My Favorite Recipe for Roast Turkey

The following recipe for slow-roasted turkey is probably the easiest way of cooking a turkey.  Novices looking for their first “How to cook a turkey” recipe will appreciate the convenience and effectiveness of this method, while experts who already have a favorite Thanksgiving turkey recipe may find that the results are even better than their regular approach.

If you want moist, delicious, fall-off-the-bone roast turkey, this is the way to do it.  If it’s not the best turkey recipe out there, it comes darn close.

Click to see my review of the best roasting pan for roast turkey.


Many cooks use this simple method of cooking a turkey overnight to prepare oven-roasted turkey.  For one thing, it allows them to spend the day on Thanksgiving, Christmas, or whatever the occasion is cooking other dishes and hanging out with friends and family.  For another, it fills the house with the aroma of roasting turkey, which helps set the mood for your holiday feast.  Plus, the oven is already warm in the morning when you want to get started on pies, yams, stuffing, and all the other dishes you’re preparing.   For the details of this recipe, I tip my hat to, which references the Thanksgiving turkey recipe used by Andrea Watman at Zabar’s Market in New York City.

Basically, you start roasting the turkey in the oven the night before — plan on about 8 hours of cooking time, though I know of some cooks who roast the turkey for up to 10 hours.  The important thing is to get the internal temperature of the turkey up to the final temperature stated below.  Start with a turkey that you thawed in the refrigerator.  Do not cook stuffing in the turkey when you use this method.  You can begin cooking the turkey at about 11:00 p.m. or 12:00 midnight.

What you’ll need to prepare this recipe — ingredients and tools:

  • A whole turkey (20-25 pounds is good)
  • A good roasting pan
  • Heavy-duty aluminum foil
  • An instant-read thermometer
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Paprika
  • 2 heads of garlic
  • Garlic powder
  • Yellow onions
  • Your preferred poultry seasoning — either a commercial blend or your own herbs
  • Celery
  • Parsnips
  • Chicken broth (optional)

Steps for slow-roasted turkey in the oven:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400°F
  2. Wash the turkey thoroughly, inside and out.  Pat dry.  (If you haven’t cleaned a turkey before, see the video below on how to clean a turkey.)
  3. Place the turkey in a large roasting pan, on a rack.
  4. Season the turkey both inside and outside with salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, and poultry seasoning.
  5. Clean and peel 2 heads of garlic.  Clean and cut up the other vegetables into large chunks.  Place the garlic, celery, parsnips, and onions under the rack in the roasting pan.  Add enough water to the pan to come up just below the turkey, but not touching the turkey.  Alternatively, you can add a combination of chicken broth and water to the pan.  Or just chicken broth alone (which will help streamline the process of making gravy later with the drippings from the turkey).  Add the turkey neck, gizzard, and liver to the water.
  6.  Place the turkey in the oven at 400°F and roast for 30 minutes (uncovered).  This will help kill any bacteria and seal in the juices.
  7. After 30 minutes, baste the turkey, then lower the temperature of the oven to 250°F.  Cover the pan completely by making a tent out of the heavy-duty aluminum foil.  You must cover and seal all the edges of the pan in order to make sure the moisture stays in the pan.  This is one of the keys to the moistness of the turkey prepared by this method.  Check the water level before sealing the pan — there only needs to be a few inches, depending on the depth of your roasting pan.  Again, don’t let the water touch the turkey.
  8. Go to bed and sleep.
  9. You can check the turkey during the night, but you don’t need to (if you do, baste it).  After about 8 hours of roasting (say, around 7:00 a.m.), the turkey should be fully cooked.  An instant-read meat thermometer inserted into the deepest part of the breast should read at least 165°F
  10. Remove the foil tent and baste the turkey. If you want to brown the breast, raise the temperature of the oven to 350°F and leave the turkey in for another half hour or so.  Keep an eye on it.
  11. Remove the turkey from the oven and let it cool in the pan.
  12. Strain the drippings from the pan and refrigerate them.  Then remove the layer of fat and use the drippings (which include the chicken broth, if you’ve used it) to make gravy.  Remember to keep the neck, gizzard, and liver.

After letting the cooked turkey rest for 20- 30 minutes, you can carve it.  Return the sliced turkey to the pan and wrap it up in aluminum foil.  If you eat an early-afternoon Thanksgiving or Christmas feast, keep the turkey on the stove, covered with aluminum foil (and a towel, if you want to add extra insulation), and then serve with the hot gravy.

 Here’s a video on how to clean a turkey:


After you enjoy your roasted turkey cooked by the method above, you might be inspired to become a master of turkey cooking.  If so, you’ll want a good guide — and a really good guide to get you started is The Butterball Turkey Cookbook.  It’s out of print but is available from AbeBooks at that link.  As you might imagine, Butterball is the best when it comes to compiling a compendium of “How to cook a turkey” lore — everything from how to thaw a turkey to some of the best recipes for cooking turkey (including how to use the leftovers).

Whether you're looking for the best turkey recipes or recipes for stuffing, gravy, and candied yams, this Thanksgiving Cookbook includes everything you need to know to prepare a delicious Thanksgiving feast.

Click to see this complete Thanksgiving Cookbook at Barnes & Noble.

Or you could try the Thanksgiving Cookbook:  Recipes for Turkey and All the Trimmings from Fine Cooking.  This book has not only everything you need to know to prepare your Thanksgiving turkey, but many recipes for everything else you’ll want to eat with it.  But who says you have to wait for Thanksgiving or Christmas?  Turkey is good any time!

 If you use this recipe for roast turkey, let me know what you think of it in the Comments section.  (Do you think it’s the best?)  And let your friends and other hungry people know about it via the social sharing buttons below.







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