General & Historical
The domestic turkey was developed by the Aztecs and their predecessors
in Mexico, but the roasting methods we are familiar with were developed
in Europe for Peacocks. You will find a lot more fascinating but
useless information on our Turkey page.
In recent years a lot of research has been done on how to roast a turkey
with the least trouble, with a high probability the meat will be moist and
tender, and a low probability the guests will die of bacterial infestation.
The method presented on this page is the most traditional but takes full
advantage of modern knowledge and practices. It is the most successful
way to roast a "Heritage" turkey because those have a rather different
texture than the common "broad breasted white". For those see also
our page Method #1
Equipment You Will Need:
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
- A Granite Ware covered roasting pan. Find these in both
traditional hardware and general stores and in gourmet emporiums (with
appropriate price differences) or buy on-line. They're made in the USA by
Columbian Home Products.
Stainless roasters can be used but the black granite ware provides much
better heat transfer than shiny stainless.
- #01509 18" oval for birds less than 14 pounds.
- #01510 19" oval for birds less than 18 pounds.
- An oven with good temperature control and sufficient room for
the turkey and its roasting pan.
- IF brining, a pot or bucket of sufficient size to hold the
turkey and enough water to submerge it completely (see below) or a
water-tight brining bag.
- Salt, lots of it. IF rubbing the bird, grind the salt
to powder in your spice grinder along with the seasonings - it'll be a
lot easier to handle that way. IF brining the bird regular
salt is fine. Some recipes add sugar and seasonings to the brine
(almost as much sugar as salt).
- If salting or brining, a refrigerator with enough room for the
turkey submerged in a brining bag or bucket. If you don't have
refrigerator space brining can be done with the brining bucket or bag
submerged in a tub of ice water but be careful the water temperature
doesn't go above 40°F/4.4°C.
- Rubber Oven Gloves - these are for turning the turkey over part
way through roasting and removing it from the V-rack after roasting.
If you don't have them, or are as outraged by the price as I am, get the
thickest set of flock or fabric lined rubber dish washing gloves they
have at your local market, in size "extra large". These will do fine
if you are organized and work quickly. "Turkey lifters" and other
gadgets generally don't work well.
- A meat thermometer with a probe long enough to penetrate to
the center of the turkey. One with a long cable that allows you to
monitor the bird without opening the oven is great and some are quite
affordable. It can be inserted in the phase where the cover is removed.
- Bamboo skewers.
- A basting brush (a clean 1 inch wide natural bristle paint brush will do).
- Butter, and something to melt it in.
The first challenge is what turkey to buy, then the general plan of action
- there's a lot to consider.
This procedure is for a natural turkey that will be salt rubbed. If you
have a kosher turkey, skip the salt rub steps. You can also brine the
turkey instead, but need to start a day ahead (see
Method #1 for details).
- Prepare a broth from the neck, giblets and wing tips. This broth may be
used for making gravy, moistening and flavoring dressing, or any other
broth use (see "Evening Before" steps on the
Turkey Gravy page).
- Prepare your salt rub - might as well do it now even though you don't
need it until T Day, you'll have plenty to do then. A typical rub might be:
1/3 c Salt (1/2 cup Kosher salt)
1/4 c Sugar
1 T Red Chili, ground (a fairly mild one).
Grind it in your spice grinder, salt and all, it'll be much easier to
handle and will stay on the bird that way.
- Prepare your stuffing / dressing by whatever recipe you chose to use.
- Rinse your turkey, drain, pat almost dry with paper towels and rub
thoroughly with you salt rub formula.
- Set the turkey aside for about 1 hour for the salt cure to soak in,
which also allows the turkey to come up to near room temperature.
- Prepare your roasting pan, lightly oil the inside bottom.
- Preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C.
- Brush the salt rub completely from the turkey paying particular
attention to pockets under the legs and wings.
- IF your turkey did not come with the drumstick ends held by a clip,
you can tuck them through a hole cut in the skin under the tail. Failing
both, bind the legs together and down to the backbone with heavy string.
- With bamboo skewers, pin the wings to the side. Break the skewers off
- IF you are stuffing the bird, do so just before it goes into the oven,
not earlier. Give the cooking temperature a head start by first heating the
stuffing as hot as you can handle it. For complete details see my page
Turkey Stuffing & Dressing.
- If stuffing the bird, first stuff the front and use a bamboo
skewer to fasten the front skin to the back behind the neck. Then stuff
the main cavity. Do not pack stuffing too tight as some stuffings expand
a bit during roasting.
- Set the turkey into the roasting pan.
- IF you are making gravy, put a cup each of chopped celery, carrots and
onions in the roasting pan around the turkey. No additional water should
- Cover the roasting pan and slide it into the oven and turn the oven
down to 325°F.
- Roast covered for 2 hours - no longer - then uncover, brush the skin
with butter and turn up the oven to 350°F.
- Roast until done. It is done when the thermometer shows you are going
to meet USDA mandated temperatures (thermometer must not be touching
bone). This will be 5°F lower than the USDA recommendations because
the inside temperatures will rise about 5°F while the turkey is
resting. See Safety Notes below for more
Pull when the thickest part of the thigh reaches 160°F.
Caution: Check early - total roasting time will be
significantly less than the USDA 325°F chart given on our
Method #1 page, or any other chart for
open roasting. If you want to do neat slicing be careful you roast only
- Remove turkey from the roasting pan (rubber gloves) and place it
on a platter or baking sheet to catch juices that still come out (add
them to the broth).
- Cover the turkey lightly with a sheet of aluminum foil and
let it rest for at least 1/2 hour (45 minutes wouldn't hurt).
This gives the juices time to redistribute and the meat to solidify so
it is possible to carve the turkey in an organized manner and without
injury. See our page
Presenting and Carving a Turkey for
- Finish up the gravy if making it.
Stuffing & Dressing
- Dismantle the turkey for leftovers and refrigerate within 2 hours of
taking from the oven.
- Store stuffing, gravy and meat separately. The USDA says to use gravy
in less than two days, meat and stuffing within 3 days, but most people
consider this rather paranoid. I aim to use up the meat in less than a
week. You can extend the storage life of the stuffing and gravy by
bringing them up to a simmer.
- After cutting off all the meat, break up the carcass and put it in a
stock pot with any bones and other turkey debris. Add any leftover broth
you haven't used for gravy. Put in enough cold water to cover and simmer
for a few hours for turkey broth. Strain, remove the fat (gravy
separator again), let the sediment settle, pour liquid off sediment,
Freeze or pack in sterile jar (see instructions at the bottom of our page
Presenting and Carving a Turkey.
"Dressing" is the same as "stuffing", but baked in a casserole rather
than stuffed into the turkey. This gives better control of the turkey
(you need only meet 2 USDA temperature points, not three) and a shorter
roasting time. Complete details and procedures will be found on our page
Turkey Stuffing & Dressing.
Traditionally, the neck, giblets and pan drippings are used to make
gravy to go along with the meat and potatoes. Gravy adds major complexity
but can be managed if well planed and done as much as possible in advance.
Complete instructions will be found on our page
During life the turkey has natural processes for keeping bacteria under
control, but the moment it is killed those processes stop and bacteria
immediately start dismantling it. Some of these bacteria are harmful
to humans and some of them can survive rather adverse conditions, so
care is in order to protect your health and the health of your guests.
A turkey is so large that temperatures changes take a long time, so
it presents an unusually high risk of contamination. Consequently
exceptional care in handling is indicated.
- Do not refrigerate a turkey after stuffing, cook immediately.
Preferably stuff with very hot stuffing and get it into the oven at once.
- Observe cooking temperatures given above and take them seriously.
Harmful bacteria multiply very rapidly at temperatures between
40°F/4.5 °C and 140°F/60°C, a range your turkey will be
in for most of the cooking time.
Note: Thermometers and many cookbooks say poultry must
go to 180°F/82°C to be safe. The FDA backed off from this bunk in
2006 and came in line with the USDA's 165°F/74°C. The FDA failed
to find any evidence, even scribbled notes, to justify that ruinous high
temperature (perhaps they were paid off by the beef board to assure
turkeys were always dried out and flavorless).
- When handling an uncooked turkey, do not handle any other food until
you have cleaned up with soap and water.
- Do not let an uncooked turkey come in contact with any other food.
- Immediately upon moving an uncooked turkey, scrub the cutting board or
surfaces it was touching with soap and water and preferably a little
bleach. I generally scrub everything with an "institutional strength"
disinfecting cleanser which releases bleach in the process.
- Observe that leftovers should be in the refrigerator within 2 hours
of coming out of the oven. If there are large amounts store in multiple
smaller containers so the temperature will drop quickly.