Step-by-Step Classic Roast Turkey with Herbed Stuffing & Old-Fashioned Gravy
After trying every turkey-roasting method under the sun, I’ve finally settled on this as absolutely the best. The secret? Slow down the cooking of the breast area, which tends to get overcooked and dried out before the dark meat is done, with a cover of aluminum foil.
These instructions are for a 12-pound turkey, which serves eight people. But you can easily scale it up for a bigger bird. Estimate about one pound of meat per person (one and a half pounds if you want lots of leftovers) and refer to the chart in the Test-Kitchen Tips, below, for the scaled-up cooking times.
- 1 (12-pound) turkey
- 8 cups warm homemade turkey stock
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened, plus additional, melted, if needed for gravy
- 1 3/4 teaspoons salt
- 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 batch your favorite stuffing recipe
Preparation time 20mins
Cooking time 260mins
Place oven rack in lowest position and preheat oven to 325°F. Butter 8-inch square baking dish or 2-quart casserole. Lightly brush roasting rack with vegetable oil and place in roasting pan.
Remove plastic or paper packet of giblets from turkey (usually in small cavity). Remove from packaging and rinse; reserve gizzard and heart; discard floppy, dark purple liver. Remove neck from large cavity. Remove from packaging, rinse, and reserve. Using tweezers or needle nose pliers, remove any feathers and quills still attached to skin (kosher turkeys tend to require this more than others). Pull off and reserve any visible pale yellow knobs of fat from either side of tail (not found on all birds).
Rinse turkey inside and out with cold water and pat dry. Loosely fill small (neck) cavity with stuffing. Fold neck skin under body and fasten with metal skewer. Loosely fill large body cavity with stuffing. Transfer remaining stuffing to buttered dish and drizzle with 1/4 cup stock. Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate until ready to bake.
Transfer turkey, breast-side up, to rack in roasting pan. Tuck wing tips under breast and tie drumsticks loosely together with kitchen string. Rub turkey all over with softened butter and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Tightly cover breast area with foil, leaving wings, thighs, and drumsticks exposed.
Transfer gizzard, heart, neck, and reserved turkey fat to roasting pan around rack. Pour 2 cups stock into pan.
Roast turkey 45 minutes. Baste with pan juices (lift up foil to reach breast area) and continue roasting, basting every 45 minutes, 1 1/2 hours more (2 1/4 hours total). Baste again and, if pan juices have evaporated into glaze, add 1 cup stock to pan. Roast another 45 minutes (3 hours total). Remove foil from breast area, baste, and add stock if necessary, until instant-read thermometer inserted into fleshy part of thigh (close to but not touching bone) registers 180°F, about 1 hour more (4 hours total).
Insert instant-read thermometer into center of stuffing in body cavity. If thermometer does not read 165°F, transfer stuffing to microwave-safe baking dish and microwave on high until 165°F, about 3 minutes for 10 degrees. Cover and keep warm. Using turkey holders (or by inserting large metal serving spoon into body cavity), transfer turkey to large serving platter. Let stand 30 minutes before carving.
Meanwhile, bake extra stuffing and make gravy: Raise oven temperature to 350°F. Remove giblets and neck from roasting pan and discard. Pour pan juices into measuring cup or gravy separator. Let stand until fat rises to top, 1 to 2 minutes, then skim off and reserve fat or, if using separator, carefully pour juices into measuring cup, reserving fat left in separator.
Transfer foil-covered dish of extra stuffing to oven and bake 10 minutes. Meanwhile, add enough remaining stock to pan juices to total 4 cups. Measure turkey fat, adding melted butter if necessary to total 6 tablespoons. Straddle roasting pan across 2 burners on moderate heat and add fat. Whisk in flour, scraping up browned bits on bottom of pan, then cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute. Whisk in pan juice–stock mixture and bring to a boil, whisking often. Reduce heat to moderately low and simmer, whisking occasionally, until gravy thickens, about 5 minutes. Whisk in remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and keep warm. (Gravy can be kept warm over very low heat, covered, up to 20 minutes. If it thickens, thin with additional stock before serving. If skin forms on top, whisk well to dissolve.)
When extra stuffing has baked 10 minutes, remove foil and bake, uncovered, until heated through, about 10 minutes. Pour gravy through fine-mesh sieve into large bowl, then transfer to gravy boat. Carve turkey and serve gravy and stuffing alongside.
To combat dryness, most frozen turkeys and some fresh are injected with a saline solution. This is not a good thing, though: Injected birds generally lack flavor and can have a mushy texture. For this reason, we recommend buying a fresh turkey and checking the label to be sure there aren’t any additives. (Look for the words“all natural.”) Don’t be too concerned, though, with the many other terms that can be applied to turkeys, such as free-range, organic, or heritage. All can be excellent.
When buying a fresh bird, be sure to purchase it no more than two days before Thanksgiving. If you must get a frozen bird, defrost it in the refrigerator in a pan to catch drips, allowing a full 24 hours for each 5 pounds.
Opinions vary on whether or not to stuff the bird—some people think it can cause uneven cooking. For more on the subject, see our turkey primer. If you prefer not to stuff your bird, fill the cavities with a chopped vegetable and herb mixture that will impart its flavor to the meat and pan juices: Chop 1 onion, 1 celery rib with leaves, 1 carrot, and 3 tablespoons fresh parsley. Mix this with 1 teaspoon each dried rosemary, sage, and thyme. Sprinkle the cavities with salt and freshly ground black pepper and place the mixture inside. An unstuffed bird will take about 15 minutes to a half hour less to cook than a stuffed bird. When the turkey is cooked, tilt it to allow any juices that have collected in the cavity to drain into the pan. Do not serve the vegetable mixture, as it may not have cooked to a safe temperature.
This recipe can easily be scaled up to serve more people. Estimate about 1 to 1 1/2 pounds per person. Cooking times (for a stuffed bird, cooked at 325°F to an internal temperature of 180°F) will be as follows:
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
Some experts prefer to cook their turkeys to an internal temperature of 170°F (rather than 180°F, as in this recipe). If you don’t mind having the meat slightly pink, this is perfectly safe and makes it more moist. However, Rick Rodgers, who created this recipe, believes that the dark meat in particular does not achieve its optimum flavor and texture until it reaches 180°F. If you choose to stuff your turkey and cook it to only 170°F, its stuffing will almost definitely not reach the safe temperature of 165°F. When you remove the turkey from the oven, be sure to check the temperature in the center of the stuffing, and if necessary remove it and microwave it as directed in the recipe.
Letting the turkey stand for half an hour after it comes out of the oven is an essential part of the roasting process. When meat roasts, its juices move to the outer edge of the flesh. Letting it rest gives the juices time to redistribute, making for a moister turkey. An added bonus: The resting time provides an excellent window of opportunity to make the gravy and reheat the side dishes. There’s no need to cover the bird—it’ll stay warm enough, and covering it would only soften the crispy skin.
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