How to cook the perfect Thanksgiving turkey

How to cook the perfect Thanksgiving turkey - The Boston Globe
How to cook the perfect Thanksgiving turkey - The Boston Globe

No matter how big or small the turkey is, cooking it seems daunting. You want crisp skin, of course, and tender, juicy meat. Here’s how: You’ll need a meat thermometer and a pan large enough to hold the bird with space around it. A rack is nice, but not essential; you can also set the bird on a bed of carrots and onions. The day before, rub the skin of the bird with oil and sprinkle it inside and out with salt and pepper. Refrigerate it overnight without covering it (this helps crisp the skin). Let the turkey sit at room temperature before roasting for 45 minutes (see chart for times), then let the turkey sit in a warm place after roasting for 30 minutes.



1 whole turkey (10 to 25 pounds)

Olive oil (for rubbing the bird)

Salt and pepper, to taste

2 onions, quartered

2 lemons, sliced

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, or more if needed

¼ cup each chopped fresh rosemary, fresh thyme, and fresh oregano

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 carrots, quartered

1½ cups water

Extra fresh herbs (for garnish)

6 small apples and pears (for garnish)

1. Set the oven at 325 degrees. Remove the giblets from both the neck and vent ends of the bird. Wipe the bird inside and out with paper towels. Sprinkle the inside with salt and pepper and tuck a handful of onion and lemon pieces into the cavity.

2. Using your hands, rub the bird with oil and sprinkle it all over with salt and pepper. In a bowl, stir the rosemary, thyme, and oregano with the 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Tuck the herb mixture between the skin and flesh of the bird at the breast end. Ease your hand under the skin near the neck and push in the herb mixture. Set the remaining onions, lemons, and carrots in the roasting pan. Add the turkey, breast side up. With kitchen twine, tie the legs to the bird. Add water to the pan.


3. While the turkey roasts, baste it occasionally with the juices in the pan. Turn the roasting pan from back to front once during roasting. If your bird is on the small side, you can roast it breast down for the first hour, then turn it breast up to finish cooking. Or roast it breast up the entire time, covering it loosely with a foil tent once it starts to brown. Roast (see chart for times) until a meat thermometer inserted into the bird in three places registers 165 degrees. If the turkey reaches the correct temperature sooner than you expected (this happens often), remove it from the oven and transfer to a cutting board. Set it in a warm place; it’s OK for an hour, so don’t worry. If it isn’t brown enough, turn the oven up to 400 degrees for the last 20 minutes. Let the turkey rest on the board in a warm place for at least 30 minutes before carving.


2 cups boiling water

3 cups chicken or turkey stock

½ cup red or white wine, sherry, port, or vermouth

2 tablespoons cornstarch, potato starch, or arrowroot mixed with ¼ cup cold water, or more if needed

Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Carefully set the roasting pan over 1 or 2 burners on medium heat. Add the boiling water and scrape the bottom to dislodge the sediment. Add the stock and cook, stirring, until the mixture comes to a boil. Add the wine, sherry, port, or vermouth and return to a boil. Simmer, skimming the surface often, for 10 minutes.


2. Set a strainer over a saucepan. Tip the mixture into the strainer and discard the vegetables. Skim any fat from the top of the liquid.

3. Stir the starch mixture until it is smooth. Add another 1 teaspoon of water, if necessary, to make a pourable liquid. Pour the mixture into the gravy and cook, stirring, until it returns to a boil. Taste for seasoning; add more salt and pepper, if you like. If you prefer a thicker gravy, mix 2 teaspoons more starch with 2 tablespoons more cold water and whisk it into the gravy. Return to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer 5 minutes more. Transfer to a gravy boat or bowl and serve with the turkey.

Sheryl Julian can be reached at sheryl.julian@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.