Have you ever prepared a roast turkey any other time than a holiday? I wonder why we only make turkey a few times a year? It’s such an easy dinner, the left-overs can be morphed into so many tasty dishes, and it’s a relatively inexpensive meat. Making a slow-roasted turkey does take a bit of prep, so it’s definitely not the meal to choose when you’re in a hurry!
I get it, I work full-time and then when I come home, there’s more work! There’s homework, laundry, sports, bills, emails…and do I have time to walk the dog?
Then there’s dinner to think about. That’s why I have lots of recipes in my back pocket that take under 30 minutes. Because sometimes I just don’t have the time or energy to spend more than an hour preparing a meal. Yep, I totally get it. (This post was originally posted on November 26th, 2014, and has been updated to contain nutritional information. As an Amazon Affiliate, I may earn a small commission on qualifying purchases.)
Why you should slow-roast your turkey!
But what I don’t get is why on Thanksgiving, when we should be slowing down, reflecting and appreciating what we have, would you want to speed roast a turkey? Why, when we should be rejoicing in family time, whether it’s cooking with three generations, playing Cribbage with grandpa, or listening to corny jokes for the umpteenth time, WHY would you want to speed up time? I’ve partnered up with the Water Quality & Health Council to bring awareness about food safety with the campaign #IPlateItSafe
I’ve seen, this “cook a turkey in under an hour”, recipe flying all over the internet, billed as the greatest thing to happen to Thanksgiving since canned cranberries…not! But I just don’t get it.
Short of an unplanned trip to the emergency room, the whole day is blocked off, just to spend time with people you care about! The turkey is the easiest part of the whole meal. Rub, season, roast. To baste or not to baste, that’s entirely your call. We always go to my mom’s house for Thanksgiving. Christmas is at ours. Mom is 84 and Thanksgiving is her holiday. She’s been baking for days, planning the centerpieces, the menu, and adding guests along the way.
A few weeks before, we have the same conversation. “How many are you expecting mom?” I’ll ask her. “Oh, I think we’ll keep it small this year…probably just us and a couple more.” During subsequent conversations, mom will say, “Well, we’re up to 18…there’s a friend of mine who had nowhere to go this year…and the man next door just lost his wife…” She cannot bear the thought of anyone being alone during the holidays. Far more precious than any other gift my mom has given my girls, are the intangible gifts. The gift of opening ones’ heart and home, the gift of sharing ones’ knowledge and wisdom, and the gift of time. So why, would one choose to shorten that time?
How to prepare roast turkey
First make sure your turkey is completely thawed. (See below) It’s ok to err on the side of an extra day or two in the fridge. If you’ve bought a fresh turkey, then you’re good to go!
Then tuck some butter under the skin and fill the cavity with fresh herbs and quartered lemon. like to add plenty of kosher salt under the skin and in the cavity with the herbs. I’ve based this method using lemons instead of onions on one I learned in culinary school from an Italian chef who taught us Pollo al Limone. The lemon makes the breast meat unbelievably moist. That’s it!
What size turkey should I buy?
This of course, depends on how many people you’re planning on serving. Do you want leftovers? Do more people prefer dark or light meat? Will you have plenty of side dishes? A good rule of thumb is to allow 1 pound of turkey per person, which includes bones and some leftovers. I find if we’re having more than 20 people, it’s easier to roast two smaller turkeys, provided you have access to two ovens. Two 12 pound turkeys will cook more quickly than one 24 pound bird and you’ll have twice as much breast or dark meat.
Should you baste your roast turkey or not?
While some people will say it makes no difference whether you baste or not, I love the act of checking on the bird every thirty minutes or so. It gives me a chance to check the bird’s temperature and make sure the skin isn’t getting too brown. If it is, I’ll tent it, or lower the heat a bit, depending on the timing of the dinner.
Food Safety During the Holidays
If nothing else, the one thing I have carried with me since culinary school in the early 80s was food safety and handling. I wash my hands before cooking and frequently during prepping and cooking. Hands should be washed after handling foods like raw eggs, meats or seafood as well as vegetables and fruits. Wash for at least 20 seconds. I always keep my hair in a pony tail, even when I’m cooking for my own family. Because no one wants a stray hair in their food even if it is your mom’s! I also always wear a chef’s half apron like this one and tuck a clean towel in my waistband. That towel is for drying my clean hands and I never use it on dishes or a counter.
Defrosting the turkey
I think this might be one of the biggest problems around the holidays. People seem to underestimate the amount of time needed to defrost their bird. Then when it comes time to roast the bird, they realize it’s still half frozen and then try to “speed thaw” it. I allow about 1 day (24 hours) for every 5 pounds. I usually add an extra day for good measure. That means a I’ll begin defrosting a 15 pound turkey on the Sunday before Thanksgiving.
Most of us are familiar with cross-contamination. But for the few that are not, cross-contamination occurs when two different food items are placed on the same surface. This is especially true of at thanksgiving when there is a lot of food preparation going on. It’s imperative that you have a dedicated cutting board for raw meats and one for vegetables. Either that or thoroughly clean and disinfect the board between uses.
Should you rinse your turkey in your sink?
Do not rinse raw meat or poultry in the kitchen sink! For many years there was debate as to whether you should rinse your turkey or chicken before roasting. This has been proven un-necessary and is not safe as it can spread germs to surrounding surfaces. Even though I do not rinse it, after wrestling the bird around, I always disinfect the sink, counter and any other surfaces the turkey may have come in contact with. I like the kitchen to be clean and sanitized, and then I’m ready to prep the rest of the meal.
What temperature should you roast your turkey?
You can set your oven for 325 or 350 degrees fahrenheit. If you’re not sure whether your oven is accurate, it’s also a good idea to invest in an oven thermometer or have your oven re-calibrated. My oven is off by about 7 degrees, so I take that into account when I’m roasting my turkey.
How long does it take to roast turkey?
This of course, depends on the size of your turkey, the temperature of your oven and whether or not you’ve chosen to stuff your bird. If you use this method, with just lemons and herbs, your turkey should take about 15-17 minutes per pound.
What temperature should the meat be?
I always use a food thermometer! Looks can be deceiving and your bird could be brown and toasty on the outside and raw near the bone! The internal temperature of turkey should be 165 degrees F when a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat.
Is it stuffing or dressing?
When I was growing up we always stuffed our turkey. The juices from the bird mingled with the stuffing and made it extra moist. After cooking school, I couldn’t imagine putting cooked stuffing into a raw bird! I haven’t roasted a turkey with stuffing for decades. Not only that, it adds time to the roasting process. An un-roasted turkey cooks more quickly unstuffed. There’s also no danger of cross-contamination.
Storing the leftover roast turkey
While you never want to refrigerate or freeze piping hot food, leftovers should be refrigerated within two hours. Sooner in warmer climates! Make sure you wrap them well or in covered containers. All leftovers should be tossed within 3-4 days. (You’ll probably be sick of them by then anyway!)
What can you make with leftover turkey?
We all know that the leftovers are the best part! My dad used to make us open-face turkey sandwiches the next day with all the fixings on a slice of white bread. After one day, my family is ready to try something else. Use the turkey meat just as you would leftover chicken. Here are a few of my favorite ways to repurpose leftover turkey.
- 12 pounds Turkey
- 4 ounces Butter diced
- 1 Tablespoon Kosher salt
- 2 Lemons cut into wedges
- 1 bunch Fresh herbs rosemary, thyme or oregano
- Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees F.
- Wipe turkey dry and remove giblets. There is no need to rinse! (see information in post)
- Carefully separate skin from turkey with your fingers. Slide some butter and salt under the skin of the turkey.
- Fill cavity of bird with lemon wedges, herbs and more salt.
- Melt remaining butter and pour over bird. Baste turkey every 30 minutes (if desired)
- Roast until thermometer inserted in thickest part of thigh registers 165 degrees F.
- Remove from oven and tent with foil and allow to rest 20 minutes.
Some of the items I used in this post are available here: