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Nov 20, 2010 01:59 PM

Brown Bag Roasted Turkey [moved from General Topics]

Slow roasted overnight, deep-fried, BBQ'd, Kalua'd, brined etc. These are a few of the many methods I've used on the Thanksgiving bird in the past 30+ years. This year I'm returning to a past winner, guaranteed-to-be-good, and one of my all-time favorites (drum-roll please), roasted turkey in a buttered BROWN PAPER BAG! I especially like the quantity of drippings it produces although it will most certainly be fatty because of the butter, but a gravy separator remedies that. Some of you must be familiar with this method and just for fun I would like to know your thoughts, results, and creative suggestions.Thanks. I ♥ Thanksgiving.

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  1. Wow, my mother roasted turkey that way about fifty years ago and I can still remember the succulence of the perfectly-browned skin. Thanks for the memory and have a Happy Thanksgiving : )

    2 Replies
    1. re: efdee

      Yes, it continues to delight me how perfectly browned the skin is despite being enclosed in the bag :)

      1. re: efdee

        My mom did it too, and I just got a powerful "scent-memory" of that wonderful buttery skin! Wow.

      2. Haven't done it that way for a long, long time but if anyone asks me for an absolutely fool proof way to cook a turkey, that's the recipe I give 'em. I've had several "youngsters" who have volunteered to cook thanksgiving, usually for in-laws, without ever having tried it before. Those that took me seriously were always amazed at the results. My recipe doesn't mention anything about the bag being buttered. Main thing is that the bird has to be absolutely, completely defrosted.

        1. Did it, back in the 70's, greased the bag first. It was a fool proof method for juicy tender turkey. We used to even roast them turkeys breast side down in the bag, before breast side down was a trend. Tear the bag open, flip the turkey and brown up the skin.

          Now I would have a very difficult time finding those large supermarket paper bags; it's basically all plastic here in NYC.

          3 Replies
          1. re: bushwickgirl

            So true about the paper bags. Luckily there is a supermarket chain here in N. CA that still provides them. As efdee mentioned above I was always surprised how beautifully the skin browned even while still enclosed in the bag. Looking forward to Thursday's meal.

            1. re: bushwickgirl

              Not in Trader Joe's or Whole Foods. WF doesn't even have the plastic option anymore. But is there any problem with using bags that have a printed design on the outside?

              1. re: queenscook

                No WF in Brooklyn and downtown Brooklyn Trader Joe's is quite far away from me, nor would I use TJ's for basic everyday food shopping. For frequent local shopping it's all plastic. I take my bags back to the store for reuse or use my French market bags if I remember to bring them.

                As far as a printed design, it depends on the type of ink used in printing, but I doubt the design would actually touch the turkey anyway for any chemical transference; I wouldn't have a problem using a printed bag.

            2. Maybe I'll try this. I know a caterer who really advocates the paper bag method and even gave me a bag with the bird I bought through him. One thing wasn't clear to me: how does the bag affect the pan-gravy process? I count on some browned bits in the roasting pan in order to amp up the gravy flavor.

              How exactly do the fluids behave in the brown bag method? Does the bag contain all the fluids (and the bits that might otherwise become fond)? Does the bottom of the bag remain intact?

              Also, I notice that many people here say that they used to do it this way. Why not still? Is there a downside? I already use a probe thermometer and watch carefully for overcooking, so I am not concerned about finding a "foolproof" process--just whatever might taste best.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Bada Bing

                The stock behaves the same as in a roasting pan. The bag will contain the stock and will release it when the turkey is removed. There will be some fond on the bottom of the roasting pan, as there will be some leakage from the bag. The bag maintains it's integrity throughout the roasting period. You get more stock in the roasting pan using this method than with a rack, no basting necessary, it's self basting.

                'Used to do it,' because paper bags were phased out years ago. The technique fell out of favor when those roast-in bags came onto the market, and there was talk of possible bacterial issues when using paper bags, which imo was silly. C'mon, you're putting the bag into a hot oven, what bacteria could survive. Turkey roasting methods come and go, now it's brining and high heat, although it seems like the paper bag method might be on road back to popularity, for this year at least. The only downside is that after you remove the turkey, you're left with a greasy dripping paper bag to get into the trash or recyling, compost or whatever. Could be worse, I suppose.

                You can use the probe thermometer easily with this method, although I never did back then, no probes, just those old leave in meat thermometers. Remember to oil the bag first, either with melted butter or vegetable oil. I have to say that this is not a method I would use if I was doing the 450° high heat turkey blasting roasting technique, though. It might be a bit much for a paper bag.

                If this means anything, I used this method both at home and in restaurants back in the 70's, it worked amazingly well and I got excellent results. It's one of those things you should try at least once in a lifetime.

                Anyway, Bada, have a great holiday, and all the best to you and yours!

                1. re: bushwickgirl

                  Thanks for your terrific, detailed report, Bushwickgirl. You really are so very helpful to so many people here....

                  I will try this bag method this year, and will be hoping that you, too, are enjoying the holiday as we all dig in.

                2. re: Bada Bing

                  I stopped using a bpb because of the hue and cry at my house that the bag could catch on fire and ... well you can imagine. It always worked great before we moved to the place with the smaller electric wall oven and I was given a bulb baster. With the bpb method there was more stuff in the pan to make gravy with - less evaporation, plus if you aren't basting the cooking temp stays even.

                3. this is how we did ours this year and i have a quick question:

                  has anyone tried using a electronic thermometer with this method? today was our first time trying to use one, but it said our bird was at 155 after like an hour in the oven... we knew this was definitely wrong so we just stuck with what we had done in years past... which was about another hour and a half of cooking.

                  do you think we just put the thermometer in the wrong place or does something with the bag cause it to be inaccurate??

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: mattstolz

                    I tried the method yesterday and my bird was also cooked considerably earlier than predicted. The provider of the turkey noted that the brown bag method cooks the bird much quicker than the open roasting method, and he gave some rather comically precise directions: set oven to 338 degree (?; I calculated that the temp is exactly 170 celsius, so maybe it's overscrupulous translation?), then roast the bird in the bag for 3 hours, 54 minutes (exactly 12 minutes per pound).

                    I checked at 3 hours to insert my probe thermometer through the bag into the breast, which was not too hard to locate, but I found that the 19.5lb bird was already cooked a bit beyond where I would normally take it (the breast was already at 170 fahrenheit, but the legs were low still at 165). Very likely the timing problem was that I had the bird warming up for an hour at room temp before roasting, which was not part of the detailed instructions.

                    It all turned out well enough (I tented the bird and rested it for an hour, which cooked the legs passively without demolishing the breast). But I don't think I'll repeat the method because I yielded the least satisfactory gravy I've ever made. The method left no brown bits in the pan and a huge volume of turkey juices. The gravy tasted okay, but lacked the depth of flavor that we always talk about in connection with fond.

                    Otherwise a very tasty bird.

                    1. re: Bada Bing

                      What did I do wrong?

                      I tried this method, and had calculated that at 20 min/per pound, my 13.5 lb. bird needed 4.5 hours of roasting. It sounded a bit long to me, but what do I know? Well, I stuck my instant read thermometer through the bag at only 3.5 hours in, and the reading was already over 200! I took it out of the oven immediately, and the skin was crispier than I'd ever seen. I was afraid that the meat would be dry and inedible, but it wasn't as bad as all that. It was on the drier side, especially the white meat, obviously, but it was still quite edible. However, there was barely any liquid. I did notice there was a 1/2 inch hole right at the top edge of the bag (where the side met the original bottom of the bag, which now was the side since the bag was lying on its side), which I imagine had been there the whole time. I imagine it ripped in the process of oiling the bag and putting the turkey in originally. Maybe too much steam escaped through this hole? In addition, lots of oil and burnt stuff had collected in the roasting pan that the bag was sitting in. FYI, it was a kosher turkey, but I can't imagine that would have affected anything.

                      Anyone have any thoughts? It certainly was easy enough to do, but I wouldn't want to come up with as dry a bird as this one again.

                      1. re: queenscook

                        Was your bird stuffed or unstuffed? What temp did you roast the turkey at? That makes a difference in timing, 20 minutes per lb for stuffed, 15 for unstuffed, based on average temp of 350° for the dry heat method. I always start checking the turkey at least a half hour before I think its going to be done, in case it cooks faster, the oven is off, the turkey is not completely defrosted, roasting pan or turkey size affects heat circulation, or something else may be out of sorts. There are many variables for timing.

                        The moist heat method, which is what the 'in the bag' cooking technique is, decreases the cooking time over the dry heat method, anywhere from 3-8 minutes a lb, so it's very important to temp it periodically well before before you thinks it done. A few small holes in the bag is ok to let steam escape, but perhaps yours was quite large and allowed much of the moisture to release. I normally have a fair amount of stock in the roasting pan/bag when using this method, more so than with dry heat roasting. I usually just reduce this stock for gravy. I think that, given Bada Bing's unhappy experience with no fond for gravy, which I feel bad about, perhaps a few holes for some liquid evaporation may be a very good idea.

                        My host this year did a turkey in a bag at 325°, much to my surprise; last year our turkey was basted every 10 minutes for about 4 hours, maybe she took mercy on me, as I was the chief baster. She didn't have a thermometer and I neglected to bring mine, so we just went by the clock and short timed it, and the turkey was great.

                        1. re: bushwickgirl

                          No cause to feel bad about the gravy issue, bushwickgirl! It wasn't exactly bad, but simply not as deep as usual. It would have taken quite some time to reduce that quantity of juices, which I'd reckon at maybe 6 cups, but maybe I could have pulled it off.

                          I had my bag pretty well sealed (stapled, in fact). Also the whole bag sat atop some carrots and celery sticks and a small amount of added stock, and maybe that actually interfered with the brown-bits factor in this case. But this method does cook the bird very well, and I am not one to regret experiments.

                          1. re: Bada Bing

                            Ok, well, I'm glad the turkey came out good, that's really important. Six cups of stock is quite a lot, swimming in it, actually.

                          2. re: bushwickgirl

                            The bird was not stuffed; the oven was at 375, as per the link to the most recent article about this method (from the list of articles in the other thread on this topic "turkey in a bag"). That article gave specific directions that said to cook for 20 mins/lb for turkeys between 10-15 lbs, and the directions in that article just mentioned herbs and celery/onions in the cavity, no stuffing. That was what gave me the total of 4.5 hours of roasting time, so checking it just a half hour early, as you mentioned, would have been far too late. It was a full hour early when I checked it, and it was at about 200 already, so I quickly pulled it out. And, as I said above, the hole in the bag was no more than 1/2 inch, so it certainly was no huge, gaping hole.

                            I think next time I'll try the Reynolds bags; while the meat was not ruined this time, we were reduced to moistening the meat with the cranberry sauce, since there was really no liquid to speak of other than the pure oil and lots of burnt black stuff at the bottom of the roasting pan the brown bag was sitting in.