Repeat after me:
I will not be a
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:
- Use a remote thermometer
- 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:
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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?