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How to Roast a Turkey

Wondering the best way to roast a turkey? Or how long should you cook a turkey for? Or how to roast a turkey without it getting dry? The good news is, there are some basic rules-of-thumb that will help you get a perfectly roasted turkey, every time. 

The elusive goal of a great roast turkey is that golden brown, crispy skin and mouthwateringly tender interior even the toughest critic wouldn’t dare to describe as “dry.” There are four keys (and common mistakes) home cooks should keep in mind when cooking a turkey: 

  • Don’t skip the brine! Growing up in freezing cold Maine, my mom, an excellent home cook, would brine our turkey in a cooler outside since there was so little room in the refrigerator. I can’t say this is by-the-book FDA approved, but you can also transfer all the random condiments from your fridge into a cooler for a few days and brine your turkey in the fridge. Either way, you must brine! It’s the best way to make sure your turkey doesn’t dry out when you roast it. Check out our Citrus & Honey Turkey Brine here, along with a bunch of other favorite side dishes. 
  • Dry, Dry, Don’t Dry! In a complicated Thanksgiving dance, you must first focus first on drying out the turkey as much as possible before roasting, then quickly set your sights on preventing it from getting too dry. It’s a battle, but worth the effort. Drying out the bird before roasting gets it that crispy skin--make sure to leave it, uncovered, in your fridge the night before, then use, like, an entire roll of paper towels to get it as dry as possible before putting it in the oven
  • Be Temperamental! Do not, under any circumstance, try to cook your turkey without first tempering it (or removing it from the refrigerator for a few hours to allow it to come to room temperature). This is true of cooking any meat, but especially a big ol' turkey: the outside will cook too quickly and leave the interior raw. You'll be forced to over cook it, a.k.a. the dreaded dry out. 
  • Baste with haste! One of the most common mistakes home cooks make is to baste slowly with the oven door open, letting out all the heat. This ends up making you cook the bird for longer, resulting in the dreaded dry-out. Though basting is super important, make sure to baste quickly. Maybe pretend you’re on Top Chef and it’s the last 10 seconds, or employ one of your family members as a drill sergeant-style sous chef to yell, “Faster! Faster!” the whole time. Whatever you do, don’t have a few cocktails and think you can baste with leisure, these are the final hours of game time! 

How to Roast a Turkey 

Monday morning: take the giblets out of the turkey and set aside for giblet gravy (optional). Make the turkey brine and start brining the turkey (in your refrigerator).  

Tuesday: B.A.D (Brine All Day)

Wednesday: Remove from brine and give the turkey a quick rinse. Get it super dry with paper towels, then set on a rack set inside a sheet tray. Set, uncovered, in your refrigerator to dry overnight. 

Thursday morning: Game. Time. 

  1. Take the bird out to temper for 3 hours before you plan to cook it. 
  2. Coarsely chop some carrot, onion, celery, sage, thyme, and garlic and use to stuff the cavity. Cover the entire bird with copious amounts of melted butter and salt liberally. 
  3. Roast it on a rack set in a roasting pan for about 13 minutes per pound. 
  4. Roast at 350F for ¼ of the time, then lower the heat to 325F and begin basting every 20-25 minutes for the remaining time. Baste quickly (see above)! 
  5. Remove from the oven and let rest, uncovered, for ½ the cooking time. 

For example: 16 pound turkey = 208 minutes total. 52 minutes at 350, then 156 minutes at 325, basting every 20-25 minutes. Let rest, uncovered, for 104 minutes.

For more personal opinions and semi-solicited advice: carve the breast meat thinly, don't cook the stuffing in the bird (for safety reasons, and because you'll have to over cook the turkey). And, if you're feeling adventurous  

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