Mexican Turkey Recipe (Pavo Navideño)

Try this Mexican turkey recipe for Pavo Navideño if you want your holiday meal to get a whole lot more flavorful! Don’t be intimidated, learning how to make this holiday recipe is way easier than it sounds!

Mexican turkey, aka Pavo Navideño, in a table with side dishes around.

About

Pavo Navideño is a Mexican turkey recipe packed with flavor, deliciously tender, juicy, and with a beautiful red/golden, crispy skin. It has a hearty, slightly smoky, and mildly spicy taste.

In Mexico, a turkey is called pavo or guajolote. They are native to the country and were introduced to Europe only until the 16th century.

The recipe for Pavo Navideño starts by preparing a flavorful and traditional adobo sauce that will be used to coat the turkey AND to spread during the roasting process. This is one of the most popular and best ways to prepare a Mexican-style turkey.

The chili sauce is the perfect combination of Mexican flavors and spices that will infuse the meat and deliver a dish that will be the star of your family’s holiday dinner.

Carved Mexican turkey in a plate.
Juicy, flavored, Pavo Navideño.

With our step-by-step recipe, even first-time cooks will be able to make it and enjoy a stress-free family dinner. A roasted Mexican turkey is perfectly juicy, evenly cooked, and super flavorful. 

Also, you can make this recipe using turkey or chicken, the only thing that changes is the roasting time, read below how to adjust the time of cooking based on the weight of your bird.

Ingredients

  • Pavo (turkey): You will need to defrost it completely before making the recipe. Read below some tips to defrost large birds.
  • Chilies: You will need guajillo peppers, and some chipotle in adobo to make the marinade. You can also add 1 ancho chili pepper for more flavor.
  • Achiote paste: For the beautiful and bright color, and for flavor. You can find this ingredient at Mexican food stores or substitute it with paprika.
  • Spices: Garlic, cinnamon, black peppercorns, cumin seeds, oregano, and salt.
  • Fresh herbs: Rosemary, sage, and thyme.
  • Butter: Melted unsalted butter to combine with the chili sauce and spread on the turkey.
  • Chicken stock: Use homemade or store-bought stock or chicken broth.
  • Lemon & orange: For citrus and fresh flavor that will balance the spiciness.

Note: Find the printable recipe with measurements below.

Mexican Turkey Recipe

Remove the thawed turkey from the refrigerator remove the bag of giblets and save them for making the gravy or discard them. Pat dry the skin with paper towels and let the turkey rest at room temperature for about 1 hour.

Make the adobo sauce

  • Clean guajillo chilies removing the stem, seeds, and membranes.
  • Place them in a bowl and cover them with hot water. Allowing to soak for 10 minutes to soften them.
  • Drain chilies and place them in a blender along with chipotle peppers, achiote paste, garlic, pepper, oregano, cinnamon, cumin, and salt.
  • Add orange juice, vinegar, and 1 cup of water, then blend until a smooth sauce forms.
  • Strain the sauce into a bowl.
A collage with 4 photos of the chili sauce for Mexican turkey recipe.

Prepare the turkey

  • Place butter in a bowl and melt it in the microwave.
  • Mix melted butter with the chili sauce and allow to reach room temperature. Reserve 1/3 of the mixture.
  • Loosen the skin of the turkey on top of the breasts by gently sliding your fingers underneath. Then spread butter and adobo sauce mixture all over.
  • Do the same on the legs, sides, and all around the outside until all turkey is covered in adobo chili sauce.
  • Stuff the turkey cavity with lemon wedges, half garlic head, orange wedges, and some sprigs of fresh herbs. Tie the legs together and tuck the wings under its back to prevent them from spreading out.
A collage with 4 photos of the preparation of Pavo Navideño, aka Mexican turkey recipe.

Roast the turkey

  • Preheat oven to 390°F(200°C).
  • Pour chicken stock into a roasting pan and add more fresh herbs and the other half of the garlic head. Arrange a roasting rack inside and place the turkey over it.
  • Cover the turkey breasts with foil pressing down to mold to the shape of the breasts.
  • Roast for 1 hour, then remove from the oven and quickly brush the bird with the chile sauce you reserved before. Cover the breasts again with foil.
  • Roast turkey again for 1 hour, or more if your turkey weighs more than 10lb. Read below some tips for how long should you cook your turkey depending on weight.
  • Take the turkey from the oven, remove the foil and baste with the cooking juices.
  • Return the turkey to the oven, roasting it until it reaches the optimal temperature and the skin is nicely crispy.
  • To check up, insert a meat thermometer between the breast and leg. It should read 165°F (75°C).
  • As soon as it’s done, remove it from the oven and tent it with foil to keep it warm and allow the juices to redistribute in the meat. Allow Pavo Navideño to rest for 30 minutes.
Roasted Mexican turkey in a roasting pan.

Approximate turkey roasting times (pounds and kilo):

  • 6 lb (2.8k): 1 hr 30 min.
  • 10 lb (5k): 2 hrs 15-30 min.
  • 12 lb (6k): 2 hrs 35-45 min.
  • 14 lb (7k): 3 hrs
  • 16 lb (8k): 3 hrs 15-20 min.
  • 18 lb (9k): 3 hrs 45-55 min.
  • 20 lb (10 k): 4 hrs 15-20 min.

Tips & Notes

  • When defrosting your turkey, place it into a deep baking tray to prevent leaks from running through your refrigerator shelves.
  • Make sure you place the turkey to thaw in the fridge, it will need about 24 hours for every 3-4 pounds (1.5-2 kg) to completely defrost.
  • In order to roast evenly, Mexican turkey must be at room temperature before placing it in the oven.
  • As a general rule, your Mexican turkey will need to cook for about 13-15 minutes per pound.
  • Always check both turkey cavities just to make sure you got everything out (neck and giblets).
  • Allow your pavo navideño to rest after roasting, 20 minutes should be enough, then carve and serve.
  • Do not throw the pan cooking juices, use them to make gravy, or as a base for soup!

How To Serve

In Mexico, Pavo Navideño is usually served with many sides that depend on family preferences. From salads to pasta, to rice and even tamales, there are many delicious dishes that can go with this holiday favorite.

Sliced bread of Mexican turkey served in a plate with coditos pasta salad and roasted potatoes.

What To Do With Leftovers

Looking for Mexican turkey recipes to use your leftovers? Here are a few dishes you can use as inspiration:

FAQ

The turkey chest is getting too brown, what can I do?

This usually happens when if the heating element in your oven is at the top, so make sure to lower the rack and then cover the turkey breast with aluminum foil.

Is Pavo Navideño spicy?

This Mexican turkey is mildly spicy because of the guajillo chilies used to make the marinade sauce. However, as a reference, guajillo peppers are less spicy than jalapeños.

How much time do I need to defrost a turkey?

You will need 24 hours for every 4 pounds of turkey. So, if you have a 12-pound/6k bird allow from 3 to 4 days to completely defrost.

Do I need to use adobo sauce?

Well, yes. The chili sauce creates a coating that prevents the meat from drying out, this is the secret to a moist turkey Mexican style.

Mexican turkey Pavo Navideño in a platter with roasted potatoes and some side dishes on bowls.

More Mexican Recipes For Christmas

Mexican Turkey Recipe.

Mexican Turkey Recipe (Pavo Navideño)

author Maricruz
8 servings
Learn how to make Pavo Navideño, a Mexican turkey recipe super moist, juicy, and packed with flavor.
prep 20 minutes
cook 2 hours 30 minutes
Resting time 30 minutes
total 3 hours 20 minutes

Equipment

  • 1 roasting pan
  • 1 meat thermometer

Ingredients 

  • 1-10 lb turkey (fully defrosted, giblets and neck removed)
  • ½ cup butter (melted)
  • 1 large garlic head (cut in half)
  • 1 bunch fresh herbs (rosemary, sage, thyme)
  • 1 orange (cut into wedges)
  • 1 lemon (cut into wedges)
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • salt and pepper

For the adobo sauce

  • 10 guajillo peppers
  • 2 chipotle in adobo peppers
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • ¼ cup vinegar
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • ½ tsp black peppercorns
  • ¼ tsp cumin seeds
  • ½ Tbsp oregano
  • ½ stick cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp achiote paste (or 1 ½ tablespoon paprika)
  • salt

Instructions
 

Make the adobo sauce

  • Clean guajillo chilies removing the stem, seeds, and membranes.
  • Place them in a bowl and cover them with hot water. Allowing to soak for 10 minutes to soften them.
  • Drain chilies and place them in a blender along with chipotle peppers, achiote paste, garlic, pepper, oregano, cinnamon, cumin, and salt.
  • Add orange juice, vinegar, and 1 cup water, then blend until a smooth sauce forms.
  • Strain the sauce into a bowl.

Prepare the turkey

  • Season turkey with salt and pepper on all sides, also in the cavity.
  • Mix melted butter with the chili sauce and allow to reach room temperature. Reserve ⅓ of the mixture.
  • Loosen the skin of the turkey on top of the breasts by gently sliding your fingers underneath. Then spread butter and adobo sauce mixture all over.
  • Do the same on the legs, sides, and all around the outside until all turkey is covered in adobo chili sauce.
  • Stuff the turkey cavity with lemon wedges, half garlic head, orange wedges, and some sprigs of fresh herbs.
  • Tie the legs together and and tuck the wings under its back to prevent them from spreading out.

Roast the turkey

  • Preheat oven to 390°F(200°C).
  • Pour chicken stock in a roasting pan and add more fresh herbs and the other half of garlic head. Arrange a roasting rack inside and place the turkey over.
  • Cover the turkey breasts with foil pressing down to mold to the shape of the breasts.
  • Roast for 1 hour, then remove from the oven and quickly brush the bird with the chile sauce you reserved before. Cover the breasts again with foil.
  • Roast turkey again for 1 hour, or more if your turkey weight more than 10lb (read notes).
  • Take out the turkey from the oven, remove the foil and baste with the cooking juices.
  • Return the turkey to the oven, roasting until it reaches the optimal temperature and the skin is nicely crispy.
  • To check up, insert a meat thermometer between the breast and leg. It should read 165°F (75°C).
  • As soon as it’s done, remove from the oven and tent with foil to keep it warm and allow the juices to redistribute in the meat. Allow to rest for 30 minutes.

Notes

Approximate turkey/chicken roasting times:
  • 6 lb (2.8k): 1 hr 30 min.
  • 10 lb (5k): 2 hrs 15-30 min.
  • 12 lb (6k): 2 hrs 35-45 min.
  • 14 lb (7k): 3 hrs
  • 16 lb (8k): 3 hrs 15-20 min.
  • 18 lb (9k): 3 hrs 45-55 min.
  • 20 lb (10 k): 4 hrs 15-20 min.
Nutrition Information
Calories: 655kcal | Carbohydrates: 9g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 69g | Saturated Fat: 24g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 14g | Monounsaturated Fat: 27g | Trans Fat: 0.5g | Cholesterol: 88mg | Sodium: 401mg | Potassium: 230mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 2177IU | Vitamin C: 31mg | Calcium: 41mg | Iron: 1mg
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Recipe Rating




3 Comments

  1. The instructions say chile guajillo and ancho, but the ingredients list says guajillo and chipotle. Which is correct? If ancho is right, how many?

    1. Hi Roxy, you’re right. I removed the ancho chili from the instructions. However, you can add some for flavor as adobo sauce sometimes include even 3 types of chilies. If you want to add some chile ancho 1 large or 2 smalls are enough.

  2. 5 stars
    We made this Mexican turkey yesterday and it was a total hit! Everyone loved the flavor and asked for the recipe, it does have flavor, I tell you!
    We served with pasta and traditional stuffing, ours was a mixed thanksgiving with lots of food from Mexico, USA, and even Poland.