How to Cook a Turkey
- 1 turkey (10 to 12 pounds)
- Coarse kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 1 lemon, zested and quartered
- 1 bunch fresh thyme or rosemary
- 1 bunch fresh sage
- 12 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
- 1 bottle hard apple cider (12 ounces)
- Dry white wine, as needed
- 2 onions, peeled and quartered
- 3 bay leaves
- Olive oil or melted butter, as needed
- Remove any giblets from the cavity and reserve for stock or gravy. Pat turkey and turkey neck dry with paper towel; rub turkey all over with 1/2 teaspoon salt per pound of turkey, the pepper and the lemon zest, including the neck. Transfer to a 2-gallon (or larger) resealable plastic bag. Tuck herbs and 6 garlic cloves inside bag. Seal and refrigerate on a small rimmed baking sheet (or wrapped in another bag) for at least 1 day and up to 3 days, turning the bird over every day (or after 12 hours if brining for only 1 day).
- Remove turkey from bag and pat dry with paper towels. Place turkey, uncovered, back on the baking sheet. Return to the refrigerator for at least 4 hours and up to 12 hours to dry out the skin (this helps crisp it).
- When you are ready to cook the turkey, remove it from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature for one hour.
- Heat oven to 450 degrees. In the bottom of a large roasting pan, add the cider and enough wine to fill the pan to a 1/4-inch depth. Add half the onions, the remaining 6 garlic cloves and the bay leaves. Stuff the remaining onion quarters and the lemon quarters into the turkey cavity. Brush the turkey skin generously with oil or melted butter.
- Place turkey, breast side up, on a roasting rack set inside the roasting pan. Transfer pan to the oven and roast 30 minutes. Cover breast with aluminum foil. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue roasting until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of a thigh reaches a temperature of 165 degrees, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours more. Transfer turkey to a cutting board to rest for 30 minutes before carving.
Cooking Time and Tips
Size of turkey Approximate cook time at 350 degrees 9–11 pounds 2½ hours 12–14 pounds 3 hours 15-17 pounds 3½ hours 18-20 pounds 4 hours 21–23 pounds 4½ hours 24+ pounds 5+ hours
HOW TO ADD FLAVOR TO THE PAN
To add flavor to both the turkey (and the gravy, if you’re using pan drippings), you’ll want to add aromatics to the turkey cavity and to the bottom of the pan. Some combination of herbs, peeled garlic cloves, quartered onions and lemons, apples, mushrooms, celery, carrots and bay leaves can be used in both places. Then cover the bottom of the pan with a ¼ inch of liquid (wine, cider, beer, broth, water) so the drippings don’t burn.
THERE’S NO NEED TO BASTE
Some people swear by basting, but I never baste anymore. Every time you open the oven door to baste, you let the heat out. Basting also gives you a less crisp skin. Instead of basting, rub fat (butter, olive oil or coconut oil, for example) all over the bird just before you tuck it into the oven. Then leave it alone until it’s time to check for doneness.
HOW YOU CAN TELL THE TURKEY IS DONE
Start taking the turkey’s temperature at least 15 minutes before you think it might be done. To check its temperature, insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh and under the wing, making sure you don’t touch any bones.
Your bird is done when its internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Don’t be alarmed if the thigh meat near the bone still looks pink. Some turkeys are naturally pinker than others and a fully cooked bird will often have that color.
LET IT REST
Once your turkey is cooked, let it rest out of the oven, covered loosely with foil, for 20 to 30 minutes before carving.
VARIETIES OF TURKEYS
Free-range: This is a bird that is not raised in a cage and is free to graze on any grasses or grains it can find in its pen, which is generally considered a more humane and healthy poultry farming process.
Organic: The U.S.D.A. requires that all turkeys sold as organic must be raised free-range, without the use of antibiotics, and fed an organic and vegetarian diet that has not been treated with pesticides.
Natural: Natural turkeys are generally less expensive than organic, and are often of a comparable quality. But there is no government guarantee to back up the word “natural” on a label. You must read on to find out if the bird is antibiotic-free, free-range and/or raised on a vegetarian diet.
Kosher: Turkeys with the “kosher” label have been farmed and slaughtered according to Jewish dietary customs, with rabbinical supervision. They also undergo a salting process after slaughter that gives the meat a juicy texture. (Don’t brine a kosher bird.)
Conventional: This is the standard supermarket turkey. The variety is the Broad Breasted White, which was bred to have a plumper, broader breast. A conventional turkey should be brined; it will noticeably improve the texture. And use an open hand when it comes to seasonings, since the turkey won’t offer much flavor of its own.
Heritage: Heritage turkeys are old-fashioned varieties of birds that were common in America until the 1920s. They have a richer, more distinct flavor, more like a game bird, and have a greater proportion of dark meat. Breeds include Narragansett, Jersey Buff, Standard Bronze, Bourbon Red and White Holland.
Wild Turkey: It is illegal in the United States to sell a truly wild turkey that’s been shot by a hunter, thus most “wild” turkeys on the market are pasture-raised — often free-range heritage birds. To procure a truly wild turkey you will need to either shoot one yourself or befriend a hunter.
Self-basting: These turkeys have been injected with a solution generally consisting of butter or oil and salt, and sometimes herbs, spices and preservatives. Self-basted turkeys are sometimes not labeled as such, so make sure to check the ingredients list. If you see anything other than “turkey,” chances are it is a self-basting bird. Do not brine it.