Old-Fashioned Roast Turkey and Gravy

This old-fashioned roast turkey and gravy shows why covering turkey with cheesecloth while you roast it is the perfect trick to ensuring tender meat and shatteringly crisp skin. And there’s no need to stuff, truss, brine, or otherwise fuss with it.

An old-fashioned roast turkey on a white platter, with gravy in a boat beside it.

This old-fashioned roast turkey and gravy reminds us why there’s a lot to be said for old-fashioned. Like cheesecloth draped on a roast turkey to guarantee shatteringly crisp skin. That’s because it works. So we’re not averse to old-fashioned. Not at all.–Renee Schettler Rossi

Old-Fashioned Roast Turkey and Gravy

  • Quick Glance
  • 45 M
  • 5 H
  • Serves 10 to 12

Special Equipment: Cheesecloth

5/5 - 1 reviews
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Ingredients

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

Directions

  • Roast the turkey
  • 1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) and adjust an oven rack to the lowest position. Fold the cheesecloth into an 18-inch square, place it in a large bowl, and cover it 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, and pour any remaining water into the roasting pan. 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.
  • 4. 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°F (71°C), 30 to 45 minutes longer.
  • 5. Transfer the turkey to a cutting board and let rest for 30 minutes. Reserve the roasting pan.
  • Make the stock for the gravy
  • 6. 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, stirring, until browned, about 5 minutes.
  • 7. Add the onion and cook until softened, 5 to 7 minutes.
  • 8. Stir in the water, stock or broth, thyme, and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and gently simmer, skimming and discarding any scum that rises to the surface, until the stock is reduced by half, about 3 hours.
  • 9. Strain the stock, reserving the giblets, if desired. You should have about 3 1/2 cups stock.
  • Make the gravy
  • 10. Pour the liquid from the roasting pan into a strainer and then pour them into a fat separator. Let the juices and fat separate.
  • 11. Skim the fat from the surface of the strained juices, reserving about 1/4 cup fat in a small bowl.
  • 12. Pour the defatted pan juices into the measuring cup along with enough of the stock to measure 4 cups.
  • 13. Heat the reserved fat in a saucepan over medium heat until it shimmers. Stir in the flour and cook until it’s honey-colored and fragrant, about 4 minutes.
  • 14. Slowly whisk in the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring frequently, until the gravy is slightly thickened, 5 to 10 minutes.
  • 15. If desired, chop the giblets and add them to the gravy. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • 16. Carve the turkey and serve it with the gravy. Originally published November 12, 2009.

Recipe Testers Reviews

If you’re looking for a super simple way to cook a flavorful turkey, this is the recipe for you. There's no stuffing, basting, seasoning, brining, or trussing involved!

Since I was making this in August, I was only able to find a 19.8-pound frozen turkey. I purchased it a week before I planned to serve the meal and let it thaw in the fridge. I’ve seen a lot of comments referencing increased cooking times for larger birds but my turkey did not take significantly longer to cook than the recipe states. The first roast was 3 hours, then after removing the salt pork/cheese cloth, the turkey roasted another 45 minutes before reaching an internal temperature of 160°F. Because the turkey is neither stuffed nor trussed, the air can circulate in, through, and around the bird for more expedited cooking.

I always let my roasts rest 30 minutes to an hour. This began as a necessity, as I have only one oven, and the sides went in when the turkey came out, but we quickly figured out that the bird is just juicier if left alone for longer. This cooking technique resulted in a well-seasoned, beautifully browned, perfectly cooked, moist turkey with really minimal effort. I’ll definitely be making this again for my entire family in November.

The idea of starting the gravy once you put the bird in the oven is brilliant. However, I have a few suggestions. After the requisite 3 hours, I was left with only 2 cups of stock, which I supplemented with the ample defatted pan juices to equal almost 4 cups. (The sheer volume of pan juices with this recipe was enough to make me dance around the kitchen.)

With the chopped giblets, this gravy was outstanding and I’ll continue using this recipe with my adjustments in the future as it created a delicious, deeply flavored, and satisfying gravy my entire family loved."

If you're looking for a foolproof recipe for turkey, this is it! I have tried every method over the years for roasting turkeys, and while there are many good ways, this one is quite easy and guaranteed to give you tender, juicy, evenly cooked meat (both the dark and white) without having to baste.

The salt pork bastes, flavors, and prevents the meat from overcooking and drying out. The texture of the meat was just perfect. Removing the salt pork, cheesecloth, and foil for the final half hour or so of roasting gave the skin the perfect color and crispness. One addition I would make would be to salt and pepper the inside cavity of the bird, as I thought the meat could use a little extra seasoning.

Notes: The active time was approximately 1 1/2 hours and the total time was almost 5 hours. I used a 15-pound turkey, so it took a bit longer to cook. Generally, the timing throughout the recipe was very accurate. The pan drippings were quite fatty and took a while to separate. The gravy took more like 10 minutes to thicken, but it was delicious. I didn’t use the giblets, but did use the meat from the neck chopped finely, which was very flavorful. Also, I would salt and pepper the inside cavity of the bird even though the recipe doesn’t call for it.

You will easily get 10 to 12 servings from this recipe.

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Comments

    1. Hi Maureen, generally speaking, stuffing a bird can add up to an hour of cook time. It is best to use a thermometer to ensure that the bird and the stuffing reaches a target temp of 165 degrees.

  1. Got a question: Can I substitute unsalted butter for the salt pork and get the same result? (It’s a dietary thing…)

      1. I see… I’d sure love to try this but, I won’t be able to but I hope everyone else does because it sounds excellent!!

  2. It is shame that Canadian Thanksgiving has already occurred! I do normally cook a turkey for American Thanksgiving for those watching football at the house. This is happening! I will likely add a lemon, onion and herbs to the cavity just because I like the taste of lemon in turkey gravy. Mashed potatoes and turnips, kimchi roasted Brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce and done.

  3. I plan to try this today however will it be okay to add lemon, onion and fresh herbs in the cavity? And should I salt and pepper the inside of the bird?

  4. 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.

    1. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

      1. Hi Trish, due to the increased size, your turkey will take a bit longer. Probably around 5 hours. Be sure and use your thermometer to check for proper internal temperature. This is the most accurate test for when your bird should come out.

  7. 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?

    1. 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…

  8. 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!

    1. 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!

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

  10. 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?

      1. 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?

        1. 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.

          1. 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.

  11. 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.

    1. 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.

    1. 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.

  12. 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.

    1. 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.

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