Learn How to Roast the Perfect Turkey with These Tips
If you want to roast the perfect turkey this Thanksgiving, follow our step-by-step guide.
It's not Thanksgiving without a beautiful, golden roast turkey at the center of the table. Whether you're serving four guests or 14, knowing how to make the perfect roast turkey is key to a successful Thanksgiving dinner. Here, we're giving you step-by-step instructions for making a delicious, moist stuffed turkey, plus a quick guide to preparing your own gravy, too.
The only ingredients you need for making a basic roast turkey are plenty of butter, white wine, salt and pepper for seasoning, and the turkey, of course! Choose a turkey that is free-range, hormone-free, and has been raised in humane conditions. Not only will you be supporting ethical farmers, but the quality of the meat will also taste much better. There are also a few tools you need for making the perfect roast bird for Thanksgiving—a stainless steel roasting pan with a rack, such as this staff favorite from All-Clad ($179.95, williams-sonoma.com); cheesecloth for basting (it's Martha's favorite trick for achieving golden brown, crispy skin); butcher's twine; a pastry brush; and an instant-read meat thermometer.
Once you've gathered all of your ingredients and tools, we'll walk you through how to stuff and truss the turkey, as well as how to baste it. Instead of basting it with the turkey drippings, we like to create a delicious butter and white wine sauce, which is then brushed over the bird periodically as it roasts.
Serves 12 to 14
- 1 20- to 21-pound fresh whole turkey, giblets and neck removed from cavity and reserved
- 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (3 sticks), melted, plus 4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
- 1 bottle dry white wine
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
Prepare the Turkey
Place the rack on the lowest level in the oven and adjust the heat to 425 degrees. Then, tuck the wing tips under the body of the bird, and place turkey breast-side-up in a roasting pan. Season the inside of the bird thoroughly with salt and pepper. If your turkey comes with a pop-up timer, remove it; an instant-read thermometer is a much more accurate indication.
Make Stock for Gravy
Use the turkey giblets (liver, heart, and gizzard), neck, mirepoix (celery, onion, carrots, and garlic), and fresh herbs such as thyme and rosemary to make stock for the gravy.
Stuff the Bird
Insert the stuffing just before the turkey goes into the oven; never do it ahead of time and don't pack it too tightly or the stuffing won't cook evenly and bacteria may grow. Don't forget to stuff the neck cavity, too.
Truss the Bird
Pull the legs together loosely and tie them with kitchen string—a bow will be easy to untie later. Any kind of sturdy white string or twine will do, as long as it's made of cotton, not polyester (which may melt in the oven's heat). Rub the turkey with butter and season with salt and pepper. Choose a heavy roasting pan with sides two to three inches high; don't use one with a nonstick surface. A roasting rack will keep the turkey from sticking to the pan.
Cover with Cheesecloth
Cover the turkey with cheesecloth that has been soaking in the butter and wine. It should cover the breast and part of the leg area. Place the turkey, legs first, in the oven and roast for 30 minutes, then brush the cheesecloth and exposed turkey parts with the butter mixture and reduce the temperature to 350 degrees.
Baste the Turkey
Every 30 minutes, use a pastry brush (better than a bulb baster) to baste the cheesecloth and exposed areas of the turkey with the butter-and-wine mixture. Basting should be done in the oven and as quickly as possible so the oven temperature doesn't drop.
After the second hour of cooking, carefully remove and discard the cheesecloth, which will have browned. Baste the turkey with pan juices, taking care not to tear the skin, and return it to the oven.
Take the Temperature
After another half hour of cooking, insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, avoiding the bone; when the temperature reaches 165 degrees, the bird is ready. Start taking temperature after a total cooking time of two-and-a-half hours.
Once the turkey has finished cooking, transfer it to a serving platter to rest for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make the gravy. Pour the pan juices into a glass measuring cup; when the grease rises to the surface, skim it off and discard. Place the roasting pan over medium-high heat and add a cup of dry red or white wine or water; bring to a boil and use a wooden spoon to scrape up all of the brown bits. Add giblet stock, return to a boil, and cook until reduced by half. Add reserved pan juices, cook ten minutes more, and strain into a gravy boat.