How to Roast a Turkey to Perfection

I am not a turkey roasting expert, but this Christmas I plan to roast a perfect looking bird to post and share with my friends. I have been researching and here is what I’ve compiled so far. Please share with me your turkey roasting experience and tips.

Buying the bird

You can either buy a frozen or fresh turkey. If you buy a frozen one then plan to do so a few days in advance to allow the turkey enough time to defrost (thaw) completely before roasting.

You can also buy a brined turkey. A Brined turkey is soaked in salted water for several hours so it must be rinsed before cooking. Think about capers in brine or Feta cheese. Go easy on salt, when roasting a brined turkey.

Lots of people are now buying high welfare free range turkeys. I’ve never tried one myself but if you have please share with me the pros and cons.

Thawing the turkey

It’s recommended that you defrost (thaw) the turkey in the fridge. You will need 5 hours for every pound (0.5kg) of turkey so lets say you have a 12Ib (5.4kg) turkey, you will need 60 hours (2½ days) to defrost it. You have to ensure that the bird is fully defrosted (thawed) or it will take longer to cook.

You can also speed up turkey defrosting by soaking the turkey in cold water. You have to keep on changing the water until the turkey is fully defrosted (thawed).

Remove the turkey from the fridge 2 to 3 hours (depending on the size of the bird) before roasting to allow it to come closer to room temperature. The turkey will cook more quickly and more evenly that way.

Washing the Bird

Remove the turkey neck and giblets from the body cavity. Also check the neck cavity. Rinse the turkey, thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels. Trim off any excess fat.

Some people feel washing the turkey is an unnecessary step after all it’s going to cook for several hours. I am a germophobic so I wash everything.

Seasoning the Bird and Keeping it moist

In general, you need to season the cavity of the bird with salt and pepper. You also need to season the whole bird liberally with salt and pepper.

To keep the bird moist you’ll need to oil or rub the bird liberally with butter or olive oil or some people use mayonnaise (those who don’t eat butter). It’s usually a good idea to add a splash of olive oil to the butter to stop the butter from burning.

1. Using Butter or Herbed Butter

If using butter it will need to be soft or melted (I prefer soft butter).

To add more flavour you can make herbed butter by adding finely chopped herbs, lemon or lime rind, crushed garlic, lemon juice (if you like) salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. There are are no hard and fast rules about this.

2. Using olive oil

If using olive oil drizzle liberally all over the bird, massaging with your hands, and then season with salt and pepper.

3. Using mayonnaise

Season the mayonnaise with herbs, garlic, salt and pepper and use as you would the butter.  It’s not common to use mayonnaise but some recipes call for it.

4. Keeping the Breast Moist

The breast meat can easily dry out if not kept moist and cooked to the right temperature. To keep it moist take a ball of soft butter and carefully lift the skin above the breast and insert the butter and massage it all over the breast. Also lift the skin under the neck cavity and insert and massage butter. Rub the rest of the butter evenly over the whole bird and then season liberally with salt and pepper to taste.

5. Cavity of the Bird: to stuff or not to stuff?

You have to decide whether you want to stuff the turkey or not. Stuffing the turkey will mean a slightly longer roasting time. If you decide to use stuffing, please make sure you fill the cavity loosely. Don’t over fill it as this will stop the natural air flow. You will also need to ensure the temperature of the stuffing reaches 165ºF (75ºC).

The other option is to stuff the neck cavity with about 500g (1Ib) to 1kg (2Ib) stuffing depending on the size of the bird.

Whether you’re using stuffing or not, please make sure you season the cavity liberally with salt and pepper. You can add a ball of herbed butter in the cavity to keep it moist, or an orange or lemon, or veggies like celery, onion and apple. It would also be nice to throw in some fresh or dried herbs to give the bird a nice aroma.

Once you’re done, you should close the cavity with small metal skewers or cover it with aluminium foil or use the trussing string to ensure everything keeps in place and the heat within the cavity stays hot.

Trussing the bird and tucking the wings

You can either tuck the wing tips under the bird or truss them with a baking string or wrap in them aluminum foil, to keep from over-browning. The easiest is just to tuck the wings under the bird. You will also need to tie the legs together. (Jamie Oliver doesn’t)

How long should you roast a turkey?

According to Gordon Ramsay, give it 30 minutes for every kilo of turkey or 15 minutes for every pound of turkey. The only way to know if your turkey is fully cooked is to check the internal temperature of the thickest part of the thigh which should read a minimum of 165ºF (75ºC).

What Kind of Roasting Pan Should You Use?

Many recipes recommend that you use a roasting pan with a rack. Apparently this helps to raise the bird and also helps the heat to circulate under the bird and ensure that the back of the turkey is fully cooked.

The v-shaped racks seem to be popular. Have you used one? share with me your thoughts.

If you don’t have a rack, you can also place some vegetables in the roasting pan and then place the turkey on the vegetables.This helps to raise the turkey as well as keep it moist during roasting. Recommended veggies are: whole carrots, celery, onions, parsnip just to mention a few. See Chef John’s video below.

 

Do you really need to place the turkey on a rack?

Gordon Ramsay’s Christmas turkey, in the next video below, roasted like a charm, without a rack or vegetables underneath the turkey. It was placed directly in the roasting pan.

What is the best temperature to roast a turkey?

The roasting temperature will depend on the method you’re using, the size of the bird and the oven. Some ovens cook faster than others. Whatever temperature you use, you should never roast a turkey below 325ºF (160). If you disagree, please tell me why.

1. Method One: Roasting Breast side up the entire time and Protecting the Breast with Foil or Layers of Bacon

Some recipes call for roasting the turkey breast side up at a temperature of about 425ºF (220ºC) for the first 10-20 minutes then lowering the temperature to 360ºF (180ºC) for the rest of the time. This will work if the turkey is 12Ib (5.5kg) or less but you will still need to protect the breast from over browning with foil or layers of smoked bacon. see Gordon Ramsay Video below.

Larger birds will require the temperature to be reduced further to 325ºF (160ºC) and the turkey should be loosely tented until the last 45minutes-1 hour. The longer the bird takes in the oven, the lower the temperature you’ll use.

2. Method two: Roasting the turkey breast side up the entire time and tenting the whole turkey until the last 30-45 minutes

Some recipes call for the turkey to be loosely tented with foil at a lower temperature of 325ºF (160ºC) until the last 30-45 minutes when the tent is removed and the temperature is increased to 425ºF (220ºC) to ensure even browning and crisping of the skin. See Food Network Recipe.

Or if the bird is medium (7kg/15Ib) like Jamie Oliver’s recipe below it’s tented and roasted at 350ºF (180ºC) the entire time then the foil is removed in the last 30 minutes to crisp the skin.

3. Method 3: Roasting the turkey breast side up, directly on the oven rack

I have seen a few recipes on you-tube where the turkey is placed on a flat baking rack and then directly on the oven rack with a large roasting pan placed underneath on the lower rack to catch the drippings below. The turkey is roasted at 325ºF (160º) the entire time. Apparently, this method helps create a convection-like environment, helping the heat circulate more evenly around the turkey. Frankly speaking, I have never tried this method, because I dread washing oven racks. So I stay away from anything that will require me to clean up, after!

4. Method 4: Roasting the turkey breast side up and using broth to baste the turkey every 30 minutes

Some recipes also recommend that you add 1-2 cups of broth (stock) in the roasting pan and use this to baste the turkey every 30-45 minutes, until the turkey is fully cooked. The broth should be replenished from time to time as required. It’s recommended you use turkey broth (if you can find it) or chicken stock (broth). You can also add some white wine to the broth. I don’t recommend red wine, even though I’ve seen recipes that called for red wine. And you can also add some fresh herbs or aromatic veggies like onions, celery or spices like cloves to enhance the flavour of the broth. (see A simply Perfect Roast Turkey)

or Using the Martha Stewart Method  of covering the breast with cheese cloth soaked in wine and butter and basting every 30 minutes with the butter-wine mixture. So boozy and nice!

5. Method 5: Roasting the turkey breast side down the entire time

Should the turkey be roasted breast side up for the entire time or breast side down for the entire cooking time. I have tried both.

When doing breast side down I usually cover the entire back of the turkey with bacon strips and roast until it’s done.

The breast stays moist and delicious but the turkey doesn’t look like a pretty magazine bird. I curve it before serving it. I certainly don’t show it off to my guests!

Method 6: Roasting the turkey breast side down, then breast side up at a higher temperature

Another school of thought recommends that you roast breast side down for some time and then breast up in the last 45 minutes or so to ensure a brown crispy breast.

Whichever method you use I think the aim is to ensure that the turkey is perfectly cooked to the right temperature and the breast stays moist and juicy.

7. Method 7: Using an Oven Bag

Method 8: Smoking the turkey

My friend Kat  dry brined the turkey with salt the day before, then rubbed it with all kinds of spices and then popped it in the smoker with hickory chips soaked in apple cider. Do you smoke the turkey? please share with me.

Why tent a turkey?

  • Tenting the turkey, I believe, is for extra large birds that cook in over 4 hours to protect them from over-browning and to keep them moist .
  • You can cover only the breast portion of the turkey, and remove the foil an hour before cooking time is finished.
  • You can also loosely tent the entire roasting pan and remove the foil 45minute-1 hour before cooking is finished.
  • It’s argued that tenting increases the cooking time. I do not have much experience in turkey tenting because I usually make a small bird of about 9Ib (4kg) and usually cover the breast with bacon strips. I never aim to post my turkey in Instagram so I don’t focus much on producing a perfect turkey with Hollywood looks.

To inject or to baste?

I have seen turkey reviews where some cooks recommend injecting broth mixed with butter into the turkey every hour or so as it cooks. I have never done this myself but you are free to share your thoughts on this one.

Checking the temperature for doneness

The recommended minimum safe temperature is 165ºF (75ºC). However some people prefer an internal temperature of 170ºF for the thickest part of the thigh and 165ºF for the breast. If the turkey is stuffed the internal temperature of the stuffing should also be at 165ºF (75ºC).

 How long should you rest the turkey after roasting?

After roasting the turkey you should rest it for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 hours, according to Gordon Ramsay. The longer the turkey rests, the better it will taste.

Making the Gravy

Carving the Turkey

This is my go to video on carving a turkey. I’m still not an expert but I try…..

True or False?

  1. Dark turkey roasting pans cook faster than shiny metals.
  2. The use of a foil tent, the entire time can slow cooking.
  3. Basting the bird won’t give you crispier skin. In fact, you’ll get limp, soggy skin and it only marginally affects the flavour. (Huff Post)
  4. It doesn’t matter what orientation you roast your turkey in. Breast up, breast down, flipped over halfway through or hanging from the rafters – no position will make the breast more moist. (Huff Post)

Author: Liz

I love everything food: eating, cooking, baking and travelling. I also love photography and nature.

16 thoughts

  1. Hi Liz – great post! We smoked our Thanksgiving turkey in our smoker this year and it DIVINE — very moist and delicious. We dry brined it with salt the day before, then rubbed it with all kinds of spices and then popped it in the smoker with hickory chips soaked in apple cider. We are thoroughly enjoying our leftovers. -Kat

    1. Omg that sounds like the best turkey ever, I can imagine the salt, spices and most of all the smokiness from hickory chips in cider. Send me some virtual left overs….have a great week!
      Liz

  2. I have had good success with thawing my turkey in a large cooler with frozen gallon jugs of ice in it. This simulates a refrigerator without throwing your normal routine into a tailspin.

    Easy roasting = breast side down in an 18-quart Nesco Roaster in the utility room. It’s out of the way, and does a great job with no fuss or turning. Skin does not get crisp, or even brown, but that is of no consequence to me, as I remove the skin before serving anyway. Breast is always super moist because of gravity.

    Virtual hugs,

    Judie

    1. Hi Judie
      Thanks so much for sharing your turkey roasting experiences with me. I am considering getting one for myself. I have just googled and seen it.
      As long as the turkey is moist I am good to go. I am not particularly keen on turkey skin either.
      Have an awesome day!
      Liz

  3. Very thorough research!! I am a follower of the dry brine, herb butter, unstuffed and high heat to start methods. I actually haven’t done that many turkeys but frequently roast chicken and have found those to be my preferences.

      1. Bon Appetite has an awesome recipe this month for braised turkey legs (with chili, orange and garlic). It’s on my list to try as it looks easy and a good winter comfort food. Sometimes doing a whole bird just isn’t practical.

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