Showing posts with label roasting turkey. Show all posts
Showing posts with label roasting turkey. Show all posts

Monday, November 12, 2012

Basic Roast Turkey from Thawing to Table with Pictures

This week we're supposed to be blogging about our Thanksgiving traditions. For me, it's usually the biggest feast of the year. Turkey, two kinds of stuffing so everyone will be happy, mashed potatoes, gravy, homemade bread, cranberry sauce, veggies, and either pecan pie or pumpkin pie.

So instead of offering a fancy schmancy recipe, I'm going to talk about turkey.

First, a word about brining. If you buy an organic turkey, or a local turkey, you will probably want to brine it. Read the label. If your turkey is Kosher or has been preserved with a solution, then you should not brine it.

That was probably great news for some people. If you're planning to brine your turkey, head over here.

For those of you who are not going to brine your turkey, here are the basics of roasting a turkey, from thawing to table.


A turkey takes three days to thaw in the refrigerator. Take it out of the freezer on Sunday night or Monday morning. If you are reading this on Thanksgiving Day with a turkey on the counter that is frozen harder than rock, call 1-800-BUTTERBALL (1-800-288-8372). That's their hotline.

While I doubt that a government office would be open on Thanksgiving, you can also try  the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline number at 1-888-674-6854. It looks like they think you can cook a frozen turkey but that it takes longer. Don't do that without checking out their instructions in detail because I have no idea what happens to the giblets and neck that are frozen inside.

(may be skipped)

If you particularly relish crispy skin, remove the turkey from the bag on Wednesday. Remove the giblets and neck (see below), rinse it, dry it, salt and pepper it, and allow it to continue thawing in the refrigerator uncovered for 24 hours before roasting.

If you forget to do that, it's okay. Your turkey will still turn out fine.


Turkey roasting pans come in all shapes and sizes. This is what I use. A pan with a roasting rack inside it.

However, if you're shopping for one of these, buy the kind of pan that has handles that stand up on their own. It might be more complicated to store, but if the handles fall to the sides, it's impossible to get a grip on them when the pan is hot.

Or you can use this kind of roaster with a rack in it.


And in a pinch, you can even use the pan that came with your oven. They're not the best choice, but I've used them and everything worked out fine.


If your family has gotten together in the kitchen at 3AM for the last thirty years to cook Thanksgiving dinner and your nana, mom, and Aunt Birdie insist that a turkey must be roasted low and slow for hours and hours, then don't fight them. Do it their way.

Or you can do it this way.

Depending on the size of your oven, you will most likely have to move the rack down to the next to bottom level.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.


Most turkeys are packed with a gizmo that holds the legs together called a hock lock. Honestly, removing it might be the most difficult part of this whole process. There are several different styles in use, but the thing to note is that it has little wings to the left and the right that are wedged very firmly in your turkey.

Depress the ends of the legs, one at a time, until you can free them from the gizmo. Now for the difficult part. You'll note that the little wings on the left and the right are curved (some are, some aren't). That means if you pull it straight toward you, it's only being lodged deeper in the meat. Push it away and try, if at all possible, to squeeze it together or tug it to one side then the other side until both sides are out.

Whew! The rest is easy. Generally the neck will be found inside the cavity accessed between the legs. Sometimes the giblets are also there. If not, they are on the other end with a flap of skin holding them in place. Remove the neck and the giblets. I'm not going into gravy here, because that's a whole other thing. However, if you're cooking gravy, hold onto the neck and giblets because you'll need them. Not going there? Cook the giblets (not the neck) and chop them up for your dog. You might also want to check out Annie Knox's mushroom gravy.

Rinse the turkey with cold water and pat dry.

Rub the exterior of the turkey with salt and pepper. Just pour a little into your hand and rub it on the turkey.

Turn the turkey onto its tummy. Breast side down.

Take the end of the wing in your hand. Lift it toward the neck of the turkey and scoot it over onto the back. Repeat with other wing.

If your turkey has a pop-up timer, be sure it's not wedged on your rack. You don't want it to be touching anything.


Slide turkey into oven. Set timer for 45 minutes. If you have a giant turkey that's over 16 pounds, set the timer for 1 hour.

When the timer goes off, remove the turkey from the oven.

Forget these.

They make handy dandy weapons for murder mystery authors, but old kitchen towels are cheaper and provide a much better grip.

Double two kitchen towels, one in each hand. Grasp the knob on the ends of the legs. Make sure no one is on the other side because hot liquid is going to come out. Lift and slowly roll the turkey forward (away from you). Let the juices drip into the pan. Now lift the turkey, move it toward you, and place it on the rack on its BACK.

Put the turkey back into the oven. Be sure the side with the pop-up timer is visible.

Turn the temperature down to 375.

Set the timer for 45 minutes if it's a small turkey. Most turkeys will need at least another hour or hour and a half of cooking time or more. It's my theory that previously frozen turkeys take longer to cook than fresh turkeys. After 1 hour, watch the turkey. I usually set the timer for 10 - 20 minutes so I won't forget to check.


Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. Beware of removing the turkey from the oven too soon. It will look perfect before it's through cooking.

The USDA says turkey should cook to 165 degrees.

Loads of recipes say to tent the turkey with aluminum foil until it's served. That guarantees non-crispy skin because it ends up steaming. Just let the turkey stand for about ten minutes while you eat your soup, and then serve.

As many of you know, I write the Domestic Diva Mysteries and my domestic divas are available today to answer questions.

Dear Sophie,

My mother-in-law asked if I trussed the turkey. I don't know what she's talking about.

                   Feeling Like a Turkey

Dear Feeling Like a Turkey,

Trussing means tying the legs together. It's highly overrated. I actually think it's better not to tie the legs because they cook faster and more evenly when they're loose.


Dear Sophie,

My aunt told me to baste the turkey with butter while it's baking. You didn't mention that.

                    First Time Roaster

Dear First Time Roaster,

Cooking guru Alton Brown says that basting, while not harmful, doesn't make a difference and can be detrimental because each time the oven is opened the temperature drops a little. Skip the basting.


Dear Natasha,

Have you seen Sophie's super simple directions for roasting turkey? Is it true that I don't have to truss the turkey or baste it?

      President of the I ♥ Natasha Fan Club

Dear President of the I ♥ Natasha Fan Club,

I'm so honored! You are quite right, of course. Not only should one truss and baste, but a properly roasted turkey also wears ruffly white turkey frills on the ends of his legs. And that nonsense about using kitchen towels to turn the turkey! We are not heathens. We use turkey lifters, no matter how hard it is to lift the turkey with them.


Don't know Sophie and Natasha yet? It all started one Thanksgiving with THE DIVA RUNS OUT OF THYME.

 Happy Thanksgiving to All!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Talking Turkey Part II

First, let me say that I have bought a turkey, plopped it into the oven to roast, ignored it entirely until it was done -- and it turned out great. I don't know if that was a fluke or not. These days, I put more effort into roasting the turkey, but there are a few popular steps that I skip.

The procedure and times below are for a turkey that is not stuffed. The official stance on stuffing birds is that the stuffing should be cooked separately. I find it easier to do it separately, because I can make the stuffing (officially called dressing if not inside the turkey, I suppose) the day before. One less thing to worry about. I pop it into the oven to bake an hour before we eat and it's always great.

For years and years I basted turkeys and chickens. Last year, I think it was Martha whom I watched insert butter under the skin of the bird, which I thought clever. My mother is a big believer in basting and we've spent many Thanksgivings treacherously tilting the pan to suck up the juices with the baster and squirt them on the bird. Not anymore. I side entirely with Alton Brown who experimented on one of his shows and declared basting unnecessary. In fact, he suggested that basting simply lowers the temperature of the oven because one opens it continually.

I know what you're thinking -- but the crispy skin is the best part! Quite by accident (and laziness) I discovered that leaving a duck uncovered in the refrigerator for 24 hours before roasting yields a fabulous skin. That's what Chinese restaurants do. They hang ducks to dry before transforming them into crispy-skinned Peking Duck. Turns out the same thing works great for turkey. It goes against our grain to leave the foil or plastic wrap off something in the refrigerator, but that's exactly what I do. The day before you plan to roast the turkey, set it on a rack in the roasting pan and slide the whole thing, uncovered, into the refrigerator until it's time to cook.

The other step that I love to skip is trussing the turkey. In The Diva Runs out of Thyme, Sophie trusses the killer, but I think tying the turkey is over-rated. On most turkeys, there is a flap of skin that crosses the bottom end. I do try to wedge the ends of the legs under that flap. It holds them tight and saves me from wrestling with the bird to tie it.

So, here are the basics that I'll be following:

1. SUNDAY Move the turkey from the freezer to the refrigerator. Most guides suggest giving a frozen turkey three to five days to thaw in the refrigerator. If you've ever tried to yank the giblets or neck out of a partially frozen turkey, you understand the need for plenty of thawing time.

2. TUESDAY NIGHT Brine the turkey. As discussed last week, if you bought an enhanced turkey (with a solution injected) or a Kosher turkey, you should not brine it. So what's the fuss about brining? At its most basic, the salt molecules penetrate the turkey meat and work magic on the turkey meat molecules, leaving the meat softer and moister. It also leaves some saltiness in the meat, so use a light hand if you salt the skin of a brined turkey.

Brine the turkey in any food-safe container (like a five gallon bucket) large enough to hold the entire turkey. It must remain refrigerated during the brining. I usually remove a shelf from my refrigerator to accommodate it. I've read that some people brine their turkeys in large coolers, but I've never tried that.

To brine:
Remove the giblets and neck, if possible.
Dissolve 3/4 cup Kosher salt in a gallon of water and pour over the bird. Repeat until the bird is covered. Add 1/4 cup sugar to the brine. Refrigerate 6-8 hours.

3. WEDNESDAY MORNING Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse inside and out with water. Place the turkey on a roasting rack, breast side up, and store UNCOVERED in the refrigerator until ready to roast, preferably 24 hours.

4. THURSDAY Dice carrots, onions, and celery and spread in the bottom of the roaster. Don't forget to add a cup of water so they'll cook instead of burning. They taste delicious plain, but I like to puree them and add them to the gravy -- yum!

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Tuck the ends of the legs under the flap of skin as described above. Rub the skin of the turkey with salt (very little or none if brined) or your favorite herbs (optional). Turn the turkey breast down on the roasting rack and roast for 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes, turn the bird breast side up. SKIP THE BIG DANGEROUS TURKEY FORKS. People keep giving them to me as gifts for some reason. While they look like terrific weapons for use in a mystery, I find them extremely cumbersome. I get a much better grip on the turkey if I grab it with a clean kitchen towel on each end. But watch out! There may be HOT turkey juices inside the cavity of the bird. Be sure you don't tilt it so that the juices penetrate the towel.

5. WHEN IS IT DONE? Brined meat cooks faster, so take that into consideration if you brine your turkey. Last year I made a note that my 13 pound turkey was done in 1 hour and 45 minutes. A larger turkey might take a little longer. Do NOT rely on those little pop-up timers! I've had many of them get stuck -- they wouldn't have popped up if the turkey charred.

The best method of checking for doneness is a thermometer. I'm partial to my Thermapen, but there are less expensive thermometers that work well, too -- never mind how many of them I've killed . . .

But how done is done?

The USDA says a turkey is done at 165 degrees.
Serious Eats -- The Food Lab says your turkey is overdone if it exceeds 150 degrees.
Most of the websites I checked go with the USDA recommendation of 165, but I wouldn't let it cook any longer than that!
(Note: I tried cooking a turkey breast to 150. Definitely undercooked! Shoot for 165!)

If you're only roasting a turkey breast, you might want to read my old blog post where I side with Rachel Ray about the temperature of the oven for roasting a breast. It goes against most of the turkey breast recipes I found on the net.

It sounds like a lot of work, but it really isn't -- and the rewards are scrumptious.

I wish you all a moist turkey, wonderful friends, loving families and the time to enjoy them.