Cooking a Turkey In A Roaster Oven creates a tender and juicy centerpiece of your holiday meal while saving space in the oven.
We like to use an herb butter along with fresh carrots, celery, onions, garlic and lemon to create a simple recipe that can be made any where you have an electric outlet.
How To Cook A Turkey In A Roaster Oven
A turkey can be cooked in an electric roaster very similarly to making one in a traditional oven. Plan ahead for the big Thanksgiving or other holiday meal using our tips and tricks to be successful.
Turn the roaster to the highest setting possible and preheat while prepping the bird. Use the insert rack to make removal easier. Starting on high heat will create a beautiful golden brown roasted turkey skin.
Prepare the bird to suit your preferences. We like to rub with herb butter and stuff with chunks of onions, cloves of garlic and a quartered lemon.
Roast turkey without any added liquid or water on the highest temperature for 30 minutes and then turn down to 350℉ to finish cooking. Starting at a higher temp will give the bird a crispy brown finish.
Use a meat thermometer on a cord to prevent needing to open the lid often.
Allow the turkey to rest and then carve and enjoy!
Guests will never know whether you used a portable electric roaster or a conventional oven to make this delicious turkey.
- Turkey – Set the turkey in the roaster when you purchase it to make sure it will fit. We prefer that the turkey doesn’t touch the top or edges of the roaster and that there is a little bit of space to prevent burning. Start defrosting about 4 days ahead of time with plenty of space around the turkey in the refrigerator.
- Butter – Be sure to use real butter, not margarine for the best flavor. For extra special occasions we like to splurge on Kerry Gold butter.
- Poultry Herb Blend – A .5 ounce combination of fresh herbs which are rosemary, sage and thyme. This package is found in the refrigerated case. I use one pack for the butter coating and one pack for garnish on the serving tray.
- Carrots – Use whole carrots, can peel ahead of time. Keep in long sticks to rest the bird on while cooking.
- Celery – Whole sticks work best to rest the turkey on while cooking.
- Garlic – A bulb works well, peel the cloves ahead of time if you like.
- Lemon – Wash and quarter a fresh lemon to stuff the turkey with for a fresh, citrus flavor.
- Salt and Pepper – I like to pick up the grinders to get the freshest flavors.
- Poultry Seasoning – Is an optional spice, we used it in a test and didn’t particularly enjoy the flavor. We prefer Cajun Seasoning if a dry seasoning is important. When using herb butter no additional seasoning is needed in our opinion.
What’s Needed To Make Turkey In A Roaster Oven
- Roaster Pan with Lid – This pan is important for defrosting the turkey and containing any juices that turn to liquid. Having a pan to contain the whole turkey is important to safely defrost as well as prepare the bird for the roaster while keeping the kitchen as refrigerator as clean as possible.
- Electric Roaster Oven – This 18 quart Nesco is a smaller option and comes in black, red and white. This roaster will work for a smaller to medium sized turkey.
- Thermometer on a Cord – Is an important tool to help minimize how many times you have to open the lid and lose heat.
- Silicone Mits or Two Large Meat Forks – Make it safe to remove the turkey.
- An Electric Knife or sharp Carving Knife – To slice the turkey.
- Large Cutting Board – To help catch juices. Any large cutting board can be set on top of clean dish towels or in a sheet pan with edges to help catch juices too.
- Heavy Duty Foil – Is helpful to wrap the turkey while it’s resting on the cutting board or a large sheet pan before carving.
Differences In A Roaster & Conventional Oven
A roaster oven is portable and can be used anywhere you have an electric outlet that can supply enough juice without flipping the breaker. The convenience factor is notable.
An electric roaster is top loading as opposed to front loading like ovens we typically cook with. Think ahead about where you want to place the electric roaster so that the turkey can be easily checked and safely removed from the hot oven.
A portable electric roaster oven is not insulated quite as well as a larger oven, so it will lose heat easier and may take a bit longer to cook. This is why having a digital thermometer with a cord or wireless option to check internal temp is helpful instead of opening the lid.
Choosing An Electric Roaster Oven
Any brand of roaster oven will be fine. The key is having a roaster large enough to hold your turkey, yet small enough to move or carry. I like to have two people move the roaster together so your body can be further from the heat.
Nesco is brand that is synonymous with the broader term electric roaster oven in some areas. Oster, Rival, Hamilton Beach, as well as many newer brands are available on Amazon. Any type will work, I just recommend doing a test recipe of some type to become familiar with the new tool and some of the nuances.
A 26 Quart Roaster Oven is available on Amazon and will hold an extra large turkey. Keep in mind you need space for the roaster to sit (and be stored) as well the ability to lift the turkey into and out of the appliance. You also want to be able to wash the roaster pan in your sink and be able to carry the empty roaster to storage.
So it would not be reasonable to sit an XL roaster on a counter top to perform the necessary tasks. A step stool would likely be needed.
Preparing To Use A Roaster Oven
I have a larger Rival that cooks hotter and faster, as well as a smaller Nesco that cooks lower and slower. The only way to find out how your roaster cooks is to test it out. Cook a pork butt to make pulled pork or a Ham in a Roaster or some other piece of meat that you cook often and are comfortable making.
Doing a test will help you learn how hot the roaster gets underneath while cooking. You’ll learn:
- How it sounds while cooking at different temps
- What it is like to handle and move the roaster around when hot
- Where to set it to put meat in
- Logistics on removing large pieces of cooked meat
Learning how to set meat in and remove it is different than a traditional front loading oven.
A roaster oven is not difficult to use, but there may be quirks you haven’t considered. I prefer to learn about these things ahead of a big meal as opposed to on Thanksgiving day when the stress level is a bit higher.
Should Water Be Added to the Roaster
Do not add water underneath the roaster pan in an electric roaster unless the instructions say specifically to do so. This is a step that many people do, but most roasters made in the last few decades do not require. Always read the owner’s manual to confirm.
There is also no water that needs to be added inside the roaster as there are natural juices that will circulate while the lid is closed and self basting.
Adding liquid will prevent the skin from browning and roasting as the turkey shown in the pictures did.
Make Clean-Up Easier
Generously coat the bottom with heavy duty non-stick cooking spray. Since the roaster is set on the highest temperature the spray may begin to smoke.
Use some spray to prevent sticking and make clean up easier. But don’t use too much and be prepared to crack a door or window to let fresh air in if necessary.
Turn roaster oven to the highest setting. While I haven’t had a problem with the roaster warping a counter top or floor I do prefer to cook on board a little larger than the roaster. The board acts as insulation to protect other surfaces.
Setting the roaster on top of the oven is safe, but typically the oven is in use or not available when an electric roaster is used. So just plan a spot ahead of time that you are most comfortable.
What To Prep Ahead of Time
Begin by defrosting the turkey 3 – 4 days ahead of time.
The vegetables can be prepared a day ahead to save time on the day the turkey needs to be made.
Wash the roaster and set out the needed supplies in the same area on the counter to ensure they are all ready.
Making Herb Butter
Add softened butter and rinsed and dried poultry herbs in a small food processor and blend well.
If a half ounce package of poultry seasoning isn’t available then use a mixture of rosemary, thyme and sage.
Use a small silicone spatula to clean the butter out of the food processor and spread on the turkey.
Step By Step Instructions
Get your electric roaster set in the cooking location and pre-heat to the highest setting. Our roasters go up to 450℉. Allow about 20 minutes to preheat. Spray the bottom with non-stick cooking spray just before setting the turkey in.
Starting with defrosted turkey in a clean pan that is NOT the roaster insert pan. Remove the gizzard from the center of the turkey. There is often a plastic insert that makes rotating and moving the turkey easier. Remove this just before cooking.
Use thick paper towels to pat the skin dry. Butter will stick better to a dry surface.
Using clean hands or a spatula rub the herb butter all over the turkey.
This will take some time and patience to apply all of the butter.
Add the quartered or sliced lemon, peeled cloves of garlic and quarters or slices of white onion to the center of the turkey. These fresh ingredients add a gentle flavor to the turkey more than cooking as a stuffing.
Season turkey with salt and pepper at this point if desired.
Set at least two sticks of carrots and two sticks of celery on the roaster rack to help hold the turkey up out of it’s natural juices and allow it to brown a bit more on all sides.
Move the dish with the buttered turkey right next to the roaster and set the turkey in taking care not to touch the hot, preheated roaster with your hands or arms.
If you are more comfortable the turkey can be set on the insert outside of the roaster and lowered in. This is a personal preference.
Insert the temperature probe into the center of thickest part of the turkey which is the thigh. The center of the biggest muscle will take the longest to cook.
Cover the roaster and cook at 450℉ for 30 minutes.
This is what the turkey looks like after 30 minutes of roasting at high heat.
Do not remove the lid and use the times below as a guideline.
If desired you can add chicken or turkey broth to the bottom of the roaster half way through cooking, but I do not baste the actual turkey because the herbs and butter will get washed off in the process.
During testing I did not notice a difference in the juiciness of the turkey when broth was added or when the turkey was roasted in its own juices.
How Long To Cook Turkey In A Roaster Oven
Begin by roasting turkey for 30 minutes at the highest temperature which is 450℉ in my electric roasters.
After 30 minutes turn down to 350℉ and cook using the times recommended on the package. Since there has been some roasting already done, plan for the lower end of the cooking range.
I tested 12 pound young turkeys with the following recommended cooking times.
- 10 to 12 pounds – 2 1/2 to 3 hours
- 12 to 14 pounds – 3 to 3 1/2 hours
- 14 to 16 pounds – 3 1/2 to 4 hours
- 16 to 20 pounds – 4 to 4 1/2 hours
- 20 to 24 pounds – 4 1/2 to 5 hours
Stuffed turkeys need an extra 30 to 60 minutes of roasting time.
Since electric roasters vary so greatly use this chart as a starting point and allow a buffer on each side.
Always rely on a digital thermometer reading 165℉ to 170℉ to know when your turkey is done cooking.
A cooked turkey should be covered with foil and allowed to rest for 30 minutes before carving. They can easily rest for 60 minutes when wrapped tightly in foil.
Carving The Turkey
I like to watch a YouTube video on Carving a Turkey to get a better handle on strategy.
Use any extra herbs to lay around the edges of a large serving platter.
An electric knife is my preferred tool to remove the breasts. Lay them on a cutting board and slice. Then arrange on opposite corners of the tray.
Then I pull off the legs and lay on opposite corners, typically next to a sliced breast.
My husband may nibble on the wings if the turkey is large enough, so they are set aside for later.
Then I pull strips of the dark thigh meat off and fill in any empty spaces on the tray. Garnish with roasted veggies or the veggies cooked in the roaster.
An extra package or two of fresh herbs also comes in handy for garnish.
Re-Heating Turkey In A Roaster Oven
Our church has an annual Thanksgiving meal and the preacher cooks the turkey the day before. Then he carves and refrigerates it.
On Sunday he puts the meat in the roaster along with turkey or chicken broth and sets to low at 180℉ or 200℉. Rotating the meat every 30 minutes is important to help reheat evenly.
I prefer to reheat turkey in large crock pots for ease of transport.
Recipe Tips & Tricks
- Opening the lid releases the heat and should be done as little as possible even though it’s so tempting to look at the bird often.
- I was concerned that using a thermometer with a cord would break the seal between the lid and roaster and it did not. Having a way to know the internal temp of the turkey is very important.
- Try to test making anything in your roaster prior to making a turkey for a special meal when the pressure is on.
- The day you buy the turkey set it in the roaster to make sure it will fit!
- A digital thermometer is more reliable than the little red button that comes inside of most turkeys.
- Make sure you have plenty of time to defrost the bird.
- Spray non-stick cooking spray in the roaster right before adding the turkey and know that it may smoke a bit.
- If there’s a lot of some feel free to add a cup or two of broth, but I typically do not do this.
More Easy Recipes For A Crowd
Cheesy Potatoes in a Roaster is another popular option for church carry-ins and big meals.
More Popular Thanksgiving Recipes
Old-Fashioned Cornbread Dressing has so much flavor and is easy to make.
Jiffy Broccoli Cornbread has a wonderful cheesy flavor that enhances the broccoli and cornbread.
California Vegetable Medley is a blend of cauliflower, broccoli and carrots that is baked into a creamy and delicious casserole.
Zucchini Casserole has a topping of stuffing mix to make a memorable dish.
Turkey In A Roaster Oven
- 12 pound Whole Turkey
- 1/2 cup butter softened
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
- .5 ounces poultry herb blend blend of rosemary, thyme & sage
- 2 stalks celery
- 2 whole carrots
- 2 white onions
- 6 cloves garlic
- Totally defrost turkey and pat the surface dry.
- Preheat electric roaster oven to 450℉
- Use a food processor to blend softened butter and washed and dried herbs.
- Use your fingers or spatula to spread generously over the entire turkey.
- Stuff turkey with quartered lemon, onion and cloves of garlic.
- Insert a digital thermometer into the center of the thickest part of the turkey which is the thigh.
- Set sticks of carrots and celery across the insert.
- Put turkey on the insert and set down into the electric roaster taking care not to touch the edges of the hot roaster.
- Without adding any extra liquid roast for 30 minutes on the hottest setting.
- Then turn down to 350℉ and use the chart below as a guideline. Electric roasters vary greatly and my roasters typically cook at the lower end of the time brackets.
- 10 to 12 pounds – 2 1/2 to 3 hours12 to 14 pounds – 3 to 3 1/2 hours14 to 16 pounds – 3 1/2 to 4 hours16 to 20 pounds – 4 to 4 1/2 hours20 to 24 pounds – 4 1/2 to 5 hours
- When the internal temp of the turkey has reached 165℉ the turkey is done cooking
- Remove from the roaster and wrap with heavy duty aluminum foil and allow the turkey to rest for 30 minutes.
- Carve and enjoy!
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