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My Best Turkey Advice

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My Best Turkey Advice

Photo by Sarah Plfug

I have been hosting Thanksgiving dinner for 20 years, and I have tried literally everything when it comes to cooking turkey. I’ve brined it, deep-fried it, marinated it, injected it, buttered it, dry-rubbed it, butterflied it, smoked 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 $160 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 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.”

(Heads up: This 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 be-all-and-end-all turkey?

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

My advice to you on Thanksgiving is to keep it simple. Make an easy roast turkey recipe, like this dry-brined roast turkey, with an over-the-top delicious gravy and some cranberry sauce to go with it. (Or, if you really don’t want to stress, go ahead and buy your turkey already roasted!) Serve lots of wine (you’ll love this food and wine pairing guide) and focus your time and creativity on the side dishes and desserts because that’s what everyone really looks forward to anyway.

Wishing you a happy and stress-free Thanksgiving! ❤️

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Comments

  • Hi my turkey is still frozen😬
    What’s the best way to defrost for tomorrow ?

    • — Veena on November 22, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi Veena, at this point, I’d suggest the cold water thawing method outlined here. 😊

      • — Jenn on November 22, 2023
      • Reply
      • Thanks so much😊

        • — Veena on November 22, 2023
        • Reply
  • Loved this!

    I have 2 – 7lb. turkey breasts with plans to do the dry brine and cook in the same roaster pan. Will this change the cooking time and temperature much?

    As always, love the recipes!

    • — Trish on November 20, 2023
    • Reply
    • Glad you liked it! 😊

      You don’t need to change the oven temperature but your turkey breasts should not take as long to cook. To take out any guess work, I’d use a leave-in or instant-read thermometer. When it registers 165°F when inserted into the thickest part of the breast, you can remove it from the oven. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on November 21, 2023
      • Reply
  • LOL just serve them more wine! So obvious, yes! Thanks Jenn, I needed to see this vid. Also to make my dinner simpler I am almost exclusively using your recipes because I know they are good and relatively easy. THANK YOU!

    • — Lydia on November 20, 2023
    • Reply
    • 😊❤️

      • — Jenn on November 20, 2023
      • Reply
  • Love the video! Ha! Love your recipes! Thank you very much for sharing your wonderful recipes with well written instructions. You are my go-to when I look for a recipe for something I want to make, or to discover something I would not have thought of. Again, that you! And Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

    • — Kathryn Tayman on November 19, 2023
    • Reply
    • ❣️

      • — Jenn on November 20, 2023
      • Reply
  • Love the video! Love your recipes! Thank you very much for sharing your wonderful recipes and well written instructions. You are my go-to when I look for a recipe for something I want to make, or to discover something I would not of thought of. Again, thank you.

    • — Kathryn Tayman on November 19, 2023
    • Reply
  • Hi friends of Jen- Here’s what you DON’T do. Ask adult kids and husband to watch your Great Pyrenees dog while you take a short break to spin on your bike, while the buttered turkey comes to room temperature in the kitchen sink. If you don’t do this, your turkey will be just fine. I tried to upload photo evidence for a seasonal laugh but couldn’t do it. Happy Thanksgiving and may your neighbors cook the bird for you this year. 😘

    • — Natalie Hagen on November 19, 2023
    • Reply
    • 😂😂😂

      • — Jenn on November 19, 2023
      • Reply
  • Thanks Jenn! I look forward to watching the video every year! I always roast my turkey upside down. Mind you, I don’t have to worry about presentation – I carve and keep warm until dinner is served. The breast meat is always tender and juicy, and the dark meat is always cooked to temperature. If you can get away without showcasing a whole bird, I highly recommend!

    • — Heather Lampman on November 19, 2023
    • Reply
  • Love aunt Mary, she’s hilarious! Good video.

    • — Laura Mathews on November 19, 2023
    • Reply
    • I have found that if I dissect my turkey and separate the breast from the leg quarters my best turkey comes from sewing the entire breast up in a bag of turkey skin (heart shaped), dry brining it, and slow roasting on a bed of mirepoix with an remote thermometer in it so I can pull it out of heat at exactly 150º has always made for the best white meat. Then I freeze the leg quarters to make pot roast later down the road. The rest of the bird gets cooked down until I have jus and fond galore to make the best homemade gravy to go with the breast heart roast. My peeps always want breast, gravy, mushroom stuffing, mashed potatoes, and cranberry relish plus a couple of the usual suspects on the side. Julia was right about cooking turkey.

      • — Roger on November 19, 2023
      • Reply
  • Amen to that. Happy holiday to you as well. 🙂

    • — Catherine on November 19, 2023
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn, I’m only having 4 people, including myself. Have a 6# bone in breast. Can I dry brine a breast and approx roasting time?
    Thanks!

    • — Lizo on November 16, 2023
    • Reply
    • Yes, you can dry brine a breast and you should allow for about 20 minutes of roasting time per pound. I’d recommend using an instant-read thermometer. It’s ready to pull out when it registers 165°F when inserted into the thickest part of the breast.

      • — Jenn on November 17, 2023
      • Reply
  • This is basically a moan about cooking turkey in general!
    The dry brining in Jen’s recipe made a very tasty turkey but I throw my hands up with respect to the challenge of getting the legs done while not drying out the breast meat.

    I took the 12 lb turkey out from the 375F oven when the $$ digital thermometer beeped at 165F but we found that the legs were still a bit pink at the joints after it had sat for 30 minutes and we began carving. A granddaughter was kept busy running to the microwave to zap the pink away as her Dad was carving!

    I even had notched the skin between the leg and the body as Jacques Pepin recommends! I think that next year I will roast on a rack on a baking tray to expose more of the bird to the direct heat and maybe even spatchcock it to see it that evens up the cooking. The other thing that gets me about cooking turkey is that I find the time it takes to cook so unpredictable which is fine for those living in the house but hard to know when to tell outside visitors to arrive.

    But thanks Jen for all your recipes. These are the ones we used in addition to the turkey: the gravy, the sausage stuffing, the creamed spinach and the do ahead mashed potatoes. All were made ahead and reheated except the spinach as I worried the green color would dull (but it hasn’t the next day so I didn’t need to worry).

    • — Barbara T on November 26, 2022
    • Reply
  • We used your recipe for our turkey this year. It was fabulous! Thank you!

    • — Randi on November 25, 2022
    • Reply
  • I made the dry brined Turkey for the very first time. We had 8 people and a 13 lbs fresh Turkey bought at Costco. I removed the package and dry rubbed it very generously with the rub from the recipe 36 hours before cooking . My first thought was too much salt and even the amount of sugar was surprising . Just before putting it in the oven I wiped the rub off and smeared it with the butter. I stuffed some of my often tried stuffing with celery, onions, diced apples, sausage meat and dried cherries. Figuring it would take an additional 20 to 30 minutes to cook. I do have an instant wireless meat thermometer that gives me the cooking time after about 15 minutes in the oven. To my surprise the bird was done in 1 hour and 50 minutes. As usual we let the Roasted Turkey rest before carving. It was without a doubt the tastiest , tender, most juicy bird we have had in a long long time. From now on it will always be the dry rub . Jenn as usual your recipes never disappoint

    • — Walter on November 24, 2022
    • Reply
  • I’ve tried so may different ways to make turkey better, and as you say, nothing really works. But, to get a faster, more even roast, spatchcock the turkey; that actually makes a difference

    • — PJ on November 24, 2022
    • Reply
  • Jenn, This video made my day! Absolutely great. I loved it and I feel the same way about turkey. A nice tradition but yuck in the cooking and flavor department.
    Happy Thanksgiving

    PS We’re having N. Y. strips for Thanksgiving dinner. Just couldn’t take another dried out turkey leg.

    • — Peggy on November 22, 2022
    • Reply
  • Jenn, LOVE THE VIDEO! You are my ‘go-to’ chef for all recipes! You test and prepare so well and I KNOW your recipes are going to be delicious and correct. I’ve purchased two of your cookbooks- one for me and one as a gift. We will haul our best dishes, including our spatchcocked turkey on the road from Mississippi to Austin, TX this year!
    Happy Thanksgiving! Tina

    • — Tina Brumfield on November 18, 2022
    • Reply
    • ❤️

      • — Jenn on November 19, 2022
      • Reply
  • The “Big Easy” propane turkey cooker is on sale for $99 on Amazon today

    • — Satin Doll on November 17, 2022
    • Reply
  • I always love this funny video!! Thank you for sharing again!
    And of course I love your recipes. ❤️

    • — Angela Beedle on November 17, 2022
    • Reply
  • I love Tante Marie and her Thanksgiving advice! Thank you for sharing your advice as well. Since COVID our group gathering dwindled in number so this year we’re going away for Thanksgiving. I hope to get back to gathering again or I will lose my Thanksgiving prep skills. 🙂

    • — Lulu on November 17, 2022
    • Reply
  • A few years ago I started ordering my turkey dinners from a local food store and have never been disappointed with the results. The turkey is always flavourful and moist and my only work is to reheat the turkey for a couple of hours and reheat the sides I order with it. No stress!

    • — Anne on November 17, 2022
    • Reply
  • Hey Jenn, love your recipes! My husband and I lost our home to Hurricane Irma in 2017. We lived in his man cave garage for 20 months during the rebuilding of our new house. That Thanksgiving we purchased the Char Broil Big Easy to cook our turkey. This will be our 6th year using the Big Easy for the big bird! We love it. And, we also do our Christmas prime rib in the Big Easy. So moist!

    • — Leslie on November 17, 2022
    • Reply
    • Good to know you like the Big Easy (and I’m SO sorry about the loss of your home)! It had to have been devastating, but glad to hear you’re in a rebuilt home and doing well. 🙂

      • — Jenn on November 17, 2022
      • Reply
  • I’ve been making Thanksgiving dinner for 40 years. The best thing I did was to buy an electric turkey roaster for maybe $50. Turkey cooks in that, which frees up the oven. I am down to a single oven and am thinking of making homemade rolls earlier in the day and then reheating in the oven for 10 minutes so other side dishes don’t get cold. Or is there a better way to reheat? Thanks and happy Thanksgiving to all!

    • — Laurie I on November 17, 2022
    • Reply
    • I think using the oven to reheat the rolls is a good way to go. Happy Thanksgiving!

      • — Jenn on November 17, 2022
      • Reply
  • Do you have a recipe for the oil-less fried Turkey? Thanks!

    • — Katie on November 14, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Katie, I keep it very simple and follow the seasoning from the this recipe. As for the cook time, I would reference the manual for the fryer. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on November 14, 2022
      • Reply
      • Thanks!

        • — Katie on November 15, 2022
        • Reply
  • Such helpful advice, thank you! I’m contemplating buying the big easy. Could you share your recipe for turkey with it? How long does it take to cook the Turkey? Thanks again!

    • — Katie on November 12, 2022
    • Reply
    • I actually used a recipe (it wasn’t mine) but I’d keep it simple and season it with salt and pepper (see how I treat the turkey in this recipe). Regarding timing, I’d consult the Big Easy manual for guidance.

      • — Jenn on November 15, 2022
      • Reply
      • I purchased a 17 lbs Butterball & planned to use your dry brine recipe. But, I read that you don’t recommend it for Butterballs. Is there a no-fuss recipe I can still use? I plan to cook the turkey in my electric roaster oven. Thank you; I love your recipes!

        • — Janet Grubbs on November 21, 2022
        • Reply
        • Hi Janet, You can use the dry-brine recipe; just cut the salt to 2 tablespoons for a 17 lb butterball turkey. I would also reduce the heat to 325. It will take about 3-1/2 hrs to cook. Happy Thanksgiving!

          • — Jenn on November 21, 2022
          • Reply
  • Your advice is fantastic! Thank you for making my Thanksgiving a success. I had many compliments on the turkey (which was wonderfully moist and had a lovely crispy brown skin) and the make ahead mashed potatoes and gravy were delicious. Being able to make the sides ahead of time enabled me to relax and enjoy my guests, as well as get dinner on the table on time! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    • — Shannon Madonna
    • Reply
  • It was great! Turkey was moist and skin was crispy!

  • Here is the funny thing about this Best Turkey Advise: It got me interested in the Big Easy Oil less Turkey Fryer. I did research and same as another reader, I liked the idea of less mess and not having so much to put in the oven. So, it was on sale and I bought it. I also keep wondering how many people bought one as a result of this article. LOL. Bottom line, our turkey was outstanding. moist with a nice crispy skin. We loved it! Yes, there is the problem of where to store it, but in the meantime we are going to try cooking some different things in it. I had never heard of this- thank you for the education and the point of your article is turkey is hard to make flavorful but when all is said and done, your turkey recipes and advise are terrific! Thank you!
    Happy Thanksgiving!!!! (You ought to get paid by Charbroil for bringing their product into the limelight. lol)

  • Made the herb and brown sugar dry-brined turkey. Everyone loved it. It was so moist! I had a 20 pound bird so I doubled your recipe for the brine. I baked my turkey at 325 degrees and it was done in two hours. I was shocked. I used my meat thermometer on the breast and the drumsticks and they were done. Don’t know why it cooked so fast because my oven temp is correct. Not complaining though. And the butter rub right before baking really made a beautiful crisp skin. Thanks Jenn, I rely on your recipes so much because you give great directions and you recipes are always so good. Giving three of your cookbooks as Christmas presents this year! All of your recipes are 5 STARS!!!!!!!!!!!

    • So glad the turkey came out well (and thanks for your very kind words and support of the cookbook)! 🙂

  • I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED the video. Just what I needed to relax and remember that Thanksgiving should be fun. Thank you!!!!!

    • — Marcela Barajas
    • Reply
  • Jenn! I went ahead and ordered the Charbroil oilers fryer. Got a good deal on Amazon. How do you prepare your turkey when you use yours? Thank you!

    • Hi Kelly, Super simple — just olive oil, kosher salt and pepper! You can use this recipe as a guide for quantities (and gravy too).

  • A language warning would have been really nice on that video!! My children we with me when I hit play and now their innocent ears have heard the F bomb!! 😱🤬😩

    I appreciate your recipes and enjoy following your blog, but PLEASE give warning in future if anything has adult content!!!!

    • Oh no I’m so sorry about that! There is something right above the video that says that it contains foul language but you must not of seen it – sorry!!!

    • Leah, I hear you, but believe me your kids are going to be okay. Mine turned out okay.
      Take care and Happy Thanksgiving.

    • Yup there is a warning posted guess your innocent eyes didn’t see it 🙄

  • 2 Interesting stories. Years ago I had this wall oven that died right before Thanksgiving. The only thing that worked was the broiler. I figured no Turkey. Well my kids whined and cried they wanted Turkey. So I cooked the Turkey under the broiler. Just kept turning it off an on. The Turkey actually came out OK

    Another time I had heard cooking the Turkey upside down would moisten the breasts, which it did. Except when I turned it over the whole bird fell apart.
    No great visual Turkey moment.

  • The best part of Thanksgiving turkey is the prepping with family creating memories that will last. Even though my mom is no longer with us, times we prepped the turkey come up as I’m working in the kitchen with our children.

  • I been cooking Thanksgiving dinner for 38 years and your advice was the best advice I have ever got! Thanks so much. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  • I have Thanksgiving turkey horror stories. Last year I purchased a sous vide cooker. Game changer! We will never bake a turkey again!

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