My Turkey Travails + The Easiest Roast Turkey You’ll Ever Make
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 — this 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.
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.
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.
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.
Update: Safeway has removed the recipe from its website, so the link is no longer active. You can find the recipe here, and I definitely recommend watching Safeway’s video recipe. If you read through the reviews on this page, you’ll see that several readers had problems with their ovens smoking (not ideal on a holiday!) so I recommend this method with some reservations. If you plan on trying it, I recommend a smaller turkey (10-12 lbs) and be sure your oven is super clean. And if smoke is an issue, try reducing the heat by 25-50°F.
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.
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!
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