Roasting a Turkey With My Mom
Cooking a turkey is not a scary thing. It’s just like cooking a chicken, except a big chicken.
Hi I’m Dave from Wrong Direction Farm. Today I’m with my mom and we’re going to discuss how we cook a turkey. Mom’s been cooking turkeys for quite a while and, yeah, she knows a thing or two about them. So I wanted to just get your process and hear how you would cook a turkey.
Tell us about yourself.
Well I am Nancy and I am Dave’s mother. I’ve been cooking turkeys for as long as he’s been alive, so it’s been a while. So we enjoy cooking turkeys because they’re a nice easy meal to make.
Today we took the turkey and you did all your prep work to it. Can you describe your process for prepping the turkey? After it’s defrosted where do you go from there?
Well once it’s defrosted and you put it in the sink, you take it out of the bag and you rinse it out with cool water. And you take it out of the sink and you put it in a roasting pan. I have a big old roasting pan that used to belong to my grandmother and it’s still in good shape so we use it.
In the cavity I put some fresh celery, fresh parsley, fresh rosemary. I chopped up an apple, chopped up a half an onion, a couple pieces of garlic, and put that all in the cavity. And that’s just for flavor, it helps to flavor the turkey, helps to flavor the drippings. And then on the outside I take a garlic and I cut it in half. And I took a knife and I put two slits in the breast side, one on each side of the turkey. And I put the garlic all the way into that so it’s down below the surface of the skin. Then I poured some red wine vinegar on it and some olive oil. You could also use butter. After I put the olive oil on it I put salt and pepper and Italian seasoning. And there’s no measuring – you just pour it on, what looks good. So it’s really to your taste. Then I put a little bit of water in the pan just to kind of make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom.
Alright, so just a little splash of water at the bottom?
Yeah, just…, it helps it just helps keep it extra moist in there.
Then I put it in the oven at 550 for about 15-20 minutes until it’s nicely browned. You’ve got to keep an eye on it because every oven is different.
So some ovens 15 minutes should be enough. But when it’s brown, crispy brown on it, but not burnt you want to put a lid on it. Now if you’re using an aluminum pan you’re going to have to put a enclosure of aluminum foil over that. So you want to do that, measure that out before you put it in the oven so that you have enough enough oil to cover foil to cover it.
You want to cover it and you want to crimp the edges with that too. And I put it back in the oven and turn it down to 350. And then I cook it for about two to three hours at 350. Start looking at it when your nose tells you that the turkey smells good. You can check it with the instant read thermometer. Another way to tell if a turkey is done – if you’ll see the skin around the, where the leg comes into the the thigh, comes into the …
Right, so the thigh joint starts to loosen up and as you pry it.
Yeah you see the skin will break and you’ll be able to see that it’s done. They’re all ways to tell if you don’t have a thermometer.
Right, the food safety guidelines would say you need to cook it at least to 160 degrees. Do you have a temperature preference besides that general guidance?
No, I always go on the low end because the turkey will continue to cook after it’s out of the oven right because you let it sit for about 10 minutes before you cut it. Cut it up like you do a chicken except there’s a lot more to it.
Well I’m looking forward to seeing how this turkey comes out.
Oh, me too. Yeah, and eating it. I’m looking forward to dinner tonight.
Well thanks, thank you mom. And thanks for watching. That’s our tutorial, that’s our introduction on roasting a turkey. That’s how we do it. I’d like to hear from you if you have any other comments or suggestions. Thanks.
Alright, bye-bye. Thanks for watching.
My mom has been roasting a turkey for Thanksgiving almost every year, starting that tradition about the time I was born. And many years she cooks an extra turkey or two for other occasions. I thought, with her decades of experience, it might be a good thing to shoot some video with Mom in her kitchen, and to discuss her turkey roasting techniques. So a few weeks ago I traveled to NJ to spend a day at my parents’ house, bringing along one of our Certified Organic, pasture raised turkeys and a camera and tripod.
I get the impression from conversations with customers that some folks are intimidated by roasting a turkey. What I’d like to convey here is that roasting a turkey doesn’t need to be difficult or frightening. There are many ways to go about it, each with slightly different results, so this is not prescriptive.
Mom’s technique is traditional, using a roasting pan, rapidly browning the turkey first, followed by an extended bake at lower temperature. Some people brine the turkey; she doesn’t. Spatchcocking the turkey can be a great alternative route. Or roasting the turkey upside down. Or using a cooking rack instead of a roasting pan. Or forgoing the oven altogether and deep frying the turkey. Or smoking the turkey.
There are many methods to cook a turkey; this is just one. In the internet ecosystem, everyone shamelessly labels recipes “the best way to cook XYZ” to get clicks. This, however, is not presented with the hyperbole of being the absolute best way to cook a turkey. This is something that works reliably. Good food without pretense.
Why Pasture Raised Turkeys Cook Better
While a lot of recipes are developed to avoid overcooking turkey into desiccated powder, this is not as much of a concern with pasture raised turkey. Of course, if you cook your turkey breast to 210 degrees, it will dry out, but there isn’t as much to worry about compared to a conventional barn raised or so-called “free range” turkey.
One important thing about our pasture raised turkeys is that their muscles contain more collagen than conventional turkeys. Our turkeys walk around the farm all day, grazing, hunting for bugs, just being turkeys. We place their roosts up above the ground so they exercise their breast muscles by flying, even as they reach large sizes. Because our turkeys are athletic, their muscle cells are jacketed in collagen. As you heat it, the collagen renders out and bastes the meat, preventing it from drying out as quickly as a conventional turkey would. So some of the concern over cooking technique is made less important just by choosing a better turkey.
Keeping It Simple
One of the things I appreciate most about Mom’s approach to turkey is that she strips out unnecessary complications. Big holiday gatherings can be challenging to pull off on their own, even before considering the added work of food preparation.
One thing Mom wisely avoids is cooking the bird with stuffing. Stuffing is prepared separately. This allows the turkey to roast more evenly, with less concern about achieving proper temperatures.
Another step to avoid is trying to make a gravy at the last minute. Mom just serves pan drippings as gravy. If you prefer a more traditional thickened gravy, you can prepare it ahead of time using turkey or chicken broth. If your goal is to bring a bunch of hot food to the table at once, it is far easier to do that if you aren’t distractedly stirring a gravy reduction simultaneously.
A happy, unstressed cook will make a better contribution to your feast than a frazzled cook striving for meal perfection.
However you prepare your turkey, or even if you skip the turkey, I wish everyone a great Thanksgiving this year. I hope you enjoy pleasant eating, but I especially hope you can find ways to strengthen your connections to the family and friends with whom you share your holiday meals.