastic to carry my groceries…it isn’t recyclable. See what the instructions say about the oven temp and how long you need to cook it…(so make sure you know the weight…it’s on the label). The label on a turnkey tells you where the neck and giblets are…so be sure to remove those…wash and pat dry…put it in a brown bag and set your timer…YOU are going to be so happy with how perfect it is you’ll do it all the time
Lori @Lori's Culinary Creations
I forwarded this to my nephew who is making his first turkey ever this Thanksgiving. He’s worried so he has a “back up plan” in place just in case, lol. Great post! Happy Thanksgiving
Back up plans are so smart! Did he do a good job? Turkey sounds overwhelming, but it really is so easy!
Becky @ Project Domestication
My favorite method is brining, using Alton Brown’s recipe. I’ve never tried the brown bag, and now I totally want to!
I agree 100% with the meat thermometer. So necessary and a huge lifesaver. Your turkey looks so pretty!
I think next year I want to brine AND brown bag, maybe put my butter/rosemary mixture under the skin? Mmmmm Now I want a turkey again! 15 more days!!!
Yvonne @ TriedandTasty.com
Wow – you did an AMAZING job! This turned out beautifully! I have yet to tackle that project 🙂
you did it!!! what did you think of making your first turkey??? it looked great!
Your instructions say to let the meat thermometer (internal temp) reach 375 – and go up to 380. Don’t you mean 175 & go up to 180? Typo?
Gah, yes, thanks for the catch, I fixed it!
I’ve cooked the turkey in the two brown bags for over 25 years. I’d add make sure is butter is unsalted. I’m cooking it upside down for the first time. My friend did and pointed out all the juices flow into the breast. We’ll see. Anybody else ever try this
how did it go? I’ve tried the upside down method but I missed the crispy skin from it being right side up.
Does the bag get soggy and fall apart?
not at all! it does get a little greasy where it touches the buttery bird – but other than that dry!
I’ve used this bag recipe for Thanksgiving but didn’t have spices. I just put shortening on inside bag and rub butter on outside. I get the moisten meat. This year will be using compound and excited to see how it turns out.
I hope you love it as much as we do!
So what if I want to stuff my turkey?. How long does it cook normal time?
Stuffed turkey average times
8-12 lbs around 2-2.5 hours
12-16 lbs around 2.5-3 hours
16-20 lbs around 3-3.5 hours
20-24 lbs around 3.5-4 hours
hope that helps!
This really works! It was so moist and tasty,your video is a perfect way to show my grandkids how to.Thanks for a great recipe.
you are so welcome! so glad you like it!
Using your exact method/recipe/unstuffed, how long to cook for a 12 pound turkey? This is my first time ever doing this and I’m determined to make the best turkey EVER!!!
it’s different for every bird and every oven, which is why I recommend a meat thermometer – it’s by far the best way to get the turkey just right. BUT it should take around 2 1/2 to 3 hours
Should I take the turkey out of the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature before cooking?
no, room temp isn’t safe for meat, rinse in cold water, pat dry and move on
I was never a fan of turkey because it was always so dry. After I got married I was determined to make a moist turkey and while searching recipes I saw the brown bag recipe. It’s S–O easy and it cuts back on clean up~no scrubbing the roasting pan!l
I recommend the Brown Bag idea to everyone! I remember the first time I was to make Turkey & wasn’t sure how. My co-worker told me about the brown bag idea & I was surprised not only how delicious and moist it was, but the coloring was awesome (well I almost expected it to find it fully cooked but white with no color whatsoever).
YAY! I’m so glad you are a fan as well! It’s a great technique.
I’ve always baked my Apple pie in a brown bag and may I say always perfect… Now I’ll have to try doing my turkey in one with I’m sure the same results…PERFECT.
Brown bag apple pie is a classic for sure! Let me know what you think when you try the turkey!
Won’t the paper bag catch fire in the oven ?
Nope! paper burns at 415 degrees, so as long as the bag doesn’t touch the heating elements you’ll be fine, I’ve never had one catch fire, and I’ve made probably about 40 turkeys this way.
Where can you find bags that are eco friendly? Am worry avout chemicals in the recycled bags.
I Just use the ones from my grocery store, I’ve never worried about it. Sorry!
Can u use a turkey with a pop up timer
you can use a turkey with one, but I would NEVER trust the timer. they are terribly inaccurate and tend not to pop up until the turkey is way overcooked. Also since they don’t make a noise it’s easy to miss.
My mom has been brown bagging turkeys my entire life! She said that is how her mom always cooked the turkey, and every year, the turkey turn out perfect!
Def an old school way to make turkey, and so good!