Holiday Feature


Chapter 6. Roasting a Turkey

Turkey Prep

Earlier cookbooks recommended longer cooking times, but with today's turkeys bred with more white meat, such times will result in dry, overcooked birds. Follow our tips for roasting and checking the temperature to achieve a perfectly cooked bird.

  • Step 1: Place the bird breast-side up on an oiled flat or v-shaped rack in a 12x17 inch roasting pan, or as recommended by your recipe.

    Turkey Tip: Beware of aluminum roasting pans! Most of these pans are not sturdy enough to carry a 12 pound or more turkey. They can buckle and cave in, and have been known to cause injuries by collapsing under the weight. Make sure your pan is sturdy enough to handle the bird safely.

  • Step 2: If using an oven-safe meat thermometer, insert it in the inner thigh near the breast, but without touching the bone. If using an instant-read thermometer, wait until the turkey is nearly cooked before testing. Don't rely on plastic pop-up timers—they aren't very accurate.
  • Step 3: Coat the skin with softened or melted butter or oil and baste the bird every 30 minutes, or according to the recipe. Or follow our suggestions below for keeping the breast meat moist.
Q: How do I keep the breast meat moist when cooking?

A: The best way is to cook the turkey at a low temperature like 325 degrees F. And to remove it from the oven when just done. While some people feel basting is unnecessary since it doesn't permeate the skin, others recommend basting and these techniques for keeping the bird moist:

  • Method #1
    Soak a double layer of cheesecloth in melted butter or canola oil. Drape the cloth over the turkey while it roasts. The skin will be a rich, golden brown; if you refer a crispy skin, remove the cheesecloth 30 minutes before taking the bird from the oven.
  • Method #2
    Baste the bird with melted butter and/or pan juices every 30-40 minutes while cooking. Or use a nonstick spray. (NOTE: Allow extra cooking time whenever you open and close the oven.)
  • Method #3
    Loosen the skin of the bird and press the stuffing between the skin and the meat; the surface will look lumpy, but the breast meat will be remarkably moist.
  • Method #4
    Brine the turkey overnight, refrigerated, in 2 cups kosher salt dissolved in 2 gallons water. The meat stays moister but it also takes less time to cook, so check the internal temperature earlier than usual.

Turkey Tip: To prevent the skin from overbrowning, shield the breast with a tented piece of foil, then remove it the last 45-60 minutes of cooking to allow the skin to brown.

  • Step 4: Set your timer—you'll want to start checking your bird abut 3/4's of the way into its estimated cooking time, based on the recipe or our cooking chart. When the timer goes off, check the bird using the thermometer. If the bird is done, remove it from the oven and set it sit 20-30 minutes before carving so the flesh reabsorbs the meat juices.

Turkey Tip: While the turkey is resting before carving, take this time to make the gravy. By the time the gravy is done, the turkey should be just about ready to serve.

  • Step 5: Remove all of the stuffing from the cavities, if you have stuffed the bird. For health reasons, never store stuffing in the bird.
  • Step 6: Carve the bird and give thanks—it's time to serve your Thanksgiving meal!

FoodWine's Perfect Turkey Handbook

Preface: Safety Tips Before Cooking

Chapter 1. Buying a Turkey

  • What size turkey should I buy?
  • Is it better to buy one large turkey or two small ones?
  • Should I buy fresh or frozen?
  • What about turkeys that have been injected with fats and seasonings?
  • What about turkey parts and frozen stuffed turkeys?

Chapter 2. Storing an Uncooked Turkey

  • How long can a whole turkey be kept frozen?
  • How long can a fresh turkey be kept refrigerated?

Chapter 3. Thawing a Frozen Turkey

  • Thawing Rules
  • Thawing Methods
  • Turkey Thawing Charts

Chapter 4. Stuffing (or Not Stuffing) a Turkey

  • Is it best to cook the stuffing inside the bird, or separately in a baking dish?
  • If I do want to stuff the bird, what's the best way to do it?
  • How much stuffing do I need?
  • Do I need to close up the cavity after it has been stuffed?

Chapter 5. Preparing the Turkey for Roasting

  • Preparations Step-by-Step
  • Stuffing & Trussing
  • Do I need to truss the bird's legs, or can I just roast it the extra effort?

Chapter 6. Roasting the Turkey

  • Roasting Step-by-Step
  • How do I keep the breast meat moist when cooking?

Chapter 7. How to Tell When It's Done

  • Use a Meat Thermometer
  • My turkey comes with a plastic pop-up timer. Can't I use that instead?
  • How accurate are "recommended cooking times"?
  • How can I tell when the turkey is done?
  • USDA Timetable for Turkey Roasted at 325 degrees F.

Chapter 8. Making the Gravy

  • Rules for Making Gravy
  • Making the Basic Gravy
  • Additions to Gravy

Chapter 9. Carving the Bird

  • Basic Carving steps
  • Removing the Thigh, Drumstick & Wings
  • Carving the breast

Chapter 10. Storing Leftovers & Food Safety After Cooking

  • Storing leftovers
  • Reheating leftovers


FoodWine's Perfect Turkey Handbook
Using a Meat Thermometer


This page modified November 2006

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