How to Make a Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey in a Snap: A Recipe from Laura, a Seasoned Turkey Chef.
This is the most perfect Thanksgiving turkey and gravy that you will ever have. I’m going to show you how to make it from beginning to end. You’re going to get something so spectacular you cannot even imagine. If you’ve been with me for a while, you know that I made our very first Thanksgiving turkey way back in 2011. It’s pretty classic. It has millions of views, people love it, and they make it every single year for a good reason. It really is spectacular. It’s very easy and doesn’t require any extra steps.
Prepare a Turkey Using the Dry-Brining Method
There are a few different ways to execute a great turkey. You can use the herbed butter method that I use in that video. It’s just adding herbed butter between the skin and the meat. That self-bastes itself in that delicious goodness. Cooked properly at the right temperature, it comes out delicious. There’s also a wet brine, which is taking your whole raw turkey and placing it into a big container of water with a salt solution. That tenderizes your turkey over 24 to 48 hours.
But the problem with that is, for me, I don’t prefer a wet brine because the skin never gets brown and crispy. It stays a little dull. I feel like it plumps up the meat with so much water that it’s juicy, but the flavor is very dull. It doesn’t do much for the turkey. And it’s really messy. I don’t have a fridge big enough to hold a giant container with water and the turkey. I don’t have the space for it. My preferred method that I’ve tried over the last couple of years is the dry-brined method.
The dry brine and the wet brine have one thing in common: salt. Instead of adding the salt into a big container of water, I’m adding the salt directly onto the meat. It’s going to do the same thing. Dry brining, the salt from dry brining allows the meat to produce its own juices. It pulls out all the moisture from the turkey, but then it seeps back into itself, leaving you with a very moist turkey. It’s special, it’s spectacular. I don’t know how else to describe it except that the salt helps draw out the moisture of the turkey and then all those juices seep right back into the meat. It is magical.
You need to do this 24 to 48 hours in advance, but it’s very easy. My rule of thumb is 1 tablespoon of coarse kosher salt for every 5 lbs of turkey. If you have a 15-pounder, you use 3 tablespoons of salt, if you have 16 lbs, you still use three tablespoons of salt. I don’t go up to that extra tablespoon until I’m at the 18 lb mark. I also like to add some brown sugar. It does two things: it adds a little bit of sweetness, and it’s not much, like for this size, I have a tablespoon and a half. I’m going to add three tablespoons of salt since you always want half the amount of sugar that you have of salt. And it helps your skin get a beautiful brown color. It looks like it belongs in a magazine.
So once you have this together, you can add different herbs or citrus zest to the dry brine, but I’m not going to do that now because I’m also going to introduce the flavored butter later. I am going to add some cracked black pepper and mix this all together.
It’s important that your turkey has not been pierced or plumped up with a salt solution because if it has, and you’re adding more salt, you’re going to end up with a really salty end result. So if you’re using a frozen turkey, which works great, make sure it’s thawed and not injected with a salt solution. You want to place your turkey on a wire rack lined baking sheet or baking pan because it’s going to pull out so much moisture. Pat it dry everywhere because otherwise, your salt mixture will not dry. And when you add your salt, add some in the cavity as well. You can’t rub it in there, but that will season things from the inside out. And then when you add it onto your turkey, pat it in well. A lot of it will fall off, and before you ask, you won’t be eating all that salt. It will melt off and encourage the turkey to do its job, but it’s not going to remain on the turkey.
I’m going to take my time, make sure it’s well padded all over. Now, this is the part where your turkey needs to go into the fridge uncovered for 24 to 48 hours. You can do this on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, or the day before, or as little as 12 to 18 hours, but the longer it goes, the better the outcome. I know it sounds crazy to leave it uncovered, but trust the process. It will make for the most perfect skin you’ve ever had. It is phenomenal. The only thing I’d encourage is that you put this at the very bottom of the refrigerator so that nothing drips onto your other stuff in the fridge. I always put it on my lowest rack in the fridge, and I leave it there. I’m going to show you the next step once we get there.
Prepare Oven, Pan, and Veggies for Turkey Gravy
After 24 hours, the turkey looks a bit dried out, but that is exactly what you want. Before we touch the turkey, I want you to get everything else ready and avoid cross-contamination. Preheat your oven to 350F, get your roasting pan, and line it with aromatics. I have onions, celery, carrots, a whole head of garlic, some fresh thyme, and an apple in the bottom of my roasting pan. This will be the base for your gravy. As the turkey cooks, it gives out juices, and all of that buttery herby flavor will get into the aromatics along with some wine and some chicken stock. Chicken stock makes the perfect base for your turkey. If you don’t have a roasting pan with a wire rack, you can use your biggest ovenproof skillet and line the bottom with your aromatics. The veggies act as the rack.
Now I want to work on my compound butter. It’s a flavorful herby lemon garlic butter that will go between the skin and the meat to keep it juicy. But before I do that, I’m going to cut another onion and an apple in half because I want everything to be ready to stuff my turkey. I’m going to use the zest of a lemon in my compound butter, and then I’m going to cut the lemon in half and get it ready to stuff in the turkey.
I’m going to take one stick of unsalted butter and add the lemon zest. I grate two cloves of garlic because the finer your ingredients, the easier it is for your compound butter to come together. I add some salt, some freshly ground black pepper, and some herbs. I’m using rosemary, garlic, and thyme. You can add some sage if you like it, but I feel like it’s overpowering and I wouldn’t be able to taste the other flavors. If you add rosemary, parsley, thyme, and sage, it is poultry seasoning in a fresh form.
The herbs may not look like a lot, but trust me, they will infuse your turkey with wonderful aroma when you cook it low and slow. We’re using hearty herbs, like rosemary and thyme. They are small but powerful. Add them to your butter, which should be at room temperature, not too soft. Mix it all together with a spoon or a spatula.
Stuff and Butter the Turkey for Roasting
The turkey is ready. I stuff the cavity with my aromatics: lemon, onion, apple, and some fresh herbs. They will steam and infuse the meat with flavor. It’s spectacular. I also tuck in the wings under the turkey for even cooking. I show you the liquid that came out. If I let it sit for another day, there would be more. Don’t add this liquid to your roasting pan. It’s too salty. We don’t want or need that. I carefully move my turkey to my rack. It’s a thing of beauty. I don’t touch anything else that could get contaminated. I don’t re-salt or re-pepper the skin. It’s not necessary. I just take my clean hands and carefully loosen up the skin. It’s not attractive, I know, but we’re all adults here. You want good turkey; this is the price you pay. I loosen up the skin on both sides to make pockets for the butter. I take my fingers and move them around, trying not to pierce the skin. I go all the way around and back here. I take a spoon to help me, but you don’t need it. If you’re careful, take your butter and stuff it in there. Start with a smaller amount. You’ll have to do your best. It won’t be perfect, but it’ll work out well. The more you add, the more it spreads. You don’t have to be super perfect. Once you have it in there and cover most of the top area, it will melt and go where it needs to go. It’s perfect. I do some over here, some on back here, and leave some behind for the very top.
After stuffing the cavity with the aromatics, I take some more butter and carefully spread it over the dry skin. It will be slippery, but it’s fine. It will all end up in the same place. You can also melt the butter and brush it on, or cut it into pats and place it over the surface. It doesn’t make a difference to me. I know it’s not the most appealing job, but it will be phenomenal when it’s done.
I don’t add any more salt to this because it is well salted already. The butter has salt, and the dry brine has salt. But I do add some wine and some chicken stock to my roasting pan. This will mix with the turkey juices and the aromatics and make a fantastic base for the gravy.
Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey
Let’s talk cooking time, because cooking a turkey can be overwhelming and confusing. The rule of thumb is 350F, 13 minutes per pound for an unstuffed turkey; mine is unstuffed. If it was stuffed, it would be 15 minutes per pound at 350F. It works out perfectly every time. Get a thermometer that hangs in your oven to make sure it’s properly calibrated. I start with covering my turkey with some aluminum foil and then remove it halfway through. That way, the turkey gets a beautiful color and a crispy skin. Pop it in the oven and set your timer. Do the calculation, 13 minutes per pound, and you’ll be golden.
Look at how gorgeous that turkey is! It cooked perfectly. It is time to make the gravy; these are the juices from the bottom of the roasting pan. We had all those aromatics, wine, chicken stock, and the drippings from the turkey. I put it through a fat separator because I don’t want to add all that fat to the gravy. I did add another cup of chicken stock halfway through the roasting process because it was reducing too quickly. I’m going to separate the juices from the fat and use some of that fat to make my roux. That thickens the gravy, but I don’t want all of it. I’m going to add some flour and cook that for a minute or so. This is roux, but instead of butter, we’re using the natural fat from the pan. If you need more gravy, add more stock. I’m going to simmer this until it thickens; it doesn’t need anything else except maybe some seasoning. You’re here to taste-test as you go, and then everything is ready.
I’m not going to carve it right now, because I have to take pictures for the thumbnail. However, you can check out my original turkey video, where I show you how to carve it. I think every family has their own way of carving the turkey, so I’ll leave that up to you. I’m going to cut a little bit because you have to see how juicy it is. Look how beautiful that is, and the skin is unbelievable. You see those juices? That’s all the herbs, the lemon zest, and the butter that we put under the skin. It’s so moist and tender. The flavor is spot-on, and the gravy looks beautiful. It’s a little thin, but it will thicken as it cools, so don’t worry. It’s divine and delicious, and I would eat it like a soup. It’s heavenly, perfection on every level.
Easy Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) of unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 2 cloves of garlic, grated
- 1 tbsp of very finely chopped rosemary
- 1 tbsp of finely chopped thyme
- 1 tbsp of finely chopped parsley
- Small pinch of salt
- 16 lb turkey, preferably fresh, cleaned, giblets and neck removed and patted dry
- 3 tbsp of coarse kosher salt (I use Mortons)
- 1-1/2 tbsp of brown sugar
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- Aromatics such as whole onions cut in half, lemons, celery, carrots, apples, herbs and garlic
- 1 cup of white wine
- 2 cups of chicken stock
- 3 tbsp of flour
1. Choose the Dry-Brining Method:
- Opt for the dry-brining method for a flavorful and moist turkey.
- Avoid wet brining for a crisper skin and better flavor.
2. Prepare the Dry Brine:
- Mix 1 tablespoon of coarse kosher salt for every 5 lbs of turkey.
- Optionally, add 1.5 tablespoons of brown sugar for sweetness and a beautiful brown color.
3. Apply Dry Brine:
- Pat the turkey dry and generously apply the dry brine mixture.
- Refrigerate uncovered for 24 to 48 hours, allowing the salt to work its magic.
4. Prep the Roasting Pan:
- Preheat the oven to 350F.
- Line the roasting pan with aromatics like onions, celery, carrots, garlic, thyme, and an apple.
5. Prepare Compound Butter:
- Create a flavorful compound butter with lemon zest, garlic, salt, pepper, and herbs (rosemary, thyme).
- Use room temperature butter for easy mixing.
6. Stuff and Butter the Turkey:
- Stuff the turkey cavity with aromatics, including lemon, onion, apple, and herbs.
- Loosen the skin and generously stuff with the prepared compound butter.
- Spread additional butter over the dry skin.
7. Add Liquid to Roasting Pan:
- Add wine and chicken stock to the roasting pan for a flavorful base.
- Ensure the turkey is placed on a rack to prevent direct contact with juices.
8. Cook the Turkey:
- Cook at 350F, following the rule of 13 minutes per pound for an unstuffed turkey.
- Cover with foil initially, then remove for the last half of cooking to achieve a beautiful color and crispy skin.
9. Make the Gravy:
- Collect juices from the roasting pan and separate fat using a fat separator.
- Make a roux with the natural fat, add flour, and gradually incorporate chicken stock.
- Simmer until the gravy thickens, season to taste.
10. Enjoy the Perfect Turkey:
- Allow the turkey to rest before carving.
- Serve with the delicious homemade gravy.
Easy Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe Video
Go to cookingforprofit.com for the full recipe, instructions, tips, and tricks. It’s perfect. I hope you enjoyed spending time with me, and I’ll see you in the next one. Happy Thanksgiving!