Simple Roast Turkey

Simple roast turkey is an easy way to cook the perfect bird for Thanksgiving. And by that we mean the best, most juiciest roast turkey imaginable. A failproof technique, even for beginner cooks.

A simple roast turkey on a rack set over a roasting pan in the oven.

Simple roast turkey. It sounds sorta too good to be true, yes? And yet we’re here to assure you, from our own experience as well as that of the venerable Barbara Kafka, that it is possible. And easy. And juicy. And quite possibly the best damn turkey you’ve ever experienced. Without further ado, here’s how to cook the perfect turkey. Originally published August 4, 1995.Renee Schettler Rossi

What Size Turkey To Buy

We go out of our way to seek out a 12- to 14-pound turkey not only because that’s what fits readily in our roasting pan but because it cooks in a modest amount of time. Turkeys that are larger tend to cook more unevenly because by the time the dark meat is properly cooked, the leaner white meat tends to become dried out. When we need to feed a crowd, we simply snuggle a couple 12- to 14-pounders side by side in the roasting pan, turning them to face the short side of the pan. That said, no matter what size your hen, you’ll get superior results if you blast it at high heat, as in the recipe below, than if you use a lower temperature. Check out the handy roasting chart below for approximate roasting times for a variety of weights.

Simple Roast Turkey

  • Quick Glance
  • (1)
  • 15 M
  • 2 H, 30 M
  • Serves 10 to 15
5/5 - 1 reviews
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Place oven rack on second level from bottom of oven. Heat oven to 500°F (260°C). [Editor’s Note: If you haven’t scrubbed that volcanic-looking burnt-on apple pie filling from the floor of the oven yet, now would be a good time to do so.]

Rinse the turkey inside and out and pat it dry. Sprinkle the outside with pepper. If stuffing the bird, stuff both cavities, securing the openings with long metal skewers. Do not truss the turkey.

Place the turkey in an 18-by-13-by-2-inch roasting pan, breast side up. Put it in the oven legs first. After 20 minutes, wiggle the turkey around with a sturdy spatula to keep from it from sticking to the pan. Roast until the leg joint near the backbone wiggles easily, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads between 170°F and 180°F (76°C and 82°C), about 2 hours. Remove the turkey to a large platter. Let sit 20 minutes before carving.

Pour off the excess fat from the juices in the roasting pan so you are left with just a slick of pan juices. Place the pan on top of the stove, setting it over 2 burners, if necessary. Add the water or stock and bring to a boll while scraping the bottom of the pan vigorously with a wooden spoon, loosening all the crisp burnt-on bits, which will add intensity to the gravy. Let reduce by half. Serve the jus on the side in a sauce-boat or add it to a giblet gravy.

Turkey Cooking Chart

Here are more roasting tips from Barbara.

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Recipe Testers' Reviews

Holy Incinerators, Batman! This method of roasting turkey is spectacularly effective. Two hours! If you’re a fan of deep-fried turkey, this is as close as you will come without setting your garage on fire. It is sooooo good. My only concerns are these: feet first? The result of that was burnt legs! BUT I will make this again—really, really soon—and this time around I will change the orientation of the pan after the first 20 minutes. My oven can accommodate a pan going in with the turkey sitting sidewise and that is how I usually do it. I will also add some of the usual stuff to the cavity of the turkey, like garlic, celery, onion, and some other things. And with your own personal treatment with spices and herbs, it will be fantastic! Go ahead, oven at 500°F, I dare you! Ready, set (the timer, that is, under 2 hours for an almost 11 pounder) and set the table! Turkey done.

This recipe is a definite keeper. To be able to roast a turkey in about 2 hours, even if stuffed, is wonderful. I have a similar recipe for oven-blasted chicken, so I was familiar with this concept. I found the timing in the recipe to be pretty spot on; my bird weighed in at 10 1/2 pounds and it was done in 1 hour, 15 minutes—even though the pop-up timer never popped. To be certain, I double checked the internal temperature of the bird (it was 172°F) as well as wiggled the leg joint to see how loose it was. After resting, the bird carved beautifully and the breast was still very moist, even though I didn’t brine it like I normally do. One thing I did find was that the skin and outer layer of meat on the legs was really too dry and tough to eat; however, the rest of the leg meat was fine. One of the things I would do the next time is to wrap the ends of the legs with foil to prevent them from becoming over cooked. I would also consider rotating the pan after the first 20 minutes so the breast is toward the back of the oven for the next 20 minutes, and then rotate the bird again so the legs would be to the rear for the remaining cooking time.


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  1. I believe that high heat to start is superior to cooking a flavorful turkey. My typical method (from a long-ago Bon Appetit method that Alton Brown also nicely expositions) is this. Aromatics, salt and pepper in cavity. Rub bird with oil or butter. Roast for 1 hour at 500. Dial back to 350. (at which time it is hissing and spitting). I always use a temperature probe (snaked through the door probe). Bird is is perfect and done in 2.25-2.5 hours. I still remember my dad calling me about 30 years ago. It was 2:30 and our dinner was at 6 p.m. I said that I was preparing the bird. “It will never be done by 6.” he said. Well it was, and it was spectacular. (My mom as most moms did, cooked the bird for an unusually long time…getting up at 5 a.m. and putting it in the oven for hours and hours and hours.)

    My bird is always very crisp with the dial back after an hour. This is an interesting method to consider, but I’m not sure that it adds anything to the current method. However for any who have NOT started their bird at high heat, it is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED that you give this method a try with the admonition that you also get a temp probe. Don’t have one? Get one! It makes all the difference in the world and takes the guess work out of cooking meats (and prevents untoward, over/under cooked results).

  2. I’m nervous about cooking for our guests this year so I was curious about whether the testers set their turkey on the bottom of the roasting pan, as it sounds like it’s to be done in the recipe; or if they put their turkey on a rack, as it shows in the photo? Are all of the drippings shown in the photo just from the turkey itself or was some type of liquid put in the pan when using the rack?

    1. Hi MaryAnn, I asked Sofia (who tested this lovely bird) and she confirmed that she set the turkey directly on the pan and had more than enough pan drippings to make gravy, plus a little extra.

    1. I did a bit more research on your question, Patricia, because I was curious as well. According to Barbara Kafka, “salt can cause the skin to cook unevenly by drawing out juices in a random pattern.”

      1. I believe I would salt the cavities and then toss some salt under the skin, in that case. Love the high heat method. I usually go high-low at 500 and then down to 325, but it’s very cool to see that you can take it all the way home at 500. I would think that carryover cooking would be extreme, though, and would consider taking the bird out of the oven a good 15 or even 20F (for big birds) before the meat tests as done. I’m thinking it would coast home while resting. =)

        1. Let us know, Jenni. And thinking of Thanksgiving, we know you have some wonderful desserts in store. What are you making?

    2. Hi Patricia, this method producing such a wonderful turkey that you may find you don’t need salt. I just confirmed this with Karen, one of our testers, who didn’t miss it one bit. You can always season to taste after cooking.

  3. Mmm turkey, my favorit food ever! I stuff my bird with green apples, onion, and plums (I´m from Sweden 😉 ). After cooking I mix the “stuffing” whith the meatjuice in a blender and make it the gravy (plus spices and cream). Best ever! Can´t wait for Christmas day!

  4. I’ve been doing this myself for more years than I will admit to (I’m only 29, you know ;), and I’m so glad to see someone as respected as Barbara Kafka espousing the same technique.

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