I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. I’m bone tired from marathon cooking, but it was worth it. My nieces spent Thanksgiving with us this year, so I was super happy. They were with their dad last year. They asked me for “candied yams without the yams.” Which are marshmallows. I took some pie tins and browned them under the broiler. It was sort of a joke, but they ate them!
Anyway, on to the easy way to a perfectly roasted turkey. I’ve made turkeys every which way – bags, sealed with aluminum foil, basting constantly, etc. This way is, by far, the easiest way to roast a turkey. The meat is moist, juicy, and flavorful.
I know Thanksgiving is over, but there are people who have Turkey at Christmas. And this will be a nice reference page for those frazzled newbies searching for a turkey recipe guide next year. Been there, done that. Trust me, in the almost 20 years I’ve been cooking Thanksgiving dinners, I’ve definitely messed up some turkeys in the early years. I wish I had the internet back then. So, don’t panic. It’s pretty simple.
To get a perfectly roasted turkey the easy way, just remember The Four B’s: Brining, Butter, Bed of the Holy Trinity, Breast Side Down.
Brining: Rinse your turkey and remove and refrigerate the giblets. Make sure the turkey is not already brined. Place the turkey in two turkey oven bags (Reynolds® makes one). Fill the bag with the turkey with salted water (brine). The ratio is 1 cup of kosher salt to 1 gallon of water, making sure the salt is dissolved completely. That’s it. Some people like to add sugar, herbs, etc. I don’t think they’re necessary, and two ingredients (water and salt) is the easiest way. If you don’t have kosher salt, you can use plain table salt (no iodine – leaves weird purple marks). For non-iodized table salt the ratio should be 1/2 cup table salt to 1 gallon of water as the granules are much smaller in table salt. There should be enough brine to ensure the turkey is completely submerged. If you have a room in your refrigerator, you can put it in one of the meat bins at the bottom. If you don’t (like most of us cooking Thanksgiving feasts), place it in a cooler with a lot of ice. The second oven bag protects the first from being punctured by the ice. I used four 10 lb. bags of ice this year for my 16 lb. turkey. Put some ice on top of the oven bag to make sure the turkey stays submerged completely in the brine. The turkey should be soaking in the brine for one hour per pound, but don’t go over 24 hours. Take it out of the bag and rinse thoroughly, and pat dry with paper towels.
OK – this is the point where I fill the cavity with aromatics (half of an onion and a bunch of thyme sprigs), and truss the turkey. Trussing is tying up the turkey. It is not absolutely necessary, but it does make for more even cooking and a prettier turkey. Alton Brown gives the best tutorial (IMHO) on trussing. His is the sturdiest:
Butter: Melt one stick of UNSALTED (very important – remember you brined) butter in the microwave until soft (not totally liquid). Add chopped up sage, rosemary, and thyme and mix it all up. It should be a soft, whipped butter consistency with herbs in it. Loosen the skin on the breast of the turkey, gently putting your fingers between the skin and the breast. It’s easy to tear, so do it slowly and gently. Place some of the herbed butter on your fingers and rub the butter under the skin. Rub some more on top of the breast. It’s totally messy but worth it. Melt another stick of butter to liquid. Spread it all over the entire turkey, inside and out – including the cavity. You can put aromatics in the cavity if you want at this point too. I usually put a half an onion and thyme sprigs.
Bed of the Holy Trinity: In Creole/Cajun cooking, the Holy Trinity is basically a French mirepoix: carrots, celery, and onions. I love it because these ingredients are cheap. Chop them up and put it in the bottom of your roasting pan. Make sure there is enough to cover the entire bottom of the pan. No need to do fancy cuts. Rough chop is fine. Add the giblets you took out when you brined the turkey to the bottom of the pan as well if you like the giblets.
Breast Side Down: Place the bird breast side down directly on the Bed of the Holy Trinity. I don’t like to use roasting racks because they make those weird lines on the turkey. The juices from the dark meat will baste the white meat. Loosely tent the turkey with aluminum foil. Don’t seal it to your roasting pan, make a little tent over it.
Roast it in a 350° F oven for approximately 15 minutes per pound of turkey (my 16 lb. turkey took 4 hours). To be safe, use your meat thermometer. It isn’t hard. Stick it in the deepest part of the thigh (where the drumstick is attached) but not touching the bone. When the internal temperature reaches 165° F, it’s fully cooked.
Leave it alone. Remember, gravity is doing the basting for you. 45 minutes to one hour before the end of cooking time, flip it over. Other than getting someone else to do it, the easiest way to do this is by wearing oven mitts, and put a wad of paper towels in each hand to do it. You can baste the breast at this point if you want. Tent with foil for the first 15 minutes. Then, remove the foil for the rest of the time so the skin on the breast can brown.
After it’s done, take it out of the oven, and let the turkey rest for at least 30 minutes before carving it. You want to keep all those juices in. The drippings are salty, so I wouldn’t make gravy from it. This is what it will look like:
Take it out of the roasting pan, and put the turkey on a platter. Keep the cooked giblets if you want -my parents love these.
Carve and enjoy!