How to Roast A Turkey

How to Roast A Turkey
From Cooking's Real Food Holidays
Roasting a turkey is very similar to baking a chicken. Don't let it intimidate you, the principles are the
same, it's just the size and timing that are a little different. This tutorial will help you, step-by-step, to
have your turkey turn out tender and juicy. The keys to your best turkey are
• Make sure the bird is completely thawed.
• Brine the bird in a salt and sugar solution.
• Tuck down the wingtips for a pretty presentation.
• Use ghee if you aren't intolerant to dairy due to the higher initial roasting temperature,
• Use a probe thermometer to know just when to pull the turkey out of the oven
• Allow the bird to rest before carving so you won't loose the juice out of the meat.
Pick Your Turkey
If you're serving guests or you want planned leftovers, you will want to make sure the size turkey you
order or purchase will feed everyone. I like to plan about one pound of whole turkey for each person,
taking into account both white and dark meat. If you will only be eating the white meat for the holiday
meal, you will need to purchase a larger bird.
Size Turkey to Purchase for Your Number of Guests
4 to 8 pounds
8 to 12 pounds
12 to 16 pounds
16 to 20 pounds
20 to 24 pounds
With leftovers
Without leftovers
Thaw Your Turkey
It is very important that you make sure your turkey is completely thawed before you begin
cooking or it can roast unevenly, resulting in some meat being over-done and dry and other areas
being raw or under-cooked. If you are cooking a turkey larger than 16 pounds, I strongly recommend
you do cold water immersion thawing instead of thawing it in the fridge. To thaw by immersion, place
a clean, empty 5-gallon bucket into a bathtub and place the still-wrapped turkey into the bucket.
Position the bucket under the faucet and then place a clean weight (I use a brand-new, scrubbed brick in
a ziplock bag) on top of the turkey so it will stay under the water through the thawing process. Fill the
bucket with cold water and turn down the water to a drip so that a very small but steady stream of cold
water is flowing into the bucket all the time. Leave the drip on for the recommended amount of time in
the chart. To ensure that the bird is thawed, I always leave it in the cold water drip for the maximum
recommended time.
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If you are doing a turkey breast alone and it will fit in a stock-pot and the stockpot will fit under your
faucet in your kitchen sink, you can do that instead. This works especially well with whole chickens,
I allow an extra day for thawing in case the bird needs to do a last bit of thawing in the fridge.
When the immersion time is up, I drain the turkey well, transfer it to a leakproof container and place
the bird on the bottom shelf of the fridge to keep it cold until time to brine or cook.
At this time, it's a good idea to take a look at the roasting time recommendations included towards the
end of the article to have an idea of how long your turkey should cook, so you know approximately
what time you should start it. Turkeys take a lot longer to cook than most people realize, so you
want to make sure you allow plenty of time so dinner isn't late.
Thawing Time
Turkey thawing time for the refrigerator:
Days to Allow for Thawing Turkey
4 to 8 pounds
1 to 2 days
8 to 12 pounds
2 to 2.5 days
12 to 16 pounds
2.5 to 4 days
16 to 20 pounds
I recommend immersion thawing instead.
20 to 24 pounds
I recommend immersion thawing instead.
Turkey thawing time for cold water immersion:
Hours to Allow for Thawing Turkey
4 to 8 pounds
1 to 2 hours
8 to 12 pounds
4 to 6 hours
12 to 16 pounds
6 to 8 hours
16 to 20 pounds
8 to 10 hours
20 to 24 pounds
10 to 12 hours
Brine Your Turkey
Brine is the first trick to the juiciest turkey you've ever tasted. Here's two of my favorite recipes for
poultry brine. When the brining is done, pull the bird out of the brine and dry it thoroughly before
proceeding with any baking, roasting or deep frying recipe you would like.
Brine for a Small Bird
This works great for one chicken or a small turkey breast. Double the amount for two chickens or a
larger whole turkey.
Your chosen bird
½ tsp peppercorns
1 lemon, quartered
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½ gallon water
¼ cup salt
2 Tbs rapadura, sugar or another solid sweetener
Place the bird into a stock-pot or other container that will fit in your fridge with the lid on. Make sure
there's a little room to spare above the bird. Place the peppercorns in with the bird. Squeeze the lemon
over the bird and place the rind into the cavity- this keeps it from floating during the brining process.
Cover and set aside.
In a saucepan, combine some of the half-gallon of water with the salt and rapadura. Whisk until
dissolved, or heat briefly, just until the rapadura dissolves. Remove from the heat and pour back into
the half-gallon of water, stir well and allow it to cool completely.
Once cool, the brine solution can be poured over the bird until it is completely covered. Make sure your
bird isn't floating due to air trapped in the cavity. Cover the pot and place it in the fridge for 8-12
hours. Rinse thoroughly, pat dry and cook by any method you choose.
Big Bird Brine
This recipe creates enough brine for a 12-15 lb turkey, depending on the size of the stock-pot you are
using. Tall and just wide enough to fit your bird will minimize the amount of brine that you need.
7 quarts water
3 cups apple juice
5 oranges, quartered
1½ cups kosher or sea salt
1½ cups rapadura
1 Tbs black peppercorns
4 sprigs rosemary
6 sprigs thyme
2 lemons, quartered
Your chosen bird
Warm some of the water and dissolve the rapadura and salt. Cool to room temperature and add the
remaining ingredients (squeeze the citrus as you add it). Place into a non-reactive container like a
stockpot. Rinse the turkey breast and place into the brine. Cover and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours.
Rinse thoroughly, pat dry, and cook by any method you choose.
If you need more brine, such as when doing a larger whole turkey, you can use ½ cup salt and ½ cup of
rapadura for every extra gallon of water.
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Roast Your Turkey
A roasting pan, with or without a rack. A 9x13 will work for smaller birds, a turkey breast or a chicken
A probe thermometer that is oven safe
aromatics of your choosing- an onion, a piece of citrus, some fresh herbs.
Ghee, butter or coconut oil
Sea salt
Aluminum foil
Your brined turkey, ready for roasting
First, place an oven rack on the lowest slot in your oven, and remove the other rack from your oven.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees (450 if you are using ghee).
If you are roasting a whole turkey, you will need a roasting pan or other pan large enough to
accommodate a whole bird. For a breast alone, you can use a 9x13. If you wish to forgo the aluminum
foil to prevent over-browning, you will need to use a covered roaster.
If you have a roasting rack and wish to use it, that will work well. I haven't been able to find a rack to
fit my equipment that isn't non-stick, so I forgo it. Using a rack will allow the juices to drip off, with
the bottom of the bird having an opportunity to brown as well as the top.
Then, we need to work with the turkey. Dry it thoroughly and transfer it to the baking pan, breast side
up. If you aren't sure which side is the breast, find the wingtips- they point towards the breast. Let me
emphasize this again. It is important that the bird be dry because if there is excess moisture, the
bird will steam instead of roasting, and will brown unevenly.
If you are making a whole turkey, sweep the wingtips over the breast, up to the neck and tuck the
wingtip under the neck until it stays put. If you leave the wingtips sticking out, they will brown,
then burn before the turkey is done and it doesn't make for a pretty presentation. Regardless if you're
roasting a chicken, a turkey, or any other type of poultry, I always recommend you tuck the wingtips
under the neck to avoid over-browning.
Then we check the cavities. Some farmers/processors place the organ meat or a packet into one of the
two cavities. You will need to carefully check both. Most people only think to check one cavity, the
main body cavity, and they don't realize the neck must be checked, too. Especially in commerciallypurchased turkeys, it's common for the organs to be placed in the neck cavity as sometimes the
body cavity is used for a gravy packet. Sometimes the organs are in the body cavity but the
turkey neck is too long to fit, so they place it in the neck instead. In my years of teaching cooking,
I've gotten many puzzled Thanksgiving morning phone calls and Facebook messages looking for the
missing organs, and known many more women who were embarrassed at the table while carving the
bird in front of family when the missing organs were located. If your turkey came from a local farmer, I
recommend you ask at pick-up if you're new to roasting turkeys so you know exactly what to expect
and where.
Check the body cavity and the neck cavity. Usually with the neck, there is a lot of excess skin to work
around to see if it is empty. After checking the cavity, tuck the skin back down under the bird.
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Next, we want to stuff the body cavity with aromatics to help infuse additional flavor into the meat.
This step is optional, but it does give a better taste. You can use a whole orange, an onion, fresh herbs
such as rosemary, thyme or sage, or a combination. Cut the onion or orange into wedges before
inserting. Slid them into the cavity of the bird.
Next, we want to coat the bird with fat and sprinkle on the spices. Personally, I coat with ghee or
coconut oil and sprinkle on salt. However, some people do like to use other spices such as a poultry
seasoning mix. I do not recommend butter as your fat. It will begin smoking at 250 to 300 degrees, and
you'll wind up with some burning and you can't make gravy with the drippings or add it to your stock
pot. If you want the butter flavor, use ghee as it has a high smoke point of 485. Schmaltz can also be a
good option if you have any available from making chicken stock- its smoke point is 375. You can use
coconut oil to accommodate someone with a dairy intolerance who can not tolerate ghee. I do
recommend, if at all possible, that you use ghee and start at 450 degrees, as it creates better browning
on the breast.
I use 2-3 tablespoons of melted fat for a breast or 4 tablespoons for a whole bird, and about 1
tablespoon of salt. Pour on the fat and make sure the bird is completely coated, the sprinkle over the
Next, if any juices remain in the bottom of the pan, soak them up with a paper towel and discard it with
the packaging. The excess liquid will interfere with browning, creating steam instead.
One of the two biggest tricks to getting a turkey to turn out moist and juicy is a probe thermometer with
an external temperature gauge that will beep when it hits the target temperature you set. You don't have
to guess when it is done, you will know when the turkey is ready to come out of the oven because the
thermometer will alert you. Meat that goes over its target temperature for doneness will become
progressively drier, eventually hitting the shoe leather stage. Meat can overcook quickly,
especially breasts or smaller turkeys. While roasting time charts are approximates, each bird
cooks differently and free-range turkeys cook faster than conventional ones. If you don't use a
thermometer, you can wind up with dry, flavorless meat or you can carve your turkey in front of guests,
only to be embarrassed by under-done meat that must go back in the oven while everyone sits around,
eating side dishes.
Take a probe thermometer that is meant for oven use up to 400 degrees and insert it into the thickest
part of the breast if you are doing a turkey breast. If you are doing a whole bird and no one in your
family eats the dark meat at the holiday meal, put the thermometer into the breast. You can then pick
off the dark meat and use it in recipes where it is heated so it will be cooked through before eating,
such as turkey pot pie or a soup. If your have any family that eats the dark meat, you will want to insert
the probe thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh.
No matter where you place the thermometer, it is important that the thermometer not touch bone,
because it will give you an inaccurate reading. Personally, we eat the breast for the holiday and use
the dark meat later in cooked dishes, because if you cook the dark meat to doneness, the breast will be
Finally, if you aren't using a roaster with a lid, we need to fashion a tent to protect the breast from overbrowning while roasting. Take a length of aluminum foil that is a little more than twice as wide as the
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breast and fold it in half to make one piece that is wide enough to cover the breast. Press it over the
breast, forming it to the correct shape, then remove it and set it aside. If you need it later, you now have
it. If you wish to avoid the aluminum foil, then you will need to use a covered roaster instead.
Place the uncovered turkey into the hot oven and roast it for 20-30 minutes. Then drop the temperature
to 350 degrees. If you use an unrefined or virgin coconut oil, it will begin smoking once it reaches 350
degrees, so I recommend that you stay in the kitchen and keep an eye out. Drop the temperature to 350
early, if needed.
Once the temperature is down to 350, the bird will need to cook for a while. Keep an eye on the breast,
and when it begins looking brown, place the foil over top or place the cover on the roaster and return
the turkey to the oven.
Roast until your thermometer alerts you that the breast is 160 degrees. Your target temperature to be
done is 165 and carry-over heat after you remove the bird from the oven will raise the meat at least
another five degrees, bringing you up to the target temperature. Approximate roasting times are below.
Roasting Time
For an unstuffed turkey that is completely thawed. Free-range turkeys cook quicker. An accurate
thermometer is critical to getting the meat to come out moist instead of dry from overcooking or
4 to 8 pounds
1½ to 3¼ hours
8 to 12 pounds
2¾ to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds
3 to 3¾ hours
14 to 18 pounds
3¾ to 4¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds
4¼ to 4½ hours
20 to 24 pounds
4½ to 5 hours
Once the turkey is out of the oven, you can remove the foil. The meat needs to rest to allow the
juices to redistribute; this is the second trick to achieving a moist, juicy turkey. Do not remove the
thermometer or cut the turkey during the resting period or all of those lovely juices will spill out instead
of going back into the meat, resulting in a dry bird, even if you did hit the right target temperature. I
recommend a minimum of 20 minutes or resting, but if you allow it to rest for 30 minutes, it will still
be plenty warm and you will have further minimized the fluid loss.
Carve the turkey and it's time to eat! Save the bones and make stock so you have a nice turkey soup
after Thanksgiving. You make turkey stock the same way you make chicken stock. It's easy to make
and full of flavor.
From our family to yours, may you have a happy and blessed holiday season.
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