Your Thanksgiving roast is about to get a lot easier!
When the holidays sneak up on us, the first entree almost everyone goes for is the turkey. It certainly is one of the most critical and challenging meals to prep, cook, and serve as it leads the way for the fixings.
So, what is the best way to roast a turkey evenly so that all the parts are cooked thoroughly?
The goal of cooking the perfect turkey is to get the stuffing and breast to 170°F and the rest of the meat to 180°F. It all depends on how you place the turkey in the roaster, breast side up, and how you fold the wings back behind the breast.
One of the challenges of roasting a whole turkey is that the breast can easily overcook in the heat of the oven. To counteract this, you can cover the breast with a small aluminum foil tent when it is 2/3 cooked through.
Use a roaster with low sides to allow hot air to circulate freely and a wire rack to lift the meat out of the dripping juices and prevent it from soaking the bottom. For those who do not have a roaster, here is a simple tip:
You can take aluminum foil and crunch it into a coil shape or use sliced-up vegetables like onions, carrots, or those of the same thickness, to keep the turkey from touching the bottom of the pan.
This process, which allows hot air to cook the bird on the bottom, will keep everything cooking evenly to get the juiciest turkey for the holidays.
Planning and Prepping
Most turkeys are frozen when you buy them at the store. However, if you buy a fresh turkey, you will save time in the preparations in this area.
Thawing the turkey—best done by moving the turkey from the freezer to the lowest shelf of the refrigerator, where it is coldest—takes the longest, and planning is critical during this process.
Thawing is the first thing that is required when prepping: every 5 pounds of turkey takes up to 24 hours to thaw in the refrigerator.
If you want to thaw the turkey out quicker, you will have to place it in cold water and replace the water every 30 minutes. Using a steam oven will also work if you have one, and it will thaw the bird within a few hours.
The size of the oven makes a difference if the turkey will fit inside or not.
Once the turkey is thawed out, you will need to remove everything from the cavity and rinse the turkey well.
Use a couple of paper towels to dry the turkey after rinsing. By now, you will have an idea of how you want to season the turkey, also known as brining.
Brine the Turkey
You have the option of dry brine or wet brine, also known as the process of osmosis.
The salt from the seasoning removes the moisture from the meat, while the seasonings and herbs are reabsorbed to achieve the perfect flavor. This process takes time, and you can keep the meat uncovered in the fridge for one to three days. The longer it rests, the better the flavor will be.
We prefer the dry brine method because it is less messy and takes up less space in the fridge. The dry brine will produce a crispy brown color vs. the wet brine which keeps the skin moist, preventing the crisp texture we all love.
The dry brine consists of one tablespoon of Kosher salt (not table salt, which contains iodine) for up to six pounds. How you season is up to you, but we recommend herbs like rosemary, sage, thyme, and spice it up with freshly ground black pepper. You can also use your favorite rubs or seasoning as long as everything is evenly coated.
The turkey must sit on a roasting rack in a pan to keep it from sitting in any liquid while brining. Use a wooden spoon to get the seasoning under the skin of the thigh, breast, and legs. Cover the rest of the turkey with the brine mixture and tuck the wings back behind the breast.
Truss the Turkey
Trussing the turkey is the one thing you need to get right if even cooking is the goal (wink wink: it always is). It ensures that all the floppy parts of the bird get tucked in tight, which promotes even cooking, keeps the stuffing in place, and makes the bird look more appetizing once cooked.
All you need is some butcher’s twine, the technique demonstrated for Chowhound below by whole-animal butchers Erika Nakamura and Jocelyn Guest of J&E Smallgoods, and a little practice:
Time to Cook the Turkey
When it comes to cooking the turkey, take it out of the fridge an hour before it goes in the oven.
This will bring it to room temperature and prevent steaming, which will add too much moisture to the skin. Remove the top racks in the oven and set the bottom one on the lower third shelf.
Preheat the oven to 450°F for convection roast. While the oven is preheating, coat the turkey with oil or cooking spray and have a sheet of aluminum foil measured to cover the breast when it is time and set it aside. Fill the cavity with half an onion, half head of garlic, parsley, rosemary, thyme, and half a lemon for zestiness.
Before you place the turkey in the oven:
- Melt a stick of butter and spread it evenly with a pastry brush on the outside of the turkey;
- Double-check that the wings are turned behind the breast take some kitchen twine, and tie the legs closed to keep the stuffing inside the cavity;
- For an even cook, use a roasting rack with a pan instead of a deep roasting pan to allow the heat to distribute throughout the turkey.
Place the turkey even on the roasting rack and in the center of the oven. Sear the turkey for thirty minutes at 450°F to promote the Maillard reaction and brown the skin.
When the thirty minutes is up, turn down the oven temperature to 350°F and take the aluminum foil, and put it lightly over the breast to prevent overcooking the top of the bird.
Keep cooking the turkey at 350°F for the next several hours. It takes 15 minutes per pound, so the bigger the turkey, the longer it will stay in the oven. While the turkey is cooking, it gives adequate time to cook the fixings and do other things while waiting for your guests to arrive.
The best way to tell for sure the turkey is done is with a cooking thermometer, and it should read for the stuffing and breast at 170°F and 180°F for everything else. That is the perfect temps for the turkey, but ensure the thickest part is above 165°F for safe measures. Pull the turkey out and make sure no one cuts it till thirty minutes to keep the juices inside.
(To tell if the turkey is done, you will need a good meat thermometer.)
Dos and Don’ts When Roasting a Turkey
These are some tips that will help guide you along the way to cooking the turkey evenly for the perfect juicy flavor.
- Make sure you put the aluminum foil on top of the breast after thirty minutes of searing. The breast is the drier meat and can be challenging to swallow if this step is forgotten.
- Brine and coat with butter or oil. This will eliminate basting.
- Choose a turkey that was locally raised for the best flavor.
- Do not use a deep roasting pan. The turkey will not cook evenly.
- Do not add water to the bottom of the pan. This will prevent the browning and crisping method.
- Do not skip the step of searing. This will make a dry turkey.
Enjoy the Meal
This part needs no explanation because we love to eat! We hope you follow these steps to a more evenly cooked turkey and find it easier than some older methods.
Turkeys are awkward to cook and can be intimidating when it comes to cooking, but as you can see, planning and breaking everything down makes it so much easier.