Looking for the “best” way to cook a turkey is like trying to find the “perfect” diet plan. There is no best or perfect technique, but there are specific things you can do to increase your chances of success. Would you expect to lose weight by eating junk food and not following some sort of exercise plan? Of course not. Similarly, don’t expect to cook a delicious turkey if you start with a hormone and salt-injected commercial mega-bird and “The Best Ever Turkey Recipe” from the internet.
Instead, we’d like to dispel some myths and give you some tips that will help make the process less intimidating and just plain easier. We’ll even break it down into a fool-proof, 5 step method for roasting turkey and provide a video link that shows you exactly how to break it down to serve.
Preheat oven to 425°.
Dry skin thoroughly and heavily season the entire surface of the bird with the LMC Dry Brine. You can do this a day ahead of time to allow your bird to air-dry in the refrigerator. This will make your skin more crispy.
Place a digital probe thermometer (the type with a remote-outside the oven-display, so you can keep an eye on the temp without opening the oven) into the thickest part of the thigh, (make sure you’re not touching the bone as this will affect the ability of the thermometer to properly measure the temperature of the meat).
Baste the bird every hour or so (with drippings, added rendered lard or butter). When basting, take the turkey out of the oven and close the oven door. Leaving the oven open while basting will drop the internal temperature of the oven, which can dramatically increase the cooking time.
Roast the bird for 15 minutes at 425°, then turn the oven down to 325° to finish or until the digital thermometer reads 160°-165° (about 2-3.5 hours, depending on size of bird). Remember to rest the turkey 30-45 minutes before carving.
There are too many variables to give you the “perfect recipe.” The size of your turkey, the calibration of your oven, temperature of your turkey going into the oven, what type of turkey, etc. This is when knowing and trusting the process is more reliable than a “recipe”.
If you know how to roast a chicken, you can cook a turkey. It’s really that easy. A turkey is identical in shape, composition and requires virtually the same handling as a chicken. So essentially, the same basic methods of cooking apply to both. Think of any recipe that works for a chicken, you can do it on a turkey. The only real difference is the size, which just means the turkey will take longer to cook than a chicken.
Get yourself a good digital probe thermometer. You want the type that can remain in your bird while it cooks, with the temperature gauge on the exterior of the oven. This thermometer from ThermoPro is a great option. With this type of thermometer, you don’t have to open the oven to check the temperature. Remember, “if you’re lookin’, you ain’t cookin’!” Then, it’s just about monitoring and giving it enough time to get to the correct temperature (160°-170° degrees at the thickest part of the thigh).
Heritage turkeys like we sell at LMC tend to be a bit leaner (different fat distribution) and smaller (more active from pasture-life) than commercially-raised turkeys. You’ll notice our birds are longer with larger legs and more natural-shaped breasts. That’s because unlike conventionally-raised turkeys, Heritage birds are not genetically modified to grow giant breasts as quickly as possible. Heritage birds are free to roam the pasture, which develops their legs more like a wild turkey, and because they are not given growth-hormones or over-fed to quickly increase their size, they have less fat. All this means that your Heritage turkey will cook in 2-3 hours at the most. So keep this in mind as you plan your cooking for the day.
I mean, you can roast a turkey at 225° for 6 hours, but is it necessary or even more desirable? The short answer is, no. The theory here is that if you cook it slower and lower you will get better browning on the skin and more time to break down the connective tissue in the dark meat. However, cooking it longer means you have a much higher likelihood of drying out the white meat, especially with Heritage birds. What’s more, this method ties up the oven for an excessive amount of time. Oh, and who wants to start handling a giant, raw yard-bird at 8am anyway? That’s 3 strikes—it’s out—for the slow and low method.
We get it, it’s a pain in the tail-feathers and it’s a mess. This is one of the reasons we created the Larder Meat Co. Dry-brine. Brining your turkey is an effective way to get flavor into the meat, but does little for tenderness or perception of “juicy-ness”. In fact, because brine draws water out of the meat (a processes called “osmosis,” salt goes in and moisture comes out), it can actually make the meat more dense, which also makes it easier to overcook. Just make sure to heavily season the skin, take advantage of the rendered fat for basting the skin, and don’t forget the flavorful sauces like gravy and cranberry sauce (layering flavors is always better than over-seasoning).
Seriously, it’s completely normal to have some red close to the bone, especially with Heritage turkeys. Because they are more active birds, they tend to have darker leg meat and more blood in the thigh muscles. The vast majority of harmful bacteria is killed at temperatures between 140° and 165°. If however you absolutely cannot tolerate any amount of red in the thigh, refer to the next tip.
Start by removing one thigh at the hip joint, this is the last spot on the bird to have any red left. If you start separating the leg and can tell that the meat on the bone is still very soft and red, pour yourself one more Negroni and pop that bird back in the oven for another 30 minutes. Nobody really likes eating at 3 in the afternoon anyway (sorry, Mom).
Resting your turkey does a few things - first, it gives residual heat time to finish “carryover cooking”. This means that when you remove your turkey at the internal temperature of 165°, it will continue to cook for another 10° or so, before starting to drop back down. You also do not want to cut into a really hot turkey, because the fat is so hot that it will immediately run out of the tissue at each slice, which will dry out the surface of the meat. Think about cutting a slice of butter through the wrapper, this works at room temperature but not if it’s warm. Similarly, by allowing the turkey to rest for a minimum of 30-40 minutes until the temperature is more like 145°-150°, more of the liquified fat will have tempered and will stay in the tissue. Also, the turkey will be much easier to handle during carving.
Fear not The Carve and carry a sharp knife. Remember Tip #2? Yeah, it’s just a big chicken, so don’t be afraid to portion it like one. Oh, and always…ALWAYS, use a sharp knife when slicing meat. This is especially important when carving a large portion like a whole turkey. You want your knife to go exactly where you are slicing, so having a good edge is imperative, especially when you are carving out that gargantuan oyster and slicing between the joints to remove the legs and drumsticks. Watch the video below a few times before you go after it and the next time someone asks, “who’s going to carve the turkey?!”, just give Grandpa a wink and make sure he gets the oysters in recognition of his decades of service behind the carving knife.
For the herb-roux (thickener) - This can be done several days in advance
For the gravy - This is done while the turkey is resting
Melt butter in heavy-bottom sauce pan on medium-high heat.
When the butter starts to bubble, add herbs and lightly toast to release their aroma.
Whisk in flour until throughly incorporated and the flour/herb mixture is golden brown. This is the herb “roux” and will be used to thicken and flavor your gravy. Chill roux until ready to use. This can be done several days in advance.
While your turkey rests, place roasting pan with drippings over 2 burners and turn on medium-high heat.
As the drippings heat and slightly reduce, scrape any browned bits with a wooden spoon from the roasting pan and incorporate into the drippings.
Whisk in the herb roux, a few chunks at a time, breaking up any chunks with your fingers to throughly incorporate.
Cook roux/drippings for one minute and then gradually whisk in stock. Bring to a simmer and cook while stirring until mixture begins to thicken. Continue stirring and cooking for about 5 minutes or until you cook off the taste of flour. If the mixture gets too thick, add more stock, too thin—reduce more.
Heat mixture until the gravy will coat the back of a spoon.
If you’d like, strain the gravy at this time (optional).
Add the sherry, cider vinegar, salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Hold gravy in a warm spot on your oven until ready to serve.