How to Make the Perfect Roast Turkey305
with Ashlee Redger
Test Kitchen Chef
Brining Thanksgiving Turkey
You’ve heard the gossip: the talk that turkey is dry, flavorless, and—the most horrible lie of all—that ham is better. This year though, we’re giving you a few tips to make a turkey that breaks down all stigmas: a bird that is golden brown, delicious, and—dare I say it—moist.
The trick to getting a turkey that is succulent from breast to drumstick? Brining. It may take a little extra effort, but it’s oh-so-worth-it for meat that is flavorful and juicy all the way through. Our Turkey Brining Kit keeps it simple with a pre-mixed combo of salt, sugar, and spices, along with brining and roasting bags. Check out our step-by-step Turkey Brining Kit instructions to see how easy it makes the brining process. Want to make your own brine? Use a ratio of 1 gallon water to 1 cup salt and 1/2 cup sugar. Flavor it with 2 to 3 Tbsp. of your fave herbs, seeds, peppercorns, and Minced Garlic. Give your bird 1 hour of brining time per pound, then drain and pat dry before roasting (no rinsing required). You will need to keep your turkey refrigerated during the brining process. For the science of brining and more information about how it works, check out our Brining 101 blog post.
After brining infuses the inside of your turkey with flavor, you’ll want to treat the skin to some deliciousness of its own. Brush generously with melted butter, which will not only help your spices stick, but will also aid in browning. Sprinkle with a blend like Nantucket Herb & Citrus Poultry Rub, Bohemian Forest, or Thanksgiving’s best friend—Tiny Town Turkey Rub. Remember that your turkey will already be salted on the inside from the brine so avoid blends that are high in sodium.
An alternative to sprinkling seasoning onto the skin is a glaze with equal parts maple syrup and orange juice along with a big pinch of dried herbs like Summer Savory, Marjoram, Rubbed Sage, and/or Premium French Thyme. Simmer the glaze until it is sticky and brush on your turkey during the last hour or so of roasting. Even better? Do this in one easy step by rubbing your turkey with Golden Maple Dry Glaze before roasting and get a sweet and herby glaze on the finished bird.
To Stuff or Not to Stuff?
The stuffing debate is controversial—I know. But I’d like to share a few reasons why you may want to enjoy your stuffing (or dressing, depending on where you’re from) on the side:
- An undercooked stuffed bird can be risky. By stuffing an uncooked turkey, the bread might be soaking up raw poultry juices that could contain Salmonella bacteria. Because the dressing sits in the middle of the bird, it may not come up all the way to 165 degrees (the temperature at which most foodborne pathogens are killed) by the time the rest of the turkey is up to temperature. What does this mean? You may end up with either an overcooked turkey or undercooked stuffing. If you don’t want to give up the tradition of having the stuffing in the turkey, you can follow Alton Brown’s tip and scoop the prepared stuffing into the turkey during the post-roasting resting period so it can still soak up the tasty drippings.
- Leaving the stuffing out makes room for flavor boosters. Add aromatics like sliced apples and onions, citrus peels, Crystalized Ginger, or fresh herbs that will continue to add flavor from the inside out. Discard the used aromatics before carving.
- By preparing your dressing on the side, you have more control over the flavor and texture so you don’t risk getting a bland, mushy stuffing. Whether you stuff the turkey after roasting or serve it on the side (to preserve those awesome crispy bits!), try out our Cornbread Dressing recipe for something a little unique or go traditional with Sage & Savory Stuffing which features our Poultry Seasoning.
To make the perfect turkey, it’s absolutely essential to use a thermometer (but not the ridiculous pop-up timer that comes with most grocery store turkeys). Instead, use a digital thermometer that is equipped with a probe wire and a temperature alert.
To use, stick the probe into the thickest area of the breast or thigh and set the temperature alarm for 160 degrees or 170 degrees respectively. Then, you can close your oven on the wire and have the display unit sitting on your counter during cooking. This will give you more accurate internal temperature readings, prevent overcooking, and actually shorten overall roasting time because you won’t be losing oven heat every time you open the door to temp the bird. Win-win-win!
Need a basic method for cooking your turkey? Probe the breast or thigh with an oven-safe thermometer, roast at 450 degrees for 30 min. to start the browning process, then turn the oven down (without opening) to 350 degrees and roast the turkey for an additional 1 to 3 hours (depending on the size).
If you notice that either the tips of the wings/drumsticks or the top of the breast are getting too brown for your liking, cover those parts with foil. Otherwise, there’s no need to cover or place a lid on your entire pan. By not using a lid, you’ll ensure a golden turkey with crispy skin that your dinner guests will love you for.
After you’ve made your perfect turkey, you’ll want sides that can step up to the dinner plate. Get your greens with Bucktown Mustard Brussels, Smoky Kale Salad, or Black Garlic Butternut Gratin. Switch up your cranberry sauce with this Coffee Spiced version or make a Smoked Serrano Cranberry Chutney. Satisfy your sweet (potato) tooth with Sweet Potato Souffle or Bourbon, Honey, & Molasses Sweet Potato Pie. And, speaking of pies, don’t forget these adorable Pecan Tarts which are great for the kids table (if the adults don’t eat them all first).