Begin with a Brine
First, before you even get to the roasting, you should definitely brine your turkey. Any brine time is better thank no brine time.
Follow this simple brine recipe up to 48 hours before roasting (but even 4-6 hours would help.)
– 1 gal water
– 1 cup of kosher salt
– ¾ cup granulated sugar
– 10 springs of thyme
– 2 lemons
– 4 bay leaves
– 1 tbsp black peppercorns
Note: This is a 1 gallon recipe. You with probably need to do a 3-4x batch of this to cover a large turkey.
Add all ingredients into a stock pot and bring to a simmer. Stir to ensure salt and sugar has been completely dissolved. Remove from heat and let stand for 30 min. Remove lemons from brine. In small batches, blend the brine for about 20 sec or so, just until all ingredients are fully mixed.
Next chill the brine. Place your turkey in a vessel that is large enough to hold it and enough brine so that the bird is completely submerged. If necessary, weigh the turkey down with a few clean dinner plates so it stays submerged.
Place the brining turkey in your refrigerator, or in a large cooler in the coldest part of your garage. A turkey can go down to 26 degrees before it freezes. Allow to brine for 24-48 hours, but remember any brine time is better than no brine time.
Remove the turkey from the brine, pat dry, and allow to come up to room temperature before cooking (will take a few hours.)
Time to Roast
- Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Hot!
- Remove one rack and place the remaining rack near the bottom. The turkey should be about centered in the oven to get even air flow.
- If brining (and you really should be!): At least an hour before roasting, remove your turkey from the brine and rinse with cold water. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels. If you have extra time, let it stay refrigerated (uncovered) overnight to help the skin dry out and you’ll get an even crispier skin.
- Add your aromatics (onions, carrots, celery, thyme, etc.) to the cavity. This helps maintain even temperature in the breast meat (not getting cooked too quickly because of the moisture from the veggies) and imbues some flavor. We do NOT suggest stuffing a turkey with stuffing– you will very likely over-roast the turkey to fully cook the stuffing, which might not reach a safe temperature anyway. Cook the stuffing outside of the turkey, and oomph it up with some turkey stock.
- Get out a large roasting pan. Your pasture raised turkey will be quite juicy so be sure to use a roasting pan with plenty of room for the drippings (this means something much bigger than a baking sheet.)
- Toss 3 to 4 quartered onions, shallots, carrots, roasting potatoes, and other root vegetables you have in oil and season with salt, then add to the bottom of the roasting pan. These veggies may be eaten later, but more importantly, they will help flavor the pan drippings which can be used to make tasty gravy. For really large birds, you may want to add the potatoes and carrots half way through roasting to keep them from drying out.
- Place the bird on a rack in the roasting pan, breast side up.
- (Optional) Slice the skin along the breast bone and pour melted butter under the skin and over the skin. Pin the skin back together. Another technique I have seen is to cover the bird with a butter soaked cheesecloth.
- Place your chilled but not cold turkey into the hot oven (450 degrees). Roast, uncovered, for about 30 minutes. Watch carefully to make sure the skin doesn’t burn. You are trying to crisp the skin and lock in the moisture.
Keep an Eye on it
- Once the skin has browned moderately, reduce the oven heat to 325 or 350 (lower temperature for larger birds). If the skin continues to cook too much, apply a layer of aluminum foil over the bird.
- Roast your turkey for approximately 12 minutes per lb (total time, including the original 30 minutes.) So a 20 lb turkey should take between 3.5-4 hours. A 15 lb turkey only needs 2.5-3 hours.
- After an hour, check to see if the turkey has left some pan drippings. With a baster, suck up the juices and squirt over the turkey. Continue roasting, checking about every half hour through the window on the oven. You’re looking at the skin- if it starts to get too brown or even burnt looking, protect the wing tips and the drums with some foil.
- After 2 to 2.5 hours, start watching the temperature (this depends on size of the turkey). People say that our turkeys cook on the faster end, so start checking early. A great tool is a digital thermometer with an oven-safe probe that you can keep inserted in the turkey while it roasts– this way, you’re sure not to overcook. The remote probe thermometer should be inserted into the thickest part of the thigh without touching the bone. The breasts do cook faster than the legs, so your might want to tent them once the leg starts reading 145.
- You will want to remove the turkey from the oven when the internal temperature of the breast and thickest part of the thigh reaches about 157 – 160 degrees. The internal temperature will continue to rise the last 5-7 degrees once removed from the oven, so don’t go all the way to 165 unless you’re one of those people who love REALLY dry turkey. And we don’t know any of those people.
- Let the bird rest (covered with foil) for 30 minutes before carving as it will continue to cook and pull back in the moisture. While it rests, make your gravy from the drippings in the roasting pan by whisking in a roux (flour and melted butter, 2 tbsp each) and then some turkey or chicken stock.