Today I am sharing my treatise on turkey roasting, which I call Turkey In Seven Steps.
Turkey In Seven Steps is not just another turkey recipe. It is a roadmap to the method and includes every square inch of the process including thawing, dry brining, timing, prepping, cooking, resting, and carving. I find it is very important to acknowledge all of the steps leading up to the actual roasting. These early steps matter tremendously to the overall success of your finished turkey, and often times, they go unmentioned.
For good reason, roasted turkey, which is the crowning jewel of the holiday table, is a bear to manage. Part of the challenge is the sheer mass of the bird. But also, how often do we roast a turkey? Maybe once a year? It is difficult to become proficient at a task when you only perform it once a year.
I roasted my first turkey in 2018, and I have roasted one every year since, which means as of today I have roasted a turkey five times. Five times is not nothing, but I would say I am just beginning to hit my turkey-roasting stride.
Per usual, when I am learning something new, I take copious notes so that I can recall what worked, what didn’t work, and all the little secrets to success for future endeavors. Never has this been more helpful or come in more handy than when roasting a turkey.
I have always said that learning to roast a chicken is the perfect way to learn to roast a turkey because essentially a turkey is just a very large chicken, but even with that knowledge, there are some very turkey-specific tips that you need to know.
If you are planning to roast a turkey this season, you are wise to take into account all seven steps, plan accordingly, and enjoy the fruits of your planning with a delicious, beautiful holiday-worthy bird. Happy roasting!
Roast Turkey In Seven Steps
- 12-14 pound whole frozen turkey (You can certainly buy a fresh bird, in which case you would skip Step One below.)
- lots of Kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 cups chicken stock or white wine
- 2-3 onions, sliced into thick rounds
- 2-3 whole heads of garlic, sliced in half
- 2-3 lemons, sliced in half
- 1 bunch fresh thyme
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Special Equipment and Considerations…
- a sheet tray to hold the bird while it brines
- room in your fridge to hold the turkey on the sheet tray
- paper towels
- disposable gloves (if you are squeamish)
- a roasting pan large enough to hold the bird
- kitchen twine
- carving knife (make sure it is sharp!)
STEP ONE: THAW THE BIRD
- A word of wisdom: this step takes forever. Plan accordingly!
- The correct way to thaw a turkey is in the refrigerator, not at room temperature. In my experience, thawing a frozen bird in the fridge takes up to four days. Four days. And since we will be dry brining the bird for up to two days before we roast it (see Step Two below), it is possible that you would need to take your bird out of the freezer on the Friday before Thanksgiving.
- Bottom line…I usually buy my turkey on Thursday, begin thawing it on Friday, dry brine in on Tuesday, and roast it on Thursday.
STEP TWO: DRY BRINE THE BIRD
- Dry brining is a process where we rub a mixture of salt (and, in this case, brown sugar) all over the bird. The salt draws out the moisture, which then mixes with the salt on the surface of the bird, creating a salty liquid. This salty liquid is then reabsorbed back into the muscle fibers of the bird via osmosis, where the salt seasons the actual meat instead of just sitting on the surface. Dry brining is magical.
- In a small bowl, mix together 1/2 cup Morton’s Kosher salt and 1/4 cup brown sugar.
- Remove the bird from the bag and dispose of any packaging, wire trusses, plastic pop-up timers, and internal organs. This is a mess process, and I usually wear gloves. Make sure you have a trash can nearby as well as several piles of paper towels to grab.
- Once you have the bird out of the bag, sitting on a sheet tray, dry the bird off, both inside and outside. Rub the salt and sugar mixture all over the surface and cavity of the bird. Try to use the entire mixture.
- Store the bird, uncovered (yes, uncovered!), in the fridge for a minimum of 12 hours and up to 2 days. I highly recommend using the entire 2 days. It really makes for an incredibly seasoned finished turkey.As your turkey sits in the fridge, it is normal for it to begin to collect a little bit of moisture on the tray. It is also normal for the skin to begin to look thin, dehydrated, and turn a darker color. This is a good sign that things are working!
STEP THREE: TAKE THE BIRD OUT OF THE FRIDGE
- On the day you are roasting your bird, remove it from the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for one hour (and honestly, an hour and a half is even better). Walk away. Do something else. Let it be.
STEP FOUR: GET THE BIRD READY FOR THE OVEN
- Preheat the oven to 375.
- In the bottom of your roasting pan, place the sliced onions and the 2 cups of either stock or wine.
- Dry the bird with paper towels. Put the sliced garlic heads, sliced lemons, and thyme into the cavity of the turkey. If they won’t all fit, feel free to put them in the bottom of the roasting pan with the onions.
- Use a long piece of kitchen twine to tie the legs together. If you can wrap the twine all the way around the wings, go for it. If you can’t, don’t worry. It will be fine. The most important thing is to tie the legs together.
- Place the bird on top of the onion slices. Bathe it in the melted butter, and give it a final sprinkle of salt (1 teaspoon) and pepper (1/2 teaspoon).
STEP FIVE: ROAST THE BIRD
- Place your oven-ready turkey into the oven. If your turkey is small, it might be done in 90 minutes. If it is larger, it might take two hours. Your oven will be the determining factor on how long it takes.
- The only way to know if a turkey is fully cooked is to take its temperature with a meat thermometer. Place it down into the deepest part of the leg muscle. You are wanting it to reach 165.
STEP SIX: REST THE BIRD
- Once the turkey reaches 165 degrees, take it out of the oven. You are going to be tempted to cut into it, but don’t do that. Let it rest for one hour. Yes, one hour. Trust me.
- If it makes you feel more comfortable, you can cover the bird with foil, but I usually leave mine uncovered. This turkey will still be piping hot after an hour. Meanwhile, your oven is now free to cook other side dishes. Hooray!
STEP SEVEN: CARVE THE BIRD
- I have three pieces of advice when it comes to carving a turkey. Make sure your knife is super sharp. Allow more time for carving than you think you need. Wear an apron because this step is messy.
- Learning to carve a turkey is best done by watching. I highly recommend doing a bit of You Tube research before the big day. You can do this!
- Once the bird is carved and put on a platter, cover it tightly with plastic wrap to keep it nice and moist. Right before serving, remove the plastic and enjoy!