There used to be only one way to roast a turkey--stick in a pan and roast it in the oven. However, without a little attention to the details, you can end up with a dry bird. Fixing the problem of keeping the breast meat moist is very easy. In fact, it is so easy that no one wants to believe me.
How do you keep the lean turkey breast (the white meat) from drying out? Cover the breast with aluminum foil to deflect the oven heat away from that area. That's all. Be sure to remove the foil during the last hour of roasting so the skin browns. I am giving instructions for an average-sized 18-pound turkey, but the instructions can expand or reduce depending on the size of your bird. Some other important tips:
•Never use an aluminum foil pan. A heavy roasting pan absorbs oven heat and helps create dark, flavorful drippings to color and season the gravy.
•Do not baste the bird more than every hour or so. The drippings do not penetrate the skin and add moisture. Basting only helps glaze the skin.
•A little booze adds character to the gravy, but leave it out if you wish.
•Be sure to let the bird stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before slicing. This redistributes the juices throughout the meat. Carve too soon, and the juices spurt out and lead to dry turkey.
•Do make the Turkey Broth or it’s Small Batch cousin. It makes all of the difference in the gravy. Add some to the roasting pan during cooking to create steam that helps keep the bird moist.
•An 1-quart gravy separator is indispensable for gravy-making.
Makes about 18 servings with about 7 cups gravy
Make-Ahead: Roast the turkey just before serving.
One 18-pound fresh turkey
About 12 cups of your favorite stuffing (if you choose not to stuff the bird, use a seasoning mixture of 1 each chopped onion, celery, and carrots, which will not be eaten)
2 1/2 quarts Turkey Broth or Small-Batch Turkey Broth, as needed
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus melted butter for the gravy, if needed
Freshly milled black pepper
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup bourbon or Cognac
1. Position a rack in the lowest position of the oven and preheat to 325° F. Reserve the turkey neck and giblets to use in gravy or stock. Pull out the pads of yellow fat at both sides of the tail and reserve. Rinse the turkey inside and out with cold water. Pat the turkey skin dry. Turn the turkey on its breast. Loosely fill the neck cavity with stuffing. Using a thin wooden or metal skewer, pin the turkey’s neck skin to the back. Fold the turkey’s wings akimbo behind the back or tie to the body with kitchen string. Loosely fill the large body cavity with stuffing. Place any remaining stuffing in a lightly buttered casserole, cover and refrigerate to bake as a side dish. Place the drumsticks in the hock lock (whether plastic or metal, this hook-like implement is ovenproof, so don’t remove it) or tie together with kitchen string.
2. Place the turkey, breast side up, on a rack in the roasting pan. Rub all over with the softened butter. Season with the salt and pepper. Tightly cover the breast area with aluminum foil. Pour 2 cups of stock into the bottom of the pan. Add the turkey fat to the pan (it will melt and make additional drippings for the gravy.)
3. Roast the turkey, basting all over every hour with the pan juices of the pan (lift up the foil to reach the breast area), until a meat thermometer inserted in the meaty part of the thigh (but not touching a bone) reads 180° F degrees and the stuffing is at least 160° F, about 4 1/4 hours. (See Estimated Roasting Times, below.) Whenever the drippings evaporate, add broth or water to moisten them (about 1 1/2 cups at a time). Remove the foil during the last hour to allow the skin to brown, and give the skin an extra basting to color the skin.
4. Transfer the turkey to a large serving platter and let it stand for at least 30 minutes before carving. Increase the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Drizzle 1/2 cup of turkey broth over the stuffing in the casserole, cover, and bake until heated through, about 30 minutes. (Of course, add other side dishes to the oven, as needed!)
5. Meanwhile, pour the drippings from the roasting pan into a 1-quart gravy separator measuring cup, or glass bowl. Let stand 5 minutes; then pour off the dark pan drippings, leaving the clear yellowish fat in the separator. (If using a glass cup or bowl, skim off and reserve the clear yellow fat that rises to the top.) Measure 3/4 cup fat, adding melted butter, if needed. Add enough turkey broth to the skimmed drippings to make 8 cups total.
6. Place the roasting pan over two stove burners on low heat and add the turkey fat. Whisk in the flour, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan, and cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the turkey broth and the cognac. Cook, whisking often, until the gravy has thickened and no trace of raw flour flavor remains, about 5 minutes. Strain the gravy into a bowl to remove any undissolved drippings. Transfer the gravy to a warmed gravy boat. Carve the turkey and serve the gravy alongside.
Estimated Roasting Times
(Oven Temperature 325° F)
Add an extra 30 minutes to the roasting time to allow for variations in roasting conditions. It’s better to have a bird done ahead of time than to keep everyone waiting and hungry for the bird to finish roasting.
8 to 12 pounds 2 3/4 to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds 3 to 3 3/4 hours
14 to 18 pounds 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours
18 to 20 pounds 4 1/4 to 4/12 hours
20 to 24 pounds 4 1/2 to 5 hours
8 to 12 pounds 3 to 3 1/2 hours
12 to 14 pounds 3 1/2 to 4 hours
14 to 18 pounds 4 to 4 1/4 hours
18 to 20 pounds 4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hours
20 to 24 pounds 4 3/4 to 5 1/4 hours