Recipe: Herb Roasted Turkey

There isn't a dinner or protein that is more intimidating than roasting a turkey. First, it's expensive, and so easy to either under cook it (rendering it dangerous to serve guests) or overcooked (rendering it too dry to serve guests) meaning it could be money thrown away. In reality, turkey is easy to roast. The oven does most of the work. You need to just know some basic math, making sure you get that turkey in the oven in time to serve it when you want. You also need to get a nice basting sauce, and you need to not be afraid of getting your hands dirty. If you are a cook that is afraid to get your hands dirty, turkey making is not for you. You have to get your hands under the skin and in the cavities. This is important. If you are squeamish - buy some turkey breasts and make those instead.

My biggest secret in this recipe is cooking the turkey upside down. The breast meat roasts slowly and naturally bastes from being on the bottom. I cook it this way for half the time. Then I get an extra set of hands to carefully flip it midway and finish roasting breast side up.

My turkey is sort of famous in my family. So I give you my secrets, and enjoy some great family meals with this recipe at the center of the table.

Herb Roasted Turkey


1  20 lb. turkey
salt and pepper
2 Granny Smith apples
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1-2 oranges, quartered
twine, skewers, toothpicks

Basting Sauce:
1 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 Tbsp. fresh chopped thyme (or mix up your herbs like chopped parsley, rosemary, thyme and basil)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup white wine


First thing, count how many pounds you've got there. Figure 20 minutes per lb. stuffed, and count backward from when you want to serve dinner. That is when you have to get the turkey in the oven, at 375º. Now count a half hour to 45 minutes to prep the turkey, and count that in your schedule as well. One more thing I want you to add. One hour to soak the turkey in a water bath before you prep it. That's right. This gets all the blood out, and draws out some of the gamey flavor, It also finishes defrosting it in areas. Just get a big vat of cold water (I use a Rubbermaid storage bin) and in goes the turkey, out of it's plastic and all the stuff out of it's cavity. As it is soaking, turn on your oven and begin prepping your turkey.

If you wish to brine your turkey, you can skip the soaking hour. Brining does what the soaking hour does, while pushing moisture and flavor into the turkey. We have moved into brining our turkey overnight. We like the brining solution from Williams Sonoma, and get the brining bags to immerse the turkey, breast side down, in the bag. In the morning, we rinse it out well and continue with our prep.

Quarter your apples and sprinkle the spices over them. Set aside. Quarter your orange and set aside. Make your basting sauce by whisking all your liquids together into the melted butter, and add your spices and mix again. Set aside with a basting brush. 

Take all the gizzards, and neck, rinse, and put them in the bottom of your roasting pan. These things are the basis for a great gravy, not to mention- my mother LOVES the neck bone (go figure). I drizzle a little olive oil over the organs at the bottom of the pan, a 1/2 cup of water to get things going and place the rack in the middle of the pan. Now you are ready to go.

Take the turkey, pat it dry and sprinkle the outside and cavity with salt and pepper. Put 1/2 of apple mixture inside turkey under the white meat. Then take your other orange and apples and stuff them in in the back inside of the turkey. This fruit creates moisture from the inside and keeps things very juicy. Truss the turkey legs together with twine, use the skewers to cinch in the wings, and the neck flap fold over and hinge with toothpicks. (If you need help with trussing, is great.) 

With your hands, loosen the skin from the meat everywhere you can. With a knife. prick the leg skin and other taught areas where the skin is hard to get under. With that knife, make a big enough hole in the leg skin to get a basting brush under the skin. Then, use your basting sauce and basting brush and baste a healthy layer of sauce under the skin everywhere. Brush the top of the outside (breast side) first. With help, place the turkey, breast side down, on the roasting rack. I roast it this way for half of the time. It allows the breast to cook slowly and get the basting juices roll down to it naturally during cooking. Trust me, this works. At this point, with the turkey upside down, baste the backside of the turkey (that is facing you) under the skin and outside, too.

Cook it for half the cooking time, using the basting sauce every half hour. Now after half the time, take the turkey out. WITH HELP, use some long, strong utensils and carefully flip the turkey so it is now breast side up. Add a thermometer in the section where the thigh meets the breast (the thickest part of the turkey). Cook it this way for the remaining time, using the basting sauce until done. Then use a baster as well to baste as well. 

If the turkey is browning too fast, cover it with tin foil.

Watch your thermometer when you baste. You want it to hit 175º. If you are at 170º and your guests aren't due for a couple of hours, you can hold it at that temp by lowering your oven temp to about 250º. You must baste if you do this, or else your turkey will dry out. Take it out at 175º. Your turkey needs to sit for 10-15 minutes before carving, and it continues cooking, so don't be alarmed if it creeps up to 180˚ (that is the temp it should be technically, but if you get it just under, it will be perfect when carved). While waiting, I drain the pan into a fat skimmer and make gravy out of the pan drippings with chicken stock, cornstarch mixed with chicken stock, and a little Amaretto. Cook until thickened, and serve with turkey.



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