A simple roast turkey for Thanksgiving

Roast Turkey 2012

My eldest brother came to visit with his family a couple of weeks ago. His wife and daughter were supposed to go up to New York but then Hurricane Sandy hit and so they had to stay in Richmond. Fine with me. Actually, it was perfect so now I can plan an impromptu Thanksgiving dinner.

Whole Foods had a fresh whole Turkey when I went to pick one up so I didn’t have to deal with thawing it out. As for a recipe, I didn’t want to deal with brining either and the November 2012 issue of Bon Appetit had all the recipes I needed to throw a feast!

Important to take the Turkey out an hour before roasting. With the size of the bird, there is no doubt that when it’s too cold, it’s going to drop the temperature of the oven significantly which is why I think the oven temp is first set to 450F.

A Simple Roast Turkey

from Bon Appetit November 2012

1           12-14 lb. turkey, giblets and neck removed, at room temperature for              1 hour

3           tbsp. kosher salt (I used Maldon, so had to use a little bit more)

1.5        tbsp. freshly ground pepper

1           medium onion, quartered

2           celery stalks, coarsely chopped

6           tbsp. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, divided

3           tbsp. reduced-sodium soy sauce

1           tbsp. mirin

3          sprigs of rosemary

Preheat oven to 450F. Set a rack inside a large roasting pan. Pour 4 cups of water into the pan. Pat turkey dry with paper towels. Tuck tips of wings under bird. If turkey is not brined, rub bird inside and out with salt. Season inside and out with pepper and place on rack in pan. Place onion and celery in cavity. Rub 3 Tbsp. butter over turkey. Roast turkey uncovered for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, stir remaining 3 tbsp. butter, soy sauce, and mirin (or substitute store-bought teriyaki sauce for soy and mirin) in a small sauce pan over medium heat until melted and smooth. Add rosemary. Cover; keep glaze warm over lowest heat.

Reduce oven to 325F. Baste turkey with pan juices; add more water if needed to maintain at least 1/4″ liquid in pan. Roast for 30 minutes; baste with pan juices. Brush lightly with glaze.

Continue roasting turkey, basting with pan juices and brushing glaze every 30 minutes, tenting with foil if turning too dark, until instant-read thermometer inserted in thickest part of the thigh without touching the bone registers 165F (juices should run clear when thermometer is removed), about 2.75 hours total.

Transfer turkey to a platter. Tent with foil; let rest for an hour before carving.

Cooking Notes:

I like getting a turkey that has a button that pops out when it is done, still I do like to double-check using a thermometer. Here are the guidelines for cooking.

15 minutes/lb in an oven set to 325F.

165F registers at thigh when done.

For a 12-14 lb. bird, roughly 4 hours

For a 16-25 lb. bird, roughly 5 hours

For a 20-26 lb. bird, roughly 6 hours

I take the bird out everytime I baste and brush with glaze. This is so the oven doesn’t lose heat. Anyway, when returning the bird to the oven, I always like to rotate the pan for more even cooking. I only rested the bird for 30 minutes before carving.

What about the gravy?

I didn’t want to mess with making a roux when cornstarch will work in a pinch. Dissolve 3 tbsp cornstarch in 3 tbsp. cold water. Anyway, while the turkey was resting I poured all the pan juices through a sieve. I had a pan of chicken stock sitting on the stove top (this was made with Knorr homestyle stock) and added a little to the strained pan juices until I had enough liquid for the turkey. Add 1-2 tbsp. of soy sauce, 1 tbsp. of brown sugar (I think I also added a squeeze of lemon). Taste the gravy base before thickening. If it lacks a savory taste, add some chicken bouillon – trust me on this – I love to use knorr. Once satisfied with flavor, bring pan juices to a boil and  thicken with the cornstarch-water mixture (you may not need to use all of it). 

No-Brine Roast Turkey


* From the archives. As the holiday season gets closer, a lot of people start looking for ways to cook this popular festive bird. I don't want anyone to miss out on this no-brine method. Originally posted November 13, 2006.

This is my entry to the Festive Food Fair  food blogging event hosted by Anna over at Morsels and Musings .

I was always wondering why most articles I’ve read about cooking a turkey involves plunging the bird in a brine beforehand. I remembered when my parents prepared our roasted turkey, they would just cover the bird with cheesecloth and pour the marinade over it. I have never roasted a turkey in my life save for the time I tried to cook a small one thinking it would just take two hours. After an hour in the oven I was wondering why the bird has not changed color. Desperate to put some color on the turkey, I turned the broiler on. And the rest they say is history. Luckily I just had one guest, and I had store bought lasagna that just needed to be heated through. This was 10 years ago, and the trauma of that thanksgiving turkey has since worn off.

So I have lost my parent’s recipe and my mom cannot quite describe the process on the phone. I really need to take a trip back to the Philippines and watch her make all her specialties and take copious amounts of notes. My mom does not measure when she cooks which presents another problem about passing on recipes.

Anyway I am still refusing to brine especially since I have advocated salting everything for 24 hours with much success; this method I learned from the “Zuni Café”, the wonderful book by Judy Rodgers. And as if fate would have it, the NOV/DEC 2006 issue of “Cooks Illustrated” had the Salt-Roasted Turkey method. I did not use the full 5 tbs of kosher salt called for since the turkey available to me has been brined with an 8% solution. I did salt inside the cavity with the full 2 tablespoons required. I also used less salt because I did a light marinade of soy, sake and balsamic vinegar. I also used half a bulb of crushed garlic which I put inside the cavity and under the skin of the breast.


The method I really wanted to try here was cooling the breast down with ice. According to food scientist Harold McGee, this would take care of the temperature differential between the breast and thigh by having the breast temperature lower than the thigh when the turkey goes into the oven for roasting.

This method and recipe was adapted from Cooks illustrated (NOV/DEC 2006) and presents the full salting guidelines

1 turkey (12 to 14 lbs) (5.5 to 6.3 kilos)

5 tbs kosher salt  (~ 71gm)

1 bag ice cubes

4 tbs. unsalted butter, melted   (75ml)

            The recipe above used Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt. If you have Morton’s Kosher Salt, which is denser than Diamond Crystal, use only 4 ½ teaspoons of salt in cavity, 2 ¼ teaspoons of salt per each half of the breast, and 1 teaspoon of salt per leg. If using a self-basting turkey like a frozen butterball, skip salting.

            Salt turkey, carefully separating skin from meat on breast, legs, thighs, and back; avoid breaking skin. Rub 2 tablespoons of salt evenly inside cavity of turkey, 1 tablespoon under skin of each breast half, and 1 ½ teaspoon under skin of each leg. Wrap turkey tightly with plastic wrap; refrigerate 24 to 48 hours.

            Remove turkey from refrigerator. Rinse off excess salt from cavity and pat dry inside out with paper towels. Add ice to two 1 gallon zip-lock bags until each is half full. Place bags in large roasting pan and lay turkey breast side down on top of ice. Add ice to 2 1-quart zipper-lock bags until each is one third full; place one bag ice in cavity of turkey and other in neck cavity. (Make sure ice touches breast only, not thighs or legs)

            Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to lowest possible position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Line large V-rack with heavy-duty foil and use paring knife or skewer to poke 20 to 30 holes in foil.

            Remove turkey from ice and pat dry with paper towels (discard ice). Tuck tips of drumsticks into skin at tail to secure and tuck wingtips behind back. Brush turkey breast with 2 tablespoons butter. Set prepared V-rack in roasting pan; set turkey breast side down on V-rack; brush back and legs with remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Roast for 45 minutes.

            Remove roasting pan with turkey from oven (close door to retain oven heat); reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Using clean potholders or kitchen towels, rotate turkey breast side up; continue to roast until thickest part of breast registers 160 degrees and thighs registers 170 to 175 degrees on instant read thermometer, 1 to 1 ½ hours longer. Transfer turkey to carving board; let rest 30 minutes. Carve and serve.

            NOTE : For a bigger turkey 15 to 18 pounds, follow recipe above but increase salt rubbed in cavity to 3 tablespoons and into each breast half to 1 ½ tablespoons. Increase initial roasting time to 1 hour; reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees, flip turkey, and continue roasting until it reaches proper internal temperature, 1 ½ to 2 hours longer.


            Before cooking the turkey, I cut out a piece of the breast meat and cooked it to check for saltiness. The cooking time also took longer because I was messing around with my convection oven settings. If you are sure of the behavior of your oven then the stated temperature will not present a problem. I tried convection roast at 405 °F on my oven and had to take out the turkey for flipping at the 30 minute mark because it started to smoke. I relied on temperature readings of the breast and thigh meat to gauge turkey doneness.

            For the pan gravy, I set the roasting pan on the stove top and scraped the drippings. I added some chicken broth and thickened with arrowroot.

            I am happy to say that I can put the turkey trauma permanently in the past, since this turkey turned out succulent and tasty to the bone! The Cranberry Salsa I prepared in the previous post was delicious with this turkey.