Justin's Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Turkey


This sumptuous recipe, created by Justin Wangler, chef of Kendall-Jackson Winery, will save time on Thanksgiving. Cook the turkey breast and legs separately for best results. Braising the legs keeps them moist and creates a wonderful stock for gravy.

Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Turkey
Photo: Reed Davis
Roast Time:
2 hrs 30 mins
Roast Time:
45 mins
Roast Time:
2 hrs 45 mins
Total Time:
6 hrs
8 servings plus leftovers


Brine Turkey - 2 days ahead

  • ½ bunch fresh thyme (about 10 sprigs)

  • 3 bay leaves

  • 30 black peppercorns

  • 1 cup kosher salt

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 1 18-20 pound natural, unenhanced fresh or frozen turkey, thawed (See note*, below)

Braised Turkey Legs with Pan Gravy - 1 day ahead

  • ½ bunch fresh thyme (about 10 sprigs)

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

  • 2 teaspoon rice oil or cooking oil

  • 2 large onions, quartered

  • 5 stalks celery, cut in thirds

  • 3 carrots, halved crosswise

  • ½ cup Chardonnay or dry white wine

  • 6 cup turkey or chicken stock or reduced-sodium chicken broth

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 20 black peppercorns

  • 2 cup water

Pan Gravy

  • ¼ cup butter

  • ½ cup all-purpose flour

  • 4 cup reserved braising liquid (from Braised Turkey Legs), turkey stock, or reduced-sodium chicken broth

  • 1 bay leaf

  • Fresh thyme or sage (optional)


Prepare turkey brine:

  1. In large container combine thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns, salt, and sugar. add 2 quarts hot water (about 130 degrees F); stir. Add 2 quarts ice; let stand until ice is melted.

  2. Meanwhile, prepare turkey for brining: Remove neck and giblets (reserve neck, heart, and gizzard for Pan gravy, below; discard liver). Remove legs by pulling leg away from body. With kitchen shears cut through skin where leg attaches. Push leg back to dislocate from backbone. Cut through joint to remove. Remove wings and backbone. Reserve for Braised Turkey Legs with Pan Gravy, below.

  3. Place remaining whole turkey breast in brine, making sure to completely submerge. Cover; refrigerate for 2 days, turning occasionally.

  4. *Note: Choose a turkey that is not flavor-enhanced (check ingredient list for sodium) or the turkey could be too salty. Natural turkey is minimally processed with no synthetic or artificial ingredients. These turkeys are usually not self-basting or marinated, making them the right choice if you plan to brine the bird. But check the label-it should explain what is "natural" about the turkey.

Prepare Braised Turkey Legs with Pan Gravy:

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Debone turkey legs. Place leg bones, along with reserved neck, wings, and backbone in 15x10x1-inch baking pan. Roast uncovered, about 45 minutes, until browned.

  2. Meanwhile, remove and chop leaves from thyme. Season the inside of deboned legs with thyme, salt, and pepper. Roll and tie legs. Tie with kitchen string, beginning at each end. Continue for a total of 6 to 8 ties per leg. Season rolled legs with salt and pepper.

  3. Heat an oven-going extra-large deep skillet or braising pan over medium-high heat. Add oil. Carefully add turkey legs. Cook, turning as needed, until browned on all sides. Remove legs from pan. Drain fat, reserving 1 tablespoon in pan.

  4. Add onions, celery, and carrots to pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat for 5 minute. Carefully add wine to pan; stir to scrape up browned bits. Add chicken stock, bay leaves, peppercorns, and water. Remove bones from oven and carefully add to pan. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Add browned legs to pan.

  5. Cover and roast until tender, about 2-1/2 hours. Cool. Remove legs; strain braising liquid (reserve for Pan Gravy, below). Remove strings from turkey legs; slice. Place slices in casserole dish with 1 cup reserved braising liquid. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

  6. Makes 8 (3 oz.) servings plus leftovers.

  7. Each serving: 344 cal, 13 g fat, 221 mg chol, 553 mg sodium, 1 g carbo, 0 g fiber, 51 g pro.

Prepare Pan Gravy:

  1. Chop reserved heart and gizzard. In a large saucepan melt butter; add giblets and cook 2 minutes. Stir in flour and cook 2 minutes more. Whisk in 1/4 cup of the braising liquid until smooth. Add 3-3/4 cups more of the braising liquid and the bay leaf. (Refrigerate or freeze additional reserved stock for another use.) Cook and stir until gravy comes to a simmer. Cook 5 minutes. Cool and refrigerate overnight. Just before serving, sprinkle fresh thyme and/or sage. See reheating instructions, below.

  2. Makes 8 (1/2-cup) servings and leftovers.

  3. Each serving: 87 cal, 6 g fat, 17 mg chol, 521 mg sodium, 6 g carbo, 0 g fiber, 1 g pro.

Roast Turkey Breast and Reheat Braised Legs:

  1. About 1 hour before roasting, remove turkey from brine. Pat with paper towels.

  2. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Place breast, bone side down, on rack in roasting pan. Insert oven-going meat thermometer into thickest portion. Roast 1 hour. Spoon juices over turkey. Roast about 1 hour 15 to 1 hour 45 minutes more or until internal temperature reaches 170 degrees F, spooning juices over turkey about every 30 minutes. Remove from oven. Cover with foil; let stand 20 minutes before carving.

  3. To reheat legs, place casserole dish in oven with turkey breast during the last 20 to 30 minutes of roasting time. To reheat gravy, in large saucepan bring 2 tablespoons water to simmering. Whisk in gravy; heat through and discard bay leaf.

  4. Makes 8 (4 oz.) servings and leftovers.

  5. Each serving: 160 cal, 3 g fat, 88 mg chol, 239 mg sodium, 0 g carbo, 0 g fiber, 30 g pro.

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