Ladies and gentlemen, I proudly present to you the king of the American Holiday table, the centerpiece of nearly every family gathering in the United States for the months of November and December, the prince of poultry, the roast turkey.
The turkey is either the most awaited or most dreaded addition to a holiday meal. Most awaited if the bird is moist, succulent and juicy, and most maligned when dry, overcooked and in desperate need of a slathering of gravy just to make the remains of the once proud bird edible. The latter almost never happens to me, and I’m going to give forth the secret of the perfect roast turkey, which I assure you, this was, and is.
Every. Single. Time.
Do not baste!
There are thousands of roast turkey, Christmas turkey and Thanksgiving turkey recipes out there, and the methods for achieving the “perfect” bird vary wildly from one recipe to another.
Most call for basting the bird constantly throughout the cooking process. To make the truly prefect roast turkey you must keep the mantra of poultry perfection on your lips.
“I will not baste. I will not open the oven door. The turkey is fine.”
Sound silly? I know my mother and grandmother would have thought so. Both women basted their birds religiously, and both made some pretty fine turkeys. Over the years I’ve discovered that basting does not make for a better bird. In fact, it generally makes for a pretty dry roast turkey. Patience matters. And it pays off.
Just give the turkey a good rub with your favorite spices, then toss it in the oven with some foil on it.
One caveat. If you’ve bought yourself a butterball turkey, this method will not work for you. The skin of a butterball turkey has been pierced, and therefore basting is necessary. For any other poultry in the world, it is NOT, and should not be done.
Update! — One of my wife’s former students, (Sorry brother, I don’t remember your name!) sent an email to tell us that you can use flour mixed with honey to make a paste and seal the holes in a Butterball turkey, thereby granting you all the bonuses of the injected butter and the use of this process. So yes, you can make this roast turkey recipe with a butterball turkey!
The second part of the mantra is this…
Do not stuff the bird. (With stuffing, at least.)
Repeat after me… “I will not stuff the turkey…”
Stuffing the bird increases cooking times while robbing you of the perfect opportunity to add flavor to the bird.
Of course, flavorings are fine. We use a mix of citrus fruits, onion, and garlic.
Do not peek!
Every time you open the oven door, you’re dropping the temperature by at least 50 degrees or so. It takes even the best oven a little while to recover from this. For you this means your turkey takes longer to cook, giving a higher chance of a dried out bird.
“Perfection happens on its own. The turkey is fine.”
Trust your probe thermometer to telly you when the turkey is at the right temperature. Leave the oven closed and let it do what it’s supposed to do.
The only time the oven door should open is when you’re adding the foil tent from to the bird. And that’s just to get beautiful, crisp, golden-brown skin.
This method is simplicity in itself, a rub, a trip into the oven and just one adjustment that you need to take in the middle, a little patience at the end and viola, a perfect roast turkey every single time! You’ll thank me for this, I promise.
And now, the printable roast turkey recipe.
- 1 turkey of appropriate size for your gathering or leftover preferences, with giblets and neck. (The turkey pictured weighed 21 pounds.) Not a Butterball or other treated bird!
- 1 medium onion, halved and quartered
- 1 head garlic, cut in half across the cloves
- 1 lemon, halved and quartered
- 1 orange, halved and quartered
- The rub recipe is given in parts because the amount necessary will vary on the size of the turkey to be cooked. Adjust as needed for your application. You may, if you like, make this in advance and store indefinitely in an airtight container.
- 1 part curry powder
- 2 parts powdered dry sage
- 4 parts salt
- 1 part pepper
- Preheat oven to 400°F. (210°C)
- Combine curry powder, sage, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Set aside.
- Rinse turkey well and pat dry. Reserve neck, giblets and tail (If like mine, it was cut most of the way off in processing.) Turn wingtips under body of bird and place in roasting pan, breast side up.
- Rub spice mixture over entire surface of bird and in cavities. Place onions, oranges, lemons and garlic in body cavities. Truss legs if desired, arrange any loose skin so that it is tucked under the body of the bird.
- Insert probe thermometer into thickest part of the turkey, where the breast and thigh meet. Be certain probe is not touching bone.
- Place turkey in oven and cook for one hour. Cover loosely with foil and reduce heat to 350°F (180°C). Cook until the internal temperature of the bird reaches 160°F (71°C), remove foil tent and cook 20 minutes longer.
- Remove from oven, transfer to platter or board, reserving all pan drippings, cover with foil and let rest for at least 20 minutes before serving.
I firmly believe that a roast turkey should be presented whole at the table. Anything less just seems to take something away from the bird and the work that you’ve put in to it. Place it on a bed of greens (I used curly leafed lettuce) and garnish with fresh fruits or veggies. It’s all the presentation you need.
*Note. the bird may sit at rest indefinitely, even until cooled, without losing any of its juiciness as long as the skin is never pierced. to reheat, simply place in a 225°F (107°C) oven for 30-45 minutes.
What I would have done differently had I thought of it at the time:
Not a bloody thing. This is the recipe I use every year for my Thanksgiving turkey, and I am usually asked to make it again at Christmas.
Other great roast turkey recipes:
- The Best Way to Roast a Turkey (The Simple Way), from Simple Bites
- Spiced Apple Cider Glazed Turkey Breast, The Noshery
- Curried Smoked Turkey and Pumpkin Soba
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