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Best turkey techniques

15 years ago

I know this is a bit early, but I'm cooking my first ever Thanksgiving turkey this year and am trying to plan ahead. I was hoping some of ya'll would share your favorite tips/recipes with me.

I've heard that brining is the way to go, but I'm worried that it will cause the texture to feel too artificial. I really hate pre-marinated chicken from the grocery store because the too-juicy and soft texture seems fake to me. Has anyone had this problem? Is a dry brine better or worse? Does anyone roast their turkey breast down? Does the skin still brown nicely? Do I use a rack or just set the turkey directly in the roasting pan?

Sorry for all of the questions. I would just really love to impess everyone with a nice bird!

Comments (34)

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    How many people are you cooking for and how big of a bird are you planning on getting?

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I stopped brining once I found the presalt method. So much easier than dealing with a pail of water. And in my experience presalting produces an even better tasting turkey.

    It doesn't matter if you use a rack. I just put the turkey right in the roasting pan and I roast at 500F. After the first 15 to 20 minutes I give the pan a shake to make sure that the turkey isn't sticking.

    This is the turkey I cooked early this month for Canada's Thanksgiving.

    Home Cookin Chapter: Recipes From Thibeault's Table

    Servings: 11 to 15

    Note: This is more a technique than a recipe. It makes a bird that has concentrated turkey flavor and fine, firm flesh and that is delicious as it is. But you can add other flavors as you wish. Minced rosemary would be a nice finishing addition. Or brush the bird lightly with butter before roasting.

    1 (12- to 16-pound) turkey

    Kosher salt

    1. Wash the turkey inside and out, pat it dry and weigh it. Measure 1 tablespoon of salt into a bowl for every 5 pounds the turkey weighs (for a 15-pound turkey, you'd have 3 tablespoons).

    2. Sprinkle the inside of the turkey lightly with salt. Place the turkey on its back and salt the breasts, concentrating the salt in the center, where the meat is thickest. You'll probably use a little more than a tablespoon. It should look liberally seasoned, but not over-salted.

    3. Turn the turkey on one side and sprinkle the entire side with salt, concentrating on the thigh. You should use a little less than a tablespoon. Flip the turkey over and do the same with the opposite side.

    4. Place the turkey in a 2 1/2 -gallon sealable plastic bag, press out the air and seal tightly. Place the turkey breast-side up in the refrigerator. Chill for 3 days, turning it onto its breast for the last day.

    5. Remove the turkey from the bag. There should be no salt visible on the surface and the skin should be moist but not wet. Place the turkey breast-side up on a plate and refrigerate uncovered for at least 8 hours.

    6. On the day it is to be cooked, remove the turkey from the refrigerator and leave it at room temperature at least 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

    7. Place the turkey breast-side down on a roasting rack in a roasting pan; put it in the oven. After 30 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and carefully turn the turkey over so the breast is facing up (it's easiest to do this by hand, using kitchen towels or oven mitts).

    8. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees, return the turkey to the oven and roast until a thermometer inserted in the deepest part of the thigh, but not touching the bone, reads 165 degrees, about 2 3/4 hours total roasting.

    9. Remove the turkey from the oven, transfer it to a warm platter or carving board; tent loosely with foil. Let stand at least 30 minutes to let the juices redistribute through the meat. Carve and serve.


    This same method can be used for chicken, chicken pieces, pork roasts,
    ribs, chops, etc..

    With the smaller cuts just pre-salt 4 or five hours in advance. Even
    this short period of presalting makes an amazing difference.

    Don't cover, just refrigerate and then remove from the fridge in time
    for the meat to come to room temperature before cooking.

    Home Cookin Chapter: Recipes From Thibeault's Table

    Simple Roast Turkey - High Heat Method
    Source:Barbara Kafka
    Roasting A Simple Art

    Many Thanksgivings at my house have proved the high-heat method to be ideal. A fifteen-pound turkey at room temperature takes two hours to roast. However, it may take several hours for the turkey to reach room temperature. While the turkey is sitting out, cover it loosely with a towel, otherwise the skin will dry out. I prefer a fifteen-pound turkey as it isn't too heavy for me to handle. It usually gives lots of good leftovers and is generally available.

    There are certain things to think of to ensure success before beginning: Remove the giblet bag from the interior of the bird. Remove the wing tips. Put everything except the livers into a pot and start Basic Fowl Giblet Gravy. By the time the bird is roasted, the gravy will be done. Use the liver in the dressing/stuffing or store in the freezer, covered with milk. Make sure there is a pan big enough for the turkey without it's touching the sides of the pan. Do not truss.

    Consider whether the bird should be stuffed or the stuffing served as dressing baked separately. If stuffing, think in terms of twelve cups of stuffing for a 15 pound bird, which will allow the big cavity to be stuffed and some more stuffing to be crammed under the skin flap at the neck. I seldom stuff because there are real food safety questions about the bird and its stuffing sitting out at room temperature.

    The oven must be very clean before roasting, or cooking at this high temperature will cause unpleasant smoke. In any case, there will be some smoke, so turn on the fan or open a window. Don't put the oven rack too high or the skin on the breast will get over cooked. For a twenty-pound turkey, the rack should be in the lowest position. Always put the turkey in legs first - dark meat takes longer to cook and the rear of the oven is the hottest area.

    If the top skin seems to be getting too dark, slip a doubled piece of aluminum foil on top of it. Don't move the turkey. Use an oven mitt to protect hands and forearms. Remove the foil with the same oven mitt ten minutes before the turkey comes out.

    Large turkeys are most easily removed from the pan by holding them with two pot holders, which will need to be washed. After the meal, get out a large stockpot to boil up the carcass and leftover bones for turkey soup and stock.

    15 pound turkey, thawed, if necessary and at room temperature, wing tips removed, reserving giblets and neck for gravy, liver for stuffing.

    Fresh ground black pepper to taste
    1 cup water or basic turkey/chicken stock

    . Place oven rack on second level from bottom of oven. Heat oven to

    Rinse the turkey inside and out. Pat dry. Sprinkle the outside with
    pepper. If stuffing, stuff cavity and crop, securing openings with
    long metal skewers. Lace them. Do not truss.

    Put turkey in an 18 X 13 X2 inch roasting pan, breast side up. Put in
    oven legs first. Roast until the leg joint near the backbone wiggles
    easily, about 2 hours. After 20 minutes, move the turkey around with a
    wooden spatula to keep from sticking. Remove the turkey to a large
    platter. Let sit 20 minutes before carving.

    Pour off grease from roasting pan and put pan on top of the stove. Add
    water or stock. Bring to a boil while scraping bottom of pan
    vigorously with a wooden spoon, loosening all the crisp bits in the
    bottom of the pan. These add intensity to the gravy. Let reduce by
    half. Serve on the side in a sauceboat or add to giblet gravy.

    9 pounds
    stuffed 1 hour 45 minutes
    unstuffed 1 hour 15 minutes

    12 pounds
    stuffed 1 hour 50 minutes
    unstuffed 1 hour 20 minutes

    15 pounds
    stuffed 2 hours 30 minutes
    unstuffed 2 hours

    20 pounds
    stuffed 3 hours 30 minutes
    unstuffed 3 hours

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  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    There are many many ways to cook a turkey...
    Those of us who have been cooking turkeys for lots of years have tried them all, lid no lid, breast up, breast down, rack, no rack, high heat low heat, brined, fresh killed, frozen, never frozen, fried, out-door grilled and likely ways I have never thought of.
    If you don't over cook the turkey so it's dried out, it's all good.

    For the first time I would just slap that bird into a roasting pan, rub the breast, which is up, with oil and put it into a 350 oven until the juice runs clear in the thigh when poked with a fork.
    The time for that to happen depends on the size of the turkey and the temperature when you put it into the oven.
    Then take the bird out of the oven, cover it with foil and a couple of towels and you then have about 45 minutes to get the rest of the meal mash the potatoes, cook the veggies, make the gravy etc.
    Don't make it harder than it needs to be. When my kids were in college they cooked a turkey for a party several times....just plopped it into a pan, cooked it until the legs fell off and everyone gathered around with a bun and pulled off some meat and put it into the bun for a sandwich. The breast was likely over cooked....but then my mother and grand mother always over cooked the turkey too.
    Linda C

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Thanks for all of your help! I really enjoy trying out new recipes, but for some reason a turkey seems really daunting!

    AnnT's technique looks pretty similar to the dry brined turkey recipe I was eyeing from the cover of Martha Stewart Living. It's good to know that I don't need to marinate in a ton of liquid for good results. Then again, maybe LindaC is right about keeping it really simple. If nothing else I've been reminded to clean my oven before the holidays!

    LpinkMountain, at this point I'm only expecting 6 people, but I was still thinking of getting a 20lb turkey anyways. It's what I'm used to and we love the leftovers. Bad idea for a first attempt?

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    NEVER brine a turkey that has that god awful "flavor enhancing solution" added to it.

    You'll end up with an awful salt likc of a bird.

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Hello cseim,

    Bon Appetit magazine had an article on presalting the turkey, as ann-t refers to - see the link below. The paper edition suggested putting the turkey in a roasting bag to keep in the refrigerator overnight. I've not been a fan of brining, but am planning to use this pre-salting method.

    The rule of thumb for the size of a turkey is one pound per person, which doesn't allow much for leftovers. As this is your first one you may wish to go with about a 12-pound, which will give you plenty of leftover meat, a shorter cooking time, & an easier-to-handle bird.

    The past few years, I have been buying fresh, free-range turkeys from Whole Foods, & really think the flavor & texture are better than the frozen turkeys from the "regular" markets.

    Another secret for great flavor is regular basting when the bird starts to brown. As lindac mentioned, covering the turkey with a (clean) towel, helps keep it moist & tender - I just pour the cooking juices right over the towel.

    Besides sandwiches, turkey tetrazzini is a geat dish for leftover meat. :)

    Best of luck - I know you will have a great dinner!

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I agree with kframe, you get one of those "butterball" or such, and most are "up to 10% flavor enhancer added". That basically means salt and water.

    I love turkey, no matter how it's cooked and although I refuse to eat the skin and peel it off I like the way it looks.


  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Just be sure to get the gizzard, liver, etc out of the center of the turkey! I usually buy frozen and give it ample time to thaw in the fridge. I always go simple. I clean it well the night before and salt inside and out and put back in the fridge. Let it sit out for a while while preheating and start on high heat for 30-45 min and then turn down and walk away.
    I cook with the lid on for the first part and take off for browning the last bit.
    I agree that simpler is usually better and yes for the leftovers. Pot pie, tetrazzini and turkey, cranberry sauce and dressing sandwiches. Yum

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    The other thing to consider is if you've got only one oven, you'll need to coordinate cooking temperatures with other oven dishes. That might help you decide what method to use!

    I have a smallish single oven. Maybe I'll do the turkey on the grill again. I do it just like in the oven, but outside. It doesn't have to taste any different but it does allow me to make other things that don't fit in the toaster oven.

    Turkey itself isn't really too bad as long as you have a thermometer. It's just sort of intimidating because it's big and slimy and gross and unwieldy when raw. And after cooking, it's just big.

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I love turkey. For your first, I recommend not stuffing the bird - more for you to worry about. You can try that next time, maybe for Christmas, LOL.

    I have the Martha Stewart Living November issue too - it's great. Go ahead and use her method or Ann T's recipe above. Good luck!

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I use Ann T's method, except that I refrigerate it for two days instead of three. Make sure that you buy the turkey 2-3 days before you plan to cook it - if it is frozen, you'll need to add an extra day or two for defrosting in the refrigerator. It will be better if it hasn't been frozen, and so you might want to call and reserve one from your favorite butcher. Dry salt is definitely the way to go, and high heat is also better. Make sure the bird is room temperature before you roast it. It will cook faster than you think at 500° and be much moister than if cooked longer at a low temperature.


  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Thanks everyone! You've all been so helpful!

    By the way, Cooks Illustrated did a taste test and recommended a certain kosher turkey. Should I assume that pre-salting/dry-brining one of those might be a bad idea? It sounds like they've already been through that salting process. They also said that "fresh" turkeys can be kept at temperatures as low as 26 degrees causing ice crystals to form and thaw repeatedly, resulting in drier meat than a "frozen" turkey. Anyone have this problem or does everyone prefer fresh?

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    A "fresh turkey" that's really fresh is better in my opinion than a frozen turkey....but a frozen turkey is better than one of those "fresh" turkeys that has been "sort of frozen".
    Roasting a turkey is a slow leisurly process....I have no doube that the high heat method yields a juicier bird than slow cooking, but it leaves little room for error. For the first time, I would do a more traditional moderate oven roasting. if you err for 15 minutes you won't have over cooked turkey.
    Linda C

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I cook my turkey the traditional way, much as Linda describes but I always use an instant read to check the temperature. I believe 165 is the recommended temperature but I usually remove at 160 , cover with a towel and let rest while I do the rest of the meal. The temperature will rise a bit.

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I also do it the way Linda recommends. A little oil brushed on the skin and some salt and pepper. I usually remember to pick up a pop up timer to stick in it but I use an instant read to double check the temp. I also wind up checking the juices near the thigh just to be sure they are clear. You can't really screw it up if you go the simple route.

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I like doing two small 10-12 pound turkeys.
    I make one the day before and make the gravy. The meat is sliced and becomes the "back up" and "leftover" meat for the next day. Then the second turkey is roasted Thanksgiving day and carved at the table. I find this works great for about 20 people. Rarely do we use the meat from the day before but it's ready to make plates for people to take home, etc.
    We do have plenty of sides and usually also have a ham.
    It's so much simpler than handling one big turkey, making gravy, keeping everything hot and keeping the kitchen clean. It also doesn't tie up the oven as long.

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Thanks for the idea Bumblebeez! I always make 2 smaller turkeys and I always take Wed off. I never even thought to cook one turkey the day before and have the gravy already made. What a great idea!!!

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Bumbelbeez I may steal your idea too. I always host the family for Christmas and the 25 pound turkey, early morning stuffing plus last minute gravy thing is starting to get on my nerves! LOL

    Seems I'm always looking at my watch, knowing I need to get into the kitchen while we are still unwrapping our gifts! This would free up a lot of time for me.

    Great idea

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    For a first-timer I also recommend keeping it simple. You can try other methods later when you get the basics down first. Get your bird home (we use fresh, non-frozen). Rinse with cool water, inside and out. Dry it. Don't need a rack, oil the skin,etc. Much like what Linda describes. Low temp and long roasting=great tasting bird. Good luck with your first attempt! NancyLouise

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Great idea. We are heading to our cabin and will not even arrive until after 10 am on Thanksgiving morning. My usual 20-26lb turkey is usually long cooking by that time. But, because we have extra company coming on the weekend. Cooking one at home and one at the cabin will work at great. Now, here is my technique. KEEP IT SIMPLE. All that salt and brining is too much work for me. Over 20 years ago I was friendly with a girl from Germany. She taught me a technique which I was a little worried about but have used it for over 20 years. Instead of using butter on the bird. I spread it with MAYO!! Every guest we have ever had for dinner is amazed at how moist my Turkeys are. I then add a tent of Foil on the top and leave it on till about the last hour of cooking. I always thought about Mayo and heat at picnics, but have done this for like I said over 20 years and no one sick yet. The high heat just melts it into the bird.

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I think Woodie's tip of making an extra turkey gravy the day (week, or month) before from purchased individual turkey parts is a great idea. I copied and pasted it and passed on the idea to my daughters for when they are having a large family dinner. Who wouldn't be happy to have an extra 2 quarts of gravy all ready at hand as a backup to the gravy made from the roasting turkey on the day of the dinner:

    * Posted by woodie2 (My Page) on
    Tue, Nov 20, 07 at 16:49

    Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy

    Makes about 2 quarts

    For more flavor, after roasting the turkey you can skim the drippings from the pan and add them to the gravy just before serving. It's best to discard the strong-tasting liver before using the giblets. This recipe makes enough to accompany a large turkey and still have plenty for leftovers.

    6 turkey drumsticks, thighs, or wings
    reserved turkey giblets
    reserved turkey neck
    2 carrots , chopped coarse
    1 head garlic , halved
    2 ribs celery , chopped coarse
    2 onions , chopped coarse
    Vegetable oil spray
    10cups low-sodium chicken broth
    2 cups dry white wine
    12 sprigs fresh thyme
    1/2 cup all-purpose flour
    Table salt and ground black pepper

    1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Place giblets, neck, drumsticks, carrots, celery, onions, and garlic in roasting pan, spray with vegetable oil, and toss well. Roast, stirring occasionally, until well browned, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

    2. Transfer contents of roasting pan to Dutch oven. Add broth, wine, and thyme and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until reduced by half, about 1 1/2 hours. Pour through fine-mesh strainer into large container (discard solids), cover stock with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until fat congeals, at least 2 hours.

    3. Using soup spoon, skim fat and reserve. Heat 1/2 cup fat in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until bubbling. Whisk in flour and cook, whisking constantly, until honey colored, about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in stock, bring to boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. (Gravy can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.) Reheat gravy in saucepan over medium heat until bubbling.


  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Sharon just beat me to posting the pre-made gravy. I used this recipe last year and will never, ever do it a different way. The gravy was delicious, homemade and no fuss on Thanksgiving!

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I, also, have been cooking the make-ahead gravy. The butcher said that the best parts to use are the backs, necks and wings. The deliver more flavor.

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    What do you do with all that good stuff left in the pan on Thanksgiv8ing day when you do roast the whole bird? Throw it away???!!!
    Linda C

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Hide the dirty pan until everyone leaves - I put it in the frig- then make gravy for the freezer. Nice for Christmas.

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    No make that into gravy too! Now you have lots and lots and lots of gravy for everybody! :-)


  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Last year, I inserted butter under the skin of the turkey. I was very liberal in the amount of butter (salted) that I used, and with the high heat method, my turkey was probably the best I ever made. I seasoned the bird on the inside, did the butter thing, and rubbed oil on the skin. Wonderful.

    This year, I'm going to try doing the grave the day before. It seems like it can't go wrong.

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Well, since there are only two of us, I usually make a 1/2 or full turkey breast. That doesn't yield enough "stuff" for a lot of gravy. This year it sounds like we aren't having guests, so I'll make reservations at a great restaurant. But I'll also order 2 organic turkey breasts, cut, and then do the gravy so we can feast later.

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Thanks everyone for sharing! I really love the make-ahead gravy idea. I'd thought about just buying a jar of store bought gravy as a backup since I've never made that before either (just in case I screwed it up), but this sure seems like it would take some of the pressure off!

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Talking about turkey breast for's what I have done with good results:

    I was feeling under the weather with the flu one Christmas and as there were just the two of us for Christmas dinner I made a change
    and instead of buying a whole turkey, I bought a whole breast, which I roasted with an orange, onion, jam and thyme glaze.

    The results came out so tender and juicy that even I was surprised. I made a quick dressing which I cooked alongside in a separate dish and made a gravy from deglazing the pan with the vegetable water and a little help from a teaspoon each of Bisto gravy granules, Knorr dry onion soup, cornstarch and an Avecrem chicken stock cube. Served with brussels sprouts, peas, carrots, mashed potatoes and gravy.

    So this is what I did:


    2 TBS sugarless apricot jam
    1 heaping TBS dried thyme + a little more for sprinkling on top
    1 teasp garlic powder
    fresh ground black pepper
    2 TBS runny honey
    2 TBS butter

    1 orange
    1 onion cut into 8ths

    Turkey breast weighing 1.360 kg (slightly under 3 lbs)

    1. Preheat oven to 350F (I used 325F in my fan oven)

    2. In small bowl, mix the jam, thyme and garlic powder to a paste. Spread all over the turkey breast.

    3. Cut orange in half and squeeze some of the juice over the turkey, then cut orange into slices and arrange under and on top along with the slices of onion.

    4. Cut butter into pieces and dot all over and under breast, then drizzle honey over all.

    5. Grind black pepper over top and sprinkle on a little more dried thyme.

    6. Cover with foil and roast 1 hour, then remove foil, baste once with juices and butter in pan and roast for another half hour (without foil) or until a thermometer inserted in thickest part of breast reads 170F.

    7. Serve with turkey dressing, cranberry sauce and gravy.


  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Wow! Sharon, that looks absolutely delicious. The thyme, apricot, and garlic combo sounds intriguing.


  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    A gravy question.....

    We tried brining before, but got very very salty juices, not suitable for gravy.

    Using the pre-salt method, is this a problem?

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    "What do you do with all that good stuff left in the pan "

    Save some of the geletin to spread on your turkey sandwich. Plan B: When you get around to boiling the carcass for soup add "good stuff" to the pot.

    Alas I taken to cooking my bird on a charcoal Weber grill so I'm shy so geletin these days. Easier then easy. Charcoal on the sides, bird in the middle, cover on, top and bottom vents wide open. A couple three hours later the bird is done with crispy skin and moist tender meat.

    Ugly because I pulled the leg bones out getting it off the grill... used a sheet of parchment paper help roll it in the pan. My free turkey from work...


    My calendar is showing a full moon for Thanksgiving...

    : )

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    No, you shouldn't end up with salty gravy when you presalt. I never had a problem with salty gravy when I use to brine either.