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roasting a 22 lb turkey- please advise

I am planning to roast a 22-24 lb free range, fresh (not frozen) organic turkey for Thanksgiving this year and would love some advice. I've never cooked one this big and would ideally like to brine it but can only find recipes for brining and cooking a 11-14 pounder. And I'm unsure of the temperature and appropriate cooking time for a tukey this size. Anyone tackled a bird this big that has some tips to share?

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  1. Definitely invest in an oven thermometer AND a meat thermometer, if you do not already own them. Brining will give you some wiggle-room, making it harder to overcook. Butterball's hotline/website should help you with time and temp. If you are in a cold enough climate, you can brine on/in an unheated porch or garage. Brining instructions never mention that it takes a long time to get the salt dissolved. I do that on the stove, boiling it in a small amount of water till dissolved. Once that has cooled, then chilled, I dilute it further to make the desired volume of brine. This means dissolving the salt at least a day before the thurkey will be roasted.

    1. Don't know about brining, but I have found that starting the bird breast side down, then turning it to one side, then to the other, and finished breast side up retains moisture in the breast while getting the dark meat properly cooked. I use those blue Orca gloves to turn the bird.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Marsha

        Opps, this is in respond to ajaxshazam not Marsha.

        As greygarious pointed out you must have an oven thermometer AND a meat thermometer.

        The major problem I find with a large bird (turkey or chicken) is that the breast and thigh never cook at the same time. Once the breast is cooked, the leg & thigh are not. And once the leg and thigh have reach 160 ºf the breast is overdone. I hate overdone breast meat. Now I know someone will say that they can roast a large bird without drying out the breast. For me, there must be clear liquid in the breast meat, otherwise it is dry imho.

        The way that I like to roast a whole turkey is to start two or three days before I serve the bird. The reason why is that I can almost roast the bird and also make stock from the bones. I never stuff the bird with any type of stuffing for a few reasons, one is to make sure that the stuffing is brought up to a proper temperature 160ºf, the breast will be over done. Since I’m going to make stock and also a sauce from the stock to serve with the bird, I can moisten the stuffing with stock or sauce and cook it separate from the bird.

        To begin with what I like is to make a compound butter using fresh herbs, such as rosemary, sage (be carful with sage it is a strong herb), parsley, thyme, little bit of garlic, salt & pepper, and the zest of 1 organic lemon. Very carefully I lift the skin from the meat at the breast, and then take the handle of a wooden spoon and carefully push the spoon between the skin and meat, so that the skin is now loose. DO NOT POKE A WHOLE IN THE SKIN, the butter will run out. Using your finger you can also loosen the skin down near the back and leg. Take the soft compound butter and a little at a time place in the butter between the skin and meat, push in down and around the breast. Also, place some into the thigh and leg if possible, short fingers have difficulty here. Do not use hard butter or a tool to push the butter. You do not want to puncture the skin, otherwise the butter with just flow into the bottom if the pan. Doing this will provide flavour and moisture, butter makes everything better. Season with salt & pepper the out side and inside of the bird and rub any left over butter compound on the outside. You can place onion and a sliced lemon inside the cavity of the bird. And then tie up the legs so that the bird will cook evenly.

        For the pan, I loosely place some of the fresh herbs on the bottom. I also slice up some onion, carrots, and some celery so the bird can sit comfortably while in the oven.

        I crank up the oven to 400ºf about 15-20 minutes before I put the bird in, that way the oven is nice and hot. With an oven thermometer you will know what the actual temperature of the oven is.

        After placing the bird uncovered in the oven I turn down the oven to 350ºf and roast until the thigh reaches about 140-150 ºf. There is no way to determine how long to roast the bird without a meat thermometer. Each time you open the oven door to baste, the temp drops. And also, not all ovens are calibrated to heat the oven to the temperature that the knob on the oven is set to. Hence way an oven thermometer is required in all ovens.

        During the roasting I will based the bird at least every 20 minutes. After I have some liquid in the bottom of the pan, I will pour over the bird a half bottle of dry white wine. You can not add wine to the bird unless there is some liquid in the pan; the sugars in the wine will burn.

        Once the bird has reached 145-150 ºf temperature in the thigh, remove the bird from the oven and allow to cool. Once the bird is cool enough, place it in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. The liquid in the pan must be saved. The solids can be tossed into the recycling bin, including the onion and lemon for inside the bird. After taking the bird out of the oven the bird will continue to cook, it might go up 5-or 10 degrees more

        Once the bird is cold, you can remove each breast in one solid piece with a sharp knife. Also, remove the dark meat as best as possible. Place all the meat back into the fridge. Take the carcass and the liquid from the pan and you can now make stock with the bones. If there are any brown bits on the bottom of the pan, which I doubt because the bird sat on the mirepoix, you should remove then and add it to the stock pot. Once you have your stock, takes 3-6 hours of simmering, you can then make a great sauce. You should leave a cup or two of stock to moisten the meat.

        To finish cooking/heating the turkey. Take the cold breast and slice it and place it on a pan and heat in a 350 ºf oven for 20 minutes or so. You want to heat the meat and it will also finish cooking. Lightly season the meat with salt & pepper. You should moisten the meat with some of the left over stock, don’t use all the stock, you don’t want soup, just brush the meat with the stock.

        It seems like a lot of work, but the results imho are well worth the work and time.

      2. we always brine our turkey the night before. I would make the brine a few days in advance. One thing we do is cook it at 500 degrees F. for 30 minutes. Then remove from oven and cover breast with layer of aluminum foil, insert probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and return to oven, reducing temperature to 350 degrees F. Set thermometer alarm (if available) to 161 degrees.

        Brining is SO worth the extra effort. Makes a yummy and moist turkey.

        We cooked a big turkey like that once when we hosted thanksgiving overseas. Make sure you have a pan big enough to cook it in. Also, if you stuff it then its going to take a lot longer to cook. :)

        1. Bon Appetit had recipes for salted turkeys, in essence, coating the turkey with salt and letting it sit in the fridge, rather than in a salt solution. I did this over the weekend with great results. My bird was small but I cooked it at 375 for 12 min per pound

          1. I am also roasting a 22 pounder this Thanksgiving. This is what I have found out so far:

            1. Unless you are considering presenting the turkey at the table, you could break down the bird and cook the dark and white meat separately.
            2. Brine it. I did this last year (I think the bird was 16-18 pounds) and it did wonders.
            3. Do a butter rub, especially under the skin on the breast.
            4. If you can handle such a large, hot bird, try cooking it breast side down and flipping during the last hour.
            5. Or, alternatively, cover the breast with foil/cheesecloth and remove during the last hour. This helps ensure that the white meat does not cook too fast.

            Good luck!

            1. I'm a big believer in the oven roasting bags since I tried one years ago. They really make a big difference in keeping the bird moist, especially a large, stuffed bird.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Veggo

                I am doing a 20-22# turkey this year too. (Ordering a fresh turkey.) I plan to deep fry it - advice? Do we have a thread on deep frying turkey? This is my first year doing it.

                1. re: drucie


                  I don't see any replies to your inquiry so I'll throw my two cents into the mix.

                  I have experience deep-frying several turkeys, but they've all been 12-pounds or less.

                  This is due to the size of the fryer I own. It's fairly good size, but I wouldn't want to go much bigger than 12-pounds. The bird would be too big around to comfortably and SAFELY slide into the pot. There would also be too little headroom for the oil to boil up.

                  If I had a 22-pound bird, and was bound and determined to deep-fry it, I'd have to use my 80-quart crawfish boiling pot.

                  In all your considerations, please, PLEASE be very serious about safety.

                  Innocuous things like:
                  - Will the stand I have the pot on ALSO support the weight of the bird when I drop it?
                  - Is there enough headroom for the oil to boil?
                  - When it's done...how am I going to get the damn thing out?
                  - I'm going to do this out on the lawn, and not in the garage or on the deck, right?

                  Keep your eyes peeled for a "Good Eats" episode on deep-frying turkeys. Alton Brown has lots of good advice.

                  1. re: Monch

                    In my experience of deep frying a turkey, I would never attempt larger than a 12 lb. turkey. never.

                    lowering it into the oil takes someone really storng and sure handed.

                    Follow the time recommendations exactly, don't vary even a minute

              2. I have been roasting over 20 lb turkeys for years. In fact I roast one on Thanksgiving Day and one for our traditional Day After Thanksgiving family dinner. Our family consists of 8 adults and 9 children and we never seem to have too much turkey. I definitely brine and usually my garage is cold enough to brine the turkey in. One year was warmer than usual and I kept ice in a plastic bag on top of the brining pail. I time it so that the Thanksgiving turkey is brined for a day on Tuesday and can sit uncovered in the refrigerator on Wednesday. Then I mix fresh brine for the Day After Thanksgiving turkey and it brines on Wednesday and goes into the refrigerator on Thursday. Sounds complicated but it works.

                A simple bread stuffing is very important to my family. No experiments are allowed. For about 3 years I have used a roasting wand. Try Google because they have a web site. It is very easy to use and helps not only the stuffing to reach a safe temperature but also helps the large turkey to cook faster.

                I do use a seasoned butter under the breast and leg skins. I roast the turkey on a rack breast up in a 400 degree oven for one hour. Then turn the oven down to 325 degrees and loosely cover with foil when the breast is brown. I use a probe thermometer.

                Obviously I don't have small children running around nor house guests. Everyone lives close by. It's a great way to spend two days in the kitchen.

                2 Replies
                1. re: mfrances

                  A roasting wand--I had never heard of one before and looked it up on the internet when I read your post. What a wonderful idea! I"ll get one and try it this year! Why didn't I think of this? It is such a logical and obvious solution to the overcooked turkey meat and uncooked stuffing problem.

                  Now, I have another question. Doesn't brining the turkey make the dressing too salty?

                  1. re: gfr1111

                    gfr1111, after brining you rinse your turkey. I am sure that some salt remains but I have never felt that my stuffing is oversalted. I use a simple bread stuffing. I just looked up my stuffing recipe and I use 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, 6 qts soft bread crubs and 4 tesp salt plus onions, and poultry seasoning. This is from Woman's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery. The only savory item I add is the finely minced turkey liver. The stuffing is mixed just before you stuff and roast your turkey. I consider the liver my secret ingredient. My family would be outraged if I used a different stuffing.

                2. You would be much better off roasting 2 smaller turkeys than one big one. The smaller birds are more tender and flavorful. Texture is better in the smaller birds too and having 4 drumsticks is not a hardship.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Candy

                    I agree. My philosophy for years was ~~ If I'm going to go to all the effort to roast a turkey, I'm roasting the biggest one I can find ~~

                    No more. Now I roast two 12 lb. birds and we have more dark meat, which I prefer.

                    1. re: laliz

                      Another trick I have learned is to buy some turkey wings before turkey day and roast them to make stock for gravy. Now that Kitchen Basics is making turkey stock and I have some on my shelf it may not be necessary but my "girls" (the dogs) really like their bonus turkey.

                      This year no turkey. There is just going to be the 2 of us and I'm roasting a goose. i want that goose fat on hand.

                  2. Ajaxshazam, have you considered butterflying? I had to roast turkeys for 50 last Thanksgiving and butterflying helped us cut the roasting time in half for some monster turkeys. We just sliced ours up and served on platters, but if you are concerned with presentation it ought to be possible to "reassemble" the cooked bird with skewers on the bottom and supporting the inside with cooked stuffing.

                    1. I seriously, seriously, SERIOUSLY doubt you'll be able to find a fresh, free range, organic turkey that is that big. Turkeys that get that big are typically the broad breasted white turkeys and they are sometimes fresh, but almost never free range, or organic. In fact the broad breasted white turkeys (what I like to call engineered birds) are often so incredibly heavy that they can't walk. Unless you're having 22 to 24 people over for Thanksgiving, I would suggest roasting a 14-15 lb bird and if you think you need more, roast an additional breast along side it. Either that or roast 2 smaller, 12 lb birds. You just will not find a good quality bird in the 22-24 lb range.

                      I do believe that you (and everybody who reads this post) should read this famous article from the New York Times. If the link doesn't work just search for "About a Bird NYT" and that should get you some results. It's a good quick read and it may change your mind about what "quality" means.


                      8 Replies
                      1. re: HaagenDazs

                        I ordered a 22 pound Branigan's turkey. My understanding is that they are free-range - I know they are fresh.

                        That said, I am not exactly a poultry expert!

                        1. re: chowkari

                          i have to agree with a few other posters here, cook two smaller birds. We're having 14 or 15 this year, and i m doing two birds, one s getting smoked, and one s getting fried.

                          1. re: chowkari

                            You are probably correct. I'm not an expert either. ;-) You can get some large toms (males) that are that size and they are free range. I wouldn't recommend it, and I think you'd be happier with the end result of buying a smaller bird, but they do exist. When I read a post like the one above, I can imagine people driving up to their neighborhood grocery and expecting them to have all the options they desire available to them in the meat/poultry section. You are more than likely an outlier in this turkey purchasing world and I wanted to make sure that people understood what a typical Butterball turkey is when they go to the frozen section of their grocery store and pick up one of those behemoths.

                            I will be receiving a heritage turkey this year from a local farm in eastern Georgia. They are most certainly free range and organic! It will be either a Narragansetts or a Bourbon Red that will tip the scales at around 13-18 lbs tops.

                            1. re: HaagenDazs

                              I have never done a turkey this big (last year I did a basic - definitely not organic or free range) turkey from the grocery store. This is only my second year hosting Thanksgiving. I looked into heritage turkeys and decided to go for the Branigan's this year. I will report how it turned out. I have some tricks up my sleeve, but in the end, I don't even like turkey that much, so as long as it's not overdone I will be happy :-)

                              1. re: chowkari

                                Good plan. As a quick note, people might start liking turkey if they had a "real" heritage breed. ;-)

                                If you don't already have one I suggest investing in a probe thermometer and you will be guaranteed NOT to over cook it (assuming you cook it to a reasonable temp)! I like to cook my turkey to about 153ish (even lower in a heritage bird) and then pull it out of the oven real quick. Assuming you're roasting at 350 or above, you will get plenty of carry over cooking that will take it to 165. Lots of people think that you should cook turkey to 180. That's another huge mistake that results in dry tasteless beasts. Here's the words from folks that cover all their bases: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/FactSheets/L...

                                1. re: HaagenDazs

                                  Thanks for replies! We will be 26 people - 20 adults (2 of whom are vegetarians) and 6 kids (3 tweens and 3 elementary school age.) We are big eaters, too!

                                  I bought a large-sized fryer (35 qts) from Lowe's. I was a man-magnet shopping in Lowe's and several guys stood around giving advice and they steered me toward this one for its very stable base.

                                  Since deep frying is so much quicker than standard, I suppose it would be fine to do 2 (or even 3?) smaller birds.

                                  Henry's has a category on their order for for their organic birds 20-22#. They usually have Foster Farms but they are changing suppliers this year to an organic variety. They didn't have specific brand info yet (or pricing - I'm curious.) They'll know by the end of the week, they say.

                                  My dad & husband are in charge of the logistics & safety. I don't even want to know lol. The big attraction for me is freeing up oven space for the sides. This way not only won't the bird be inside my oven, it won't even be in the kitchen or house. Woo hoo!

                          2. re: HaagenDazs

                            FYI: A close friend of mine who lives on a farm and raises turkeys, chickens, etc. decided to give all her close friends a Thanksgiving turkey as an early Christmas present. When she asked me what size turkey I wanted, I said the smallest. She said that would be a 22 lb. one.

                            She told me most of her turkeys were in the 30 to 35 lb. range and that no one wanted the largest turkey, so she decided to cook it for her family. It weighed in at 44 lbs. She has photographs.

                            Her turkeys are "'free range." All the animals she raises to butcher roam around her huge fenced-in pasture area. They are about as free range and organic as you can get.

                            She butchered all her turkeys on Monday the 24th. and mine was delivered yesterday.

                            1. re: HaagenDazs

                              Interesting - I roast a 20-24 lb. organic, free-range, fresh turkey twice each year, once on Thanksgiving and again by popular demand on Christmas day, and have for years. Whole Foods can always get them, as can a couple of other area markets. While I've often read recommendations to roast two 12-lb. birds instead of one large one, I see no reason to mess with success - it's really no big deal to roast a turkey that size, and they've been absolutely delicious, and very moist. I don't have a problem with the breast drying out, and I nearly always cook the bird stuffed. In recent years I've been roasting them upside down until the final hour or so, but it's a bit of a pain to flip them stuffed (while hot, and dripping with juices) for a very slightly juicier outcome (they're really good either way). I've tried brining, but don't personally feel it's worth the hassle. I butter and salt the turkey inside and out, baste frequently, cover the breast loosely with foil if not upside down, and am careful with the timing so as not to overcook (or undercook).

                            2. The most important thing about brining: do not immerse the turkey in a tepid brine and only then chill it. The brine must be very cold before the turkey is immersed in it, and must be kept cold. So that usually means preparing and chilling the brine a day ahead, unless you have a brine recipe that accounts for ice melting and diluting the brine.

                              Most years, I can brine outdoors on my porches because temperatures around Thanksgiving are at or below refrigerator temperatures.

                              The easy alternative, btw, is rub the turkey with salt and seasonings a day before hand, then washing and drying before preparing to roast. It's a lot easier than brining.

                              1. The S.F Chronicle tried a lot of turkey recipes and came up with this (I joined in the tastings agree it's the best):


                                3 Replies
                                1. re: mpalmer6c

                                  I used this article as a reference last year!

                                  1. re: chowkari

                                    Another question - what is my best gravy option if I'm deep frying?

                                    1. re: drucie

                                      Roast turkey legs and wings with vegetables the weekend before, to create pan drippings and a fond to deglaze. You can refrigerate or freeze and complete on TG.

                                      You should do this anyway because making gravy while the turkey rests is deeply sub-optimal.