Roast Turkey

Have fun: You always remember your first.
TIME 3 to 4 hours
MAKES 8 to 12 servings
1 turkey (12 to 14 pounds)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup roughly chopped onion
1 cup roughly chopped carrot
½ cup roughly chopped celery
Stems from 1 bunch fresh parsley, tied together with kitchen string, optional

1 Heat the oven to 500°F. Rinse the turkey under cool running water and remove the giblets from the cavity. Trim off the excess fat and wing tips if you like. Pat the bird dry with a paper towel, smear the butter all over the skin, and sprinkle it well with salt and pepper.

2 Put the turkey on a rack in a large roasting pan with the breast facing up. Pour ½ cup water into the bottom of the pan and add the onion, carrot, celery, and parsley, along with the turkey neck, whatever giblets you want (or not), and the wing tips if you removed them. Put the turkey in the oven, legs first if possible.

3 Roast until the top of the turkey begins to brown, 20 to 30 minutes, then lower the oven heat to 325°F. Continue to roast, checking and brushing the bird with the pan juices every 30 minutes or so. If the bottom of the pan gets dry, add about ½ cup water; there should be a little liquid in the bottom of the pan at all times.

4 The turkey is done when a quick-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of one of the thighs measures 155–165°F; figure 2½ to 3½ hours. If the top looks like it’s getting too brown too quickly, press a piece of aluminum foil directly onto it. If the top looks like it’s not browned enough, turn the heat back up to 425°F for the last 20 to 30 minutes of roasting.

5 When the turkey is ready, tip the juices out of the cavity into the pan, transfer the bird to a cutting board, cover loosely with a tent of aluminum foil, and let it rest for at least 20 minutes before carving. If you’re serving the turkey with pan juices, strain them from the pan into a glass measuring cup. When the fat rises to the top, skim it off and warm the juices before serving (you can add them to several cups of chicken or turkey stock if you want more). If not, hang on to the roasting pan and all its contents; you’re going to need it to make gravy.

  • Most whole turkeys on the market are standard birds, which are raised much like conventional chickens and are of similar nondistinct quality. (Self-basting turkeys, pumped full of flavored vegetable oil and/or water, are absolutely to be avoided.) True wild turkeys are scrawny birds that are rarely available commercially. Other than that, the same labeling standards (and lack of standards) that apply for chicken work for turkeys. See Chicken Lingo for some details.
  • If you’re starting out with a frozen bird, let it defrost thoroughly before getting started. Figure a 12- to 14-pound turkey will take at least 48 hours to defrost in the refrigerator. If you’re in a hurry, put it in a sink (or large bowl) full of cold water and soak the bird for 8 to 12 hours, changing the water every couple of hours or so. But don’t put it in warm or hot water and don’t just let it sit out on the counter.

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