How to Cook the Perfect Turkey


In addition to eating soup on Christmas Eve, my family has a tradition of roasting a turkey for Christmas dinner.  We have had a turkey (or a cousin of a turkey) almost every year since my great-grandmother passed a little over 10 years ago, one of my favorites being the year when my aunt forgot to defrost the turkey and had to run out hours before the whole family came over in a desperate attempt to secure a defrosted bird.  She struck out at most places, and finally got to Royal Farms (a Baltimore convenience store known for their fried and grilled chicken) in the hopes of finding at least a chicken, if not a turkey.  When she got there, they only had prepared chicken and some raw chickens in the back to be cooked for customers.  When they refused to give her a raw chicken citing health laws, my aunt pleaded, saying: “what would Jesus do?”  Needless to say, they gave her the raw chicken with just enough time for her to cook it before the entire family arrived.  A true Christmas miracle.

Anyway, this year we had the turkey defrosted well before roasting-time.  As I’m sure you can tell from my previous Christmas posts, my mom was the head chef this Christmas and I, her sous-chef.  She planned the menu and I helped execute.  I had the job of reaching into the bird’s cavity and pulling the giblets out.  Having never had my hand up a turkey’s rear end before, this was a novel experience.

We stuffed the raw bird with salt, pepper, red onion, lemon, thyme and garlic, and slathered it with butter.  Then we draped a cheese cloth soaked in white wine and butter over the breast – a technique my mom came across that was supposed to increase the tenderness and flavor of the finished product (thanks Martha Stewart!!).  This had the effect we had hoped for – the breast was so juicy and flavorful.

The Perfect Roast Turkey (recipe adapted from The Barefoot Contessa and Martha Stewart)

  • 1 fresh turkey (10 to 12 pounds)
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter
  • 1 1/2 cups dry white wine
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 large bunch fresh thyme + 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 whole lemon, halved
  • 1 red onion, quartered
  • 1 head garlic, halved crosswise
  • cheesecloth, folded in half to cover turkey breast

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Place rack on lowest level.


Melt the butter in a small saucepan or in the microwave.  Add the juice of one lemon, 1 teaspoon of thyme leaves and the white wine to the butter mixture.  Fold a large cheesecloth in half.  Cut to cover turkey breast.  Immerse cheesecloth in butter and wine mixture; let soak.

Remove giblets from the turkey; wash the turkey inside and out with cool water and pat dry with paper towels.  Place the turkey in a large roasting pan.  If turkey comes with a pop-up timer, remove it; an instant-read thermometer is a much more accurate indication of doneness. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the turkey cavity.  Stuff the cavity with bunch of thyme, halved lemon, quartered onion, and the garlic.  Brush the outside of the turkey with butter and wine mixture and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Tie the legs together with string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the turkey.


Lift cheesecloth out of liquid and squeeze it slightly, leaving it very damp. Spread it evenly over the breast and about halfway down the sides of the turkey; it can cover some of the leg area.  Place turkey in the oven.  Cook for 30 minutes. Using a pastry brush or baster, baste cheesecloth and exposed parts of turkey with leftover butter and wine mixture.  Continue cooking turkey and basting every 30 minutes.  After an hour and a half to two hours, carefully remove and discard cheesecloth.  Baste turkey with pan juices. If there are not enough juices, continue to use butter and wine. The skin gets fragile as it browns, so baste carefully.  Cook 30-45 more minutes, or until a instant-read thermometer registers 160 – 180 degrees when inserted into thigh (avoid poking into bone) and the turkey is golden-brown.

Daddy and Turkey

When fully cooked, remove the turkey to a cutting board and cover with aluminum foil; let rest 20 – 30 minutes.  Slice the turkey and serve.


The aftermath:DSC_1913


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