A few years ago when we lived in Connecticut, we had our first big Friendsgiving. I was excited about participating in the preparation of the Thanksgiving dinner, but I told my husband I would absolutely NOT cook a turkey that was larger than 15 pounds. As luck would have it however our host received a 20 pound turkey as a gift and when no one else volunteered to cook it, I decided to step up.
As soon as he delivered the turkey, I turned to my husband and said “what was I thinking?”
The following year, I tackled 2 turkeys, a 20-pound for Friendsgiving and a 23-pound for our 100-mile Thanksgiving dinner at the Yale Forestry School. The year after that I cooked an 18-pound turkey. So much for never cooking a turkey that is larger than 15 pounds!
This year I’ll finally get my wish of making a turkey no larger than 15 pounds, but the truth is, it looks more intimidating than it actually is, especially with a good recipe like the one I created with the help of SimplyRecipes, WebMd, and my awesome mom.
Various people recommend that you do not brine a turkey that is larger than 15 pounds, because it is hard to find a container that will hold a turkey of that size. The first year I was given a 20 pound turkey however our host forgot to thaw the turkey, so I had to find a way to thaw a 20 pound turkey in 24 hours. The solution: submerse the turkey in a brine. In addition to speeding up the thawing process, a brine also helps the turkey stay moist and I’ve used brines for all sizes of turkey ever since.
3-5 gallons of cold water
1 1/2-2 1/2 cups of sea salt
1 tablespoons rosemary
1 tablespoon thyme
1 tablespoon sage
1-2 bay leaves
A large container, like a cooler
*For the 100-mile dinner, I omitted the oranges and bay leaves because I could not find those within 100 miles of Connecticut where we lived at the time.
Remove the giblets (neck, heart, liver, gizzard) and save for the gravy. Place the turkey in the cooler. Cut the oranges in half. Juice them into the cooler, then add the halves. Add the herbs to cooler. Add water until the turkey is submersed (3-5 gallons depending on the size of the turkey). Add salt, adjusting the quantity based on the amount of water added. I like to use a 1:2 ratio (1 cup of salt for every 2 gallons of water), which is less than a typical brine (which uses a 1:1 ratio). Stir the mixture.
If the turkey is frozen it should sit in the brine for 24 hours, otherwise 8-12 hours should be enough. If you’re going to thaw your turkey before placing it in the brine (which is probably the easiest thing to do), use the rule 4-5 hours for every pound.
Roasting the Turkey:
Remove the turkey from the brine approximately 2 hours before you plan on cooking it. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels.
2 carrots, chopped into big pieces
2 celery stalks (tops and bottoms)
1 bunch of parsley
2-3 sprigs of rosemary
2-3 sprigs of thyme
1 onion, quartered
Salt & pepper
2-3 tablespoons melted butter
*For the 100-mile dinner, I omitted the lemon.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Place the turkey breast side up.
Rub the cavity of the turkey with (the juice of 1 lemon) and 1 teaspoon of salt.
Stuff the cavity with the carrots, celery, parsley (and onion). You can also add 1 quartered orange.
Cap the cavity with foil.
Close the turkey using string. Make sure to tie the legs together, close to the body.
Rub the turkey with melted butter.
Turn the turkey over into the roasting pan (it is now breast side down).
Stuff the neck with parsley and cap. I find the best way to cap the neck is by covering the neck with the skin and closing it with 2-3 toothpicks.
Wrap a piece of string across the body and tie, so that the wings stay close to the body.
Rub this side of the turkey with butter.
Place the sprigs of thyme and rosemary into the roasting pan.
Place the turkey in the oven. Notice that you will be cooking the turkey breast side down. Cooking it this way will help the breast stay nice and moist.
SimplyRecipes recommends cooking the turkey 15 minutes for every pound. Note that if you brine the turkey, it will cook faster.
For a 15 pound turkey SimplyRecipes suggests:
30 min at 400 degrees F.
2 hours at 350 degrees F.
1-1 1/2 hours at 225 degrees F.
For a 20 pound turkey I cooked it as follows:
30 min at 400 degrees F.
2 1/2 hours at 350 degrees F.
1 1/2-2 hours at 225 degrees F.
For a 23 pound turkey I did:
45 min at 400 degrees F.
3 hours at 350 degrees F.
1 1/4-1 3/4 hours at 225 degrees F.
Start taking the temperature of the turkey about 1 hour before the turkey is supposed to be done (basically whenever you drop the temperature to 225). Take the temperature in the thickest part of the breast and thigh. You want the leg (dark meat) to be at 170 degrees F and the breast (white meat) to be at 160 degrees F. (You actually want 175 and 165 degrees, but the temperature will continue to rise, especially f you are going to broil the turkey breast for a few minutes). If you don’t have a thermometer, spear the breast. The juices should be clear, not pink.
When you get the right temperature, remove the turkey from the oven. If you want to brown the breast, carefully flip the turkey over and cook under the broiler or at 500 degrees F for 5-10 minutes. Don’t overcook it! Let the turkey rest at least 20 minutes before serving (this is when you will finish the gravy).
In an attempt to use the entire turkey, I wanted to find a use for the turkey giblets. I found this gravy recipe, which turned out delicious!
1 turkey giblets -heart, liver, neck and gizzard-
1 tablespoon of sage
1 stalk of celery, chopped
4 tablespoons of flour
Salt & Pepper
2-4 teaspoons of maple syrup
Roasting Pan Drippings
Place the giblets, celery sage and salt & pepper in a saucepan.
Cover with water and bring to a boil.
Simmer covered for 2-3 hours (while the turkey cooks).
Strain liquid into bowl. Let cool slightly, then add about 1/2 to the blender (this is what I do because hot liquids then to pop the blender lid if there is too much of it).
Chop the liver and gizzard and add to the blender.
Remove the meat from the neck and add to the blender.
Puree until liquefied. At this point you can do 2 things. You can either pour the blender contents into the bowl and stir or you can slowly add the remaining liquid to the blender. Add flour and stir until incorporated.
Once the turkey is out of the roasting pan, pour off the fat.
Whisk the brown bits and bits of meat stuck to the pan. Remove any skin that stuck to the pan.
Pour contents of the blender into the pan. Whisk.
If it is too thick, add some water.
Season to taste with salt & pepper.
Add 2-4 teaspoons of maple syrup to taste.
Place in the oven at 450 degrees for 15 minutes.
Remove, stir and serve with the turkey.
**When you are finished with your turkey, save the carcass and bones for stock which can be used to make Turkey Soup