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How to Roast a Turkey

When my husband and I moved to North Dakota five years ago, we suddenly found ourselves celebrating our first Thanksgiving without our families nearby, and I was determined to roast my first turkey and start a new tradition. When I was growing up, my family always ordered a smoked turkey from a local restaurant, so I’d had zero instruction on preparing a turkey the “old fashioned” way! I poured through several food websites and recipes, and finally decided that I’d make Tyler Florence’s oven-roasted turkey with sage butter. It was good, but over the past five years, I’ve sort of combined elements of that recipe with some other elements of my own to create an amazing roasted turkey–great for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any other special occasion–that beats out a store-bought smoked turkey any day!

Below, I will walk you through the steps, from start to finish. Don’t be intimidated or influenced by what you hear from everyone else (turkeys must be brined, oven-roasted turkey is try, etc.), or be afraid to try it out if you’re a first-timer. Jump right in and have fun! There’s really no one perfect way to roast a turkey, but there are plenty of “wrong” turns to be made if you’re not sure what you’re doing, so hopefully this helps.

  • Select your turkey at the grocery store (or wherever else it is that you buy your turkey). If you purchased it frozen, start thawing it in the refrigerator AT LEAST 3 days before you plan to cook it, if not longer for larger turkeys. Please don’t thaw your turkey at room temperature on your countertop–I don’t want you or your guests to get sick! :)
  • Okay, so now it’s turkey-cooking day and your turkey has thawed properly in the refrigerator. Make sure your kitchen sink is empty and clean, and place the turkey, wrapper and all into the sink. Remove the wrapper and discard, then remove the giblet packet and the gizzards from the turkey cavity. There’s usually one packet in the “front cavity” and one in the back. If you don’t plan to use these (I never do), they may also be discarded.
  • Next, rinse the turkey thoroughly with lukewarm water. Yes, your hands are going to get icky with turkey slime, if they haven’t already. ;-) Make sure the cavities get rinsed and drained, as well. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels, then place in your roasting pan.
  • Brush the turkey with olive oil, then generously rub kosher salt all over the turkey, inside and out. You may also use any other seasonings you like–I normally go pretty heavy with the black pepper and garlic powder.
  • Next, take about 2-3 sticks of softened butter, and “smoosh” them under the skin, between the skin and the breast meat, on the top side of the turkey. Here’s the interesting part–if you want a more unique turkey that isn’t run-of-the-mill, take some pomegranate molasses (found at specialty or international foods stores) and glaze the turkey with that before it goes in the oven.
  • Okay, now we’re ready for the oven. If you have a meat thermometer, now is the time to insert it–place it on the thickest part of the turkey, around the thigh, going as deep as possible without touching the bone. Bake at 325°F for about 12-15 minutes per pound. There are tons of turkey cooking guidelines out there (as well as the wrapper your turkey came in), and they are all pretty reliable. The important thing is making your sure your turkey gets to 165°F.
  • The key to having a moist and delicious turkey is to baste. It gets to be a pain, but basting with a mixture of melted butter and honey (pick your poison – you can baste with just about anything!) every 10-15 minutes works wonders. Once the top of the turkey (breast area) gets nice and golden brown, you’ll want to put a foil tent over it to protect it from over-cooking. (Here is where I confess to “cheating” this past Thanksgiving and using one of those oven bags. It turned out great–no basting!–but something about cooking my turkey in a plastic bag gave me the heebie-jeebies, and I’ll probably not use it next year. However, if you’re averse to frequent basting, give it a try!)
  • Once your turkey has reached 165°F, remove it from the oven and let it rest at least 30 minutes. Carve, and place the carved turkey pieces back into the drippings before serving. It will keep the meat super-moist and flavorful. We have been known to cook the turkey the night before, carve it, and store it overnight in the refrigerator in the drippings, then heating everything up in the oven the next day. Talk about delicious!

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One Response to “How to Roast a Turkey”

  1. Amber says:

    I cook my turkey breast side down, so that all the juices stay right around the breast and keep it super moist. I also add a stick of butter in the cavity along with a lemon and onion cut up, adds a TON of unexpected flavor.

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