Old-Fashioned Roast Turkey and Gravy

This is the original, old-fashioned turkey. Because we layer the turkey with salt pork, we prefer to use a natural turkey here; self-basting turkeys may become too salty. (If using a self-basting turkey, use all water in the gravy rather than a combination of water and broth.) Make sure to start the gravy as soon as the turkey goes into the oven.–The Editors at America’s Test Kitchen

LC Cheesecloth Aficionados Note

There ought to be a fan club for those who swear by cheesecloth for their roast turkeys. Are you one of these card-carrying cheesecloth acolytes? If so, let us know in the comments, being certain to tell us exactly why you’ve come to rely on it.

Special Equipment: Cheesecloth

Old-Fashioned Roast Turkey and Gravy Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 30 M
  • 4 H, 30 M
  • Serves 10 to 12

Ingredients

  • For the turkey
  • 4 cups cold water
  • 1 12- to 14-pound turkey, neck and giblets reserved
  • 1 pound salt pork, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • For the gravy
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • Reserved turkey neck and giblets
  • 1 (about 1 cup) onion, diced
  • 5 cups cold water
  • 2 cups homemade chicken stock or low-sodium canned chicken broth
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  • Roast the turkey
  • 1. Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and heat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Fold the cheesecloth into an 18-inch square. Place the cheesecloth in a large bowl and cover with the water.
  • 2. Arrange the turkey, breast-side up, on a V-rack set inside a roasting pan and tuck the wings behind the back of the turkey. Prick the skin of the breast and legs of the turkey all over with a fork, cover the breast and legs of the turkey with the salt pork, top with the soaked cheesecloth (pouring any remaining water into the roasting pan), and cover the cheesecloth completely with heavy-duty aluminum foil.
  • 3. Roast the turkey until the thickest part of the breast registers 140°F (60°C) on an instant-read thermometer, 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Remove the foil, cheesecloth, and salt pork and discard. Increase the oven temperature to 425°F (220°C). Continue to roast until the thickest part of the breast registers 160 to 165°(71°C), 30 to 45 minutes longer. Transfer the turkey to a cutting board and let rest for 30 minutes.
  • Make the gravy
  • 4. While the turkey is roasting, heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the turkey neck and giblets and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Add the onion and cook until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the water, stock or broth, thyme, and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until reduced by half, about 3 hours. Strain the stock, reserving the giblets, if desired. (You should have about 3 1/2 cups stock.)
  • 5. Carefully strain the contents of the roasting pan and pour them into a fat separator. Let the juices and fat separate, then skim the fat, reserving 1/4 cup of the fat. Pour the defatted pan juices into the measuring cup along with enough of the giblet stock to yield 4 cups.
  • 6. Heat the reserved fat in an empty saucepan over medium heat until it shimmers. Stir in the flour and cook until it’s honey-colored and fragrant, about 4 minutes. Slowly whisk in the giblet stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring frequently, until the gravy is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Chop the giblets and add them to the gravy, if desired. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Carve the turkey and serve with the gravy.
Hungry for more? Chow down on these:

Comments
Comments
  1. alyce says:

    I tried this and it never did really “brown” the outside of the turkey very well after I took the foil off. It was at 425 on the lowest rack. Any thoughts as to why? We had to put it back in the oven.

    • David Leite says:

      Alyce, it’s difficult to say what happened without being there. If you’re not certain that your oven temperature is accurate, you may want to check that.

      I’ll share my recent experience. I was at a friend’s home, and she complained that her turkey wasn’t done after 4 1/2 hours. Then I saw her constantly opening the oven door in spite of being able to see through the glass window. She also had several side dishes in the same oven so it may have been overloaded. Finally I talked her into lighting the grill and finishing the turkey on the grill, giving everything more room to breathe.

      At 425, your bird should have been golden and gorgeous and American’s Test Kitchen recipes have proven to be reliable, so I’m sorry that it happened.

  2. Dana says:

    How do we adjust the time for a larger bird, say 24 pounds?

    • David Leite says:

      Dana, for any turkey (or any meat for that matter), cooking time depends upon a lot of factors: how accurate your oven is, how big your oven is, how cold your turkey is when it went in the oven, and so on. That being said, I’d give it at least another 1 to 1 1/2 hours. But if I may be so bold: a big bird like that can be, well, cumbersome and a little dry and tough. I’d suggest making two smaller birds, if you can.

  3. Dana says:

    I assume you also would not be able to stuff the turkey using this recipe because of the salt pork?

  4. Brandy says:

    I have a 19lb turkey that I would like to try this recipe. I have not started it to thaw. Can I put it in the oven frozen and still use this recipe? I don’t know if I will have to thaw it properly in the fridge before Thursday. I don’t really have enough room in my fridge to keep it there for four days to thaw.

    • David Leite says:

      The only other way to thaw it would be place it in a large five-gallon bucket and have the smallest stream of cold water trickling on it. It will defrost safely in less than a day.

  5. Vicki says:

    Do you still brine the turkey before roasting?

    • David Leite says:

      Vicki, this recipe doesn’t call for brining, so I’s stay away from it. There are other recipes on the blog that call for brining. Check them out.

  6. Jennifer says:

    Okay – so i am all set to do this recipe but am nervous – am i supposed to air dry the turkey today in the fridge or rub anything under the skin the day before or just let it thaw and then on Thanksgiving morning dress it with the salt pork?

    • David Leite says:

      Jennifer, let it thaw completely–that is crucial–and begin the recipe. No need to air dry or smother it with a rub.

      • Jennifer says:

        Thank you. I will keep in in fridge and go for it in the morning. It is 22lbs, any thoughts on cooking time? We are plannig to eat at 3pm. So I know it needs to rest for 30 minutes.

        Also, I was afraid it was too late for anyone to respond, and I rubbed it a little with salt. Should I try to remove it?

        • David Leite says:

          I’m checking occasionally in case there are a few last minute jitters!

          I would roast it another hour to an hour and a half more. This is a time you want to have an instant-read thermometer. You want the breast to read 160 to 165 degrees. Start cooking some time between 10 and 10:30. But again, make sure to use that thermometer.

          And if you’re oven is running hot, and it’s done before it’s time to eat, you can keep the bird warm in very low oven.

          Regarding the salt, if it’s just a little, you’re fine.

          • Jennifer says:

            Thank you Thank you – I went into an instant panic once my mother mentioned rubbing it with seasoning and salt. Thank you for checking – i feel so much better. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  7. Mike says:

    Hi, I have a turkey that is almost double the recipe size, is there a fairly easy calculation for adjusting cook time? Thanks!

  8. Gina says:

    Can I put herbs and vegetables inside the cavity?
    Thanks!

  9. Dellene in Kansas says:

    First of all, David, I want to thank you for posting this recipe! I made this last year using the recipe from America’s Test Kitchen and had no problem printing the recipe. This year I have to join their website in order to get it and I am not going to do that. So…I was extremely pleased to see your post! On that note, I made this last year and it was by far the best turkey I have ever made and the best gravy I have ever made! It was very easy to prepare and bake, and if you follow the directions, it should come out beautiful, moist, and very flavorful! Can’t wait to do it again this year!

    • David Leite says:

      Dellene, my pleasure. The folks at America’s Test Kitchen are about the best you can get, and when we take their recipes into our 125 home test kitchens, we’re confident the results will be great. I hope you have a great Thanksgiving this year, and please let us know what you’re making!

  10. dennie says:

    I am looking forward to trying this for my family this year. I do not know what a cheescloth is though. Where could I find this. Our best store close to us is a Walmart? I have a 20 pound turkey and have read some people say that they tend to be drier that size. Any suggestions?

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Dennie, cheesecloth is simply a loosely woven cloth that’s food safe. Chances are you’ll find it at Walmart, just ask someone to help you find it. As for that 20-pounder, we actually will address this very question on the site tomorrow, so stay tuned! I’ll send you a link to the article when it posts…

  11. Crystal says:

    I made this salt pork turkey last year from memory after watching Americas Test Kitchen & I, too, had trouble getting it without a subscription. I was excited to see it here! I also have a 20-lb turkey & will check back for the times on that size. Thank you so much for making this easier & tastier than ever!

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      We can’t take credit for the recipe, Crystal, but we will accept the thanks for sharing it here. Thanks for letting us know how much it means to you. Happy, happy Thanksgiving!

  12. Angelina says:

    I tried this recipe for the first turkey I ever made. Had my parents and in-laws over. It was so awesome, can’t thank you enough for this recipe. I had an old, inaccurate oven that technically overcooked the turkey, but no one could tell. Can’t wait to try it in my new oven.

  13. Mary Tarchala says:

    My mom has used a cheesecloth for her turkeys for 40yrs. I find mine at Walmart in the sewing section.If not, check your fabric stores.It can be used for Halloween decorations! Good Luck! Happy cooking.

    • Beth Price, LC Director of Recipe Testing says:

      Hi Mary, thanks for those tips! I also find that grocery stores start carrying cheesecloth in time for the holidays. Mine usually places it on an end cap with other seasonal supplies.

Have something to say?

Then tell us. Have a picture you'd like to add to your comment? Send it along. Covet one of those spiffy pictures of yourself to go along with your comment? Get a free Gravatar. And as always, please take a gander at our comment policy before posting.

*

Daily Subscription

Enter your email address and get all of our updates sent to your inbox the moment they're posted. Be the first on your block to be in the know.

Preview daily e-mail

Weekly Subscription

Hate tons of emails? Do you prefer info delivered in a neat, easy-to-digest (pun intended) form? Then enter your email address for our weekly newsletter.

Preview weekly e-mail