Friday, November 7, 2008

How to Cook a Turkey: Part 1 - A No-Fail Method for People that Would Rather Watch Football than Wash Dishes

The biggest myth in all of American cookery is the belief that a juicy, perfectly cooked turkey is difficult for the novice cook to achieve. This video recipe for how to cook a turkey will show a very easy method for producing a moist, delicious, and beautiful turkey every time.

One of the secrets is a flavored butter under the skin. You can see that recipe here. You can tweak this any way you want, as t
he possibilities are endless. This video recipe for prepping and roasting the turkey is just part 1, and will conclude with how to make the gravy in part 2.

Be sure you buy a meat thermometer before thanksgiving. It is the most important tool in the kitchen that day. Other than that, you probably have everything needed, and yes, this method will work with the ubiquitous foil roasting pans.

So, proceed with confidence, joy, and the knowledge that since you're the one cooking the turkey, you won't have to wash any dishes! Even if this is your first time, don't play scared, this will work. There is nothing to fear, but the fear of dry turkey itself. Enjoy!



Ingredients:
Turkey
1 tbsp black pepper
2 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp poultry seasoning (fresh, not from 1997)
2 onions
3 ribs celery
2 carrots
3 rosemary sprigs
1/2 bunch sage
1 bay leaf
1 stick butter, or a flavored butter recipe

133 comments:

Bill W, NH said...

hmmm, something's up, you said to roast it at 325 at exactly 3:25 into the video. Timing's everything, no?

Anonymous said...

I'm moving the 15th of november and my new house doesn't have an oven xD help?

any alternative turkey recipe you could recommend?

Alex said...

I've heard that a brine is the best way to ensure a moist turkey. What about a brine PLUS flavored butter under the skin??

Anonymous said...

What a great and perfect way of starting to share the holiday spirits! I was really hoping you would do some holiday recipes, and viola~ Thanks a lot and I look forward to seeing more awesome holiday recipes! Thanks!

-D.W.

Chef John said...

brines are great, but I usually don't have the room or patience to do one. Besides this is really juicy... I mean I don't want it too great.

You can grill a turkey i've heard, but i'd just buy a cooked one, or make turkey sandwiches.

Chef John said...

Bill, you really need to watch more closely. ;)

Emilie said...

Thank you so much, this comes in true time of need. I'll be cooking my first turkey this year, and after watching this video, I'm confident to say I'm only half as scared as before.

Charlemange said...

This is similar to how I do it except I roast the turkey upside down halfway, then flip it over to brown the breast meat.

I just had turkey this week, so I am thinking of doing a capon for T Day.

Anonymous said...

where is part two about the gravy,and is it better to ckook the turkey breast down,for more moisture?

Chef John said...

Geez, I just posted part one like a few minutes ago! You want a foot rub while you wait?

Cooking upside down does let the fat drip over the breast, but I like the look of the breasts up and displayed proudly. Some turn it halfway through, but that's a trip to the ER waiting to happen.

Charlemange said...

but...I am invincible!

Angie ^i^ said...

I typically make my turkey in a bag (don't fuss please), but this Thanksgiving I'm planning on cooking it your way. My question is, in the bag there is a LOT of broth. I use that broth in my stuffing. With your method, will it yield at least two cups of broth?
BTW, it looks YUMMY!! I can't wait until Turkey day!! hehe

Chef John said...

maybe add an inch of water, but I usually get at least 2 cups.

Anonymous said...

you forgot to show we numbskulls where the thigh is so we'll know where to stick the thermometer. do you think we're smart or something?

Chef John said...

its the part that's not the breast, wing, or leg. the fat wide part by the knee. Havent you ever seen a chicken thigh?? Have a friend show you.

Anonymous said...

Chef John this video seems to be sticking at 1.30...tried it a few times now. Can you look into this please?

since the beginning... said...

I've been following this blog all along, even through a couple of name changes, and FINALLY, Chef John does a turkey! You make it look easy and "As Always, Enjoy!"able.

Chef John said...

Well, I hope you enjoy it. I wasn't trying to duck this topic.

anugrah15 said...

hi chef john....i've been loyally following your blog for the past one year...and u'd better pay me coz i'm a walking-and-talking advertisement for this blog..lol...and this is my first comment...i want to say i just love your sense of humor...lol..."THEY'RE CHICKEN!!"..makes watching u even better...!!!

Aimee said...

Chef John,

Please don't leave us with just a cooked a turkey and gravy. I am afraid I might feast like a cave man if you don't show me how to carve one.

Greg said...

Looks good but can you post a Vegan version using a Tofurkey?




Just kidding...

Anonymous said...

I have been cooking turkey for many years now & have always done the roasting then the foil, but your way makes much more sense. That way the browned skin doesn't get moist when covered up at the end. Stays crisp! Thanks for the tip. Old dogs can learn new tricks.
Luckily I won't be cooking turkey this year, traveling.
Luisa Vacaville

mona said...

Hi Chef John, What are your thoughts on beginning with searing the outside of the turkey for about 20 mnutes at 425 degrees and then roasting covered at 325 for the remainder?

Chef John said...

sure, that works. This was for beginners so i kept it to a minimum of steps.

Kim from Ma said...

I am so very happy to have found your site! Thank you for all your recipe videos. I have many cookbooks and enjoy cooking but already your site is making me a better cook! My husbands favorite meal is turkey dinner and today I made it for our famlies dinner. He has always been happy with the turkeys I've cooked, and today at times I was like "why and I makeing this butter mixture?" "why do I have my hand under the turkeys skin" *yuck*. But now I know why; tonight he, my brother and his wife, and my 7 year old all RAVED about the bird. And my husband said he will never be able to eat a turkey cooked by anyone else! :) I've always cooked them to 180 (what my meat therm suggested) in the past and I could not believe the difference that made as well.

Sandra said...

I'll be cooking my first turkey this year; I am so very happy to have found your site! Thank you for all.

Sandra G.

Anonymous said...

We need to cook the turkey in a roaster oven.

How would I adjust the time etc?

Chef John said...

what's a roaster oven? don't think I've used one before.

Richard said...

Ok, I hate to ask, but the family vetoe'd the full bird and we just have two of those "breasts" this year.

Can any of this magic (part 1 or 2) be transferred to a Thanksgiving breast fest? (ahem)

Thanks!

Chef John said...

"vetoe'd the full bird" What?

Yes, just put the butter under the skin and roast to 160 F.

Richard said...

Nobody eats dark meat, so in a bid to save money and "mess" for a large group of people they opted for the equivalent of a giant chicken nugget ;-)

Thanks for the suggestion!

Anonymous said...

What kind of turkey should I used for your recipe? Should I use one that has been already injected with chicken broth and and with a sodium solution or an organic turkey?

Chef John said...

Not sure if you have to get an organic one which can be super pricey. Look for ones that say "all natural." There are lots of comparisons online, so google it to get more info.

Anonymous said...

What size did you used for the pan where you baked the turkey?
I want to thank you for sharing your recipe, this is going to be my first time baking a turkey and your recipe seems pretty easy and good.

Anonymous said...

What size did you used for the pan where you baked the turkey?
I want to thank you for sharing your recipe, this is going to be my first time baking a turkey and your recipe seems pretty easy and good.

Chef John said...

it was a 11 x 14 backing dish, but the foil pans from the market work as well for this recipe.

Anonymous said...

Hello,

I really enjoy your cooking videos! Thank you. Question..gravy..last year we cooked (i watched my mom) the turkey and we had very little cooking liquid..i mean very little. Your gravy recipe calls for 3 cups of cooking liquid..what to do if i only have 1/2 of liquid or so? we did not put butter under skin last year. Sorry for such a simple question...absolute novice! I am cooking turkey this year solo!

Chef John said...

If you prep the bottom of the pan like I did with the veggie and a few cups of water, you should get a few cups, but it really doesn't matter because you have the turkey stock already made with the neck. Good luck, have fun, and don't try too hard.

Anonymous said...

If I used a pan with a rack do I still put the vegetables on the bottom of the pan?

Chef John said...

not unless you want flavor! They are there for more than a rack.

Anonymous said...

FOR YOUR COMPOUND BUTTER DO YOU USED TABLE SALT OR KOSHER SALT?

Chef John said...

u can use either, to taste

Anonymous said...

What salt did you used for your compound butter? I know you said I could use either, but which one do you recommend?

Chef John said...

i use kosher for everything. so i say that one

DeLynn said...

you said you had rosemary in your butter, but it's not in the recipe link you provided. I love rosemary, so should I substitute the thyme or sage for rosemary? please help!
love your site!

Chef John said...

use all three! The recipe is just for proportions. You can use all 3 and it will be even better.

Richard said...

Chef,

Good news! I have permission to fry the turkey breasts up, and a neighbor to assist and provide equipment; question, can I still use the compound butter, or am I cruisin for a bruisin (or burning)?

Thanks!!

Chef John said...

not needed for deep frying. would just leak out and burn in the oil.

DeLynn said...

Chef, thanks for replying. I'm about to get started on the turkey recipe. I'm cooking it for my boyfriend's family. I hope I don't F it up!!! My future mother-in-law says "There's always Furr's!"

Happy Thanksgiving! This year I'm thankful for CHEF JOHN!!!!

Anonymous said...

my flavored butter didn't stick well to the outside of the turkey - what did i do wrong?

Chef John said...

The turkey was wet. Pat dry with towels and try again, as the butter warms from your hands rubbing it will start to smear. Its not a big deal though, because the important butter is under the skin.

justin said...

I follow this recipe, except I brined it last night and i also covered the turkey with bacon.

Is the bacon and the butter mixture a little too much? Or will it just add to the awesomeness?

Chef John said...

Youre about to find out, then we'll both know! I've never heard of bacon not making something better. ;)

Anonymous said...

I am trying your recipe as I type and im so excited. One small problem though i couldn't find a bay leaf what can i replace it with? Thank You Happy Thanksgiving =]

Chef John said...

Well, I'm sure this is too late, but you can leave the bay leaf out.

Scott said...

Chef John,

Let me preface by saying that I'm completely clueless when it comes to cooking and currently living in another country. The idea of making a Thanksgiving turkey this year seemed crazier than ever.

However, thanks to your video recipes, the Turkey and mashed potatoes turned out perfectly. You are absolutely right, anyone anywhere can do this!

Thank you for making this site, you've done a wonderful job.I figured I'd stop by and tell you to keep up the good work and to let you know that you now have a fanbase here in Córdoba, Spain.

Take care and good luck.

Anonymous said...

I made my turkey using your recipe and my husband liked it alot, my only problem was that it was a bit dry, can you tell me what I did wrong?

Chef John said...

dry can only happen from overcooking. How is another question. Did you use a thermometer?

Angie ^i^ said...

Chef John, my 17 year old daughter, who rarely eats enough to feed a mouse, LOVED your turkey! She didn't want to stop eating it and just about popped!! She was like: "Mom, it's soooooooooo good"! Needless to say, I'll be making it this way from now on! It was excellent! Aromatic, moist, and totally out of this world yummy!!!

Thank you so much!!!!

Katie said...

Can you use this recipe to make chicken too?

Anonymous said...

Can you use this recipe to make chicken too?

Chef John said...

Yes! I have a video on the site for "ultimate roast chicken" check it out!

Anonymous said...

haveever tried fried turkey? AMAZING!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Hi,

I have to work on Thanksgiving day and ideally would like the turkey in by noon, but will be working until after 1pm. Would I be able to prepare the turkey the night before and have my boyfriend put it in the next day? As in loosening the skin and adding the butter underneath, and outside the skin aswell as seasoning the turkey. And then just have to veggies prepared and stored in a ziploc with very specific directions as to how it all goes together for him? I'm worried if I wait until after work the turkey won't be finished until pretty late.

Becke said...

I have to say this is the best turkey recipe I have found. I have used this the past two years, and each year it gets better. Thank you for helping me make a wonderful turkey for our international neighbors. AMAZING!!

Anonymous said...

How will this work with an 18 pound turkey? I hope I didn't bite off more than I could chew I gotta serve 6 people with an 18 pounder. Obviously I shouldn't cook this in a foil pan. what are your thoughts?

Chef John said...

an 18 pound turkey works great! So is a foil pan. I've used them many times.

Anonymous said...

Did you get any feedback over the past year on brined turkeys with the addition of herbed butter under the skin?

Chef John said...

No, but I'm sure it would work great!

maggie said...

Hello, I am going to try this and pray it looks and tastes as good as yours. Thanx wish me luck

Social Communications said...

I made this today. It was my first time ever cooking a turkey. I have heard many compliments today, and several told me it was the best turkey they ever had. Thank you so much for all the work in creating this blog post and video! Happy Thanksgiving.

Anonymous said...

I would like to thank you for this very informative video (part 1-2); the turkey came out amazingly delicious and juicy my family and guests were amazed and devoured it :D
This was also my first time cooking a turkey by the way, thanks again :)

dcivera said...

Do you do anything special with the mirepoix or you just serve it with the meat?

Chef John said...

You can, but it's usually discarded

dcivera said...

My butter is much darker than yours. When you say 1 tbsp of pepper, it's before or after you ground it?

I'm afraid the taste of the butter might be a bit strong, will it become milder once cooked?

Anonymous said...

Awesome recipe and this was my first turkey ever and everybody loved it. Very juicy and it was actually not that hard to make. Just watched your video and took my time. Also the gravy turned out great, but I think I bought a turkey who ran around a lot because I hardly skimmed any fat off the liquid in the pan. Thanks again!

Justin G. said...

Awesome recipe, getting ready to cook it soon. I don't suppose you have the instructions written down in recipe format anywhere? I want to avoid continually replaying this video lol.

Chef John said...

I don't! I want people to write the recipe down themselves and make it their own. Enjoy!

Ashley said...

I made my first turkey two years ago using this recipe and everyone loved it. I have the turkey assignment again this year and am using your recipe for sure. Thanks so much.

Everyone also loved your cibatta bread I made. Thanks for the great recipe videos!

Boddokito said...

Thank you sooooo much!!! You make it look so easy, this year I'm going to cook my very first turkey following your instructions ;)

Anonymous said...

This year would be my first to make a turkey. So reading the previous comments there's one that caught my attention, so would it be better to cover the turkey with bacon than with foil. Would I still have that juicy tender turkey that im praying for?

Josh said...

Just wondering, how big was the turkey you used?

Anonymous said...

love your videos, can you tell me how far in advance the butter can be made want to do as much prep in advance as possible

Anonymous said...

and one more question, i cannot find the 5 spice anywhere is there a combination of spice i can use to replace it or just leave it out?

Anonymous said...

I'm cooking my turkey in an electric roaster because I only have one oven & need it for other dishes. Will this recipe work well in a roaster? If so, what temperature should I roast the turkey at? Does the length of time for roasting a turkey in a conventional oven apply to an electric roaster?

Chef John said...

butter can be made days ahead and it will be fine.

I've never used a roaster, so i have no idea!

Here is a recipe for Chinese 5-Spice: http://busycooks.about.com/od/homemademixes/r/chinese5spicmix.htm

newjerseycook said...

you mention cooking the turkey 18 minutes per pound and i bought an 18 pound turkey. i'm no math wiz but that is 5 hours and 24 minutes. Others have mentioned a shorter time so i wanted to confirm the cooking time of 5 hours and 24 minutes. I'll use the meat thermometer to get to the right temp but just wanted to confirm.

Kate said...

First year making a turkey, crossing my fingers!

What do you do with the liver, I noticed you didn't put it into the pot with heart, gizzard?

Also, can you prep the turkey with butter 2 days ahead?

Chef John said...

jersey, I've update the time above to 15 - 18 m/pound, so you may be between 4 1/2 and 5, but like you said, use the thermometer.

kate, I don't use the liver in the gravy as the taste to too strong for me and most people.

Katya said...

Thanks, Chef! Can you prep the turkey with butter 2 days ahead?

Chef John said...

yes, answered above. thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thank you thank you thank you thank you... new house, everyones coming over.. first turkey. Thanks for making it easy.
regards,

Anne W said...

Chef John, my turkey's in the oven now, but I'm nervous 'cause I used a self basting turkey. I followed your recipe for the herbed butter and the seasoning salt and applied it as in your video. Will it be too salty, because of the sodium already in the self basting bird? thanks! Anne

Nina said...

First - I love your blog!

Second - Any chance you will do a video preparing a turkey in a baking bag? Or is that considered blasphemy? I had Thanksgiving last night with friends - and this guy would not stop bragging about his results with the cooking bags!! Cheers :-)

TheProf'sWife said...

Used this method for chickens last weekend and they were the best roasted chickens we'd ever made. We brined them before roasting.

Today, I am doing the turkey. I think I may have left the foil on the breast for too long. The thigh is registering 165F, but the breast is only at 120F. I am going to leave it in the oven until 150F, cover with foil and see what kind of carry over I can get. I am practicing with this bird, so if I have to, I can just carve then finish cooking later. For future reference, what would be a safe temperature for the breast?

Chef John said...

im sure 160 is fine. thanks!

Anonymous said...

Did you Soak or brined this turkey? I don't know if you did, I read that if you brine your turkey you can't stuff it. Is this true? Great videos by the way ;)

Anonymous said...

hello chef
i'm trying out the roasting for teh first time.. can i use dried spices instead of fresh ones.

Anonymous said...

i plan to roast a turkey for the first time. will i get the same super roast fabulous turkey using dried herbs instead of fresh one?

Chef John said...

You can but I like fresh better.

em said...

Can this method be used for roasted chicken too? Sorry for the ignorance... this is coming from someone who has neither roasted chicken nor turkey...

Shao Li said...

Chef John!

Do you have to adjust cooking time for a larger bird??

Chef John said...

No, every turkey will cook in exactly the same time, whether it's 5 pounds or 35 pounds! ;) Sorry, but I couldn't resist!

Of course, you need to cook larger bird longer. Times vary, so use the thermometer to check doneness!

Locatively Aware said...

Hi Chef John,

Someone attending Thanksgiving can't eat dairy (or soy, corn, or olives for that matter, so margarine is out of the question), but I still want to try something like this. Could I substitute ~any fat for the butter and just have a harder time coating the bird or do the unique properties of butter lend itself to this in a way liquid fats wouldn't?

Chef John said...

butter tastes great, but any oil or fat will do!

Shao Li said...

Sorry! I meant to ask if I have to increase cooking time per a pound when the bird is bigger or do I keep it at 15 minutes per pound?

Chef John said...

Oh! Same guidelines should work, but again, just a guide. Check doneness before removing.

nebiat abebe said...

Hi,

I have to work on Thanksgiving day and ideally would like the turkey in by noon, but will be working until after 1pm. Would I be able to prepare the turkey the night before and have my boyfriend put it in the next day? As in loosening the skin and adding the butter underneath, and outside the skin aswell as seasoning the turkey. And then just have to veggies prepared and stored in a ziploc with very specific directions as to how it all goes together for him? I'm worried if I wait until after work the turkey won't be finished until pretty late.

Please try to answer as soon as you can because im a bit stressed!
Thank You~!

Chef John said...

Yes You can prep everything the day before! Probably even comes out better. :) Relax.

Lee Nadiger said...

Hey there chef, I hope I'm not to late but I really need need input. We're having a small thanksgiving (only 3) and got turkey breasts instead of the whole turkey. Can i use this recipe as followes for the turkey breast?
Thanks

Chef John said...

Yes! Just cooks much faster!

nebiat abebe said...

You're amazing. Thank you for the fast reply..will make today and tomorrow a lot less stressful. :)
Happy Thanksgiving.

Dante said...

Hi chef!!! How much water do you add to your "inner parts" when starting the stock?

Dante said...

nevermind...should've paid attention. you said 6 cups =)

Caleb said...

HOW MUCH CELERY/ONION/CARROT MIX CAN WE PUT IN THE TURKEY!?!?!?

Marcia "CWAD" Akeung said...

Thanks so much Chef John.I made this today and everyone loved it, including the gravy. I'm in Japan, Thanksgiving is done but leftovers gonna be awesome.

SMeans said...

This is the first turkey I've ever made that has turned out moist, and frankly, delicious! Everyone commented on how good it was and I am officially out of leftovers from a 20 lb turkey! Thank you, Chef John, for sharing this recipe and giving really specific instructions. I am making turkey this way from here on out!!

Locatively Aware said...

Hi Chef John, I ended up using lard for my fat and it turned out pretty darn awesome. Thanks so much for not just the videos but giving such speedy replies to questions when I know you're just as busy as any of us. It's really a thankless service that's so incredible of you to provide.

Almarhum Almarhum II said...

Dear Chef John;

What weight chef use in this Turkey?

William said...

Any idea what song is being played at the beginning of the video?

William said...

Any idea what song is being played at the beginning of the video?

Chef John said...

I forget the name, but it's a sound clip from Imovie

William said...

thank you sir. I have this video bookmarked & use it every year when I prepare thanksgiving dinner for my family. keep up the great work!

William said...

thank you sir. I have this video bookmarked & watch it every year while I'm preparing thanksgiving dinner for my family. the results are delicious!

jim jewell said...

Chef John, would be a good ideal to use your butter mixture when smoking the turkey.

Chef John said...

Sorry, not sure how that would work! I've never actually used a smoker before!

miguel hernandez said...

Love your recipes. Couple questions because this is my first turkey. Im using an already basted turkey, do i still add salt,pepper and poultry seasoning or will it be too salty? Also your butter recipe calls for 2tbsp fresh thyme and 1/4 cup of fresh sage. Is the 1/4 cup a typo? Thank you:)

miguel hernandez said...

Love your recipes. Couple questions because this is my first turkey. Im using an already basted turkey, do i still add salt,pepper and poultry seasoning or will it be too salty? Also your butter recipe calls for 2tbsp fresh thyme and 1/4 cup of fresh sage. Is the 1/4 cup a typo? Thank you:)

architect_B said...

Hi,
This is my second year using your recipe. First year it turned out great, thank you! This year I decided to brine the turkey. Do I still need to add salt to the butter? My turkey is all natural and not frozen if that matters :)
thank you again!

wenie said...

Wow..Thanks Chef John,i tried ur recipe today and it turn so so so good and yummy!!...My family like it so much..thank you much...

Sarah Allen said...

Okay, so I know there are a million comments on here saying "this is great, Chef John!" But seriously, THIS IS GREAT, Chef John. This was my first year I was unable to spend Thanksgiving with my family and therefore my first year to do the turkey all by myself. I invited other loners over for a Friendsgiving feast and used this method, and MAN OH MAN do I have some new best friends. One guy liked it so much, I was afraid he'd ask me to marry him. Anyway, thanks for the encouragement and the great recipe. I'm not a real rule follower when it comes to 'recipes', but I used your general method and was so glad I did. FIrst year tackling the turkey, and it turned out terrific. Yay!
Thanks, Chef John!

QueenB said...

Re: How long to roast brined turkey?

'Twas the night before Turkey and all through the house there was wailing and gnashing of (the cook's) teeth! I want to do the herb butter under the skin method. I purchased a brined turkey and discovered tonight it has some sort of heavy spice rub on it. Would the cooking time still the same for a brined bird... 325 degrees, about 15 min per pound? Should the bird be cold from the fridge or allowed to warm up a bit before roasting? My turkey is 17.75 lbs. Also should I elminate some or all of the seasonings in your recipe since it appears 'pre-seasoned'? Thanks for rescuing me Chef!

Susanne Jorgensen said...

Having lived in Europe for 40 years, it's been awhile since I cooked a turkey. I followed your video and my turkey was an absolute hit with my guests. You really made it a 'no brainer' for beginners. Awesome - thank you!