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Za’atar Turkey

Make Middle Eastern-inspired za’atar turkey to impress your guests! Rub a whole turkey with a delicious combination of flavorful za’atar, fresh lemon, garlic, and olive oil. Roast the bird until golden borwn and crispy. Pair it with buttery saffron rice or Shirazi salad to complete the meal.

Za'atar turkey on a tray with toppings.

What is Za’atar?

Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend with a tangy, aromatic flavor. Use it to season sourdough bagels, chips, grilled meat, roasted vegetables, and hummus. You can prepare za’atar from scratch using ground sumac, dried thyme, and dried oregano, or try store-bought ground sumac.

Ingredients You’ll Need

  • Olive Oil: The olive oil in the marinade serves two purposes. It helps prevent the turkey from sticking to the wire rack or roasting pan and creates a carrier for the herbs and spices to adhere to the turkey.
  • Lemon: Brighten the marinade with fresh lemon juice and zest. 
  • Garlic: I suggest using three fresh garlic cloves, but measure with your heart.
  • Spices: Use za’atar, kosher salt, dried mint, brown sugar, red pepper flakes, and ground cumin to flavor the za’atar turkey.
  • Turkey: I use a 15-pound turkey to feed my family of six with leftovers. Before starting the recipe, make sure it is fully thawed and cleaned.

Additions and Substitutions

  • Use full-fat Greek yogurt instead of olive oil in the marinade.

Tools Used to Make This Recipe

All you need to roast turkey in the oven is a rimmed baking sheet with a wire rack, but you can also use a roasting pan.

How to Make Za’atar Turkey

The full recipe with measurements is in the recipe card below.

Step 1: Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, za’atar, salt, dried mint, red pepper flakes, and ground cumin in a small bowl. Set it aside.

Marinade for the turkey in a bowl.

Step 2: Remove the neck and giblets from the inside of the turkey. Place the turkey onto a rimmed baking sheet and separate the skin from the breast.

Then, rub the reserved marinade evenly over the bird and under the skin. Cover the baking sheet with plastic and marinate in the refrigerator for 6-24 hours.

Turkey rubbed with marinade on a sheet pan.

Step 3: Remove the turkey from the refrigerator 1 hour before cooking time, and let it come to room temperature. 

Preheat the oven to 450°F (232°F). Adjust the oven rack to the lowest position.

Step 4: Set the turkey onto a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan, careful to tuck the wings under the turkey.

A whole turkey in the oven.

Step 5: Place the turkey into the oven and cook for 20 minutes. Then, reduce the oven temperature to 300℉ (148℃).

Continue cooking until the thickest part of the chicken breast reads 150°F (65°C) and the chicken legs read 165℉ (73℃), for 3-4 hours for a 15-pound turkey.

Every 30 minutes or so, brush the turkey with za’atar oil using a basting brush  for even browning.

Brushing the turkey with za'atar oil.

Step 6: Remove the turkey from the oven and let it rest for 15-30 minutes before carving.

How to Carve a Turkey

Begin by removing the wings, thighs, and breast meat. Now, separate the thighs and legs and slice the turkey breasts. I don’t think I can cover this any better than Serious Eats. They do an incredible job of breaking down how to carve a turkey.

Expert Tips

  • When it comes to cooking a turkey, the ultimate goal is to achieve a crispy and juicy texture, and basting is a common technique used for this purpose. J. Kenji Lopez Alt mentions in his book, The Food Lab, that basting a turkey with hot juices can increase the cooking rate, which may make the turkey drier.
  • At the halfway point, check the turkey’s internal temperature by inserting a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast, near the bone. 
  • Remove the turkey from the oven once it reaches the desired temperature. Let it rest for 15-30 minutes. Resting redistributes the juices to retain moisture. 
  • Don’t go cold turkey! While the turkey rests, warm the serving platter in the oven (120℉ | 49℃) for most plates) to ensure the meat stays nice and warm.

If you enjoy this meal, try one of these holiday recipes!  

Za'atar Turkey on a tray with toppings.

Serving Suggestions

Prepare a mezze platter with warm pita bread, havuç tarator, butter bean hummus, zaalouk, and homemade pita chips before serving the main course.

What to do with the Leftovers

  • Refrigerate: Store leftovers in an airtight container for 3-4 days.
  • Freeze: Let the turkey cool, and transfer it to a freezer-safe container or bag. Za’atar turkey will freeze for 2-3 months.
  • Reheat: Warm leftovers in the oven or microwave.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long to thaw a turkey?

A frozen turkey requires 24 hours of thawing time for every 5 pounds of turkey. Once you’ve fully thawed the turkey, cook it within 1-2 days.

What’s the best way to thaw a turkey?

Give yourself plenty of time to defrost the turkey. You can thaw the turkey in the microwave, water, or the refrigerator. Thawing the turkey in the refrigerator is the safest method because it defrosts consistently.

How do I know when my turkey is done cooking?

Whatever size turkey you choose to make, don’t rely on a timetable to be your guide. The best way to know when a turkey has finished cooking is to check the internal temperature using a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast and adjust the cooking time accordingly. The safe cooking temperature is 165°F (73°C). 

Where can I buy za’atar?

Your best options for finding affordable za’atar are in Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, or international grocery stores, as it is a common ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine. You can also check the spice aisle at major grocery stores.

If you want to whip up your own to make my recipe for za’atar turkey, here is what you need:
• 4½ teaspoons sumac
• 3 teaspoons dried thyme
• 3 teaspoons dried oregano
• ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

More Turkey Recipes:

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Za'atar Turkey on a tray with toppings.

Za’atar Turkey

Tressa Jamil
Impress your guests with a Middle Eastern-inspired za'atar turkey. Ours is flavored with za'atar and aromatics and roasted until golden and crispy.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours 30 minutes
Marinating Time 1 day
Total Time 1 day 5 hours
Course Dinner, Main Course
Cuisine American, Middle Eastern
Servings 16 Servings
Calories 695 kcal
Ingredients
  
For the Turkey:
  • ½ cup olive oil, divided
  • lemon juice, 2 lemons
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tablespoons za'atar seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons dried mint
  • 1-2 teaspoon brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 15 pound turkey, thawed and cleaned
For the Za'atar Oil:
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons za'atar seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
Instructions
 
  • Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, za'atar, salt, dried mint, red pepper flakes, and ground cumin in a small bowl. Set it aside.
  • Remove the neck and giblets from the inside of the turkey. Place the turkey onto a rimmed baking sheet and separate the skin from the breast.
  • Then, rub the reserved marinade evenly over the bird and under the skin. Cover the baking sheet with plastic and marinate in the refrigerator for 6-24 hours.
  • Remove the turkey from the refrigerator 1 hour before cooking time, and let it come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 450°F (232°F). Adjust the oven rack to the lowest position. Meanwhile, prepare the ingredients for the za'atar oil in a small bowl and set it aside.
  • Set the turkey onto a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan, careful to tuck the wings under the turkey.
  • Place the turkey into the oven and cook for 20 minutes. Then, reduce the oven temperature to 300℉ (148℃). Continue cooking until the thickest part of the chicken breast reads 150°F (65°C) and the chicken legs read 165℉ (73℃), for 3-4 hours for a 15-pound turkey.
    Every 30 minutes or so, brush the turkey with za'atar oil using a pastry brush for even browning.
  • Remove the turkey from the oven and let it rest for 15-30 minutes before carving.
Notes
Expert Tips:
  • When it comes to cooking a turkey, the ultimate goal is to achieve a crispy and juicy texture, and basting is a common technique used for this purpose. J. Kenji Lopez Alt mentions in his book, The Food Lab, that basting a turkey with hot juices can increase the cooking rate, which may make the turkey drier.
  • At the halfway point, check the turkey’s internal temperature by inserting a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast, near the bone. 
  • Remove the turkey from the oven once it reaches the desired temperature. Let it rest for 15-30 minutes. Resting redistributes the juices to retain moisture. 
  • Don’t go cold turkey! While the turkey rests, warm the serving platter in the oven (120℉ | 49℃) for most plates) to ensure the meat stays nice and warm.
Nutrition Disclosure:
  • The nutritional information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for professional advice.
Nutrition
Serving: 1 Serving | Calories: 695 kcal | Carbohydrates: 1 g | Protein: 105 g | Fat: 27 g | Saturated Fat: 7 g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1 g | Monounsaturated Fat: 7 g | Cholesterol: 263 mg | Sodium: 2402 mg | Potassium: 10 mg | Vitamin A: 2 IU | Vitamin C: 2 mg | Calcium: 8 mg | Iron: 39 mg
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