How to roast the perfect turkey

I love, love, love Thanksgiving. For 12 years, we’ve hosted Thanksgiving at our house for our phamily. All of us spend Christmas and other holidays with our families-of-birth, but this holiday is spent with friends we made in and after college. Folks come in from out of town, everyone takes a turn cooking, and most of the food is from within 50 miles or so. There are even several things I grow specifically for Thanksgiving dinner: rosemary, sage, potatoes, squash.

Here’s how we handle the bird.

  1. Wednesday: Have dear friend (aka Turkeyfiend) drop off immense free-range, no-drugs, never-frozen hen at your house in cooler of ice.
  2. Thursday morning: roll lazily out of bed, greet houseful of guests, laze around in PJs while nibbling on breakfast. Glance at the schedule which has become a permanent fixture on the fridge and remember that turkey-wrestling begins at 2pm. Remind yourself not to eat the pie yet.
  3. Thursday, 2pm:
    1. Assemble seasonings: a bale of rosemary and sage from the garden, and a small bowl with 2-3Tbl of salt and 3-4 Tbl of ground poultry seasoning.
    2. Rinse out bird, set neck and giblets aside. Place turkey in clean roasting pan.
    3. Slide hand between breast meat and skin, loosening the membranes. Take handfuls of the dry seasonings and rub on meat. Evenly distribute fresh herbs between the meat and skin.
    4. Flip turkey over, cut slit in the skin of the turkey’s “hips,” and repeat the seasoning treatment on each thigh and leg.
    5. Place any remaining seasoning inside the cavity.
    6. Wrestle bird into turkey cooking bag.
  4. Thursday, 2:45pm: place bird in 350 degree oven.
  5. 4pm: First check of bird. Baste, if there are any juices yet.
  6. 5pm: Second check of bird. Use thermometer. You want the thigh to be about 185 degrees; the breast will probably be closer to 165. Don’t baste it any more – the skin should be brown and crispy now.
  7. When the bird it done, set the pan on the counter and start harvesting juices.
  8. 5:30 or 6pm: Eat dinner. Bask in glow of happy Turkeyfiend.
  9. 8:30 or 9pm: Figure you’ve finally got room for that pie.

What to do with the turkey juices:

  1. Siphon them out with a bulb baster, and fill two or three tall, clear glasses. The fat will rise to the top.
  2. Make gravy.
    1. Use some of the fat (enough to cover the bottom of the gravy pan) and an equal amount of flour to make a roux.
    2. Use the bulb baster to pull the juices from the bottom of the glass. For gravy, use roughly equal parts juice and water.
    3. Bring to a boil and allow to thicken.
    4. Adjust seasoning – it might need some salt, but the juices were well-seasoned in the turkey, so it won’t need much.
  3. Make dressing.
    1. Use some of the fat to sautee the onions and celery.
    2. Mix juices with water in a large jar (1 part juice to 3-4 parts water; about a quart all together).
    3. Start adding chunks of stale bread to the onions and celery in the pan.
    4. Drizzle the thinned turkey juice over the bread until it’s soaked through.
    5. Adjust seasonings as needed; some fresh sage, rosemary, and extra salt is nice.
  4. Now siphon off the remaining fat into freezer containers, and use it later to sautee meats or vegetables. (Remember, fat from healthy animals is waaaaaay better for you than fake fats like margarine.)
  5. Put the last of the juices in the freezer, too; a pint of concentrated turkey juice plus water will make a quart or more of stock for homemade soup.

On Friday, break up the carcass and boil it in about 2 gallons of water for 3+ hours with some more salt and a couple bay leaves. Pack leftover meat and trimmings into lunch-sized portions and freeze.

On Saturday, pick the carcass clean, dice it up along with all the meat that hasn’t made it into lunches. Can the meat in pint jars and the stock in quart jars.

Eat the last of the pie.



  1. Ken said,

    November 30, 2009 at 8:59 am

    At what point does the bird come out of the bag? Do you baste in the bag?

    The bird I did last week was in a bag for the entire duration and was not basted. It came out nicely *except* the skin, which clung to the bag instead of the bird. There’s another turkey in the offing this coming weekend, so I get another shot at getting it right.

    • Emily said,

      November 30, 2009 at 9:51 am

      You’re supposed to dust the bag (or, more practically, the surface of the turkey) with flour to prevent sticking. I only baste once, at about one hour, to moisten the flour so we don’t have a powdery bird. I just cut a slit in the bag near the feet and reach in with the baster.

      • Ken said,

        November 30, 2009 at 10:37 am

        It was my experience that the flour just served as a dandy moisture-wick and thus turned to glue… Maybe I’ll try dusting the bird next time instead.

        The turkey browns in the bag and stays in there the whole time then, yes?

        • Emily said,

          December 1, 2009 at 10:20 am

          Yep! Basting it after about an hour helps prevent sticking, but more basting makes the skin less crispy.

  2. November 30, 2009 at 10:16 am

    I have no constructive comments, just… yum! 🙂

  3. sahir said,

    December 3, 2009 at 6:27 pm


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