A large, plump, roasted turkey is an incredible treat that can either make or break a festive dinner. The pressure is on, your family and friends are gathered and you want to create a memorable meal to be remembered through the ages. So how do you achieve holiday success? Follow these ten easy steps to get this beloved bird perfect every time.
1. Buy a better turkey
Fresh is always best, and quality does matter. With the growing number of amazing local turkey farmers there are more free-range and organic options to choose from. A happy bird will always make for a happy meal.
2. To brine or not to brine your turkey
Although buying a great turkey means you can skip this step, brining gives you a great safety net to ensure tender and juicy meat.
Stir 28 cups of hot water with 1 ½ cups salt and ½ cup sugar in an extra large pot until dissolved. Throw in any herbs or spices (such as rosemary sprigs, whole peppercorns or crushed garlic cloves) and let cool to room temperature. Add your 18-20 lb turkey and soak overnight in the fridge.
Mix 1 cup kosher salt with 3 cups brown sugar and pack all over the bird. Place in the fridge for 12 – 24 hours, then rinse, rinse, rinse. (You MUST use kosher salt for this, or your bird will become a salt-bomb.)
3. Bring turkey to room temperature
It’s so important to allow your turkey to come up to room temperature before cooking. This will allow for the heat to be evenly distributed and provide an accurate cooking time.
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4. Pat meat dry
Use a clean dishtowel and pat the whole turkey down. It will help the skin crisp and take on a gorgeous amber colour. Once it’s dry, give it a little love with a generous brush of melted butter or good-quality olive oil.
5. Seasoning is key
Whether you’re stuffing your bird or not, always season both the cavity and skin well. You can’t undo a bland turkey.
6. Give turkey space to cook
I always cook turkey directly on the oven rack set over a simmering pan of stock and although it makes for a bit more mess (and some epic gravy) it’s totally worth it to have a perfectly cooked top and bottom. If you want to go a tidier route, set your turkey on any kind of rack inside your roasting pan.
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7. Baste, baste, baste
You can’t over-baste while cooking turkey. Seriously. Every 30 minutes to an hour makes for some delicious results. (And while you’re at it, bonus points for brushing some more melted butter on there.)
8. Slow and steady wins the race
Proper cook time is the most important factor and a turkey can’t be rushed. A hotter oven won’t speed up the process, it will just dry out your bird. So accept that you’re in it for the long haul and keep your oven to 325F. A 13-15 lb, unstuffed bird, should take about 3 1/4 to 3 1/5 hours.
9. Use a meat thermometer
You don’t want to under- or overcook your turkey, so always insert a thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh and breast. You’re looking for it to read 165F.
10. Let turkey rest after cooking
Last but not least, it’s always tempting to want to carve the turkey straight from the oven — but it really needs a minimum of 20 minutes to rest at room temperature to reabsorb its juices. Bonus: this gives you extra time to get all your delicious side dishes set on the table, and powder your nose.
Originally published September 2014. Updated December 2018.