Ultimate Classic Roast Turkey turns out perfectly juicy every time thanks to a wine-and-butter-soaked cheesecloth that keeps the turkey from drying out for most of the roasting time.
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Turkeys of Thanksgivings past
I remember my mother getting up very early in the morning on Thanksgiving day—still groggy—to get the turkey in the oven.
This produced all sorts of hilarious results, from discovering that she’d put the bird in the oven upside-down to finding the giblet packet still nestled inside the cavity like a gory Christmas present.
Mom would roast the turkey all day for fear of salmonella contamination—as a result, the bird would often be reminiscent of the turkey scene in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
My ex was a fan of brining and/or injecting the turkey. This seemed like an incredible hassle to me for marginal results. In my opinion, brined turkey ends up tasting more like ham. I realize that this is due to a brine gone terribly wrong, but it really turned me off the whole brine thing. What really torpedoes brining for me, though, is that the drippings from a brined bird are too salty for gravy.
Given what I’ve described above, it’s probably no surprise that I never cared for turkey that much. Until…
Turkeys of Thanksgiving present
Then I met Phil, now my husband of 4 years, who has an all-out turkey fetish. Not just once a year, either: nay, we have half-Thanksgiving, Birthday Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving for Christmas…and I have to admit: turkey is really, really economical—especially given everything you can do with the leftovers.
I began studying the art of turkey roasting in earnest. I investigated the pros and cons of wet brines vs. dry brines, of injecting vs. basting, and whether to stuff or not to stuff. I watched Alton Brown (he’s a brining, no-basting, non-stuffer). I watched Food Network’s Thanksgiving Special. I combed through the Thanksgiving Dinner editions of Fine Cooking and Food and Wine.
The perfect solution: turkey mummy
And then, I found a reportedly fail-safe recipe from Martha Stewart. The comment section was full of fans raving about how their turkey came out picture-perfect, tender, and delicious every time. I have since made turkey according to this recipe 10 times. I can attest: the result is perfection.
My slightly adapted recipe—which I am now calling the Ultimate Classic Roast Turkey—involves draping the turkey with wine-and-butter-soaked cheesecloth, which prevents the turkey from drying out during the roast.
While the “turkey mummy” cooks, you baste with the wine and butter mixture and pan juices. I like to stick fresh herbs into the cheesecloth and add chicken broth to the roasting pan for some steam from the bottom. Other than that, I’ve changed very little.
This turkey is the closest to a foolproof roast turkey recipe as any recipe I’ve ever found.
Considerations for making Ultimate Classic Roast Turkey
Most sites recommend 1.5 lbs. of turkey per person. No, not everybody is going to actually eat 1.5 lbs., but that includes the bones—and I’m calculating so that you’ll have leftovers!
The general recommendation is to allow 1 day of thaw time in the fridge per 5 pounds of bird, so a 20-lb turkey will take 4 days to thaw. It’s tempting to let the turkey thaw in a cold garage; however, you really can’t control the temperature, so this isn’t a safe method. If it’s the last minute and you don’t have time, you can usually find a never-frozen bird at the grocery—but you’ll pay a premium.
Tons of recipes tell you to rinse the bird. The standard method for rinsing is to put the bird in the (clean) sink under the faucet. DON’T DO IT THIS WAY. Water from a running faucet will hit the bird and atomize into a cloud of bacteria-infested nastiness, which will spray all over your kitchen and dramatically increase the probability of your party playing host to an outbreak of foodborne illness.
That would be awful.
If you must rinse the bird, do so by adding cold water to a large container and very gently—no splashes!—pour it over your bird in the (carefully washed out) sink. After you’ve dried off the turkey and covered it with plastic wrap, use a sanitizer to clean all surfaces near the sink.
Prepping Ultimate Classic Roast Turkey
- The turkey must sit at room temperature for 2 hours. I usually rinse (yes) as described above, pat dry with plenty of paper toweling, and cover with a few sheets of plastic wrap.
- Make sure to remove the neck and giblet package, if present (check both the abdominal and neck cavities!). Reserve if you like giblet gravy.
- You also need a stick of butter at room temperature (for rubbing down the turkey).
- Make the wine and butter mixture in advance so it can cool somewhat before you add the cheesecloth and wring it out (otherwise, ouch!).
Roasting the Ultimate Classic Roast Turkey
I roast the turkey at a really high temperature for half an hour. Then, I baste and continue roasting at a lower oven temperature. I baste every half-hour: the second time, I add a quart of chicken broth to the roasting pan. This steams the turkey from below while adding great flavor to the pan drippings. Of course, you use those drippings to make easy, rich turkey gravy later.
About 3 hours into the roast, I remove the cheesecloth to let the turkey brown up, continuing to baste every 30 minutes. You can see that the bird develops a gorgeous golden color.
I start checking the temperature of the bird at this point: I have a digital thermometer with 2 probes (one in the breast and one in the thigh). The bird is done when the breast reaches 180º and the thigh reaches 165º. I also check the stuffing with an instant-read thermometer to make sure that it reaches 165º.
After removing your ultimate classic roast turkey from the oven, rest it for at least 30 minutes. This is great news if you’re making the full turkey dinner! After all, you’ll need to bake your side-dishes and make gravy and mashed potatoes. The links to all those yummy recipes are below!
Carving the Ultimate Classic Roast Turkey
This is something that still gives me the jitters. Every time I’m about to go in with my knife, I watch a video reminding me how to do it—but more often than not, I admit that I happily let the hubster take over. I could try to describe the steps to you, but I think a visual is really needed. So here’s the video we watch.
I like to arrange the various parts of the Ultimate Classic Roast Turkey so that the white meat and the dark meat are separated. I leave the drumsticks intact, because there’s always somebody who will enjoy a drumstick.
I won’t lie: making the Ultimate Classic Roast Turkey is a production, but it’s SO worth it. You’ll get tons of stock out of the carcass and have lots of meat left over to use in a variety of dishes.
Have a wonderful Holiday Season!
For a load of ideas about using up leftover turkey and more, check out Using up Leftovers!
I am linking my Ultimate Classic Roast Turkey recipe up with:
- #CookBlogShare, a great food blogger recipe-share at Hijacked by Twins.
- #CookOnceEatTwice, for recipes that are just as good left-over as they are when you made them, hosted by Searching for Spice.
- #RecipeOfTheDay hosted by A Mummy Too.
- #BrillBlogPosts, a link party with a variety of lifestyle reads hosted by Honest Mum.
- 20 lb turkey thawed, giblets and neck removed from cavity and reserved. Pop-up timer removed (if present)
- 3 sticks unsalted butter, melted
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
- One 750-ml bottle dry white wine
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 recipe Easy Sausage Stuffing (link in Notes) or your favorite stuffing recipe (see note)
- Sprigs of rosemary sage, and thyme
- 32 oz chicken stock (use good quality store-bought stock or homemade)
Rinse the turkey carefully by pouring cool water over it, taking care not to splash; pat dry with paper towels. Cover in plastic wrap. Let stand for 2 hours at room temperature.
You need only one rack in the oven: move it to the lowest possible level. Heat the oven to 450°. In a medium bowl, mix the melted butter into the white wine. Soak a piece of cheesecloth (enough to cover the bird) in the mixture.
Put the turkey on the roasting rack of a heavy metal roasting pan with the breast facing up. (Trust me: don’t use the throw-away, flimsy, aluminum baking pans!) Fold the tips of the wing underneath the turkey. If necessary, break the wing joints so that they fold easily. Sprinkle a large pinch of salt and a large pinch of pepper inside the turkey cavity. LOOSELY fill the cavity with as much stuffing as it can comfortably accommodate without packing. Tie the turkey’s legs together with kitchen twine. Fold the neck flap underneath the bird. Give the turkey a massage with the room-temperature butter, loosening the skin where possible and pushing the butter underneath. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.
Remove the cheesecloth from the wine/butter mixture. Carefully squeeze so that the cloth remains wet. Spread the cloth as evenly as you can over the breast and sides of the turkey so that it covers part of the leg. Tuck the herb sprigs into and on top of the cheesecloth, so that they’re spread evenly over the top of the bird. If you can, put the turkey into the oven legs first. (If not, simply rotate the pan every hour or so.) Roast for 30 minutes. Use a turkey baster to dampen the cheesecloth and any exposed turkey with the wine/butter mixture. Lower the temperature to 350°; cook another 2 1/2 hours, basting every 30 minutes. 1 hour into the roasting time, add the chicken stock to the bottom of the roasting pan when you baste the turkey. Monitor the level of the pan juices, removing some if they rise too high. (Reserve the juices for gravy.)
Remove the cheesecloth and discard. Baste the turkey with pan juices. If you don’t have enough juice, keep using the wine/butter mixture. Cook 1 more hour, basting after 30 minutes. Be careful not to mess up the skin.
Check the temperature of the bird with an instant-read thermometer (insert in the thickest part of the thigh, being careful not to hit bone). The temperature in the thigh should reach 180°. Also check the stuffing’s temperature: it needs to be ~165°. Continue roasting and basting as needed.
By now, your turkey should be a beautiful, golden-brown color. When fully cooked, transfer the turkey to a carving board. Let it hang out for at least 30 minutes. (However, you ARE allowed to sneakily remove and snarf a bit of skin.) Carve and set on a serving platter, separating white from dark meat and framing with the drumsticks. Make it pretty with some herb sprigs. Reserve the carcass for making stock.
*If you don't want to stuff the bird with stuffing, you can put herbs, onions, and lemon slices into the cavity. Discard when you carve the bird.
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