The Perfect Bird: Learn the Secrets to Roasting Turkey

Dotty Griffith | Author
Dotty Griffith’s “The Texas Holiday Cookbook,” published in 1997, remains her most popular book

Whether a seasoned cook or a first-timer, if you’re in charge of cooking the bird this holiday season, there are tricks to roasting a turkey that you should know. If you get it wrong, you’ll never forget the sight of the turkey leftovers on every plate.

“Roasting turkey too long will make it dry,” warns food expert Dotty Griffith. “Rely on a meat thermometer inserted into the thigh to make sure it’s done. And don’t be tempted to cook it another hour ‘just in case.’”

Griffith is known to foodies throughout Texas and beyond. She was the food editor at the Dallas Morning News for 16 years before becoming a restaurant critic for 10 more. Today, she’s retired from the newspaper business and has settled into teaching journalism as an adjunct professor at the University of North Texas. She’s also been busy writing cookbooks, 12 to date. Her most recent, “The Ultimate Tortilla Press,” came out earlier this year. But it’s Griffith’s 1997 offering, “The Texas Holiday Cookbook,” that remains her most popular. It sold out in two months to fans who wanted her to take on cooking for the holidays.

She was still a food editor at that time and says it was before Butterball started its Turkey Talk-Line. “So I and other food editors around the country were the hotlines,” she says. “And I’ll never forget the guy who called me and wanted to know if his turkey would cook twice as fast if he doubled the oven temperature. He also wanted to know how to set the oven to 700 F.”

Here are some tips Griffith offers to ensure your bird comes out as pretty as a picture — tender and golden brown. Brining makes everything better and is so much simpler now. Brining bags make it easy to brine without a separate container and refrigerator or cooler.

Don’t baste until the last hour or so of cooking. Basting mostly helps glaze the bird.

Anne Braly

Stuffing a turkey is another time waster. Bake cornbread or other bread dressing separately in a shallow baking dish. Bake during the last 30 or 45 minutes of roasting.

If you forget to remove the bag of giblets before roasting, don’t panic when you start slicing and find it. Remove the bag and carry on as if nothing happened.

Make very thick gravy up to two days in advance using a butter and flour roux and turkey or chicken stock. On turkey day, heat it up during the last 30 minutes or so of roasting. Use drippings from the turkey to thin and add more flavor to the gravy. This eliminates last-minute gravy panic.

The biggest mistake you can make when roasting the turkey, Griffith stresses, is baking it too long, rendering dry meat. Rely on a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh. And when you wiggle the leg, it should move easily in the joint. If it pulls right out into your hand, you’ve overcooked the turkey.

Rosted Turkey with rosemary and lemonCitrus Roasted Turkey

  • 1 (12- to 16-pound) turkey
  • 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons pepper, or to taste
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 apples, optional
  • 1 orange, optional
  • 1 lemon, optional
  • 2 fresh jalapeno peppers, optional

Heat oven to 325 F. Rinse and dry turkey. Remove neck and giblet pack from the small cavity in front as well as the large body cavity. Save and use for stock if desired. Season inside turkey cavity with salt and pepper. Use salt sparingly if using a prebasted turkey.

Rub exterior of turkey skin generously with vegetable oil and place in a large roasting pan with shallow sides.

If desired, cut apples and orange into quarters, cut lemon in half and place fruit in turkey cavity along with jalapeno peppers that have been pierced in several places with a fork.

Roast turkey 15-20 minutes per pound. For the most accurate gauge of doneness, use an instant-read thermometer. Temperature should read 165 F when inserted in the thickest part of the thigh. Juices should run clear when thigh is pierced at the thickest part, and the leg joint should move easily.

Cooking of the turkey should be completed about an hour before dinner is served. Loosely tent with foil to keep warm and carve just before serving.

Super Greens With Brown Butter

Use greens that are torn and ready to eat. This is a great side dish to make ahead and reheat for serving during the holidays.

  • 2 bags super greens such as collards, turnip, kale, mustard or a combination (enough for 8 servings)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup salted butter
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted

Dump 1 bag of greens into a large pot with lid. Add 1/4 cup water. Place pot over medium heat and bring water to a boil. Toss in half the raisins. Cover with lid. Turn off heat and let steam for 7 minutes or until greens are wilted and no longer crunchy. Drain in colander. Repeat with remaining greens and raisins. Place drained greens in a 9-by- 13-inch baking dish. Make sure raisins are evenly distributed.

In a medium skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and cook until it turns a medium dark brown, 3 to 5 minutes. It should smell nutty. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Pour brown butter over greens, stirring to evenly coat. Sprinkle pine nuts over the greens. Keep warm, or refrigerate and reheat at 300 F to serve. Makes 8 servings.

Herbed Lemon Butter for Roasted Turkey

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon each finely chopped fresh sage, rosemary and thyme
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon rind

Place butter into a small bowl. Using a spatula, blend in herbs and lemon rind. With gloved hands, gently loosen the skin of the thawed turkey breast, being careful not to tear the skin, and rub a generous coating of the herbed lemon butter onto the turkey breast under the skin. Lightly rub turkey all over with additional butter.

If making butter blend in advance, cover tightly and refrigerate until ready to use. Let soften to room temperature before seasoning turkey for roasting. Makes 1/2 cup.