The Perfect Roast Turkey

Roasting a perfect Thanksgiving Day turkey is a cinch—especially if you follow the steps outlined here. The first and most important of these is to buy a premium, FRESH turkey. Below are some of the options available in Portland, Oregon.

The biggest myth I hear from folks about roasting turkey is that it “takes all day.” I just roasted a 16-pound bird to perfection in 2¼ hours. It’s resting on the stovetop now for another 30 minutes. Then we will eat it with the best stuffing I’ve ever made: Spicy Ciabatta & Cornbread Stuffing with Italian Sausage, Wild Mushrooms & Fresh Herbs (posting next). So minus the brining (48 hours), drying (24 hours), and warming to room temperature before roasting (1 hour), the bird is ready to eat in under 3 hours.

And the most common mistake made when preparing the big bird is over baking it. It’s done when the thickest part of the thigh tests 170°F with an instant-read thermometer. Some thrill seekers even pull the bird from the oven at 165°F.

As to whether to stuff the bird or cook the stuffing separately, I prefer the ease and safety of the latter. I like to make a big batch of stuffing and bake if off in smaller increments as needed. It keeps for days, unbaked in the fridge.

The Perfect Roast Turkey

If you follow these steps to the tee, your bird will be absolute perfection–meaning roasted to the right degree, beautifully colored, full flavored, tender, moist, and memorable.

NOTE   Be sure to purchase the turkey and begin the prep steps 3 days in advance.

  1. Buy the turkey: For the best tasting turkey possible, purchase a fresh, local, free-range, organic bird. (See the list below for turkey purveyors in Portland, Oregon.)
  2. Prep the turkey: Unwrap your fresh turkey. Remove giblets from the front and back cavities and reserve for stock. Under cold running water, rinse turkey well inside and outside.
  3. Prepare the turkey brine: Prepare a simple brine, enough to completely submerge the turkey. For every 2 cups of water, dissolve 1 tablespoon fine sea salt.
  4. Brine the turkey: Place the turkey in large stockpot or deep bowl and add the prepared brine. Refrigerator for two days, turning the bird once of twice in the process. It takes about this amount of time for the salt to work it’s way into the flesh of a 16- pound bird.
  5. Dry the turkey skin: Okay, this step is not absolutely essential, and you can skip it if you are short on time. Remove turkey from brine solution and discard the brine. Pat turkey dry with paper towels. Set a cooling rack on an edged baking sheet and place turkey, breast-side-up. Refrigerate, loosely topped with a sheet of foil, for 24 hours. Remove the turkey from the fridge one hour before roasting. Let sit, uncovered, at room temperature for one hour. (You don’t want to put a very cold bird into the oven.)
  6. Prepare the glaze: In a small saucepan or bowl in the microwave, warm your basting glaze. For the simplest glaze, simply soften or melt ½ cup unsalted butter.
  7. Truss the turkey: This essential process is easier to show than to describe. Here’s a good video that shows how to truss a big bird. Don’t worry if you can’t get it exactly right. the main thing is to make sure that the wings and legs are held closely against the body of the bird. Hint: Start with twice the length of twine you thing you will need.
  8. Baste the turkey: Position the turkey, breast-side-up, on a rack set in a deep roasting pan. Using a silicon basting brush, brush the glaze all over the skin of the turkey.
  9. Heat the oven: Arrange a rack in the lower third of the oven (with plenty of headroom above), and heat oven to 400°F.
  10. Roast the turkey: Roast turkey for 1 hour at 400°F, reduce oven to 325°F, and continue roasting until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the thigh tests 170°F with an instant-read thermometer. If desired, but not required, baste the turkey with additional melted butter each hour. A 16-pound unstuffed turkey is beautifully browned in 1 hour and done in about 2¼ hours. (Add ½ hour baking time for stuffed birds 16-pounds or less.) If your bird begins to brown too much before it is done, cover loosely with a sheet of foil, reflective-side-up.
  11. Rest the turkey: Remove the turkey from the oven, position on a serving platter, loosely cover with heavy foil, and let rest for 30 minutes before carving. The temperature of the turkey will continue to rise (2-4 degrees) during the resting period. This critical step ensures that the juices of the bird redistribute themselves evenly into the flesh. If you skip this step, your turkey may be undercooked and the juices will flow out onto the plate when you carve the bird.
  12. Prepare the turkey gravy: While the turkey is resting, pour off fat from the roasting pan and discard. Deglaze pan with 1 cup of Brown Poultry Stock, scraping the bits off the bottom of the pan, strain, and then proceed as described in Thanksgiving 24-Hour Turkey Gravy.
  13. Carve and serve the turkey: It’s not difficult but does take a little practice. Check out this Alton Brown video on how to carve your turkey.

Turkey Options in Portland, Oregon (2012)

Zupan’s features Shelton’s fresh, all natural, free-range, antibiotic/hormone-free turkeys.

Food Front
Food Front features Deck Family Farm local, pasture-raised turkeys, Diestel Ranch free-range turkeys, and Diestel’s Heidi’s Hens Certified Organic turkeys.

New Seasons
New Seasons features Diestel Family Turkey Ranch humanely raised, free-range, organic turkeys from Sonora, California.

Trader Joe’s
Trader Joe’s features fresh and fresh brined turkeys from farms in Minnesota, California and Pennsylvania.
The turkeys are described as all natural, which Trader Joe’s website defines as “minimally processed with NO artificial ingredients, no antibiotics or growth hormones, and a diet of 100% vegetarian feed.”

Whole Foods
Whole Foods has three turkey options: fresh, fresh brined, and fresh, natural, free range (from Misty Knoll, Vermont)

Whole Food’s turkeys adhere to these standards: no antibiotics, vegetarian diet, no added hormones, no added solutions (except when brined) or injections, complete traceability to farm.

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