Whether you’re planning on roasting a turkey for American Thanksgiving, Christmas dinner or New Year’s Day, you can always use a few helpful tips to make it the best it can be. Since roasting a gargantuan bird is not on the usual M-F menu plan, it can cause even the most experienced cook to hesitate before proceeding. Fortunately, I know my tips and tutorial can boost your confidence for preparing your event’s main attraction.
My Crash-Course on Turkey
You may be wondering what a relatively young lady such as myself could have to add to everything that has already been said about turkey, and you would be right to wonder. After all, how many Thanksgivings have I been cooking? Not nearly as many as some experts out there…right? But here’s the thing, I’ve been to Turkey Boot Camp.
When I was nineteen, I had the privilege(?) misfortune(?) – honestly, it was a mix of both – of working a summer at a remote fly-in fishing resort on the Pacific Ocean. Another fellow and I were the chefs for the camp, cranking out three square meals for over forty people. Every three days, a couple of float planes would fly in carrying a new group of clients – and a frozen turkey. Along with the requisite pancake breakfast, shrimp bisque lunch, and other culinary highlights, we were obliged to prepare a well-rounded turkey dinner for each group of guests.
Two groups per week, eleven weeks of work. Yes, that’s right, in the span of one summer, we cooked twenty-two turkeys! If that doesn’t make me qualified to talk turkey, then I don’t know what does.
Read on for the full tutorial and printable recipe.
How to Roast a Turkey
My roast turkey is one thing: simple.
It is un-stuffed and un-trussed. I don’t brine or baste. I keep my cooking time shorter than most, but lengthen the resting period. The result is a perfectly golden, moist turkey that is relatively hassle-free.
Here are my tips for the best roast turkey, and the full recipe follows below.
~ Avoid cramming the bird into an overly small pan; you’ll only end up with over-browning on top and more braising than roasting, as the turkey stews in it’s own juices.
~ If you cook your turkey from room temperature, un-trussed and un-stuffed, it will cook significantly faster than a chilly bird stuffed full of bread and trussed tightly.
~ Remember, oven temperatures can vary drastically, so even if the turkey has been in the oven for an appropriate time, it is still necessary to double-check for doneness. A meat thermometer should register 170°F when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh (but not touching the bone). You can also follow the directions from this post on Roasting Chicken 101 on how to tell when your roast poultry is finished.
~ Loosely cover the turkey with aluminum foil if it looks like the top is browning too quickly. I also rotate the pan 180° every hour for even browning in my old oven.
~If you’re worried that the bird is slightly underdone, remember that it will keep cooking during the resting period. A well-rested roast turkey is a moist roast turkey, so this step is crucial.
|Simple Roast Turkey|| || |
- 1 12-18lb turkey, fresh or thawed
- 1/2 cup salted butter, room temperature
- 1 Tablespoon sea salt
- Fresh herbs or crabapples to garnish (optional)
- One Day Ahead: Remove fresh turkey from any packaging and snip free of any string or trussing. Remove neck and giblets from the body cavity, reserving for stock, if desired.
- Rinse turkey well under cold water and pat dry with paper towel.With a sharp knife, remove the wing tips (up to the first joint) and add those to the stock pot too.
- Place turkey on a tray or pan and sprinkle the sea salt all over. Leave uncovered in the fridge overnight. This will allow the bird's skin to dry out, making it crispier, plus the salt will add flavor to the meat without the hassle of a wet brine.
- Two hours before roasting: Remove turkey from the fridge. Rub a softened stick of butter ALL over the outside of the bird. Coating the skin with butter will help to keep the meat moist, add flavor, and ensure the skin turns a perfect golden brown color.
- Place the turkey on a wire rack in a large, shallow roasting pan. Elevating the turkey allows for the heat to get all around and also for the skin to crisp properly.
- Leave the turkey on the counter and allow it to come to room temperature.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F and place the turkey on the bottom rack. Roast for twenty minutes and then lower the heat to 350°F for the remainder of the cooking time. (If you forget to lower the oven, don't worry - the turkey still comes out fine, just perhaps a little darker than you would like.)
- If you cook your turkey from room temperature, un-trussed and un-stuffed, it will cook significantly faster than a chilly bird stuffed full of bread and trussed tightly. Air will circulate much better around the bird and roasting times will be shorter.
- These are the approximate roasting times using this method:
• 5 lbs – 1-1/2 hrs
• 8 lbs – 1-3/4 hrs
• 10 lbs – 2 hrs
• 12 lbs – 2-1/2 hrs
• 15 lbs – 2-3/4 hrs
• 17 lbs – 3 hrs
• 20 lbs – 3-1/2 hrs
- Oven temperatures can vary drastically, so even if the turkey has been in the oven for appropriate time, it is still necessary to double-check for doneness. A meat thermometer should register 170°F when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh (but not touching the bone).
- Remove the turkey from the oven, tent it loosely with foil and let it rest for at least thirty minutes (and up to an hour). This resting time will allow the cooking juices to be re-absorbed by the meat instead of losing the moisture as soon as the turkey is sliced into. If you use the pan juices for gravy, just transfer the turkey to a platter to continue resting, and make the gravy in the roasting pan.
- Place roast turkey on a serving platter and garnish with fresh herbs, cranberries or crab apples if desired. Carve while still warm and serve with plenty of hot gravy.
Need inspiration for you holiday meal side dishes? In the photo above I’ve prepared:
- Aimée’s Fruit & Herb Stuffing (made 2 days ahead)
- Butternut Squash Gratin (made 2 weeks ahead and frozen)
- Stir-fried Brussels Sprouts with Lemon & Parmesan (I skipped the cheese and added 1 cup pomegranate arils instead)
- Perfect (and flavorful) Mashed Potatoes (flavored with roasted garlic)
- Cranberry-Orange Sauce
- Pomegranate Sparklers (non-alcoholic beverage)
- Honey Pomegranate Glazed Brussels Sprouts
- Whole-Wheat Buttermilk Rolls with Rosemary
Are you on turkey duty for US Thanksgiving? Is a Christmas turkey in the plans?