Nov 162010

Roast Turkey

Repeat after me:


I will not be a

Thanksgiving martyr.


I will not rise before the sun, wrestle an enormous cold, white turkey from the fridge and heave it’s slippery mass over to the sink for rinsing at o’dark thirty.


I will not be intimately friendly with a turkey, immersing my arm to the elbow into the dark, cold recesses of it’s cavity, prior to having a cup of coffee.


I will not spend half my day basting a slowly browning bird every thirty minutes, only to have it still turn out to be dry.

There are as many ways to cook a turkey as cooks in the kitchen at Thanksgiving. Some swear by the oven bags. Others start breast side down, flipping it mid way through. Others start at a higher heat and then move to low. And don’t get me started on the endless ways to season the bird; I myself have done everything from Cajun to a classic herbed turkey and am debating between cider brining or this Pancetta Sage version this year. . . . This post is not a recipe for seasoning turkey. Instead, I’m sharing my favorite technique to achieve a perfect roast turkey . . .

All flavor combinations aside, the results of a well-cooked turkey are, in my opinion, whittled down to three points:

  • Crispy, burnished skin that you want to peel off and eat with your fingers
  • Moist, succulent breast meat that will still be moist the next day for sandwiches, and
  • Juicy dark meat

And, after cooking and eating many turkeys over the years, my foolproof way to achieve those three points are succinctly included in these two tips:

  1. Use a remote thermometer
  2. Roast the bird at high heat

A couple years ago I came across this article in the New York Times extolling the praise of high heat roasting a turkey.  After my good luck roasting chickens at 400 degrees (the only way I do it these days!), and with my husband’s handy-dandy remote thermometer that he uses for smoking in my hands, I knew I was on to something.

I stumbled across this turkey roasting temperature chart and have used it ever since, roasting my birds at 425 degrees for only a few short hours.  And each Thanksgiving?  Heavenly turkey that you’ll want to eat for leftovers.  Here’s my strategy:

Buy the bird based upon how many people are attending and how much leftovers you want.  If you have a lot of people, I suggest buying two smaller birds than one huge one.  I prefer buying a fresh organic or heritage turkey over frozen – and make sure to read the ingredients, it’s often not just, “turkey,” as many of them pump them full of solutions!  Yuck!

Determine your brining/seasoning strategy and get the ingredients and start it whenever need be. Obviously, if you brine, you’ll be beginning your brine at least a day or two in advance.  If you need something like shallots for your stuffing or kumkuats, I recommend buying them a few days in advance!

Now, at least one day before Thanksgiving, get out a pad of paper and a pencil and we’re going to be doing a little light math:

  1. Determine what time you want to SIT DOWN AND BEGIN EATING TURKEY.  Not what time you told people to arrive because you knew your brother always shows up late, not what time you’re going to start the coffee nor the time you’re going to set out appetizers, what time are you going to be eating TURKEY.  For me?  That’s generally 2pm.
  2. Now, subtract an hour from that and that is the time when you want to be pulling your turkey out of the oven.  You want to allow it to rest for about twenty to thirty minutes before carving it, placing the meat on the platter and placing it in front of your guests.  An hour is about right (unless, again, you’re hosting twenty or more people in which case I suggest two turkeys and at least two carvers to get the job done efficiently).
  3. Now, take a look at that handy-dandy turkey-temperature roasting chart. I recommend roasting the turkey at 400 to 425 degrees.  I normally go with 425.  Look at the chart, find the temperature and size of the bird in your fridge, and look at the suggested cooking time.  Subtract that cooking time from the time you plan on removing the turkey from the oven.  Got it?  That will be the time you will want to put the turkey in the oven on Thanksgiving morning.
  4. Finally, subtract one hour (at least, but no more than two) and note that you will want to be removing the turkey from the fridge or brine, rinsing it, removing giblets and allowing it to de-chill from it’s night in the fridge before popping it in the hot, hot oven.  Also, begin pre-heating your oven at that time and be doing any turkey prep (cutting veggies or herbs, perhaps?  Making sure the butter is at room temperature?)

If you put a cold turkey in the oven you will get mushy turkey and yucky skin.  Don’t be that person.

So there, that’s it!  Make sure that you insert your thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh before inserting the turkey in the oven and set it to remind you when it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit so that it reaches, at rest, a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Now that you’ve read all this, do you think I’m a crazy, type-A personality?  Uber-controlling my Thanksgiving day with a whip and a sharp pencil?  Please . . . Actually, building a personal cooking schedule the day before helps me immensely Thanksgiving day because it allows me to know exactly when and what to do to make sure that we eat dinner on time.  I can linger over coffee, after the sun comes up, knowing that I don’t have to worry about the turkey until at least 8:30am!

So what does this look like for me?  Here’s an example from two years ago when I had a twenty pound turkey. . .

8:30am- Take turkey out of the fridge to room temperature. Rinse turkey, remove giblets and place turkey in roasting pan. Season and prepare turkey for roasting.
9:00am – Breakfast!
9:00am – Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
9:30am – Put Turkey in oven to roast. Lower heat to 425 degrees Fahrenheit
10:00am – Remove rolls from fridge to come to room temperature and rise
10:00am – T. spot-cleans floors and bathrooms, if needed, while I make stuffing and green bean casserole (to cook later)
10:30 – 12:00 – Rest! Send the kids outside to play!  Fix hair and makeup!
12:00pm – T. goes to pick up Uncle Steve, guests begin to arrive sometime within the next hour or so. Set out plates, silverware, glasses, napkins, butter, salt and pepper, etc. (if not done the night before)
1:00pm – Turkey comes out of the oven when thermometer in thickest part of thigh registers 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Tent with foil and allow to rest and come up to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, minimum. Decrease temperature of oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
1:10pm – Place rolls, in the oven to bake, along with green bean casserole and brick from bread basket
1:20 pm – Remove rolls and place on table in heated basket
1:20 pm – Begin making gravy
1:30 pm – Begin to carve turkey. Place stuffing, sweet potato casserole and mashed potatoes in the oven to heat.
1:45 pm – Remove all oven items and place on table along with rolls and cranberry salad, turkey and gravy (don’t forget to turn off oven!)
2:00 pm – Thanksgiving prayer and dinner is served!

Oh, and my favorite way to use the leftovers (once you’re sandwiched out)? Green Chile Turkey Tortilla Soup. Yum.

Have you ever roasted a turkey at high heat? What is your favorite recipe for turkey?  What are you making this year?

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 November 16, 2010  Posted by  Autumn, Fowl Tagged with: ,

  26 Responses to “High Heat Roasting a Turkey”

  1. I’m one of the “start high then turn down” people. Except mine starts at 500 for 20 minutes to a half-hour — just long enough to brown the skin and render out the subcutaneous fat layer — before getting turned down to 350. So it probably spends most of its time in the oven over 400 degrees.

    The remote thermometer is the absolute most important thing. It’s constantly opening the oven to baste that causes the dryness. The harder people work to “keep it moist” the worse they make it. My mother-in-law just refuses to believe this. And she’s hosting this year. [sigh]

    • Drew, you actually may be lucky. My mother roasts hers until the thigh reads 180 degrees or when the pop-up timer pops…whichever is later. I’m hoping she makes triple gravy this year (I’ll probably buy a turkey on Black Friday just to have some decent turkey this November.)

      • I’ve, sadly, been prey to the pop-up timer in my day too! I know I end up looking at them, aghast, saying, “you don’t have a meat thermometer? In the whole house?” . . . I think it’s why I insist on hosting Thanksgiving most of the time! 🙂 And giving away lots of thermometers at Christmas . . . 🙂


  2. I agree, I have done this and it works excellent! Also don’t forget to BRINE it first! That is the best way to get all the flavors INTO the meat! 🙂

    • Oops I did see you mentioned brining, sorry reading with the kiddos around makes you skim stuff and miss important details! 😉

  3. Wow .. this sounds really good and worth a try.

  4. Wonderful! Thanks so much for sharing your tried and true method with us at the hearth and soul hop this week. I don’t think I’ve ever done an all high heat roast on my turkey…perhaps next year…because I’m very lucky this year…mom invited us over and SHE wants to cook the turkey! Hooray 😉 Thanks again.

  5. *bookmarks post* Thanks for this!!! I am getting my first heritage turkey this year (a Burbon Red) and i DONT want to mess it up, so i will most definitely be using this strategy to do this bird justice 🙂

  6. Sarah, I’m doing a turkey breast this year as there will just be four of us for traditional dinner. Any tips?

  7. Hm, we ended up butchering one of our breeders this year and he dressed out at 50 lbs. He was a Standard Bronze so he’s just a really big heritage bird. I might give this method a try although I’d still have to cook him for 8 hours! *sigh*

    • Wow, Pam! That is an enormous turkey!

      If I was cooking one that big, I’d probably spatchcock it (cut out the backbone and flatten it out) or even quarter it to make it cook faster. Similar to this one:

      The finished temperature would be the same (you want a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the USDA), regardless of the size of the turkey, so that would be a good indicator for you. Good luck and let me know what you decide to do!


      PS – I can just imagine how much stock that turkey carcass would create! You’d have enough till next Thanksgiving! Yum!

  8. Oh, I only cook a turkey once a year if that and I knew that I did the high heat thing once but couldn’t remember exactly what I did – THANK YOU for sharing this with us at the Hearth and Soul Hop! This is a great Thanksgiving resource!

  9. Thank you for posting this! I’m definately going to try that this year. We’re getting a fresh Amish turkey this year and I use a remote thermometer for baking bread so I’m ready to go.

  10. Do you cover the turkey while it is in the oven? This is my first time cooking a turkey and I am not sure what to do!


    • Hi Joette!

      No, I do not . . . but I do make sure it has a few inches from the top of the turkey to the top of the oven and heavily slather/massage it all over (including under the skin) with either soft butter or olive oil before seasoning. Always ensures a nice, crisp skin!

      Good luck!


  11. Help! I want to cook a 30 lb turkey the high heat method…. but I do not see any advice for a turkey that size. Any suggestions on timing? We have a gathering at 5pm- would like to sit down to dinner at 6:30. Two years ago I put the turkey ( 30 lbs) in at 2:30 at 4:25 and it was done about 5…..suggestions? MP

  12. We made a high-heat roast turkey two years ago (according to the same NY Times recipe mentioned above) and, while the bird turned out wonderfully, 40 minutes of nonstop smoke alarms was too high a price to pay!

    Does anyone have advice for avoiding spatter, or otherwise high-heat roasting (up to 500 degrees) without setting off alarms? Does surgically cleaning the oven suffice, or is it the bird itself throwing off grease that burns/smokes on the oven walls? Thanks!

    • Hi Erik!

      I’ve never had my turkey smoke, but I have had problems with chicken in the past when roasting at high temp. What I’ve found works best is to make sure that your roasting pan has high sides to contain the spatter a bit, and I also often line the roasting pan with aluminum foil to create taller sides, especially for the turkey. It also helps to put a larger pan than what you’re cooking in on the rack underneath your roasting bird to “catch” any stray splatters (which, yes, are generally from the fat on the bird unless you have a really dirty oven to start) before they hit the heating element in the bottom (which makes the smoke). Hope this helps and Happy Thanksgiving!


  13. […] are high-heat roasting our turkey again.  Yum.  Our turkey is just over 21 pounds (to feed 12 people, plus leftovers) and will take just […]

  14. Hi i just wanted to make sure i understand this right. so when making a high heat turkey do not cover only tent. do i still baste it half way through?

  15. Sarah, thanks for the reply! We did high-heat roast a turkey this Thanksgiving, and it turned out wonderfully. Still had some smoke, despite a squeaky-clean oven and a big deep roasting pan, but a lot less than last time. I think it might be the canola oil on the bird smoking (it smokes at around 460 degrees).

    Chris, we didn’t cover the bird at all, and didn’t open the oven at all while it was cooking. One advantage of high-heat roasting is that the bird doesn’t have time to dry out–no need to baste. Good luck!

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