There are several secrets to making a good turkey – most people use one or two of them. If you want a great turkey, though, you’ve got to use them all. Follow any of these instructions and people will rave. Follow all of these instructions, and you’ll make people swoon.

1. The secret to a great turkey? Show restraint. Never cook a turkey that is more than 12-14 pounds.
Turkeys larger than 14 pounds cook unevenly, resulting in a dryer breast and/or tougher thigh meat. If you need a larger turkey, split the weight between two small turkeys – you won’t use any more time cooking them, and the results are superior. We make about 30 pounds of turkey every year, using this method, in a normal sized kitchen, and have never gone wrong.

The secret to cooking more than one turkey? Precook extra turkeys for serving, either the morning of, or the day before. Let this rest for 20 minutes, carve it, place it into a roasting pan, and cover with the juices. Keep this serving turkey on the back of your stove or somewhere warm while you make everything else. Meanwhile, make a presentation turkey, if you’re into that kind of thing. Now you’ll have a gorgeous table turkey, and people won’t have to wait to eat.

2. 48-72 hours ahead of time, brine your turkey.
Brining a turkey is a great way to improve the taste, texture, and cooking time of a turkey. Brining involves mixing salt, sugar (or honey or agave nectar) and water, and soaking the turkey for AT LEAST 24 hours, or up to 3 days. The brine replaces the blood in the turkey flesh, making the taste less muddy, and the salt and sugar solution allows the meat to be ridiculously moist and the skin to be the brownest, most even color you’ve ever seen. Don’t worry about carbohydrate content – it isn’t enough to even notice. If you are still not sure about the sugar, just use the salt.

Follow these instructions:
Mix 1 C. salt and 1 C. sugar to a gallon of water. Stir to dissolve. You might need to make several batches of this.

FOR A FRESH TURKEY/THAWED TURKEY- place the turkey into a large pan or bucket and cover with brine. Soak for at least 24 hours. You can top the bucket with ice, if you need fridge space.

FOR A FROZEN TURKEY – this is the best way on Earth I know of to thaw a turkey.

AT LEAST 48 hours in advance, take off the wrapper and place the frozen bird in a large pot or bucket. Cover with the brine and let thaw. Remove from brine and move on to the next step.

3. Up to 24 hours in advance, use a compound butter to self-baste your turkey.

A compound butter is simply a seasoned butter that can be used to season foods with less mess and measuring. You chop herbs and mix them into butter. For the moistest brownest turkey, you’ll want to loosen the skin between the breast and legs and coat it with a nice thickish layer of compound butter. This layer will do the basting of the turkey for you, and putting it on a day ahead of time will help season the meat all the way to the bone

The following are recipes for different styles of compound butter:
Basic Herbed Compound Butter
Autumn Compound Butter
Italian Compound Butter

You can also do this with plain butter or margarine, salt and pepper.

4. 24 hours in advance, let your turkey ‘dry’ in the fridge.
If you’ve placed your compound butter under the skin, you’ll be able to take advantage of this little trick. Letting the turkey ‘dry’ in the fridge ensures a super-crisp skin and golden (deep golden) color. Let it dry in a roasting pan or on a rack. We like to stick it in a roasting bag, but allow the bag to be ‘scrunched up’ so that it only lines the bottom of the pan, in order to allow the air to flow around the bird.

5. Always use this ratio for your seasoning vegetables: 2 parts celery, 2 parts onion, 1 part carrots
The scientific explanation is long and complicated, but the short explanation is this: the chemical reaction that takes place when you cook a bird with this ratio of veggies makes the poultry taste ‘pop.’

6. For extra flavor, add either a lemon, apple, or pear to the veggies above.
This adds so much to the flavor of the bird and helps keep it moist.

7. Use a roasting bag
There are several ways to do this:

  • Use a store bought roasting bag.
  • Make a huge ‘envelope’ out of parchment paper.
  • Make a very large foil ‘tent’.

All three work, but the store bough roasting bag seems to be the least messy. The idea is to seal the bird inside an enclosed area to keep the meat moist.

If you simply must open roast it, follow these instructions:
Bend your wings backwards, and prop the bird on it’s side. Cook 1/3 of your time on the left, 1/3 of the time on the right, and the last 1/3 of the time on its back. Voila! Perfectly and evenly cooked breast and thigh meat and a lovely golden brown all over the bird.

8. Do not cook the bird any higher than 250 degrees F for at least the first 3/4 of the cooking time.
Cooking the bird at a higher temperature may take less time, but it will dry the bird out. Cook the bird about 30 minutes per pound at 250 degrees. A 12 pound bird will take about 5 1/2 hours. This is the absolute essential step to a moist bird. Trust us, you want to follow this step!

The last 15 minutes to half hour, feel free to raise the heat to 350 degrees F in order to blast the bird with the needed heat to produce a deep chestnut skin.