To roast without stuffing (faster), use these instructions.
Don’t let low holiday prices seduce you into buying the biggest turkey you can find. Smaller birds thaw faster, cook faster, are more succulent, and far easier to handle. If you’re eager for leftovers, buy two and roast the second while you eat your holiday meal.
To take the guesswork and paranoia out of the holidays, get yourself a meat thermometer. It’s the smartest $4 you could spend.
IMPORTANT: If you’re using a frozen turkey, move it from the freezer to the fridge a two days in advance. If it’s already Wednesday, buy a fresh turkey and read our last-minute survival checklist.
10 – 12 pound turkey, fresh or thawed
olive oil or melted butter
coarse Kosher salt and black pepper
6 cups of your favorite stuffing
(e.g., Bread Stuffing, Oyster Stuffing or Apple-Cranberry Stuffing, or see below for plenty of quickie ideas)
3 tablespoons rendered turkey fat, from roasting pan (make sure you’re getting the fat and not the juices–it’s easy to tell if you remove all the liquid to a Pyrex glass first; the fat floats to the top)
2 cups chicken stock or giblet broth
For giblet broth, you’ll also need: 1 carrot, 1/2 onion and the stems from 1 bunch of parsley
3 tablespoons flour
salt and pepper
a pinch of nutmeg
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove giblets from body or neck cavity (leaving them in is a common first-timer mistake). Rinse turkey in plenty of cold running water. Pat dry with towels.
Fold the wings behind the turkey’s shoulders so that it looks like it’s sunbathing with its hands behind its head. This makes the turkey easier to handle and keeps the wings from drying out as quickly.
Most commercially-available turkeys include a little metal holder that lets you lock the feet in place. Unlock the legs one at a time to access the body cavity. (No, our turkey wasn’t magenta; we did that so you could see the legs better.)
Sprinkle the inside with salt and pepper, then spoon stuffing loosely into body. Pop legs back into holder, which will hold the stuffing in place. If your turkey doesn’t have a holder, you can truss the turkey and/or tie up the legs (see Trussing a Bird below).
At the breast end of the turkey, you’ll find a flap of skin. Lift it up and fill neck cavity with stuffing. Secure skin with toothpicks or truss.
Generously spread entire turkey with olive oil. Salt and pepper. Oil rack or bottom of pan, and place turkey breast down into pan. This makes the juices flow into the breast instead of out of it while the bird cooks. Make sure breast is well oiled–you don’t want the yummy skin to stick.If you’re using a larger turkey, roast breast up and shield breast with tinfoil (larger turkeys are too difficult to handle and flip).
If you’re using giblet broth for the gravy, start it now. Put giblets minus liver in a saucepan with 1/4 chopped onion and some parsley. Add water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for about an hour, adding water as necessary to cover. Strain and set aside or refrigerate until ready to use.
Roast for 3 1/2 – 4 hours, basting with olive oil every 30 to 45 minutes. Remove turkey from oven (close oven door to keep temperature steady). Check meat temperature by inserting meat thermometer into thickest part of the thigh meat, avoiding the bone. It should read close to 165 degrees. If it’s way lower (say, under 145 degrees), put the turkey in for another 30 minutes, then check temperature again.
If you’re at or approaching 165 degrees, then crank the oven up to 400 degrees, flip that baby over so it’s breast side up, spread with plenty of olive oil or melted butter, and roast for another 20 – 30 minutes, until the skin is nice and brown.
Let turkey rest for 20 – 30 minutes before carving. This gives the juices time to settle back into the meat. Carving too early will give you a dry bird and stringy slices.
While the turkey is resting, make your gravy. Pour off the liquid from the roasting pan into a Pyrex glass; the fat will float to the top. Skim off 3 tablespoons of fat. Discard extra fat (or save and use later to fry up potatoes, yum) and reserve remaining liquid.
Heat 3 tablespoons of the fat in a large saucepan. Sprinkle in flour and blend well. Cook roux for a few moments, stirring constantly. Slowly pour in chicken stock or giblet broth, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring or whisking constantly, for a few minutes, adding reserved pan juices as necessary to achieve your desired consistency. Remember: gravy will thicken as it cools; so don’t reduce it too much.
Remove laces if necessary; scoop stuffing onto perimeter of serving platter. Place bird in center of platter. If you want to make a big to-do, then go parade it out in front of everyone. If you’re confident, carve it at the table. If not, take it back into the kitchen so you can carve it without a million eyes on you.
legs and wings: Using a carving fork to hold turkey steady, remove legs by cutting straight down between the leg and the body. You might need to wiggle the knife around a bit to separate the joint. Cut through skin at knee joint, then, gently separate drumstick, again wiggling your knife around to separate the joint. Slice thigh meat and leave drumsticks whole. Cut the wings from body and leave whole.
breast: Holding breast steady with carving fork, cut thick, angled slices from breast, keeping knife parallel to ribs. Repeat on other side. Alternately, you can remove each whole breast from the carcass with or without the bone (sturdy poulty shears are great here) and slice it like a roast, which you may find easier overall.
Trussing a Bird sounds old fashioned and fancy, but it’s basically like tying a shoe. First loosely close the gap by sticking those little metal skewers through both sides of the opening. If you don’t want to buy poultry lacers (about $2), any small skewers work fine–try breaking bamboo skewers; even toothpicks work in a pinch. Then just take a piece of cotton string and lace it crossways, back in forth, catching the string around either side of the skewers, as if you were lacing a boot. Then just pull it tight and tie it in a knot. Voila!
If your turkey doesn’t have one of those metal foot holder thingies, then just cross its ankles modestly & tie ‘em up.
When the bird’s done, pull out the skewers and the string will come right off
Giblet Broth Notes: Put giblets minus liver in a saucepan with 1/4 chopped onion and some parsley. Add water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for about an hour, adding water as necessary to cover. Strain and set aside or refrigerate until ready to use.
Easy Stuffing Suggestions:
Cornbread (just break up into large pieces; toss with a few tablespoons diced jalapeños
Stove-Top (I’m addicted to the salty stuff, although I usually use something else on the holidays because I want to be fancy)
Tamales (just break them up coarsely; similar to cornbread stuffing, but richer and with more zing)
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