Let’s Talk Turkey – or At Least Roast One

I love November! I don’t necessarily like the weather itself, but I love what it makes people do; snuggle up with hot drinks, slow down a bit, think about family and the coming holidays. But most of all, I love to cook the big family holiday meals. I know, crazy right? Once you see all my tricks for these meals, you’ll see why. You might even join in my madness. Here’s the biggest trick of all.

From the first bite many years ago from the first turkey my mom made using this method, I knew I would never make turkey the old way again. It produces hands down, no question, the best roast turkey you will ever drool over. Not only is it easier, but it creates more broth for gravy, while still making the juiciest meat ever, and it’s almost foolproof. Now, my mom, my sister and I always use this method. It removes the biggest logistical problem in our big family feasts.

I made one last night, just so I could share the pictures with you. Not really. I eat turkey all year long; but let’s pretend, okay?

The most important differences are that you place the turkey breast side down in the roasting pan, you roast it at high heat for the first hour to burn off all the surface bacteria; but most importantly, and the thing that makes this all so glorious, you slow cook it at a low temp for at least twelve hours. That’s right; you get a head start on Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.

My experience has been that the smaller ones, 10 to 14 pounds, are done at the 12 hour mark, and the bigger ones take 14 to 16 or more hours. A 20-pounder will be ready at 16 hours, but can stay in for 20 hours without drying out. it’s wonderful to know that the turkey is done and just waiting for everything else to finish up. And it’s staying hot and full of lip smacking goodness!

In other posts this month

I’ll share ideas for easy, time-saving tips for cooking and serving Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts.  I can say that the freezer, crock pots, rice cookers and roasting ovens can help out a lot. I’m not much for fancy serving when it’s just the eight of us, but I do love a well organized cooking and serving system.

Let’s get started!

GATHER THE INGREDIENTS ~ This is a 16 lb. turkey. It provided dinner for five, and enough leftovers for two more dinners and a bunch of sandwiches. (Could have done three leftover dinners, but we love those sandwiches!)

   As always, gather all ingredients before getting started. (Oops, I forgot the onion!) Did you notice that the oven is set at 400° F? If this were a smaller turkey, I would start it off at 350°. Whatever temp it starts at, roast for one hour, then turn it down to 180°. If you have a digital oven, be sure to check at 12 hours. My oven automatically shuts off after 12 hours, so when I get up in the morning I turn it off then turn it back on immediately to 180°; then I don’t have to worry about it being off for hours without my knowledge. Yes, I learned this from experience. A horrible, sad experience. The kind that makes you cry on Thanksgiving.

  Enter the forgotten onion, and the oil rub for under the skin and all over the outside. Quite often, because we eat turkey all year ’round, I just rub different oils and salt all over the outside. It is incredibly good no matter how you do it.


                 I don’t always do this, but I did this time, just to impress you. 1. Slide your fingers under    the skin on the breast side, making a pocket for the oil rub. 2. Rub the rub on the meat under the skin. That’s why it’s called a rub.

      It’s very important to fill both cavities with something. It’s one of the factors in producing juicy meat. For the holidays I make a huge amount of my wild rice dressing and fill the turkey and a casserole dish. You can also use a regular bread stuffing, or just plain chunked onions works great, too. I’ve also used apples, oranges, lemons, or a combination of fruit and onion and garlic cloves and nuts; pretty much anything that goes well with turkey. Be warned, though, if you fill it with orange you will get a strong  orange flavor throughout the meat, not just a slight hint.

                         1. Rub oil and salt, pepper, herbs and spices, whatever you’re using, over entire bird. Most importantly, place it in your roaster breast side down. The dark meat has the oils in it, and they soak into the white meat in a self-basting kind of way. 

2. Secure the neck skin onto the back with mini skewers or just break regular skewers in half. Pushing the skewers down through the skin and into the meat takes a little muscle, so don’t be shy, and give it a little twist as you push it through.


  This is at the 6-hour mark, almost halfway done. Notice that although the skin is starting to get crispy, the meat in the thickest parts is definitely not cooked. You can also see that there is quite a bit of rich juice collecting in the pan. I give it a head start by pouring in enough water to cover the bottom of the pan when I put the turkey in the oven. This allows the drippings to get going without evaporating.

     As I marked in the picture, I got 3 1/2 cups of strong flavored juice for our gravy. I think 1 cup of fat to skim off the top isn’t bad. Just skim and discard, and your gravy will be amazing. That’s a 3 quart sauce pan in the second picture. That’s a lot of gravy!


  This is crispy side up, not the way you would carve it.

  You see that crunchy crispy patch there where I removed the skewers? I had to fight off my husband and kids just to get this picture! That stuff never makes it to the table. You can also tell that I forgot to close up the section that covers the bone just under the crispy neck skin. Usually I close it up and secure it with a skewer or two. Maybe someday I’ll get smart enough to buy one of those contraptions for sewing a bird shut. When I do I’ll probably blog about it, and exclaim how I can’t believe I didn’t do it years ago. But that’s another day.

          I am including these two pictures, not to purposefully embarrass myself, although I am doing that, but so you don’t worry that you messed up when you see this the first time you try the overnight method. The breast side, on the bottom during hours of roasting, is, well…soggy and saggy looking. It is not crispy; however, it is moist and delicious and well worth the trade-off. Just look how juicy that leg is. Seriously, it is so tender that some of the skin and a chunk of meat fell off as I was putting it on the platter. (Don’t look for the chunk. I ate it.)

        I wanted to show just how mouthwatering and scrumptious the white meat is after cooking for 14 or 15 hours. I can’t remember exactly how long it was, and forgot to check. My sense of time is a subject for a whole other blog entry all on its own.


       I like to have some potatoes with my gravy. I ate a big bowl of veggies before everything was ready, otherwise that empty section would be filled with something other than just gravy. It would be filled with veggies that were covered in gravy.


This is part of my Freestyle Cooking arsenal. There is no exact recipe. You use as much oil and salt as you need to lightly cover the whole bird, and whatever spices and herbs you want to try. You fill the cavities with stuffing, dressing,  just onions, or a combo of fruits and vegetables and other things you’d like to try.

Be prepared to get your hands dirty! It helps to have someone who can pour things into your palm or onto the bird, because both hands will be handling the raw turkey.

The main points:

  • Rub oil and seasonings over entire bird
  • Stuff cavities with something
  • Place turkey breast side down
  • Secure excess neck skin
  • Roast for 1 hour: at 350° for less than 15 lb. turkey; or 400° for 16 lbs. and up
  • Reduce heat to 180°
  • Roast for 12 – 20 hours, depending on size
    • a meat thermometer should read 165° when inserted into thickest part of thigh

      • basic guidelines:
      • 10-12 lbs. for 12 hours
      • 13-15 lbs. for 13 hours or more
      • 16-19 lbs. for 14-16 hours
      • 20 +  lbs.  for 16-20 hours

Remember, even if it finishes a couple hours earlier, you can leave it in and it will stay simply the yummiest ever!  When ready to serve it, remove it from the oven and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes before carving. You want all that lusciousness to gush in every bite.

If you try this this holiday season, please come back and leave a comment. I’m dying to hear the variations you all try!

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9 Responses to Let’s Talk Turkey – or At Least Roast One

  1. erikimmie says:

    Oh, Dawn. This looks AMAZING and I can’t wait to try it!


  2. erikimmie says:

    Oh, Dawn! this looks amazing! I am so excited to try this!


    • Thank you Kimmie! I can’t wait to hear how it turns out for you. I’m sure you’re going to love it.:D A good flavor-y oil, like stir-fry oil, and coarse salt is great, but the basic is a good olive oil and coarse salt, and it’s fantastic, too. Don’t forget to comment after you try it!


  3. Sue Smart says:

    I will definitely try this method this holiday season! One question–do you cover the turkey with foil or a lid? Or does it roast openly?


  4. I made my turkey this way, and it turned out fabulous!! Thank you! And the drippings made for an extra-flavorful gravy, too! 🙂


  5. Brenda says:

    Wow! Now I’m hungry for turkey! Never mind that I can only have about 5 – 6 bites! I mean, I know its only July…but bring on Thanksgiving!!!


  6. VictoriaDawn says:

    Luckily my family loves turkey, so we have it a few times a year. Talking about this is making me think it’s time to put it on the menu for next week.


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