How to Cook a Turkey -- So Easy a Child Can Do It!

Jasmine putting lots of butter UNDER the skin
all photography by Elizabeth Messina

Sage to go under the skin with the butter

After rinsing the turkey and patting it dry, gently put your hand
under the skin to create a space to put the butter

Jasmine following the directions perfectly 

After we stuff the butter and sage under the skin, we pour 
olive oil on top of the turkey

The finished Turkey.  Note how beautiful the sage leaves
look under the skin.  And all that butter dripping
into the meat ensures it will be the most moist turkey you've 
ever eaten.


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  (You will reduce the heat to 375 after the first 15 minutes.)
Remove plastic from turkey in the sink.  If this is your first time cooking a turkey, please note that the neck will be inside the turkey cavity and that there will be an additional bag of giblets and liver inside the top of the turkey.  Be sure to remove from both areas but save the neck to make stock.  ALSO THIS IS A KEY TECHNIQUE SO I'M WRITING IT IN ALL CAPS.  I DO NOT TRUSS MY TURKEY.  SO IF THERE IS A PLASTIC THING IN YOUR TURKEY HOLDING THE LEGS TOGETHER PULL THAT OUT AND SET THEM FREE!

It is a total and complete myth that trussing a turkey will make the breast moist.  The breast is exposed no matter if the turkey is trussed or untrussed.  The only thing that trussing does is put the leg closer to the bird which will make it take longer to cook.  With the legs untrussed and free, the hot air from the oven can circulate around the leg and thigh.  With trussing you end up drying out the white meat while you wait for the dark meat to cook.    (By the way, I don't truss my chickens either for the exact same reason.)   

Back to the rest of the recipe.  Once you have removed remove the neck and all organs from inside the turkey cavity, set aside the neck to brown it and make stock for the gravy. (Gravy recipe to follow)

Rinse the turkey and pat it dry.  Place the turkey in a large roasting pan.  Slide your hands between the skin and the breast in order to separate it so you can put large clumps of unsalted butter under the skin.  Place at least three or four clumps on each side.  Then place whole sage leaves under the skin.  (You will not be able to see the sage leaves well when the butter is firm and in there, but when the turkey is roasted they will show through beautifully.)
Coat the entire outside skin of the turkey with olive oil and generously coat with kosher salt.  Leave cavity empty and do not stuff. This allows the heat to get inside the turkey, cooking it faster.  Also, my personal tip is to untruss the turkey and leave the legs out so that the hot oven air can cook the turkey more quickly.  (I’m not a fan of trussing in chickens or turkeys.)
Cook the turkey at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.  Then turn the oven down to 375 (or 350 for smaller ovens).  Every 30 minutes while the turkey is cooking, get a stick of butter and rub it all over the top off the turkey.  Cook for 2 hours for a 15 pound bird and under.  Cook for 2 and a half hours for a 16-20 pound bird.  Cook for 3 hours for a 25 pound bird.  If the turkey browns too quickly on top, tent it with aluminum foil.  (You can just lay the foil over the bird, you don’t have to tuck it in or anything like that.)
Let the turkey rest for at least 20 minutes before carving it.  You can also cover it with foil for up to an hour to keep it warm, and then carve it.  Or, if it is finished before you need to serve it, cover the turkey with foil and keep it in an oven on a very low temperature (200-225).
Moist and Delicious! Leg meat is darker and a bit pinkish in tint by nature, so don’t overcook it worrying that you haven’t cooked it long enough.  There is nothing worse than dry, overcooked turkey.
If you like the taste of stuffing inside the bird, just pour turkey broth or chicken broth over your stuffing to mimic that moist taste that comes from cooking it inside the bird.  You will have a better tasting and moister tasting turkey if you cook it unstuffed.


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