It’s not difficult to prepare a free-range turkey. Here’s how to easily assemble a turkey platter and roast a beautiful bird for Thanksgiving.
Why This Recipe Works
Even though I’m a skilled professional, the thought of cooking a whole turkey occasionally tempts me to feel intimidated. As a society, we’re way overcomplicated with the culinary narrative, from bringing to spatchcocking to the dreaded deep-frying. No offense intended to those who take pleasure in the sport of it all, but I’m here to say that you can cook a beautiful turkey without doing ANY of those things, not even adjusting the oven temperature while it’s cooking.
How To Choose A Turkey
If you only have a regular grocery store turkey, you can still use our roasting method. However, this is how to pick a better bird.
- Avoid factory-farmed turkeys. Regardless of ethics, these birds frequently have a bland flavor, were injected with saline (which doesn’t taste fresh and can prevent browning), and were given antibiotics and growth hormones.
- Look for free-range, all-natural, additive-free birds. Organic certification is great, but it can also be prohibitively expensive for smaller farmers. Although some farms lack the certification, they still follow excellent organic or organic-leaning practices. When in doubt, ask.
- Buy a turkey that’s between 10 and 14 pounds. Without using any advanced techniques, it will cook at a reasonable temperature in a reasonable amount of time, with the white and dark meat cooking roughly at the same rate. If this size isn’t enough to feed your guests, think about cooking two birds side by side rather than going much larger.
- A word about heritage turkeys: They’re great, but you’ll want to prepare them differently from a typical free-range turkey because they frequently differ from it in significant ways. A higher cooking temperature and a shorter cooking time are advantageous for them. If you want, you can read more information here.
How To Defrost And Prep A Turkey
There is no getting around the fact that preparing a free-range turkey necessitates a little bit of planning in advance, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.
The best way to defrost a turkey is to leave it in the refrigerator for several days if you have plenty of time. It’s a good idea to allow a full 24 hours for every five pounds of frozen turkey (or three days for a 10 to 14 pound bird).
To make sure that the interior has completely thawed, I occasionally find that it takes even longer. Transfer the turkey from the freezer to the refrigerator over the weekend if you intend to roast it on Thanksgiving Day, which is Thursday.
You can defrost a turkey in cold water if you’re pressed for time and have a large sink or cooler. In order to avoid getting in your own way, think about using a laundry sink, if you have one. Plug the sink’s drain and cover the turkey with cold water after placing it in a cooler or sink. Every 30 minutes, change the water. An estimated six hours will be needed to defrost a 10- to 14-pound turkey using this method, which requires about 30 minutes per pound.
What appears to be an unfortunate euphemism is actually just a few easy steps.
- Remove all the impure items from the cavities. A bag of giblets and a neck are likely to be present.
- Sometimes the bag is in the smaller neck cavity around the opposite side, other times they’re both in the large main cavity. Don’t miss it.
- The bird should have any remaining pin feathers removed.
- Don’t rinse your turkey unless you’ve brined it first. All you have to do is purchase a good-quality bird, defrost it safely, handle it with clean hands, and cook it as directed. Bacteria are spread more effectively by rinsing than by cleaning.
How To Decorate A Turkey Platter
Here’s how to easily put the bird in the oven. The recipe card below contains all the information, and the video that goes along with this post shows each step in action.
Into a sizable roasting pan, place the turkey breast-side up. There is no need for racks or elaborate positions. Salt, pepper, lemon zest, and thyme leaves should be combined with room-temperature butter in a small bowl using a fork.
To make pockets, carefully separate the skin from the breast meat using your fingers. Wiggle some of the compound butter into the pockets and distribute it as evenly as you can over the breast. The exterior of the turkey should be covered with the remaining compound butter.
Place a small handful of fresh thyme in the cavity along with the lemon and onion, which should be cut in half or quarters if they are very large.
Tie a small piece of twine around the tips of the drumsticks and, if not done already, tuck the tips of each wing under the bird to truss it. No need for complex methods. The turkey is prepared for roasting.
I like to lean into the fall colors and flavors — the muted green of herbs like sage, thyme, and rosemary; the deep red of cranberries and pomegranate; and some gorgeous orange. Without doing any additional work, ingredients with a variety of sizes, shapes, and textures add interest. You can use the exact items shown here, or you can riff on the general concept.
- Place the whole or carved turkey on a sizable oval platter, leaving space around the edges and adding a small lip to the edge. (We have two platters, and I frequently assemble the vegetable side dishes on the other one. This is the platter I use.) I’ve used sage here, but curly kale or fresh bay leaves would also work well as a layer of green.
- Between the greens, sprinkle some nuts or smaller fruits. If no one in your group has a nut allergy, cranberries, grapes, whole chestnuts, or walnuts work well.
- Place a layer of larger fruit pieces on top. A couple of navel or blood oranges, a red or green apple, and a pomegranate that has been cut into four rustic-looking pieces are my favorite additions.
- Until you are satisfied with the outcome, keep adding layers and filling in spaces. That’s it, and if people want, you can encourage them to eat the cut fruits. Depending on how they appear at the end of the day, herbs can sometimes be saved to use in cooking.
Do I Need To Baste?
A turkey doesn’t need to be basted. It doesn’t increase the amount of moisture. Although it can aid in the skin of the turkey browning evenly, I find that a turkey that has been compound butter-rubbed and roasted at 350°F doesn’t require any assistance in doing so. Additionally, leaving the oven door closed shortens the cooking time slightly.
Additionally, unless you are aware of how unevenly your oven cooks, there is no need to rotate the turkey while it is cooking.
How Long Should A Turkey Be Baked At 350°F?
Ovens come in all shapes and sizes. The best thing you can do is spend a little money on an instant-read thermometer and learn how to use it rather than blindly following a timing chart.
Having said that, it usually takes my oven longer than two hours but less than two and a half hours to cook an unstuffed 10-pound bird. It will probably take less than three hours but more than two and a half hours to cook a 14-pound turkey.
What Temperature Is It Finished At Internally?
Before taking the turkey out of the oven, the U.S. Government advises cooking the breast meat to 165°F. I like to take it out earlier than some people do. I aim for 155 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Any temperature reading over 150°F will result in meat that is safe to eat, provided you let the turkey rest for 30 minutes before carving, which you should do. The choice is up to the individual after that.
Do I Need To Let A Turkey Rest After Cooking It?
Yes, yes, yes. Give it at least 30 minutes to rest. This allows the meat to reabsorb its juices and, conveniently, gives you a chance to check on the other components of the meal.