Friday, November 16, 2012

Easy, Perfect Turkey (with photos)!

After Amy was born (third-born) I was desperate to get out of the house and do something fun. Tom was extremely sweet and signed me up for a series of 13 cooking classes. One of these classes focused on a recipe for orange chicken. It was fine, but I tried it with a turkey and it was 10x better.

So, first off, forget everything you think you know about preparing a turkey. Wash it alllll away.
And keep in mind that this will seem like more work than it is... kind of like trying to explain how to tie a shoe. There are more words to describe it than movements to it! hehe


When choosing your turkey, do everything you can to find one that is fresh, never frozen. The texture and taste of fresh turkeys are so much better than frozen.

It is best to not cook a bird that weighs more than 12-13 pounds. If you have a large family and need more turkey, then consider cooking two. It is a pain, but once turkeys get too big they tend to bake unevenly and dry out considerably. Anyway, not a hard and fast rule, but worth considering if you have the time and space.

Before you begin to prepare the turkey for baking, take it out of the refrigerator, and set on the counter for at least 30 minutes. You need to bring it as close to room temperature as possible. This will help it to cook evenly and keep it moist.

Get out your roasting pan (doesn't have to be huge) and line it with parchment paper. Only because it will make cleaning up the pan a breeze.

While you are waiting for it to warm up, get out your ingriedients:

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Yellow onion

Slice the oranges into fourth wedges per orange. Onions should be halved, and then cut into four wedges each half.

Rosemary and Thyme (as well as other dried herbs) should *always* be ground before seasoning your dish. Grounding herbs releases oils which makes your dishes that much  more aromatic and tasty! I use a mortar pestle, because it's awesome! But you can also just roll the herbs between your fingers to release the oils.

Wash the bird. And DRY it with paper towels. I had always heard this, but thought it was goofy, so I never dried it. Turns out, if you don't dry it, it won't brown correctly. And half the battle of a turkey is a great, golden color!

Hold the bird up so that you can easily season the inside of the turkey. Throw in some salt (don't be stingy--the juices will wash away a lot of the salt), pepper, and the herbs. Then squeeze a couple of orange wedges into the bird, then throw the whole thing into the turkey. Alternate between stuffing onion and orange wedges (squeezing the juice out first...all over the bird, inside and out) into the cavity. Then pour 2-3 tablespoon olive oil into/over the produce. This helps to... actually, I have no idea, but it makes the onions smell amazing when they are baking!

Now for the outside of the turkey:
Pour olive oil over turkey and rub it in.
Salt it well, but don't go crazy. I have used sea salt before, and it doesn't work... much too salty.
And then throw the rest of the herb mix all over the turkey, making sure you get under the wings and drumsticks.

Stick it in the oven. All ovens vary, so this is a difficult call. I had to use 350 at my old house. I tried 350 in this oven, but it was too hot. Most likely your oven will need to be anywhere between 325 and 350.

Here's the most important piece of information. DO. NOT. open the oven door. At all. Just "Set it, and forget it!"  There is no basting required. In fact, if you try to baste your turkey, you fail!
                                             Why no basting?  Two reasons:
 1) opening your oven door cools the oven down by 20-30 degrees every time you do it. This means the oven over-compensates to try and get the temperature back up, and this will result in a very dry, unappetizing turkey.
 2) After about 15 minutes of being in the oven, the turkey skin will begin to crisp which means it will become a barrier to any liquids poured onto it. So just say no to basting. It does no good. And it's a hassle!  We don't need more hassles, do we?

So now the turkey is in the oven and is just sitting there baking away! (Turn on the oven light and watch if you must, but leave it be!) In my experience the cooking time on the turkey package is way off... much too much time.

For my 12 lb turkey it took about 2.5 hours. (None of this all day business anymore! With prep and baking, it takes about 3 to 3.5 hours.) It may take you a few turkeys before you know the perfect time to check on your bird.

 But for this week I would say go for two hours and then check with your meat thermometer. Which reminds me...

That stupid thermometer that comes with the turkey... throw it away. It's useless.

 By the time that thing pops, your turkey is way past done. If you don't have a meat thermometer go out today and buy one. They are $5-6 for a cheap one (which is the one I use), but you can get fancy, expensive ones if that makes you feel more confident. Bake your turkey until the thermometer reads 165. Once that temp is reached, remove your turkey from the oven, and allow it to cool for at least an hour. The resting time will allow the juices to stay in the meat once the bird is sliced. (Recently I read that you should allow your meat to rest as long as it took for it to bake/cook. That seems like an awfully long time for things like turkey and pork, but I went with 1.5 hours today.)

Take out the oranges and onions so that it can cool off faster. Discard the produce. 

Invest in an electric knife. I love it! It really makes slicing turkey (and chicken) much, much easier.

I have yet to master carving a turkey, but this YouTube helped me figure it out last year.

And that, my friends, will be the best turkey you've ever had.

Happy Thanksgiving!


  1. Love it. Thanks for explaining the logic behind the different strategies. I always like knowing why I'm supposed to be doing something.

    One question, where should I jam that turkey thermometer?

  2. Thanks for the recipe! I watched an expert on Cook'c Country also, who recommended brining and under skin butter and herb seasoning of the meat. . .putting your hand under the entire skin of the turkey and separating it but leaving it in place. This was interesting

  3. Oh, that's a good question, Unknown. You want to stick in in the breast, going about half way down. You do not want to have the thermometer hit the bone, or it will give you an improper reading.

    You're welcome! I am not a fan of brining or underskin seasoning... it's much easier said than done. And brining takes a lot of prep/sitting time. I suppose most people factor this time in around Thanksgiving, but we have turkey year round, and I have found this to be the easiest/quickest method and still have a great turkey at the end of it.

  4. Yes to everything but I like to brine my turkey the night before. It makes it extra yummy!

  5. Yes to everything but I like to brine my turkey the night before. It makes it extra yummy!

  6. Yes to everything but I like to brine my turkey the night before. It makes it extra yummy!

  7. To be honest if you want a fool proof turkey everytime...... You need to BRINE the bird. If you have never heard of it you must do it. Trust me, I work as a professional chef and after the bird is brined you could give it to the worst cook in the world and it will still come out perfect!

    Just a little secret we use in hotels and restaurants.


    1. Heather is aware of brining, she just finds it to be a pain. I agree.

  8. Cory, I understand, but as my wife noted in the comment above, if the prep time is much lower with her method and the resulting turkey is just as good, isn't her method clearly superior?

  9. Do you cover the turkey at all? Or do you leave it as is shown in the photo above? Thanks!

  10. I agree with everything except where you place the thermometer.... the dark meat is the last part to cook and needs the thermometer placed in the fleshy part of the thigh... not touching any bone. Makes a much nicer presentation if you tie the legs together too.

    1. I found that my turkey breast would dry out when I used the dark meat as a temp gauge. When I switched to testing in the breast, it seemed to be more accurate.

      Yes, definitely a good idea to tie the legs if you are going to officially present the bird. I always carve the turkey before taking it to the table, so I don't worry about presentation too much.

      Thanks for the thoughts!

  11. This recipe worked great...I made my practice turkey today (first turkey ever). My only mistake was not taking out the giblet bag.
    Thanks for a tasty recipe and Happy Thanksgiving!

  12. Is the oven pictured you new one? Ours looks to be the same model. I'm planning on using the recipe for my first turkey. The only thing is I got stuck with an 18lb bird. I'm thinking 325 for 3 hours and check it. Can I leave the thermometer in the whole time and still get an accurate reading?

    1. Yes, that's our new one, but I'll have to let Heather answer your other questions. :)

    2. Hi Eddie! I'm sorry I didn't get to see this until just now. That is our new oven.. how did your bird turn out? Your numbers sound good to me. I actually do not know the answer to the thermometer question... I tend to think it's not a good idea to have metal in the oven that long, and then use it as an accurate temp gauge. But I could be wrong.

  13. Green leafy happiness and cherry-red life, bursting with seeds. Summer

  14. I find the science to brine a turkey fascinating so we're going for it this year. It sits for 24hrs, how easy is that? We're excited with the aroma of fresh and ground seasoning and its days before. Comparing ten+ years of deep fried in peanut oil (worth it, every time) so a brine job is nothing.

  15. >I tried 350 in this oven, but it was too hot. Most likely your oven will need to be anywhere between 325 and 350.

    I guess you mean fahrenheit? Fahrenheit to Celsius calculation below
    350 degrees Fahrenheit = 176.666667 degrees Celsius
    325 degrees Fahrenheit = 162.777778 degrees Celsius

  16. Thank you for sharing this! This year I made turkey for the first time in my life and it was an epic success thanks to your recipe! I heard it years ago when you were on the show with your honey. Now I'm kicking myself for hesitating so long to try it!

  17. Just wanted to let you know I check this website every year!

    1. I love it. Thank you for letting me know ❤

    2. Just looking it up again, I have been using this recipe since you first shared it with Tom. We're doing Thanksgiving a day later because of my wife working yesterday. The Turkey has always turned out great. Thank you for sharing it.
      Rob and Robin