Everyone has their own memories of Thanksgiving when they were growing up. Mine are of waking up in the morning to the amazing smells of roasting turkey and the hour or two of waiting impatiently, for the Macy's parade to start on TV. My mother always prepared her turkey and stuffing (not just bread, but oyster stuffing, too) the night before and would get up in the wee hours of the morning and trudge sleepily down to the kitchen to put the bird in the oven. She cooked it the "low and slow way", at a temperature of 300 to 325 degrees F, for what seemed at the time, like days instead of hours. In reality, it was proably more like 6 to 8 hours.
When I grew up, got married and took over the hosting duties of the day for our large extended family, I did all that I could to learn new ways of preparing and cooking the turkey and tried more than a few different methods in an effort to obtain the best possible result. I loved my Mom and always will, but her turkey was usually a tiny bit on the dry side. I knew that there had to be a way to cook that bird all the way through and still end up with juicy, tender, flavorful meat. My wonderful Hubbs joined me in that quest, once he developed his own love of cooking and together, we discovered what we believe is a perfectly roasted turkey.
What we found after several years of experimentation, was that the juciest, most tender roasted turkey, is achieved through brining the bird first and then roasting it for a shorter time and at somewhat higher temperatures than my Mom used.
Important: If you're going to brine the turkey you want to start one day ahead for a fresh turkey or two days ahead for a frozen bird.
I've never taken the time to document the brining process in photos, but the video below will tell you everything you need to know about properly brining the bird. I'll follow the video up with the steps that we take from that point forward.
Another important step in roasting a flavorful, juicy turkey is to season it well and to lubricate it (for lack of better terminology) so that the breast meat is both delicious and most importantly, not dried out. A great way to achieve this, is to use a mixture of butter and herbs (often called a compound butter) that's placed between the skin and the flesh. Compound butters are very easy to make.
(serves 15+ people)
- 1 Turkey (18 to 20 Lbs)
- 4 Large Stalks Celery, cut into thirds
- 4 Large Carrots, cut in half or thirds
- 2 Medium Yellow Onions, unpeeled and quartered
- 8 Tbls Butter (1 Stick)
- Assorted Fresh Herbs (see below for suggestions)
- Salt & Pepper
- A Roll of Kitchen String or Twine
- "Instant Read" Meat Thermometer or Digital Temperature Probe
- More Celery, Carrots & Onions, in place of a rack (*see note in step 11)
Pre-heat your oven to 500 Degrees Farenheit
1. For an 18 to 20 pound turkey, one stick (8 tablespoons) of butter is generally plenty, but if your turkey is a couple of pounds larger or you want to have extra just to be safe, you can soften another 4 tablespoons. (1/2 stick) The herbs can be any combination that you like. You could even use a single herb, if you prefer.
3. Place the softened butter, chopped herbs, a teaspoon of salt and a half teaspoon of pepper in a small mixing bowl and stir well to combine.
4. This can be done a day or two ahead by making the mixture and putting it into an airtight container and refrigerating it. You'll just need to take it out of the fridge about 30 to 40 minutes before use to allow it to come back up to room temperature. If you're going to be using it right away, you can just set it aside while you prepare the turkey.
Place the turkey on a large clean plastic cutting board or you can set it in a freshly scrubbed kitchen sink if you don't have he counter space. Pat the bird dry with paper towels, making sure to get it as dry as you can, or the butter won't adhere to the flesh or the skin of the turkey and it also won't brown as nicely. Don't forget to dry the nooks and crannies under the wings and legs and make sure there's no measurable liquid inside either of the cavities of the bird.
7. Taking a fairly good sized scoop of the butter in your fingers, start from the "back" toward the neck end of the turkey, being careful not to go out the other side and spread the butter under the skin as evenly as you can, moving toward yourself.
8. Make sure to spread some of the butter down into the sides and between the skin on the legs and thighs as well.
10. Fill the cavity of the turkey with the cut up vegetables and throw a little salt and pepper in there as well. You can also add a cut up apple or two, or if you like a little citrus flavor, you can use a lemon that's been cut into quarters. Use any leftover stems or leaves from the herbs as well. You can tie them up with some kitchen string if you want to, but it isn't necessary, sice all of the goodies inside the bird will be removed and discarded after cooking.
13. Cooking time: OK... This is where it can seem a little tricky, but don't be intimidated. It's really not so difficult when you follow the steps thatt I've outlined or that are in the (very short) videos I've linked. Your goal is for the turkey to reach an internal temperature of 160 - 165 degrees. Do NOT rely on the "pop-up timers" that come inserted in the turkey. In our experience, by the time it pops, the turkey is already overcooked. Trust me on this one.
Don't forget that you can print this (or any) recipe using the "Print Friendly" button at the foot of each post. It's a great little feature that allows you to remove any pictures (or any text that isn't relevant to the recipe) before printing. That can save on ink and paper & in today's economy, who doesn't want to save a little cash when you can?!