THE LMC DEFINITIVE GUIDE FOR COOKING & CARVING A TURKEY
Looking for the “best” way to cook a turkey, is like trying to find the “perfect” diet. From the type of bird, to the oven, to the cook, there are simply too many variables to say any one method is the best, but there are some pro-chef rules we’d like to share with you to increase your chances of success.
First, our simple 5-step method for roasting your turkey breaks down the cooking process into the most fundamental steps.
Next, we’ll dispel some myths and provide 10 key tips that will help make the whole process less intimidating and far less complicated.
Finally, make sure to check out our carving tutorial video at the end of this post that details exactly how to portion your turkey.
HOW TO ROAST A WHOLE TURKEY IN 5 EASY STEPS
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.
Prepping, Cooking, and Carving
Our Top 10 Tips for Turkey Day Success
- There is no “best” recipe for cooking a turkey, instead we focus on the process. The size of your turkey, the calibration of your oven, the surface and internal temperature of your turkey going into the oven, and even the breed of your specific turkey are all factors that come in to play when roasting a bird this size. But don’t let the scope (or size) of this culinary endeavor scare you! This is when knowing and trusting the process is more reliable than a “recipe”.
- It’s just like a chicken, only bigger. If you know how to roast a chicken, you can cook a turkey. It’s really that easy. A turkey is almost identical in shape, musculoskeletal composition, and essentially requires all the same handling and cooking methods as a whole chicken. Pretty much any recipe or technique for cooking chicken, will work with turkey. 20 pound Bucket o’ Fried Turkey anyone?! Again, the only real difference is the size, so in most applications the turkey just takes a longer to cook than a chicken. Otherwise, if it walks like a bird and talks like a bird, it’ll cook like a bird—even Big Bird.
- Time and temperature, are everything, so get yourself a good digital thermometer. You’ll need the type of digital thermometer with a probe that can remain in your bird while it cooks with the temperature gauge on the exterior of the oven. With this type of thermometer, you don’t have to open the oven to check the temperature ‘cus “if you’re lookin’, you ain’t cooking!” Then, it’s just about monitoring the temperature during the cook until it gets to the correct temperature (160°-170° degrees at the thickest part of the thigh). This thermometer from ThermoPro is a great option, but most of this design will work fine. To check if a thermometer is calibrated, put the probe into a glass of ice-water. The temperature should read right about 32° and if it doesn’t, you better get a new one because you don’t want to be “winging” this one.
- Heritage Turkeys (like ours) cook faster than commercial birds. Because these non-commercial breeds are raised on open pasture they tend to be a bit leaner with different fat distribution than commercially-raised turkeys. And because they’re not juiced on GMO feed and growth hormones, our birds have naturally smaller breasts and large robust legs to carry their large frames (actually just standard turkey proportions like their cousins in the wild). You’ll notice our birds are longer with larger legs and more natural-shaped breasts. All this means that your Heritage turkey will cook faster than conventionally raised brine-injected Butterbirds.
- It doesn’t need to take 4-6 hours to roast a turkey. 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. Additionally, the slow and low 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?
- You don’t have to brine your turkey. We get it, it’s a total pain in the tail-feathers and can easily become a mess. Brining your turkey is an effective way to get flavor into the meat, but contrary to popular belief it actually does little for tenderness or perception of “juicy-ness”. In fact, because brine draws water out of the meat through osmosis where salt goes in and moisture comes out, it can actually make the meat more dense and prone to overcooking. So if you don’t want to mess with brining, just make sure to heavily season the skin and cavity the day before and take advantage of the rendered fat and/or add butter for basting the skin. As a final presentation step, don’t forget flavor-enhancing additions for serving like a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of good flake sea salt, one of our many LMC Seasoning Salt blends, complementary sauces, or just the classics like cranberry sauce or a classic gravy (see our recipe for Roasting Pan Gravy with Sherry and Herbs below). Layering flavors with finishing seasonings and sauces is an excellent alternative to the hassle of wet brining a whole turkey.
- As long as the internal temperature of the thigh has reached 165°-170° it’s normal and perfectly safe if the thigh is still a little red in the middle, especially with Heritage turkeys. From a safety standpoint, the vast majority of harmful bacteria is killed at temperatures between 140° and 165°. Because pasture-raised poultry are more active than conventionally-raised birds, they tend to have darker leg meat in the first place due to more blood-flow in the thigh muscles. If the internal temperature has reached at least 165°, any red that remains close to the bone is not actually blood but rather hemoglobin in the muscle tissue that has turned red with the application of heat and exposure to oxygen. If however, you absolutely cannot tolerate any amount of red in the thigh (eh-hem, Aunt Karen), refer to the next tip.
- Remember, you can always cook something more, but not less. Start by removing one thigh at the hip joint (as shown in the carving video), as this should be the last place to have any remaining amount of red-hued meat. If you start separating the leg and can tell that the meat on the bone is still very soft and red, separate the other leg joint the same way as you did the first one so it cooks evenly, pour yourself one more Negroni and pop that bird in for another 30 minutes. Nobody really likes eating at 3 in the afternoon anyway (sorry Mom).
- REST. Because it’s good for you, and especially good for your Heritage bird. Resting your turkey (or any roast) is necessary for a few reasons. First it allows residual heat from the cooking process 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 it begins to drop back down again. Second, if cut into a really hot turkey (or any roast) the rendered fat and hemoglobin-rich moisture from the muscle tissues are so hot that they will immediately run out of the tissue with each slice, which will can leave the meat perceptibly less “juicy.” 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 internal temperature comes down to around 145°-150°, more of that liquified fat/moisture will have tempered enough to remain in the tissue. Additionally, the turkey will be much easier to handle during carving.
- “It’s not the arrow, it’s the Archer.” Considering the realities of cooking any whole animal where each muscle cooks differently and each portion will reach doneness at different temperatures, the method of cooking is less important to the final result than good technique because at the end of the day you're just cooking the entire thing until it's all "done." Sure you can brine, smoke, deep-fry, grill, solar oven, rotisserie, pit-roast, etc., but just because the recipe looked good in a magazine or was trending online it doesn’t mean that it’ll be better than Grandma’s. So while you might be inspired by the latest Turkey cooking trend, often it’s best to keep it simple, pay attention, and stick to what you’re comfortable with. After all, Thanksgiving is about so much more than that big ‘ol bird!
CARVING - ANYONE CAN DO IT, NOT JUST GRANDPA
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.
ROASTING PAN GRAVY WITH SAVORY HERBS & SHERRY
For the herb-roux (thickener) - This can be done several days in advance
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
- 1/4 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
For the gravy - This is done while the turkey is resting
- Pan drippings from roasted Turkey
- 3 cups Turkey broth (plus 1 cup for thinning if needed, or use warm water)
- 1 tablespoon Sherry Wine
- 1 teaspoon cider vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
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.