Thanksgiving Turkey 101
Roasting a turkey can be intimidating. It’s the crown jewel of the Thanksgiving table, the star of the show—and yet so many things can go wrong, from dried out white meat to overcooked stuffing and underseasoned gravy. Try these simple tips for Thanksgiving success, whether this is your first or twenty-first go around.
Brining will help season the turkey and lock in its juices to ensure a moist bird. Allowing it to dry before rubbing it with softened butter will tighten the skin for extra crispness and color. Don’t baste the turkey. Basting can dry out the white meat by putting hot melted fats on the parts you are trying your hardest not to overcook. Follow my tried-and-true guide to cooking America’s favorite bird below for perfect turkey year after year.
Watch Andrew make this recipe:
For the turkey:
- 16 to 18 pound fresh heritage turkey
- 1 cup salt
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 tablespoons butter, softened
- 1 teaspoon sage
- 1 teaspoon thyme
- 1 teaspoon rosemary
- 1 tablespoon paprika
For the stuffing:
- 1 pound fresh chestnuts, in the shell
- 8 cups dry seasoned bread cubes
- 1 cup onion, minced
- 1 cup celery, minced
- 2 tablespoons fresh sage leaves, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 2 tablespoon parsley, minced
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- 1/2 cup turkey (or chicken) livers, minced
- 2 to 3 tablespoons heavy cream or milk
For the gravy:
- Giblets from turkey
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 3 cups rich turkey or chicken stock
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 3 tablespoons butter
Two Days Before: Brine the Turkey
Remove giblets from turkey cavity, and reserve for later use. Place your turkey in a large pot. Add enough cold water to cover the bird. Remove turkey and reserve to a platter for a moment. Dissolve the salt and sugar into the water by gently stirring. Return bird to the pot and refrigerate for 16-24 hours.
One Day Before: Dry the Turkey
Remove the turkey from the brine and place on a roasting rack fitted into a roasting pan to catch any drips. Place the turkey back in the fridge uncovered for 24 hours. Allowing the bird to dry will tighten the skin for extra crispness and color.
The Day Of: Roast the Turkey
Remove bird from refrigerator and let rest for 1 hour at room temperature.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
While the turkey comes to room temp, place an ‘X’ mark with a paring knife across the tops of the chestnuts and roast for 25 to 30 minutes, until cooked through. Peel and reserve meats, slicing them into quarters as best you can.
Reduce oven to 325 degrees F.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the bread cubes, onion, celery, sage, thyme, parsley and butter. Season with salt and pepper. Add the chopped chestnuts and minced livers. Moisten with a few tablespoons of cream and mix well to combine. Stuff the turkey, front and back. Tie or skewer legs together.
Place the turkey giblets and diced onion for the gravy into the bottom of the roasting pan, so that the drippings will land on the onions. Set aside.
Rub turkey with the soft butter and sprinkle with sage, thyme, rosemary, salt and paprika. Place the turkey breast side up on the roasting rack set inside a roasting pan. Transfer to oven and roast for 15 minutes per pound. After 2 hours, add 3 cups of stock to the bottom of the roasting pan to prevent the onions and giblets from burning.
To check that the turkey is finished, insert a food thermometer into the meatiest part of the thigh, without touching the bone, and take the temperature. The thigh meat and interior of the stuffing should be above 160 degrees F.
When turkey is done, place it onto a carving board to rest and tent with aluminum foil. While your turkey rests, make the gravy.
Scraping back and forth, remove the roasty-toasty bits that stuck to the roasting pan. Pour the contents of the roasting pan into a large measuring cup. Remove giblets and reserve to a plate. Skim off the fat. You should be left with about 4 cups of stock; it’s important to measure this to determine how much roux to make.
Add the stock and reserved giblets to a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a strong simmer and cook until reduced by 25 percent.
Next, make the roux. Place the butter and flour in another saucepan and cook for several minutes over medium heat. Add the fortified stock to the roux, whisking constantly as you pour. Continue simmering until thickened to gravy consistency. Season with the salt and pepper.
Remove the stuffing from the cavity of the turkey and place in a serving bowl. Carve your bird and place on a platter. Serve with stuffing and gravy.