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Oct 19, 2010 10:33 AM

First Time Thanksgiving Host - Need your FOOLPROOF Roast Turkey Recipe!

I'm hosting my large family for the first time this year. They are a forgiving lot but I'd like to avoid making a terrible turkey if possible. We're getting a 16 pounder heritage breed from our meat CSA so I know that the bird itself will be good, subject to my newbie preparations :)

If any of you experienced chefs out there have a great, foolproof recipe for roast turkey, please speak up!

Thanks in advance...

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  1. No matter what method you use (high heat, low heat, combination, breast up, breast down, etc.) the most important thing is to have and use an accurate meat thermometer, and don't overcook the turkey. That is the number one reason they turn out badly.

    1 Reply
    1. re: biondanonima

      I agree with biondanonima :) I cooked my first bird five years ago with my Williams Sonoma meat thermometer and have never looked back. Six more birds have come out of my oven, and they've all been cooked to perfection. The thermometer has paid for itself as I use it for roasting all types of meats and poultry.
      On the side, I like to inject the birds with a traditional brine and soak them in the brine the night before cooking. I also love to slather butter/olive oil, salt, and pepper all over the it and between the skin. Gives it great color. If you want to give it an Asian flair, my Mom taught me to baste it with a mixture of melted butter, soy sauce, and some sugar. Gives the skin a salty-sweet crisp texture.

    2. I completely agree with the brining suggestion - I made my first Thanksgiving turkey last year following this "dry-brining" recipe:

      I also got and used a meat thermometer (Williams-Sonoma), but because things got a little hectic there at the end, I think I still overcooked the turkey. Nonetheless, the turkey was moist and delicious - I credit the brining.

      This is my mom's recipe for turkey; we all go nuts for the gravy:


      1 12-14 lb. turkey
      1 carrot, coarsely chopped
      1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped
      1 small onion, coarsely chopped
      1 lemon, cut into wedges
      5 sprigs fresh sage
      5 sprigs fresh rosemary
      Olive oil
      1 cup vermouth or white wine
      1 can chicken broth
      ½ cup heaving whipping cream

      • Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
      • Remove the bag of giblets from the turkey. Please the giblets in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Add the carrot, celery, and onion and simmer for at least one hour.
      • Rinse the turkey inside and out. Dry with paper towels, then place in a roasting pan.
      • Wipe the turkey with lemon wedges, squeezing so that the surface is covered with juice.
      • Cut small slits in the skin and stuff each slit with a bit of fresh sage and rosemary.
      • Loosely fill the cavity of the turkey with stuffing, if using.
      • Drape two pieces of cheesecloth over the turkey and drizzle with olive oil.
      • Roast the turkey for 25 minutes per pound (5 to 6 hours).
      • After the first 40 minutes, pour ½ cup vermouth or wine over the turkey.
      • Continue braising the turkey with giblet broth and chicken broth every 45 to 60 minutes throughout cooking time. Do not let the bottom of the pan dry out.
      • 30 minutes before the estimated cooking time is over, remove the cheesecloth and baste turkey again.
      • When done, remove the turkey from its pan and let rest on a carving board for 10 to 15 minutes.
      • Add the remaining giblet and chicken broths to the pan juices, scraping to collect any bits stuck to the pan.
      • Pour into a small saucepan, stir in ½ cup vermouth and cream, and bring to a boil.
      • Continue to boil while stirring until gravy coats a wooden spoon.

      3 Replies
      1. re: aching

        That gravy sounds fabulous. I'm going to give it a try this year. Thanks for sharing!
        On a side note, make sure you stick the themometer into the turkey thigh. I think it's the best place to stick the thermometer.

        1. re: attran99

          It really is excellent. It is so much better than gravies that use flour. Good luck!

        2. re: aching

          I second, third and fourth a dry brining method. I think I am going on my tenth year preparing it that way and it always comes out delicious and beautifully browned. Start with a fresh bird, and let sit for a few days with plenty of kosher salt to dry out. Works like a charm for us every time.

        3. Use the Reynolds roasting bag and you will reduce your chances of a dry turkey.

          1. I made this last weekend for a party, and I've found that turkey is lots easier than people seem to believe. And with due respect to the thermometer folks, please remember that residual heat will bring your sitting bird up 5-10 degrees or so after you take it out of the oven.

            The big thing here is to cook it breast side down at first, and finish breast side up to brown it.

            Roast Turkey

            18-20 lb. turkey, bought frozen on Sunday and left in cooler until Thursday. (This is what it takes to thaw it at my house, and still keep it safely cool until cooking.)
            1 onion
            1 apple
            Grapeseed oil (or any neutral oil)

            Put the neck, gizzard, and heart in a medium pot with water, celery, and onion, bring to a boil, and put on low to make stock, if you like (it's good if you're making gravy). Don't use the liver.

            Oil completely thawed turkey on outside, sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper inside, add cut up onion and cut up apple to fit loosely inside.

            Heat oven to 500. Put turkey in on rack on roaster, breast down, and put in oven. When it starts to drip, add water to pan. Do this roughly whenever you turn the turkey. Don't let pan dry out. After 30 minutes on 500, turn turkey to one side and turn heat to 350. After 30-45 minutes, turn to other side. Repeat with both sides, and for remaining time, cook breast side up. Whole business should take about 4 hours. Let stand at least half an hour before carving.

            I find that the turkey gets a little stubborn about sitting on its side, after the first turn, so I just manhandle it as best I can, keeping it more breast-down than otherwise until I turn it breast up for the last hour or half-hour of cooking (use your judgment on this; if all the other sides are good and brown, you can turn it breast up). I've never had such a bird turn out badly.

            You can make your gravy while the roast sits - use the drippings from the pan and add stock and thicken with water or stock and flour slurry, bring to boil while stirring, then turn to low.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Marsha

              Hopefully everyone knows that the temp will continue to rise. But if you don't use a thermometer, you don't even have a starting point. It's the most essential tool in my kitchen.

              1. re: Marsha

                Marsha, I like your routine! I planned to use grapeseed oil but hadn't heard of the turning and will give it a try.

                I'll also second the recommendation for Williams Sonoma brine. Pricey but it was so worth it!

              2. Since you are getting a "heritage breed", I would suggest a wet brine. I've done both the wet and the dry, and the wet tends to be a little more fool-proof if you are looking for a juicy bird. A few years ago, I went through the hassle of making my own brine, but then I found William-Sonoma's Apple and Spices Turkey Brine. It's $16.95 or so, but well worth it. Just make sure you have a container large enough to brine a 16 pound bird in...I use a Rubbermaid tub.

                Another note: Last year, I tried the breast-down/turkey flip described by Marsha a couple of times. I had a lot of trouble flipping the bird. One time, the skin from the breast stuck to the rack; another time, the legs sort of tore off a bit; not to mention that every time, it took at least two of us to flip the steaming hot bird during the middle of cooking. I decided not to go this route on my actual Thanksgiving, because I couldn't imagine risking a turkey on the floor during the festivities, especially because, with the wet-brine, I didn't feel it made a noticeable difference in texture or flavor. Just a thought...

                1 Reply
                1. re: RosemaryHoney

                  RosemaryHoney, you're right - that is a potential problem with the bird flipping strategy. I use those silicon gloves and grab from both ends, and I take the bird and pan out of the oven and put it on the counter before flipping. I never had the skin stick to the rack or the legs tear off (you don't need to cook it any more if that happens!), but my rack is supposedly nonstick and rubbing the skin lavishly with oil may have prevented the problem. I'm glad you reported these difficulties.