How to Roast a Turkey

Heather says:

I won’t lie. My hands down favorite way to cook turkey is to head outside and plop that bad boy into peanut oil. However, that’s not an option for many of you. Since turkey is running at $0.69 lbs and my 6 year old has a hollow leg, I call that a bargain I can’t pass up.

How to Roast a Turkey

When it comes down to it, a turkey isn’t much more than a giant chicken, don’t be intimidated. About an hour before cook time set the turkey out to begin coming to room temperature. You do remember our recent conversation about not jumping food past a temperature stage, right? While the turkey is getting comfortable find a long piece of cooking twine, a large square of aluminum foil, 2 – 3 TBSP of butter, and Cajun seasoning. You’ll also need a large roasting pan with either a rack, or in my case an inverted 8″ cake pan.  While you’re at it grab:

  • a carrot
  • an onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • a rib of celery.

Double check to make sure the giblet packet has been removed from the flap of skin where the head used to be and that the neck and tail are no longer in the body cavity. Crank the oven to 500F. Just as a warning, you’ll get a little bit of smoke with this method, but it’s only the butter dripping onto the super hot roasting pan, NOT the turkey burning. I promise. Leave the door shut, I’m not making this stuff up.

Scout’s honor. I was one, once.

Wash, but don’t peel the carrots, onion, garlic, and celery. Cut the vegetables into large chunks (except the garlic, leave that whole) and toss them loosely into the cavity of the turkey.

Truss the bird. I thought about doing a tutorial, but I found my hero Alton Brown has one that can’t be beat.

The point of trussing the bird is to ensure the most even roasting possible.

Now you’re going to give the turkey a rubdown before putting it into the oven. Grab the 2 – 3 TBSPs of butter and grease it up.

Buttered and Cajuned

Excuse the blur, pretend it’s artsy and I meant to do it like that.

Generously rub the bird down with the Cajun seasoning, too. Be sure to rub under the skin where possible, get into all the nooks and crannies.

Place the seasoned bird in the roasting pan, on the rack or cake pan and place on the lowest level in the 500F oven.

This works best if you have a thermometer you can leave in the thigh of the bird, but I broke mine. . .

Set a timer for 20 minutes. When the timer goes off, place the large square of aluminum foil over the bird, but do not tuck it into place, this just keeps the breast from getting too brown. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 and cook for a total of 2 – 2.5 hours for a 14 – 16lb bird. If your turkey is larger than 16lbs, it will take approximately 20 minutes per lb longer, but begin checking the temperature 30 minutes prior to the expected time. And if your turkey is on the small side, begin checking it 20 minutes early for each pound under 14lbs.

Remove the bird from the oven when the temperature reaches 161F. The temperature will continue to rise for a while after removal. Let the turkey rest, covered and undisturbed for 30 minutes before carving.

Now, ooh and aah over your accomplishment.

I told you this was something you could handle.


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  3. Tina on November 16, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    So what do you do with the veggies in the cavity?

  4. julie on November 16, 2009 at 3:34 am

    yes that's how I think of it-a giant chicken… roast turkey and can do a mighty fine one! love it….can't wait!!! I look forward to thanksgiving sooo much!

  5. Bryan on November 14, 2009 at 4:28 am

    I feel like having it now only….Great blog!!

  6. milly on November 13, 2009 at 10:21 am

    I just cant get turkey right. it may just be me though – I adore the juicy wet dark meat under the bird and avoid the dry breast. – Has anybody ever got a juicy breast meat?

    • Heather on November 13, 2009 at 8:29 am

      Milly, there will always be texture differences between the white and dark meat, regardless of the preparation. My husband is the dark meat fan here while I prefer the white. It’s a matter of personal preference. The meat will always be different due to the different ways the muscles are used. There are those who swear roasting the turkey upside down yields moister breast meat and brining or injecting marinade would also yield moister white meat. In your case, I would consider trying duck(or perhaps goose) as that meat is darker, more like the legs and thighs of turkey. Or, many grocery stores sell turkey drumsticks, consider roasting several of these rather than a whole turkey.

    • Tinkerschnitzel on November 13, 2009 at 3:14 pm

      Milly, that's why I use the oven bags. They trap the moisture in so that the breast is really moist. The problem is always that the skin is not crisp. Maybe I could put it under the broiler for a few minutes after cooking?

  7. Becky on November 12, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    I love the fried Turkey too, but this year I am going with the oven. There will be Cajun seasoning, husband always sneaks that in.Why I never thought of using butter I will never know, Thanks for the advice. But I have to admit I will look for that little pop up thing a ma jig.

  8. Gypsie on November 13, 2009 at 1:27 am

    I just dont care for fried turkey but my recipe for a picture perfect turkey is incredibly simple.

    Brine the Turkey as part of the defrosting stage. (Brine: water, salt, sugar) Stuff turkey with two quartered apples, large chunks of carrot, celery and onion. Place on rack in roasting pan, add a few more large vegetables to the pan in about 1/2" water. Stick the thermometer in the breast, shut the oven door and relax with a glass of wine until the thermometer tells you its done.

    • Heather Solos on November 14, 2009 at 1:41 pm

      We all have our preferences, which is why I'm putting a couple out there this year. Perhaps around Christmas (if I'm not completely insane by then) I'll put out another method. Sometimes I think it'd be nice to have a test kitchen and staff.

  9. Tinkerschnitzel on November 12, 2009 at 6:02 pm

    Hmm. I have always put my turkey in those roasting bags, and they come out great. I might have to try it the old fashioned way. lol It sounds yummy. 🙂

  10. Caroline on November 12, 2009 at 9:37 pm

    back to temperature jumps for aminute. last night i made a chicken casserole that got started late and took longer than expected to cook. So by the time it was done I'd eaten a frozen dinner and was ready for bed, but of course I couldn't just put the casserole directly into the fridge, nor could i leave it out on the counter to cool, chances are one of my dogs would have helped himself before I got it in the fridge. So I stayed up an extra 45 minutes or so until the casserole was 'coolish' (i.e. I could tick my finger in it). I know I probably jumped a temp stage – but how long do you need to wait once the item comes out of the oven, before you can put it in the fridge? If I remember correctly, 2 hours is the cutoff for leaving food out at room temperature.

    • HeatherSolos on November 14, 2009 at 1:39 pm

      You are right, two hours is the cut off. You handled it just as I would have. That's one of those for best results rules and sometimes, sleep wins out in those cases. 😉

  11. Eugene Mah on November 12, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    oh, and a thermometer with remote probe is a must for roasting anything. Pay no attention to that pop up thingy in the turkey.

    • J Wynia on November 12, 2009 at 4:05 pm

      That popup thingy is just a spring loaded bit of plastic that's held in place by a bit of wax. That wax is "supposed" to melt at 180F and thus release the spring. Pretty low-tech and not very reliable.

  12. Eugene Mah on November 12, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    After my first Good Eats inspired turkey (Romancing the Bird) filled up the oven with smoke and set off fire alarms, I started filling the bottom of my roasting pan with water a couple of mm deep (~1/8"). It helps keep the smoke down during the first high T roasting phase.

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