My Turkey Travails + The Easiest Roast Turkey You’ll Ever Make

Perfect-Roast-Turkey

Ever since I started hosting Thanksgiving dinner ten years ago, I have been on a quest to make the perfect Thanksgiving turkey. I’ve brined it, deep fried it, marinated it, injected it, buttered it, dry-rubbed it, butterflied it and stuffed it. I’ve tried Kosher turkeys, organic turkeys, free range turkeys and self-basting turkeys. A few years ago, I even bought an oil-less outdoor propane turkey fryer called “The Big Easy, ” which freed up my oven and actually made a wonderfully crisp-skinned and juicy turkey. (If you want to spend $100 on a large piece of equipment that will likely sit in storage collecting cobwebs 364 days a year, I highly recommend it!)

From all this fussing with turkeys, I’ve come to realize that my turkey will never be perfect. Let’s face it: turkeys, on their own, just aren’t very good. That’s what gravy and cranberry sauce are for. As Mary Risley from Tante Marie’s Cooking School so humorously points out in the video below (which you should definitely watch, especially if you have any turkey-cooking anxiety), “I have never had an outstanding turkey.”

(Viewer discretion advised, as this very funny video contains some foul language)

Short of purchasing a special turkey cooker (this is the one I have), it is near impossible to cook a turkey perfectly: the white meat always cooks before the dark meat is done and the skin on the bottom is never crisp (unless you flip the hot, sputtering bird mid-way through cooking – ummm, no thank you!).

So is it really worth it to go to great lengths – brining in big coolers for days in the garage, risking life and limb deep-frying in the driveway, pre-icing the breast of the turkey so it cooks more slowly (I swear, there’s a very respectable cooking magazine that wants you to do this) – to make that End-All-Be-All turkey?

It’s up to you, but I don’t think so. I’m not interested in babysitting my turkey for three days to get marginally better results at the end.

My advice to you on Thanksgiving is to keep it simple. Make an easy roast turkey (i.e., just put the #&?@#!#% in the oven) along with an over-the-top delicious gravy and some cranberry sauce to go with it. Focus your time and creativity on the side dishes and desserts because that’s what everyone really looks forward to anyway.

Perfect-Roast-Turkey

Of course, I would not leave you high and dry without a recipe. And, you know me by now, I would not just haphazardly “stick a turkey in the oven.” But, funny enough, my favorite recipe — the 2-Hour Turkey — does just that. Developed by Sunset Test Kitchens for Safeway (I know, but trust me), the 2-Hour Turkey requires no brining or stuffing, fancy seasoning, trussing or injecting. It’s just a plain ol’ turkey seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted in a 475-degree oven until the skin is crispy and brown and the meat is juicy. From all my turkey travails, I can tell you that this simple high-temperature method is the absolute best (and most sensible) way to cook a turkey.

ingredients

Believe it or not, depending on the size of your bird, the turkey cooks in 1-2 hours. I know it sounds impossible if you’ve been waking up early for the last twenty years to slow cook your turkey but I promise you it works. The turkey is cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees in the oven (not the 175 to 180 degrees most experts recommend) and comes up to just the right temperature while it rests.

resting-bird

Rather than post the recipe here, I am giving you a few links to the Safeway website, where the recipe is very well written with detailed step-by-step photos and a FAQ section that answers every possible question you could ever have about a turkey. Be sure to read through the recipe carefully now so that you have everything you need on Turkey Day — and follow it to a tee (including cleaning your oven beforehand so it doesn’t smoke from the high heat). I also recommend reading through the FAQs so you can anticipate any issues that might arise.

Click here to print the recipe.
Click here to see step-by-step photos and read the turkey FAQs.
Click here if you’d  like to watch a short video to see how it’s prepared.
Click here to see how to carve a turkey.

Note that the recipe calls for a certain brand of turkey that Safeway carries; don’t worry about that — any turkey will do. I’ve made the recipe with both a Kosher turkey and Butterball turkey and both came out great. Same goes for the olive oil — any brand will work. Just don’t use butter as it will burn. Also, the recipe does not give quantities for salt and pepper. It’s personal preference but, for my 12-14 pound turkeys, I use about 2 tablespoons of kosher salt and 1-1/2 teaspoons of black pepper.

Finally, keep in mind, while the 2-Hour Turkey might be one of the best, juiciest turkeys you’ve ever made, it will still taste like turkey! Be sure to make my gravy and cranberry orange sauce to go with it.

Click here for my gravy recipe.
Click here for my cranberry sauce recipe.

A Few Final Thoughts on Turkey

 
– Depending on where you buy your turkey, you might be presented with several options like Organic, All Natural, Kosher or Self-Basting. I like Kosher turkeys best but they can be expensive and hard to find. The good news is that it doesn’t matter much which type of bird you buy for this recipe — they all work well! (If you want to read more about the different types of turkeys, click here.)

– Most recipes, including this one, will advise you to save the turkey giblets to make turkey stock and gravy. It’s a good idea but, to be honest, I never bother – there’s too much other cooking to do on Thanksgiving. The drippings from the roasted turkey will give you plenty of flavor for your gravy, and you can use store bought chicken broth for the rest. Keep it simple!

– No matter how you cook your turkey, leave it un-trussed (don’t tie the legs together) – it’s easier and the turkey will cook more evenly. Many turkeys come with a plastic binder that holds the legs together; just cut it off. Or sometimes the skin is pulled around the legs to hold them together; you can cut that off as well.

– Don’t go crazy trying to flavor your turkey with herbs and spices. Salt, pepper and oil the skin and you’re good to go. Anything else is unnecessary and gets overshadowed by the gravy and all the side dishes anyway.

– Don’t worry about basting the bird (you actually can’t in this recipe); it’s not necessary and let’s heat out of the oven, which increases the cooking time.

– Don’t stuff your turkey – it will cook faster and you won’t have to worry about giving your guests salmonella (yikes…that would not be happy turkey day). Plus, your stuffing will be mushy if you cook it inside the bird. Why have soggy stuffing when you can bake it separately in the oven and have it crisp and toasty on top?

Hope my turkey travails help turn your turkey into a success! If you enjoyed this post, subscribe for free to my newsletter and never miss a recipe!

Reviews & Comments

  • Jenn –
    I have been meaning to tell you since Thanksgiving how well this worked! Not only was the turkey delicious, but the pan drippings made a delicious gravy! I am a convert to the simple method!!!!

    - Joy on December 19, 2013 Reply
  • Loved this high heat method. I thought this short cut was too good to be true, so I experimented with one of my three turkey breasts the day before. My oven was spotless, but the drippings spritzed all over the place during the last 30 minutes setting off my smoke alarm. But, I didn’t give up. I put the next turkey breast in a deeper pan than was called for and that solved the smoke problem. Beautiful crispy skin and moist meat.
    I know that it goes against all the turkey rules, but I always make my turkey the day before Thanksgiving. After it cools, I slice it and set it back into the pan drippings and place the skin back over the top of the meat and cover the pan with foil. I reheat it the next day with all the other sides. Never dryer than when I have made it on Thursday. And no messy cleanup while company is standing around. If there aren’t enough drippings I will add some stock or broth to the pan. Also I have found it more practical to make 2 smaller turkeys than one heavy one.
    Thanks again, Jenn

    - Judi on December 10, 2013 Reply
  • I was skeptical about this recipe but tried it for our Thanksgiving dinner. It was a hit! I could not believe it was done in 1 hour and 30 minutes…I followed the directions to let the turkey rest for 45 minutes and it came up to temperature as expected and the whole bird was perfectly cooked. The white meat was moist and the legs did not need to go back in the oven. Thank you for this recipe. I will not be going back to slow roasting my turkey!

    - Kelly on December 1, 2013 Reply
  • Hi Jenn, Just wanted to let you know that we made this turkey for Thanksgiving yesterday and it was by far the best we’ve ever made and SO easy! Our 14 pound bird was done in under 2 hours and even the white meat was moist and juicy. Also made your gravy and cranberry sauce to go along with it. Thank you!

    - Elsie on November 29, 2013 Reply
  • Thank you for a delightful stream of menus and dishes. I have prepared many with great success and happy recipients.
    Now I am not one to leave negative comments online, and I hope this is taken in the spirit it is given. Last night I prepared our family’s turkey by this high heat quick cook method, exactly as described. Although the end result was a fine and tasty bird, our home was filled with smoke for the entirety of the roasting process. We had to open all the doors and windows (thankfully the weather was unseasonably warm), and pray the smoke alarms didn’t go off. Olive oil in the oven, at 475 degrees, is a prescription for a minor disaster : ( Since I couldn’t shift gears at the realization of this most uncomfortable situation, (I had to serve dinner at a prescribed hour), we were stuck with the smoke.
    Not pleasant….
    I don’t know if other cooks had this problem, but I thought I should share this potential problem with this method of roasting the Thanksgiving day turkey.
    Happy Thanksgiving to all.
    We are celebrating Thanksgivukkah : ) What a truly precious moment in time.

    - Nancy on November 28, 2013 Reply
    • Hi Nancy, Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I’m so sorry you had trouble with smoke in your kitchen. That does not sound pleasant! This is always a concern with high heat roasting, with any meat. I’m wondering if your oven clean or if you used a convection oven? As stated in the recipe, it’s very important to clean your oven beforehand as any accumulated debris can cause smoke during high-heat cooking.

      - Jenn on November 29, 2013 Reply
      • Thank you Jenn, for taking the time and kind effort to respond to my comment.
        I will say that I made quite sure the oven was spic and span before roasting. If most people successfully prepared their turkeys by this method without smoke problems, I’m going with the (Safeway) idea, that my thermostat may be slightly off, resulting in a higher temperature in the oven than the reading.
        I think I’ll try again, after the smoke clears (hahaha), and no company is expected.

        Happy Holidays to you and yours.
        Looking forward to another year of your inspiring recipes.
        Nancy

        - Nancy on November 29, 2013 Reply
    • Hi Again, Nancy. Just wanted to add this FAQ from the Safeway website, as it might be helpful to others as well.

      There’s an unusual amount of smoke coming out of my oven. What should I do?

      First, check to make sure that no part of the turkey is sticking over the pan rim; if it is, push it back in place. Also make sure that the pan itself doesn’t have a hole that fat is dripping through; if it does, slide the pan onto a larger, shallow-rimmed pan. To get rid of smoking fat, wipe it off the oven bottom with a pad made of folded damp paper towels, pushing them over the oven bottom with a long-handled spatula. Another reason for smoke is that your oven may be averaging hotter than 475°; if so, reduce the temperature setting by about 25°.

      - Jenn on November 29, 2013 Reply
  • Thank you for receiving my stress this year! I have spent endless hours researching the perfect (and very complex) recipes for turkey and gravy. I can’t wait to prepare your recipes. Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving.

    - Kim DiLeo on November 25, 2013 Reply
  • Is it absolutely necessary to put the turkey on a v-rack? I would like to not have to go out and buy one if I don’t HAVE to. Would it still roast just fine without it? and without placing the turkey on anything other than the bottom of the pan?

    - jw on November 24, 2013 Reply
    • Hi JW, From experience, I think it is. The point of the rack is to let the heat of the oven circulate around the turkey, allowing the legs to cook faster (keeping up with the breast) and the skin on the whole bird to brown. I’ve tried roasting chickens and turkeys on flat racks or right in the roasting pan, and they come out fine but the skin doesn’t brown on half the bird. It comes out flabby and unappetizing, which means you really can’t serve it with the meat. Hope that helps!

      - Jenn on November 24, 2013 Reply
  • Can you post any tips about using the Big Easy? I actually have one, but this will be my first time cooking a turkey in one, and I’m a tad anxious.

    - Abigail on November 22, 2013 Reply
    • Abigail, I was intimidated to use it the first time too but it could not be any easier…you literally just season your turkey and stick it in there! Just be sure to buy a turkey that is small enough to fit :) It cooks quickly so keep an eye on it. If you want, you could rub some olive oil and herbs under the skin but, as I said above, I really don’t think it’s necessary as long as you make a good gravy. Do you still have the manual? If not, I think you can find it online…just follow the instructions exactly and you’ll be good to go.

      - Jenn on November 22, 2013 Reply
      • Thanks, Jen! I’m excited to try it.

        - Abigail on November 22, 2013 Reply
  • Hey Kids ~ I have no idea why everyone thinks this is so hard. I thaw the turkey out in the refrigerator for a couple of days – no big deal if there are still ice crystals – just double wrap each way in aluminum foil in a slow bake 250 oven ‘for-ever’ (about 12 hours) and it is a no fail…don’t stuff that bird with anything but an apple (yeah, a whole apple) a couple stalks of celery (make ‘em fit) and part of an onion…maybe a bit of poultry seasoning and oregano and just about the same amount of sage – never hurts to add some thyme. I’m not pretending to be your mom or grandma, and your turkey may not be as pretty as theirs, but, it’ll taste just as good and probably better. Love you young ‘uns and hope your Thanksgiving is as easy and care free as you are!

    - deanna on November 22, 2013 Reply
  • Thank you Jennifer! I actually tried this method a few years ago, and I don’t even know why, but it was the best turkey we ever had. Then I promptly forgot what method I used. Thanks for the reminder! I’m cooking the turkey this year, and this time I’m going to print the recipe and not forget it.

    PS…I love the video, that I had already seen, but that reflects my feelings exactly!

    - Kathy D. on November 21, 2013 Reply
  • Looks great. After Thanksgiving (when I am making all the food except for the turkey), I will be cooking a whole turkey breast that I really must get out of the freezer. How long would I cook the turkey breast for at this method? Either this way or I also like to cook it in a slow cooker.

    - Sharon on November 21, 2013 Reply
    • Hi Sharon, It depends on the weight of the turkey…I would definitely use the meat thermometer as the recipe advises to be sure.

      - Jenn on November 21, 2013 Reply
  • You know, this turkey cooking method makes sense — it’s a lot like Barbara Kafka’s simple roast chicken, which is always perfect (except that my house always fills with smoke and I have to clean the oven afterwards).

    Thanks so much for sharing — I *was* already having turkey anxiety …

    - Susan on November 21, 2013 Reply
    • Yes, exactly, Susan. The key is to make sure your oven is really clean beforehand — I do this and no smoke :)

      - Jenn on November 21, 2013 Reply
  • My favorite way to cook a turkey is in a clay cooker. The bird turns out so yummy!!!

    - Michelle on November 21, 2013 Reply
  • I have a recipe that I have got froma friend and the turkey turns out great (note: the turkey is not stuffed). Just thought I’d share it with you…it does sound strange, but it does work. Preheat oven to 500 degrees (NOT BROIL). Have turkey washed and at room temp. Season as desired. Place sliced onion, celery, carrot, apple, etc. in crevices if desired (I don’t). Place a combination of oil and butter under skin and run into the skin. Take a clean grocery bag (paper) and thoroughly cover INSIDE surface with oil. Place turkey into bag, secure with staples or paper clips so that no air can escape from bag. Place on roasting rack in the roasting pan. Put into oven being sure that NO part of the paper bag comes in contact with oven walls. Roast at 500 degrees for 20 minutes, when sizzles, turn temperature in oven down to 400 degrees. Continue to roast for 8 minutes per pound.

    - Pat on November 21, 2013 Reply
  • Love this! I totally agree that the best part of the Thanksgiving feast is all of the side dishes, but I love the turkey for another reason. My favorite thing about roasting a turkey is making a rich turkey broth for soup with the carcass.

    - Kath on November 21, 2013 Reply
  • THANK-YOU….This is what I have always suspected :0)

    - Paula A Welsh on November 21, 2013 Reply
  • You are a mind reader! No matter how many turkeys one cooks, there are always those nagging pre-Thanksgiving doubts (which turkey, which method, etc). BUT, I have complete confidence in you, Jenn, and will follow your advice to the letter. Thank you for all your great recipes, congratulations on your new weekly newsletter (love it!), and HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

    - Liz on November 21, 2013 Reply

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