How to Roast a Turkey For Dummies.

November 21, 2011

I have roasted many turkeys.  I have bought fancy, heritage varieties and supermarket ones.  I have tried many methods for keeping the meat succulent and moist.  There was the Martha-wine-and-butter-soaked-cheesecloth version.  Butter and locally-sourced herbs smeared under the skin method.  In the smoker.  In the convection oven.  Basting every 15 minutes.  Low temp.  High temp.  Brining -- wet and dry. Every year something different it seems.

What I can say for sure is brining works big time.  Don't even bother roasting one if it hasn't been brined, in my opinion.  The good news is that Trader Joe's sells ones that are already brined!  For like $1.99/lb.!  So you don't have to use a huge garbage bag of salt water in a cooler (or bathtub of ice, which happened to me one year as I recall).  Oh, and it is my understanding that kosher turkeys have already been salt treated so they are (effectively) brined, so if you can find one of those, that will save you some time as well.

But all that other business of trying to keep the breast meat moist?  I dunno.  Sure, butter is always going to help.  It helps everything!!  But who wants to be bothered with things that don't really pay off that much?  I roasted a turkey last week (just because I like it that much and Trader Joe's had them and I wanted to make a bunch of soup later in the week).  And I could not be bothered, friends.  It was like a Tuesday and I was tired.  It was a dinner just for the five of us (no guests, no pressure).  So I followed Elise's simple method, and you know what?  Best turkey ever.  Flip that bird upside down and almost every problem is solved.  The only thing is you don't get a pretty golden breast side, but who cares?  You get a pretty golden back (see below).   The one thing I would alert you to is a brined bird will cook more quickly than one that isn't so start checking the temperature early (my 14 pound turkey was done probably 45 minutes before the recipe said it would be).
{see? backsides can be pretty!}
The only other (strong) suggestion I would offer is to make this Onion Marmalade.  It's more like a chutney, in my opinion.  Whatever it is, it is the perfect sweet-sour contrast to all that starchy richness going on with a turkey dinner.

Oh, and here is a recipe for basic pumpkin pie that I love.  (But I made Smitten Kitchen's Baked Pumpkin and Sour Cream Puddings this week and those were to die.)  I also make my grandmother's "Spirited Cranberry Sauce" nearly every year.  Gosh, I miss her.

What do you make?  Any tips or favorite family recipes?

UPDATE: After reading this post, I am reminded why it is so important to seek out buying a "happy" turkey.  I am afraid the $1.99 ones from TJ's do not reflect the true price of raising a healthy animal!   


  1. Thank you so much for posting this. I've been contemplating brining for the first time ever this year and you effectively made my decision for me! Might even cook it upside down just to be really crazy!

  2. Thanks for that post. This comment won't seem as enthusiastic as my last one that I just accidentally deleted. Oops.

    I love that Onion Marmalade. I have been making it ever since I at this amazing roast beef, onion marmalade, pesto sandwich at the WF in La Jolla. I've made it with and without the cranberries. I've also made it with apples and apple cider vinegar. It's so good.

    I'm totally making a version of that pudding. I love pumpkins. Love them.

  3. I've always been so intimidated by any roast! Thanks for showing me it doesn't have to be impossible :)

  4. Great pictures and recommendations. I was looking forward to Thursday but now even more so. Already have the turkey, but it's not brined. Do you have a favorite brine?

  5. A friend of mine told me about flipping the bird (ha) a few years ago. My suggestion is to flip it breat side up the last 30 minutes-problem solved!

  6. Brining, for sure! Makes such a huge difference, and the pan gravy is spectacular. Spirited Cranberry Sauce sounds like a special dish from a special person. The best kind of food.

  7. THANK YOU!! Is tying up that bird really necessary?

  8. hey cuz will you email me Grandma's recipe and come visit us!

  9. My sister roasted our turkey upside down, per your/Elise's recommendation and it was delicious! Super tender. Great tip!


  10. Yes! We are a brining family, too. It makes all the difference in the world! I just wish I read this post before Thanksgiving. That onion marmalade sounds divine...

  11. I bought an already brined turkey from Whole Foods and was certain it was be insanely delicious.......sadly, it was still dry! Next year I will be following your instructions. Guess thats my punishment for getting so behind on my reader!

  12. upside down?! crazy. i tackled my first turkey this year, and jora, you'd have been proud. moist and delicious. and at $3.49 a pound or something it came out to like $76 because it was enormous and from a local farmer... see?! proud!

    i brined it... apple juice, thyme, ginger, an orange, the whisker of a black cat (jk but it really felt like a witch's brew)


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