How To Guide for Making the Perfect Turkey

Getting it Right Without Risk

Americans have a love affair with two things: Thanksgiving and turkeys. Thanksgiving is the major holiday least influenced by commercialization. It's our tradition to gather together before a lavish meal, without the shopping pressures that come with other special days. Though the pilgrims almost certainly didn't actually eat turkey for their thanksgiving event, we know what constitutes our preferred main course today.

If you’re like me, all the available articles and advice columns about how to cook a great holiday bird eventually just flood your mind with often conflicting, subjective information. I don’t know about you, but I forget the steps, mix up the advice, and do things out of sequence. As a predictable result, despite my many years of experience cooking holiday turkeys, I've never really nailed it perfectly. Until I acquired the right tools, and used my current method, my birds were either too dry or lacking flavor, under cooked, or on one embarrassing occasion, borderline burned. What a disaster!

Gradually, I’ve been able to break the process down into a simpler, easier process that produces the most reliably fool-proof, scrumptious Thanksgiving turkey ever.

This process isn’t mysterious or controversial, just comprised of simple, mainstream steps, using the best tools for the job. My method of marinating first, then cooking in a high quality oven bag is proven to produce the best, most deliciously consistent results.

Fresh vs. Frozen: Let it Go.

When meat is frozen, ice crystals form that can puncture the cell wall of the muscle tissue, changing the texture of the meat into mush. The big food companies know this, which is why they ensure small, slow ice crystal growth by slowly freezing the meat under controlled conditions. I've had incredible results with store bought turkeys, and for the price, they're hard to beat. If you want to reach the highest level of turkey nirvana however, fresh is best, and there's no thawing time.

Heritage vs. Butterball (or just about any other brand name frozen turkey)

Heritage turkeys are the birds we all visualize when we think of turkeys. Big plumage, dark feathers, etc. There are many breeds, from Auburn to Narraganset. If you have a local farmer, try to find out what breed she's raising. This is by far the best option for a perfect meal, so long as you can find it and afford it. No factory birds, these tend to be free range and organic. The best part is the taste. Heritage turkeys have the most turkey flavor.

How Big, This Bird?

Conventional wisdom holds that one pound of turkey feeds one person. If you're like me, you don't consider two oreo cookies to be a "serving." Two pounds of turkey per person is a better calculation, leaving some leftovers even if you underestimate appetites. If you've purchased a Heritage turkey, remember that they tend to be smaller, with way smaller breasts. Consider cooking two turkeys if the size of your guest list justifies it.

A Meaty Proposition

Number of Guests

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Five Important Tools You'll Need

  1. Roasting Pan: A Turkey needs to be oven roasted. In order to accomplish this, you need a roasting pan. Roasting pans vary widely from disposable and made from foil, to some serious stainless steel overkill.
  2. Alarm Timer: Don't get caught, as I did, sleeping on the cooking time. As with work and school, in cooking your turkey, being on time is important. We definitely wouldn't want our turkey to be anything short of perfection.
  3. Brining Bag: The importance of marinating your holiday turkey is hard to overstate. The brine will break down the molecules in the turkey, allowing them to absorb the glorious juices more efficiently. When brined correctly, a turkey can become your personal nirvana.
  4. Oven Bag: Why all the bags? Nothing retains moisture better than a good trap. It's a simple concept that keeping the juices from escaping makes for a tastier bird. An oven bag also dramatically reduces clean-up while it enhances flavor -- a win-win for everyone.
  5. Thermometer: The best thermometer can be a subjective question. For my needs, I wanted a small, light, easy to use model with an accurate, easy-to-read display. Getting the temperature of the meat right is a crucial step. Although we want our bird to end up at 165 degrees, we should remove it from the oven at 150-155, because it will continue to cook after removal. Ten degrees temperature rise after removal is reliable and routine.

Large Roasting Pan - Not the Frying Kind

  • Since I'm recommending a 20 lb turkey, make sure your roasting pan can accommodate one. Foil or hard sided are both fine, but you need a roasting pan to do the job right.
  • I've had great experience with my 17.2" x 12.7" x 12.7" large roasting pan with rack.
  • If you're looking for quick and easy you could always buy a disposable roasting pan, but a bit of a money sink for a one-way product.
  • You can also use a cookie sheet or any pan big enough. Be sure that if you're not using a rack with a pan inside of it, to keep the bird raised up. Coarsely chop an onion and lay the turkey on top. This will ensure you don't have direct contact between the bird and the pan, allowing the bottom to cook more evenly. Be sure that the pan won't let the juices fall out into the oven. The drippings will be used to baste the turkey and as a key component of the gravy.
  • If you live close to the fire department, you could try the deep fried method. Due to the possibility of fire, I don't recommend this method, but it's possible to make a tasty turkey by deep frying it.

Alarm Timer - Taking No Chances

  • I can't adequately express my frustration about the times I've overcooked things because I thought I'd remember when to check the oven. Just as often as not, I've gotten busy, fallen asleep, or failed to remember when to check.
  • From my own experience, I'm convinced that the Screaming Meanie model 120 alarm timer is the best product of its kind on the market, and ideal for our needs. Its super loud alarm checks in at 120db, so even if you're in the back yard you can hear it. The meanie's plastic case is all but indestructible, and it has a reputation for reliability stretching back for decades. Plus it comes in various jaunty colors so it's hard to lose.
  • The timer on your oven will work fine too, but make sure you remember to set it, and that you can hear it from anywhere you'll be during the process.
  • Almost everyone has a smart phone. Set the timer on your phone and keep it with you as an alternative.

Brining Bag - Magical Secret to Turkey Paradise

  • This is an important step. Marinating the bird is what separates it from the ordinary. The brine will break down the molecules in your turkey, allowing them to better absorb juices, resulting in the perfect holiday feast.
  • The Liquid Solutions brining bag holds up to a 25 lb. turkey, comes with a double zipper enclosure, and is strong enough to do the job. Complete instructions are included.
  • You can always use a five gallon bucket, lined with a plastic bag, but be sure your plastic liner is BPA free.
  • If you're brining a few turkeys together, you can consider using a bathtub. Be sure to clean it well before and after, please.

Oven Bag - That Extra Flavor

  • After your bird is marinated, use an oven bag to cook without excess mess, while producing the tastiest turkey you've ever experienced.
  • Liquid Solutions offers an oven bag with their popular brining bag, available as a set. One of each is all you need and you can buy them as a set on, recipes and instructions included.

Meat Thermometer - It's Not Horseshoes

  • There are really only four types of thermometers used for cooking turkeys. They all have their benefits. A good thermometer is essential for turkey, but also for chicken and steaks.
  • Oven safe thermometer - designed to stay in the thigh of the turkey as it cooks. No need to open the oven to take a look.
  • Oven cord thermometer - a probe is placed in your turkey and feeds out to a readout on your countertop. The best part is they can be set to beep when a specific temperature is reached.
  • Instant read thermometer - open the oven, stick in the probe, and read the temperature. These are generally among the more affordable options.
  • Pop up timers - these timers have a small amount of metal in them, holding up a spring. When the metal hits 180 degrees, the metal melts and the spring pops up. Usually these devices are placed in the breast. If the breast is 180 degrees, the meat is probably overcooked. They should be placed in the thigh instead.


·        Zoom to the Finish Line

  • Try my two bag method and not only will your turkey be the most delicious ever, but it will be done in around half the time of other methods. No more waking up at 5am to put your bird in the oven. This year, wake up when you like and still have your bird ready to go when the time is right.

·        Defrosting Your Glorious Bird

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Much Ado About Stuffing

My grandmother used to always stuff her turkeys before popping them into the oven. The problem was, and always will be, that the stuffing had to reach 180 degrees in order to be safe. To properly cook the stuffing inside the bird, you have to overcook the turkey. It's as simple as that.

The best stuffing I've ever had has been cooked on the stovetop, using some of the drippings from the turkey. Here are some stuffing recipes:

Old Fashioned Stuffing -

Pecan Cornbread Stuffing -

Sausage Pear and Pecan Stuffing -


Marinate a Turkey - Brine it!

Brining Directions, Savory Turkey Brine:

You'll need: 2 quarts vegetable stock, 1/2 cup salt (3/4 cup kosher or course salt), 1/2 cup white sugar, 1 tablespoon dried rosemary, 1 tablespoon dried sage, 1 tablespoon dried thyme, 2 quarts cold water.

Into a large pot, pour stock. Add sugar and salt. Dissolve sugar and salt by heating solution on medium. Continue to heat water until the salt is completely dissolved, perhaps 15 minutes. Add it to cold water. Add all remaining spices and stir to combine. Chill brine completely in the refrigerator before adding turkey. Place your turkey in the brine by pouring the solution over the top of your meat. Seal brining bag and return to the refrigerator for the required time (one hour per pound). Check carefully that the bag is fully and completely sealed. Rinse poultry twice after removing it from the brine solution; discard brine.

Into the Bag You Go!

Oven Bag Directions:

You'll need: one turkey, one tablespoon flour, one medium sliced onion, two medium stalks of sliced celery, two tablespoons of melted butter or cooking oil. Optional: 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt, 1/2 teaspoon paprika.

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Open oven bag and shake flour inside it, leaving the flour inside once shaken
  3. Place floured oven bag into large roasting pan
  4. Add onions and celery
  5. With neck and giblets removed, rinse and pat turkey dry
  6. Brush oil or melted butter all over the turkey, then sprinkle evenly with spices
  7. Place turkey into the bag, breast side up and on top of celery and onions
  8. Close and seal the bag, but poke a few 1/2" holes in the top to allow the steam to escape
  9. Turkey will cook about 1 hour faster than with open recipe.
  10. Verify temperature with meat thermometer before serving.
  11. Carefully cut bag away from turkey and serve your delicious bird with no pan to clean up!


Carving Your Masterpiece

A great sculptor once said, "To make a masterpiece, I start with a block of stone, then chip away everything that's NOT part of the masterpiece." Or something like that. Of course, with carving a turkey, the aesthetics are just as important as anything else. This video, courtesy of should give you confidence that you can indeed make and serve a world class holiday turkey!