How to Roast a Turkey

Dear Home Ec 101,
In the bottom half of my freezer lies a turkey that’s been sitting
there since mid-December. We got it free as a grocery store give away and I
can’t bring myself to defrost that bird yet. Mostly because I don’t know
what to do with it once I get it defrosted. I’ve never cooked a turkey by
myself before.

So how exactly DOES on prepare a turkey? Any special tips, hints, what NOT
to do?

~I’m No Turkey

Heather says:

Cooks will argue from dawn until dusk about the best way to prepare a turkey. For special occasions, I am a huge fan of deep frying. Pardon me, is my neck showing? You will be proud to know I have neither set anything on fire nor overflowed the pot, ever. I learned the technique from a friend who has since passed on, but I think of him on the holidays. I’ll cover this method on another occasion, since it’s not exactly convenient. Aside from frying, this is my personal favorite. Although I am sure there will be plenty who are willing to pitch their ideas or just disagree vehemently on principle.

When defrosting your turkey be sure to allow it enough time to defrost completely. Allow 24 hours for every 5lbs of turkey to thaw in a refrigerator set at 40F. Just as an aside, in a deep freeze your turkey is safe almost indefinitely, it just won’t feed your family in that state. Always check defrosted meat for “off odors.” A raw poultry smell is fine (not exactly pleasant in and of itself), but anything rancid or foul needs to be tossed, it isn’t worth the risk.

For my turkeys I use:

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/4 cup Cajun seasoning (I especially like Chef Prudhomme’s Blackened Redfish Magic)
  • 1 rib celery, 1 carrot, 1 onion – cut into large chunks
  • roasting pan large enough for your turkey- If you don’t own one the aluminum ones are fine.
  • aluminum foil
  • cooking twine – for a nicer presentation, it’s not a necessity

Rinse the turkey under cold running water and pat dry. Take this time to remove the giblets (my opinion still hasn’t changed) and discard any missed pinfeathers.

Adjust your oven racks to ensure the bird has plenty of room in its roasting pan and preheat the oven to 500F-no, that’s not a typo- soften the stick of butter. Fine, so this recipe isn’t going to be endorsed by the American Heart Association. With clean hands slather the bird with the butter, rub it into all the nooks and crannies, and as far under the skin as you can get. Now do the same with the Cajun seasoning, sprinkling any remaining seasoning into the cavity.

Loosely insert the onion, carrot, and celery into the cavity – do NOT pack it- and truss the bird. Place the turkey in your roasting pan and wash your hands thoroughly. When the oven reaches 500F place the bird inside and set a timer for 20 minutes. After the time has elapsed, reduce the heat to 350F and tent the breast with aluminum foil.

*Novice Tip* Tenting means to loosely cover! Do not tuck the foil tightly against the meat.

Your turkey is done when the breast reaches a temperature of 165, the thigh should be 170. For a 14-16lb bird expect 2 to 2 1/2 hours cooking time. Remove your pan from the oven and allow the bird to sit loosely covered for at least ten minutes before carving.

You may freeze leftover cooked meat for future recipes and don’t forget that the carcass can be used for an excellent stock.



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  2. Margo on March 27, 2007 at 12:43 pm

    Oooh, I’m not a big meat eater, but a deep fried turkey is oh so good. My dad fries one every Thanksgiving. Now I have a recipe all my own. Thanks Heather!

  3. Heather on March 27, 2007 at 11:37 am

    Rachel, the upside down method will definitely give a tender breast. Personally, I find it feels more like stewed than roasted meat, just my personal quirk. I so love a nicely browned bird.

  4. Rachel on March 26, 2007 at 10:10 pm

    The husband accidentally cooked one upside down in one of those turkey bags, and it turned out very tender! You ladies would be proud of me – I managed to make a decent gravy on the fly afterward using only vaguely remembered details from watching my mama.

  5. Busy Mom on March 26, 2007 at 10:24 pm

    That is hilarious! I just got my work-issued turkey out of the freezer yesterday!

  6. Tuesday on March 26, 2007 at 5:14 pm

    This is almost exactly how I cook my bird. Sigh, now I want turkey.

  7. Heather on March 26, 2007 at 10:11 am

    Alton Brown is the only reason I wish I had cable.

  8. imabug on March 26, 2007 at 10:05 am

    I do the additional step of brining my bird (from Alton Brown’s Romancing the Bird Good Eats episode,,,FOOD_9936_8389,00.html) overnight before roasting. I’ve been doing it for the past 5 years or so and getting rave reviews at each occasion. The brining helps add some additional flavour to the bird and helps it stay a little juicier, although as long as you cook it to the proper temp, you should always end up with a reasonably juicy and tasty turkey.

    An invaluable tool for any kind of roasting is a probe thermometer. I don’t roast anything without one anymore.

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