THANKSGIVING RECIPE: How To Cook The Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey

Thanksgiving is just three days away and while most people don’t have to faintest idea what it’s all about here in the UK, it is a very big deal to Americans.

For them, it’s the start of the holiday season and, unlike us who do it at Christmas, it’s when they go big on the roast turkey with all the trimmings.

Roast Turkey

Here at American Soda we’ve spent some time researching the best way to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving, but to be honest this recipe suits Christmas too. This is how you cook the perfect roast turkey.

First of all, you need to know what size turkey you need. Handily, and rather unsurprisingly, there’s a nifty turkey calculator supplied by Butterball in the States. There’s actually calculators that will tell how long you need to thaw a frozen turkey for, how much stuffing you’ll need and more…all dependent on how big the turkey is.

A typical UK family has two adults and two children…so that’s a 5lb turkey. However, Thanksgiving is a very sociable event (as is Christmas) so chances are you’re going to have guests. Let’s say it’s eight adults and four children. That’s an 18lb (8.2 kilo) turkey!! Use the calculator to suit your Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Now you know what size turkey you have, it’s on with the prep and cooking. Here’s what you’ll need (this is based on a 15lb turkey, by the way, so adjust accordingly!):

– 1 turkey, approx. 15 lbs. (6.8  kilos)
– Juice of a lemon
– Salt and pepper
– Olive oil or melted butter
– 1/2 yellow onion, peeled and quartered
– Tops and bottoms of a bunch of celery
– 2 carrots
– Parsley
– Sprigs of fresh rosemary, thyme

Now here’s what you do to get THE best Thanksgiving roast turkey:

1) Make sure the turkey is at room temperature before you start. Once it is, remove the neck and giblets (yes, in the UK we’re very likely to get the butcher to do this for us, but if you do, make sure he gives them to you – you’ll need them!).

You can actually cook the neck alongside the turkey or use it to make turkey soup. The heart and gizzard can be used to make stock for the stuffing, while the giblets can be used to make giblet gravy!

2) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C, Gas Mark 6).

3) Wash out the turkey cavity, remove any remaining feather stubs from the skin and pat dry with paper towels. Now cover the inside of the cavity in lemon juice and rub with a small handful salt, coating the inside of the turkey for flavour.

4) DON’T cook the stuffing inside the turkey. It cooks unevenly, you don’t get the crispiness and it adds to the cooking time anyway. Instead, fill your turkey with half a peeled and quartered onion, a bunch of parsley, a couple of carrots, and some tops and bottoms of celery. Plug the cavity with tin foil and tie up with string or use meat skewers, then tie the legs together and the wings close into the body of the bird. Lovely. Add some more parsley to the neck cavity then tie that shut too.

5) Next, rub the bird all over with melted butter or olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.

6) Place the turkey breast down – yes, breast down – onto a grill try over a roasting pan. This will ensure that the skin of the breast doesn’t get too brown and that all the juices run through the breast as it cooks, making it very tender and succulent. Add sprigs of rosemary and thyme to the outside of the turkey.

7) Make a start on the stuffing. Remember those giblets? Time to get them. Put the heart and gizzards into a small pan, cover with water and add salt. Bring to a simmer and leave for an hour. You’re making stock!

8) Time to put that turkey in your pre-heated oven. You’re looking at about 15 minutes cooking time for each pound of meat, so around 400 minutes for this 15lb-er. However, you’re gong to want to be a bit clever with the heat. Start at 400 F (200 C, Gas Mark 6) for the first 30 minutes, then reduce to 350 F (180 C, Gas Mark 4) for the next two hours. Then dial it all the way down to 225 F (110 C, Gas Mark 1/4) for the last hour, hour and a half.

If you really must brown the breast skin, finish with a red hot (500 degrees F, 260 C, Gas Mark 9) oven for five minutes with the breast UP. You might over cook though…

This comes direct from the cook and is VERY important in getting your Thanksgiving turkey perfect:

Start taking temperature readings with a meat thermometer, inserted deep into the thickest part of the turkey breast and thigh, an hour before the turkey should be done. You want a resulting temperature of 175°F (80 C) for the dark meat (thighs and legs) and 165°F (70 C) for the white meat (breast). The temperature of the bird will continue to rise once you take it out of the oven, so take it out when the temperature reading for the thigh is 170°F (76.5 C), and for the breast 160°F (71 C). If you don’t have a meat thermometer, spear the breast with a knife. The turkey juices should be clear, not pink.

9) Once it’s cooked and out of the oven, let your turkey rest for 15-20 minutes. Then it’s ready to carve!

10) Let’s make some gravy! Scrape all the drippings off of the bottom of the roasting pan and pour into a small skillet or frying pan. Scoop off any excess fat. In a separate small bowl take a quarter cup (approx. 34g) of corn starch and add just enough water to dissolve it. Beat the mixture until it’s lump-free then slowly add to the drippings, stirring constantly. Only add as much as you need to get the desired thickness. Allow time for the corn starch to thicken the gravy then add salt, pepper, sage, thyme, or other seasonings to taste. Done!

That’s the perfect Thanksgiving (or Christmas) turkey!

Got your own ideas? Share them with us in the comments or on Facebook. Or just tell us what you’re doing this Thanksgiving! 🙂

  • Philippe Branco

    When I mean have it in metric, I not just meant the weight of the turkey which as you know under the Weights & Measurements Act 1995 when you buy a turkey it is measured in kilos and grammes. Another you forgot is that British ovens are measured in degrees Celsius, not in Fahrenheit if they are electric or in gas mark if they use gas.

    To give you a hand here are the points in °C.

    * 400°F : 200°C : Gas Mark 6
    * 350°F : 180°C : Gas Mark 4
    * 225°F : 110°C : Gas Mark 1/4
    * 500°F : 260°C : Gas Mark 9

    The temperature inside are approximately
    * 175°F : 80°C
    * 165°F : 75°C

    Hope that helps everyone. 🙂

  • American Soda

    Thanks, Philippe – we will update the post accordingly. 🙂