The perfect Thanksgiving turkey. Does just reading that make you quiver in your chair? Yea, I get it. The pressure is high on Thanksgiving to deliver a bird that’s not only worthy of being the centerpiece, but also tastes delicious and isn’t dry as a bone.
This recipe will rid your turkey woes and make you the Thanksgiving MVP. How? Well it all starts with how you prep the turkey, then it’s all in how you cook it and when to pull it from the oven.
I’ll take you step-by-step through this easy recipe to ensure you achieve the perfect Thanksgiving roast turkey. Are you ready?
Step 1: Brine Your Turkey
Hold up. We’ve got to understand what a brine is first
What is a brine?
Ok, so first we have to understand what a brine is. Simply put, a brine is a solution of salt and water that is used for pickling, preserving or tenderizing food. Other flavorings such as herbs, spices and sugar are also often added to the solution.
What are the benefits of brining a turkey?
There are many benefits to brining meant, but in this instance we’re using a brine to tenderize, moisturize and flavor our turkey. Additionally, it also cuts down on the cooking time, which makes timing and cooking the Thanksgiving meal easier.
The only precaution is to make sure the word “pre-brined” is not printed on your turkey packaging. Butterball turkeys, for instance, come pre-brined and would be too salty if they were brined a second time.
For this recipe we’re keeping our brine easy, yet flavorful. Our solution is comprised of water, salt, orange juice concentrate, black peppercorns and dried bay leaves. Orange juice is often used in meat marinades for its acidic quality—aka tenderization quality.
Other ingredients you could add to a brine include:
- Crushed garlic cloves
- Fresh herbs such as rosemary, thyme and sage
Step 2: Start the Turkey Breast Side Down
For the first 30 minutes, cook your turkey breast side down. Why roast your turkey upside down? Well, it protects the breast meat from overcooking and drying out. It’s an easy solution to a classic Thanksgiving problem.
Step 3: Check the Temperature of Your Turkey
Arguably the most important step in cooking the perfect Thanksgiving turkey is checking the temperature. In general, when it comes to cooking any kind of meat, temperature is essential. Plus, why guess when you can accurately test the temp of your turkey in just seconds?
Yes, checking the temperature of your meat is immensely important for food safety reasons. But beyond that, checking the temperature of your meat while cooking helps to ensure that it’s cooked, but not over cooked. And that’s key to making a turkey that’s enjoyable to eat.
In my humble opinion, gone are the days of using meat thermometers with thick probes and clunky design. My favorite thermometer is one that reads in 1–2 seconds, has an accuracy of 0.7°F and is efficiently designed.
If you’re in the market for a new kitchen thermometer, don’t waste your time on cheap, mass-produced models. Opt for the Thermapen from ThermoWorks. With a price point of $99 it can seem like a lot. But use it once and you’ll see why it’s worth it.
I’ve worked in countless test kitchens, and this is the one kitchen tool that is universally used by them all. It’s accurate, easy to use and best of all—buy it once and you’ll probably have it for life.
What kind of wine to serve with roast turkey, and at Thanksgiving in general
As with any party or holiday get-together, I recommend offering both a red and a white wine. For a meal as heavy and hearty as Thanksgiving I would opt for lighter bodied varieties.
Why? A meal like this has so much going on that it will be hard for a wine to stand out. So, choose wines that will enhance, not compete with the many flavors on your plate.
For red wines, I would stick with Pinot Noirs, Merlot, Syrah or Zinfandel. If you’re trying to impress opt for a Beaujolais.
As for white wines, choose wines that are acidic and crisp such as Sauvignon Blanc, a dry Riesling Voignier, or an unoaked Chardonnay.
Can you freeze leftover roast turkey?
Yes! Leftovers are one of the joys of Thanksgiving. The best way to freeze leftover turkey is to take all of the meat off of the bones and transfer to a resealable freezer bag. Then press all of the air out of the bag, seal and place in once more resealable freezer bag. Why double bag? It will help protect your flavorful meat from getting freezer burn.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to freeze all of your leftovers in one large portion, divide them into 1–2 serving size portions and freeze in smaller bags (remember to double up on bags to avoid freezer burn). This way you can thaw and enjoy your turkey over the course of a few months.
That frozen cooked turkey in refrigerator overnight.
How to use leftover turkey
Leftover cooked turkey can be used in all kinds of delicious recipes. It’s sometimes easier to think of it as cooked chicken—what do you add cooked chicken to?
- Soups and Chillis
- Add some more protein to these delicious Breakfast Burritos
- Pasta or Risotto
- Lettuce Wraps
- Stuffed Mushrooms, Peppers or Potatoes
- Use turkey instead of chicken in these Moroccan-Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms
- Make dinner Cali-style by adding turkey to these Stuffed Sweet Potatoes with Avocado Green Goddess Dressing
This orange and rosemary glazed turkey is juicy, flavorful, and perfect for Thanksgiving. Brining in a simple orange juice brine and roasting breast side down for part of the time ensures a bird that's evenly cooked and juicy.
For the turkey:
- 2 gallons cold water
- 1 cup salt
- 2 cans frozen orange juice concentrate (12 ounces each)
- 2 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 1 turkey (12 pounds), trimmed, neck, giblets, and tailpiece removed and discarded or reserved for gravy
- 1 – 1½ cups low-sodium chicken broth, bone broth, or white wine
For the glaze:
- ¾ cup marmalade
- ⅓ cup orange juice
- 1 tablespoon Dijon
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
- 2 sprigs rosemary
In a large container whisk together water, salt, orange juice concentrate, peppercorns, and bay leaves. Submerge turkey in brine, cover, and refrigerate for 6–12 hours.
Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 400°F. Coat a V-rack with nonstick spray then set inside a large roasting pan. Tuck tips of drumsticks into skin at tail end to secure (or tie together with kitchen twine), and tuck wings behind back. Transfer turkey, breast side down, to prepared V-rack. Pour broth into bottom or roasting pan and roast turkey 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine marmalade, orange juice, Dijon, garlic, and rosemary sprigs in a saucepan over medium heat for the glaze. Bring glaze to a boil, stirring occasionally, and cook 1 minute, then remove from heat and let cool; discard rosemary sprigs.
Remove pan from oven. Using 2 wads of paper towels, rotate turkey breast side up then brush turkey with glaze. If broth has evaporated from bottom of pan, pour in an additional ½ cup.
Return pan to oven and continue roasting turkey until an instant-read thermometer (such as the Thermapen) inserted into the breast, but not touching the bone, registers 160°F and inserted into the thighs, but not touching bone, register 175°, 65–75 minutes more, brushing turkey with remaining glaze every 20 minutes until all glaze is used.
(To properly temp a turkey, insert the thermometer tip deep into the meat in several places and pull it back out slowly. Watch the numbers change on the screen. If you see a number that is below 160°F in the breast, return the turkey to the oven for more cooking.)
Remove pan from oven and gently transfer turkey to a carving board and let rest, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Slice and serve with favorite gravy.
Don’t have room in your refrigerator to brine a big turkey? If it’s cooler than 40°F outside, you can store it outside!
Prep ahead tip:
You can brine the turkey 2 days ahead. Here's the schedule:
- Brine on the turkey on Tuesday
- Remove from brine on Wednesday and chill overnight
- Roast turkey on Thursday and enjoy!
This post was sponsored by ThermoWorks, as always the thoughts, opinions, recipe, photos, and content are all my own.
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