An Amazingly Easy and Absolutely Picture Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey

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Good Morning and Happy Thanksgiving, my darlings!

As I was planning my own turkey and fixings this morning I thought that maybe–just maybe–some of you are overwhelmed by the innumerable processes and recipes out there for roasting a turkey.  So, I would like to share mine as a tried and true recipe that has provided a regal, roasted bird each and every year–without fail since 1980. My parents gave me a Betty Crocker Cookbook for my 16th birthday and the directions provided are from that cookbook–with my own tweaks and enhancements pulled from many years of experience and I’ve noted those changes in italics.

I will be “live” the day before and the day of Thanksgiving to help you out with any problems. Of course, I’m always respond to your posts and comments as time allows every single day. Just subscribe to my Website: www.moonstruckbaydesigns and leave a comment! I will do my level best to give you any help you need to make YOUR Thanksgiving day as picture perfect as possible.

After the roast turkey recipe I have included some other “tips” and recipes to enhance store bought fixings that are absolutely delicious and will elevate them to your own homemade sides!

Picture Perfect, Juicy and Oh So Tender Roast Turkey–Every Time!

The following instructions require a fully thawed/fresh bird. I’m a huge Butterball brand fan–I’ve strayed, once, and the bird was just not as juicy when it was finished. Some people will tell you their birds are “enhanced” with water and salt. Perhaps, my darlings! BUT the first thing most recipes tell you is to brine your unxenhanced turkey–float it in water laden with salt for at least a couple of days before roasting. So–hmmm–save yourself the mess associated with a big sloppy bag of salt water with a turkey floating in it. It’s just going to freak out your husband, wife and/or kids every time they open the refrigerator.

A frozen bird should be thawed by putting it in the refrigerator several days ahead of the event and thawed slowly. You will often find that the cavities and the giblets may still be frozen–in which case you will need to remove the bird from the plastic, place it in the sink and run COLD water directly into each cavity and use your hands to pry out the contents in “real” time. Do not just leave the bird under running water. Poultry needs to remain cold–period. So, you will need to wedge your hand into that icy cavity inch by inch until you can pry loose the giblets, etc. Then follow the instructions that follow to a perfectly roasted bird that will have your family in awe!

An Amazingly Easy and Absolutely Picture-Perfect Roast Turkey

When buying turkeys under 12 pounds, allow ¾ to 1 pound per serving. For heavier birds, 12 pounds and over, allow ½ to ¾ pound per serving.

There are two cavities in the chicken that will have parts in them—one is under the ribs and the other is at the top of the bird in the wishbone area. Be careful not to break the strip of skin holding the legs at the bottom of the turkey—you will need it later. Pull any giblets found under the ribs and the bag of giblets out of the wishbone area before washing your turkey. Set aside.

Remove any large chunks of fat and discard. Cut off the tail and discard.

Wash turkey (with cold running water) and pat dry with paper towels. If desired, rub cavity lightly with salt. Do not salt cavity if turkey is to be stuffed.


Stuffed and pinned wishbone cavity and wing positioning on the turkey

Stuff turkey just before roasting –not ahead of time. Fill wishbone area with stuffing first. Fasten neck skin to back with skewer (I use a couple of toothpicks.) Fold wings across back with tips touching. Fill body cavity lightly. (Do not pack—stuffing will expand while cooking.)

Tuck drumsticks under band of skin at tail (I have never, ever tied a turkey) or tie together with heaving string, then tie to tail.

Preheat oven to 325⁰. Spray bottom and size of your roasting pan with cooking spray. Place turkey breast side up on rack (I do NOT and never have used a rack) in open shallow roasting pan. Brush with butter (I melt two or three sticks of unsalted butter—salt delays browning—on the warmer setting on the stove top and have it ready—more to follow on that.) Insert meat thermometer so tip in thickest part of inside thigh muscle or thickest part of breast meat and does not touch bone. (I have never, ever used a thermometer to cook a turkey and I own a $100 Thermo-pen to determine doneness on almost everything else. See below on my preferred method—taught to me by my grandmother.)

Do not add water. Do not cover. (Covering turkey with a creased piece of aluminum foil or tent toward the end of roasting may be necessary—see the following.) Place one of the racks in your oven on the lowest level and remove any other racks. Place your prepared turkey in the oven and note the time you started.

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Set your oven timer and baste the roasting turkey every 30 minutes until your melted butter is gone and then every hour using pan drippings until done. I always do one last baste when I remove the turkey from the oven as well.)

Follow Timetable for approximate total cooking time. Place a tent of aluminum foil loosely over turkey when it starts to turn a dark golden browna deep caramel color. When 2/3 done (about an hour before suggested time as per following), cut band of skin or string holding legs.


Timetable for Roasting Turkey

Ready to cook weight                       Approx. Total Cooking Time                           Internal Temperature

6 to 8 pounds                                       3 to 3 ½                                                                                         185⁰

8 to 12 pounds                                      3 ½ to 4 ½ hours                                                                       185⁰

12 to 16 pounds                                    4 ½ to 5 ½ hours                                                                        185⁰

16 to 20 pounds                                   5 ½ to 6 ½ hours                                                                        185⁰

20 to 24 pounds                                   6 ½ to 7 ½ hours                                                                        85⁰

This timetable is based on chilled or completely thawed turkeys at a temperature of about 40 and placed in pre-heated ovens. Time will be slightly less for unstuffed turkeys. Differences in the shape and tenderness of individual turkeys can also necessitate increasing or decreasing the cooking time slightly. For best results, use a meat thermometer.

There is not a substitute for a meat thermometer for determining the doneness of a turkey. (I disagree—use to ensure you don’t serve a raw bird to anyone but the test in bold that follows is by far the best.) Placed in the thigh muscle, it should register 185⁰ when done. If a thermometer is not used, test for doneness about 30 minutes before Timetable so indicates. Move drumstick up and down—if done, the joint should readily move or break (This is key for determining doneness and tenderness. If you tent the bird at the deep golden brown point and baste with butter as I suggest you will have a tender, juicy bird—every time.) Or press drumstick meat between fingers; the meat should be very soft.

When turkey is done, remove from oven and allow to stand about 20 minutes for easiest carving. As soon as possible after serving, remove every bit of stuffing turkey. Cool stuffing, meat and gravy promptly; refrigerate separately. Use gravy or stuffing within 1 to 2 days; heat them thoroughly before serving. Serve cooked turkey meat within 2 or 3 days after roasting. If frozen, it can be kept up to 1 month.


Just some notes.

I soloed on my first turkey in 1980 without ever having a problem if I follow the basic outline of the directions from that old cookbook. I have, however, deviated a little from it over the course of the last 20 or so years as I gained experience and confidence (we usually host between 20 and 25 people for Thanksgiving.)

In my experience, the biggest challenge will always be getting all of the sides to the table while they are still hot.

I have a few things that I have discovered over the years as an active duty military/working wife have helped me out over the years (especially if you have only one oven and space is a premium on the stovetop):


Mashed Potatoes.

You can make your mashed potatoes an hour or so ahead of time and keep them warm in a crockpot.

Giblet Gravy

Even if you use store bought jarred or seasoning mix gravy, you can make it really special if you take the trimming from inside the bird (discard the liver or bake it up for the family dog—it “dirties” up the gravy and has a gritty texture that detracts from the smoothness of the finished gravy.)

Simmer giblets in enough chicken broth to cover the giblets by about 2 inches and season with salt, pepper and Italian seasoning for several hours (adding a little more water as needed) until gizzard (heart, if there is one)and neck are fork tender while the turkey is roasting. Once all giblets are fork tender, remove them from the broth (retaining the broth for gravy.)

Discard the skin from the neck and strip the meat with a fork, remove the gristle on the gizzard with a knife and dice the meat and then dice the heart as well. Put all prepared giblets and the retained chicken broth—separate containers to simplify gravy—and refrigerate for use later that day or immediately if you are in the process of making the gravy.

The pan drippings are an amazing addition to your gravy—from scratch as well as prepared.

If preparing gravy from scratch—do it while the bird is resting and give it your undivided attention for the next 10-15 minutes as you prepare it. (Delegate any last minute trips to set sides on the table and carving…) Pour off all remaining oil drippings from the bottom of the roaster into a large measuring cup and put aside—leaving the crispy bits behind.

I put the roasting pan directly on the stove top crossing two burners at this point and make my gravy in the pan itself—to ensure I get every bit of that wonderful flavor.

You will need approximately a total of 6 cups of broth to complete the gravy (enough for leftovers.) Measure the chicken broth from the giblets and add enough prepared chicken broth to make up the difference and have it ready before starting your gravy.

On medium heat, deglaze the pan (unstick the stuck) with ½ cup of white wine (a good chardonnay or pinot grigio)—scraping the bottom firmly with a wooden spoon to avoid scratching your roaster. Continue stirring until most of the wine has cooked out and then add ½ cup of the retained oils from the roaster and ¾ cup of all-purpose flour. Stir and cook until bubbly and smooth.

It is critical that you slowly add the broth 1 cup at a time and then quickly whisk the gravy prep between additions to ensure no lumps (equal amounts of oils and flour give you your best bet for eliminating the possibility of lumps in your gravy.) Add salt and pepper to taste. (I also add powdered chicken bouillon to intensify flavor and add a touch–no more than 2 teaspoons–of brown mustard—my secret ingredient stuff here—for just a tiny bit of acid to balance the gravy.) Add your prepared gizzards, salt, pepper and any other seasonings and serve.

If you are using prepared gravy, pour off all of the oils and deglaze the crispy bits with ½ cup of white wine over medium just like the “from scratch” directions and stir in your prepared gravy. Add your prepared gizzards, salt, pepper and any other seasonings and serve.

Stuffing or Dressing

“Fixin’ up” store bought stuffing/dressing is easy too! Prepare stuffing in the morning just before preparing your turkey for roasting IF stuffing the bird. If NOT, prepare afterwards.

For every two boxes of Stove Top sauté’ in a large pan over medium heat:

2 T. Butter

1 T. of good extra virgin olive oil (first cold pressed only and California is the best of supermarket brands)

1 Medium White Sweet Onion, diced

4 stalks of celery, sliced

(10 or 12 large white whole mushrooms, sliced and diced. OPTIONAL)

(1/2 of a 16 oz. package of Jimmy Dean Sausage Original crumbled and browned. OPTIONAL)

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