Presenting friends and family with the perfect roast turkey on Thanksgiving Day is a cinch. Follow these simple steps to the tee, and your bird will be absolute perfection: roasted to the right degree, beautifully colored, full flavored, tender, moist, and memorable.
The first and most important of these is to buy a premium, FRESH turkey. Below are some of the options available in Portland, Oregon.
The biggest myth I hear from folks about roasting turkey is that it “takes all day.” I just roasted a 16-pound bird to perfection in 2¼ hours. It’s resting on the stovetop now for another 30 minutes.
Then we’ll eat it with the best stuffing I’ve ever made: Spicy Ciabatta & Cornbread Stuffing with Italian Sausage, Wild Mushrooms & Fresh Herbs.
So minus the brining (48 hours), drying (24 hours), and warming to room temperature before roasting (1 hour), the bird is ready to eat in under 3 hours.
The most common mistake made when preparing the big bird is over baking it. It’s done when the thickest part of the thigh tests 170°F with an instant-read thermometer. Some thrill seekers even pull the bird from the oven at 165°F.
To keep the breast from overcooking, simply cover it with foil, shiny-side-up, for the first 1 1/2 hours. Then remove the foil for the final 45 minutes of cooking. It will brown beautifully in that time.
As to whether to stuff the bird or cook the stuffing separately, I prefer the ease and safety of the latter. I make a big batch of stuffing and bake if off in smaller increments as needed. It keeps for days, unbaked in the fridge.
The Perfect Roast Turkey
If you follow these steps to the tee, your bird will be absolute perfection–meaning roasted to the right degree, beautifully colored, full flavored, tender, moist, and memorable.
NOTE Be sure to purchase the turkey and begin the prep steps 3 days in advance.
- Buy the turkey: For the best tasting turkey possible, purchase a fresh, local, free-range, organic bird. (See the list below for turkey purveyors in Portland, Oregon.)
- Prep the turkey: Unwrap your fresh turkey. Remove giblets from the front and back cavities and reserve for stock. Under cold running water, rinse turkey well inside and outside.
- Prepare the turkey brine: Prepare a simple brine, enough to completely submerge the turkey. For every 2 cups of water, dissolve 1 tablespoon fine sea salt.
- Brine the turkey: Place the turkey in a large stockpot, deep bowl, or heavy-duty plastic bag, and add the prepared brine. Refrigerator for two days, turning the bird once of twice in the process. It takes about this amount of time for the salt to work it’s way into the flesh of a 16- pound bird.
- Loosen and dry the turkey skin: Okay, this step is not absolutely essential, and you can skip it if you are short on time. It does, however, produce the crispest skin. Remove turkey from brine solution and discard the brine. Pat turkey dry with paper towels. At the opening of the turkey cavity, gently ease your fingers beneath the skin to create air space over the breast and legs. Set a cooling rack on an edged baking sheet and place turkey, breast-side-up. Refrigerate, loosely topped with a sheet of foil, for 24 hours. Remove the turkey from the fridge one hour before roasting. Let sit, uncovered, at room temperature for one hour. (You don’t want to put a very cold bird into the oven.)
- Prepare the glaze: In a small saucepan or bowl in the microwave, warm your basting glaze. For the simplest glaze, simply soften or melt ½ cup unsalted butter.
- Truss the turkey: This essential process is easier to show than to describe. Here’s a good video that shows how to truss a big bird. Don’t worry if you can’t get it exactly right. The main thing is to make sure that the wings and legs are held closely against the body of the bird. Hint: Start with twice the length of twine you thing you’ll need.
- Baste the turkey: Position the turkey, breast-side-up, on a rack set in a deep roasting pan. Using a silicon basting brush, brush the glaze over the skin of the turkey.
- Protect the breast from overcooking: Cover breast only with foil, reflective-side-up, for the first 1½ hours of roasting. Then remove the foil for the final 45 minutes of roasting. The breast will brown beautifully in that time.
- Heat the oven: Arrange a rack in the lower third of the oven (with plenty of headroom above), and heat oven to 400°F.
- Roast the turkey: Roast turkey for 1 hour at 400°F, reduce oven to 325°F, and continue roasting until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the thigh tests 170°F with an instant-read thermometer. If desired, but not required, baste the turkey with additional melted butter each hour. A 16-pound unstuffed turkey is beautifully browned in 1 hour and done in about 2¼ hours. (Add ½ hour baking time for stuffed birds 16-pounds or less.) If your bird begins to brown too much before it is done, cover loosely with a sheet of foil, reflective-side-up.
- Rest the turkey: Remove the turkey from the oven, position on a serving platter, loosely cover with heavy foil, and let rest for 30 minutes before carving. The temperature of the turkey will continue to rise (2-4 degrees) during the resting period. This critical step ensures that the juices of the bird redistribute themselves evenly into the flesh. If you skip this step, your turkey may be under cooked and the juices will flow out onto the plate when you carve the bird.
- Prepare the turkey gravy: While the turkey is resting, pour off fat from the roasting pan and discard. Deglaze pan with 1 cup of Brown Poultry Stock, scraping the bits off the bottom of the pan, strain, and then proceed as described in Thanksgiving 24-Hour Turkey Gravy.
- Carve and serve the turkey: It’s not difficult to carve a turkey, but does take a bit of practice. Check out this Alton Brown video on how to carve your turkey.
Turkey Options in Portland, Oregon (Updated 2015)
Zupan’s features Shelton’s fresh, all natural, free-range, antibiotic/hormone-free turkeys.
Food Front features Deck Family Farm local, pasture-raised turkeys, Diestel Ranch free-range turkeys, and Diestel’s Heidi’s Hens Certified Organic turkeys.
New Seasons features Diestel Family Turkey Ranch humanely raised, free-range, organic turkeys from Sonora, California.
Trader Joe’s features fresh and fresh brined turkeys from farms in Minnesota, California and Pennsylvania.
The turkeys are described as all natural, which Trader Joe’s website defines as “minimally processed with NO artificial ingredients, no antibiotics or growth hormones, and a diet of 100% vegetarian feed.”
Whole Foods has three turkey options: fresh; fresh brined; and fresh, natural, free range (from Misty Knoll, Vermont).
Whole Food’s turkeys adhere to these standards: no antibiotics, vegetarian diet, no added hormones, no added solutions (except when brined) or injections, complete traceability to farm.
Cookin’ with Gas (inspiration from around the web)
- Anolon: Joanne’s Double Stock Turkey Gravy
- Anolon: The Perfect Roast Turkey
- Best Cooking Time: How Long to Cook a Turkey
- EatWild: Pastured Products Directory – Oregon
- Fox12 Oregon: Thanksgiving Guide: The Different Kinds of Turkey
- Oregon Live: Last Minute Turkey
- Serious Eats: Ask a Chef: Best Way to Make Turkey on Thanksgiving?
- Serious Eats: The Food Lab: The Truth About Brining Turkey (conclusions not confirmed in my tests on brined turkey)
- Soup to Nuts: Let’s Talk Turkey
- The Blender: How to Roast a Turkey
- Trader Joe’s Really Moist Roasted Turkey
- Tri-Country: Farm Fresh Thanksgiving Turkeys
- Willamette Week: Devour 2012: Meat & Fish
Copyright 2011 Susan S. Bradley. All rights reserved.
I love seeing how everyone else does their turkeys! So many variations on a great theme. In fact, I\’m getting ready to roast one tomorrow for an office potluck. Wish me luck–only hoping mine is half as pretty as yours!
This is a beautiful turkey! I can\\\’t wait to try that dressing!!
I so need this guide – I have a fear of roasting whole birds. Finally did a chicken recently – it turned out perfectly! Ready to tackle the turkey for Thanksgiving now.
GORGEOUS! That turkey really is perfect. I definitely used to be scared of cooking a turkey but it’s really not that bad! Quite easy, actually. Love your ideas for getting crispier skin – the best part. 😉 I will definitely be trying that this year. Thank you so much for posting this – I will definitely be sharing.
Wow! That’s a very thorough guide! We’re eating out this year, but I will bookmark for next year and share for those needing guidance this year. 🙂
This is a beautiful turkey, Susan. Thanksgiving dinner is all about the turkey and you can’t go wrong with the wonderful tips you’ve provided.
That does look like a perfect turkey, it’s gorgeous! Lots of fabulous tips, too. I’m actually in Portland this weekend on a trip.
Susan S. Bradley
Kimberly, thank you! Hope you enjoy your time in Portland. 🙂
Excellent tips! And thank you for the list of local spots to get the best turkey. We usually get a 20 pound turkey to feed our crew and you are right: starting with a premium fresh turkey makes all the difference!
Susan S. Bradley
Marlynn, thanks! Looks like fresh birds are hitting the Portland market TODAY, November 14th. I’m working on a couple of new recipes for turkey breast and tenderloin this year–for smaller gatherings.
This will be my first year making a turkey! I usually just do a pork tenderloin since there’s usually only 3 or 4 of us but this year the whole family (15 people) are coming in. These are some great tips!
Susan S. Bradley
Lauren, ahhh… your first turkey. I remember that. It’s a little intimidating the first time but actually quite easy. Yours will be perfect. 🙂
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays just because of the turkey!!
Thank you for providing a resource for where to find good turkeys in Portland!