High-Heat ("Two-Hour") Turkey (Full Version)

This method will have you wondering why on earth you spent all day roasting a turkey!

Here's how to do it (complete version).

If you'd like a less-detailed version, see this file.


Yes, this method produces a turkey with a beautifully-browned skin and succulent meat. I know you don't believe me, so try it!

Supposedly the written recipe is available at Safeway. I couldn't find any flyer there, and all that was on the website was a set of QAs. After quite a bit of research on the web, I devised a recipe. The following represents a synthesis with my emendations and clarifications.


Prepare the oven:

Check to see that your oven heats evenly. Sometime prior to Thanksgiving, when you're baking something else, put an oven thermometer in the oven so you can check for accuracy of your "bake" setting. You probably already know if you have a "hot spot" in your oven, so this step is just to make sure a setting of 475 really means 475.

To bake the turkey, the oven must be completely clean. Otherwise, at the high temperature you'll use, the oven will smoke and generally create a mess. If you have a self-cleaning oven, remember that it will emit "fumes," so do it on a day when you can be in the other part of the house and/or open a window. (It's not recommended to turn it on and then leave the house to run errands unless you like to tempt fate!) Use damp paper towels to remove the "ash" (self-cleaning) or residue of cleaning products (you-cleaning).

Prepare the roasting paraphernalia:

If you are buying a disposable aluminum roasting pan, "audition" the bird in it at the store. No part of the turkey should be sticking out beyond the pan edge nor touch the pan.

You may want to buy two disposable pans and "double" them for increased security.

Also check that this rig fits in your oven! The door should close completely.

If your pan has handles on it, you may have to remove them or bend them out of the way in order for your set-up to fit.

In any event, put the whole business on a very sturdy cookie sheet. Do not expect the aluminum roaster to support the weight of the turkey!

Thaw the turkey:

Thaw the bird in the refrigerator, breast down, following wrapper suggestions for time. I allow at least one additional day to avoid being in the predicament of having to take a hairdryer to the body cavity (ask me how I know this). I thaw it on the counter for a little while on the first day to give it a "start," but not more than 6 hrs. At this point, back into the refrigerator it goes. I figure this quickie "start" is not going to do any damage because the bird is still frozen. Obviously, you can't thaw the bird on the counter overnight! (I read somewhere that running room-temp - - not hot - - tap water over something defrosts it faster than soaking it in a sinkful of room-temp water or running hot water over it.) Whether you decide to do a counter-start is up to you.

Room temperature fowl is a sure way to get sick, so don't try to hurry the process by putting the bird on the counter. The hair dryer is a better Plan B!

Keep the shrink-wrap intact so the turkey doesn't dry out. Refrigerators are drying environments, which, I am sure, you have discovered empirically with some leftovers.

Put a rack in the bottom of the roasting pan. Grease or spray it with Pam. If you're using a regular roasting pan, spray the pan, line it well with aluminum foil, and spray the foil, too. As much as possible, you want the mess to part ways with the pan with a minimum of effort and remainders.

Prepare the turkey:

Thirty minutes before you're ready to put the bird in the oven, take it from the refrigerator. Place breast-up.

Use paper towels and dry the turkey very well, inside and out. You will have to come back in a few minutes and work on the interior at least once more. The turkey must be dry!

Pull the neck and giblets from the bird. Look in both the main body cavity, as well as the smaller "neck" cavity. Don't roast the turkey with them inside! Make stock right away. Include the "pope's nose" when making your stock. This is the piece that had the tail feathers in it. (I don't know which pope it was.) When the bird is thawed enough to removed the giblets, the tailpiece will be thawed enough to cut it off. Into the water, I throw in a couple of carrots chopped up a little, two or three ribs of celery, a medium onion (chopped a little), a bay leaf, and about six peppercorns. Sometimes I add a little parsley (flat leaf-kind has flavor; curly-leaf kind tastes awful and is just for decoration) or other herbs (but not rosemary). Salt after stock is done.

Cut off any excess fat around the body cavity. There's always a big hunk right at the main cavity entrance. Discard it. Don't put this in the stockpot.

Don't tie the legs together (truss). You want the heat to circulate freely. If you think the ends of the legs might get burned, give them some little foil "gloves."

Do not stuff the turkey. You'll have to make the dressing in a casserole dish, which you will either bake in the oven ahead of time and zap in the microwave or cook in the oven after the bird is removed. You won't be able to cook the side dishes in the oven at the same time you roast the turkey, as you normally might do, so do them on the stovetop, put them in another oven (you plutocrat!), pre-bake and re-warm in the microwave, or just cook the side dishes in the microwave to begin with. You'll have to plan ahead, especially if you have rolls to bake, marshmallows to brown on the sweet potatoes, and so on.

Find an old fork and use it to keep the vent (body cavity hole) spread open. Stick in the tines end first (this will be on the backbone side of the turkey) and then push in the handle end (breast side) until you have it wedged successfully. You'll leave this fork in the entire time the turkey is roasting. You may want to buy a fork from the Salvation Army if you don't want to use one of your dinner table-type forks. Don't use a two-tined "carving" fork. It's too sharp. Don't use a plastic fork! Guess why.

Place the turkey on the rack, breast side up.

Some recipes call for starting the bird breast-down, but I don't recommend it because not only is it a pain in the neck to turn the thing breast-up (it's hot and slippery!), but the skin sticks to the rack (no matter how well you greased it), plus you'll risk dropping the whole thing on the floor, spattering grease and stock all over you and everything/everyone else. (Happy Thanksgiving!)

Important: The turkey should not, under any circumstances, touch the bottom of the pan (it will stew rather than roast) or the side of the pan (it will burn there). You want the heat to circulate freely. No parts should be sticking out over the edge of the pan (they'll get burned).

Rub the turkey on all sides with olive oil. (The bird must be dry for the oil to stick. Not dry? Use some more paper towels.) The oil helps protect the skin from burning but allows the skin to brown. Oil also helps keep moisture in the meat. (You knew this already from the "traditional" method of turkey-baking, in which you baste the bird with the pan drippings to "keep it moist.") If you don't want to use olive oil, use another kind, but don't use butter (it burns at high temperatures, and, honey, this is a high-temp adventure!).

Pat some dried herbs/pepper on the outside if you like. Or put a bouquet of fresh herbs inside the cavity.

Do not salt. Salt draws out the moisture.

At this point, be very careful! Don't drop this puppy! Also watch that it doesn't sail off the counter! An oiled turkey is very slippery!

Place on rack in roasting pan.

Stick a meat thermometer (the kind that stays in the whole time, not an instant-read kind) into the breast. It should go all the way in and touch the bone. (At the bone is where the meat is the coolest and thus done-ness there pretty much determines roasting time.) The thermometer should not touch the oven interior or the roasting pan.

Cover the top of the bird with a large sheet of aluminum foil, which is greased on the side that will be touching the turkey. You don't need cheesecloth or anything unusual like that. Aluminum foil is what you want. Just lay it on top; don't tuck it in.

I didn't find a need to turn the turkey around (back to front) in the oven, but this may be something you'll want to do if your oven doesn't heat evenly ("hot spot"). If so, turn at the one-hour mark. If you plan to turn the turkey, put the thermometer in the side of the bird that faces the back of the oven. When you turn the bird, the thermometer will be facing the oven door and thus readable without taking the turkey out of the oven.

Check thermometer placement. It shouldn't touch the sides of the oven, pan, etc. And any remaining rack in your oven (or the broiler unit) should not be in the way. You may want to put it in at a slight angle (on the way to "lying down" rather than sticking up like a feather).

Roast the turkey:

Preheat over to 475. Be brave! Yes, 475. Adjust oven rack height so the turkey will be in the middle of the oven. (Some recipes say 450 and some 500. I split the difference. Worked fine.)

Put turkey in the oven.

Taking no more time than you can manage, pour water or broth into the roasting pan to a depth of about " and close the door. Don't pour this liquid on the turkey and let it cascade down, figuring it will get to the bottom of the roasting pan in due time. Place the liquid right in the bottom of the pan. Remember you don't want the liquid to touch the turkey. (Remember how much time you dedicated to drying off the turkey?!)

Don't try to carry the bird to the oven with the liquid already sloshing around in the bottom of the roasting pan unless you're keen on a mess.

Every so often (30-45 minutes), check liquid level and top up if needed. Don't waste time. Close the door as soon as possible.

Do not baste the bird itself. This inhibits browning.

Roast two hours. Open the door as seldom as possible. If you can check liquid level in the bottom of the roasting pan by looking through the window in the door, so much the better This should be enough time for a 16- to 18-pound bird. Larger birds (20 pounds, let's say) may need extra time.

You should go by the meat thermometer, however. It should read 160 (if you've stuck the thermometer touching the breastbone). At 160 at the breastbone, the breast meat will be about 170, which is perfect. (If you've stuck the thermometer at the leg/thigh joint, the bird will be done at 175 to 180. A temp of 180 at the breastbone is way too done and dried out!)

Carve the turkey:

Let turkey rest for 20-30 minutes, covered lightly with greased foil (the same piece you used in the oven is probably still ok), so the juices can "retreat," as Julia Child says. I know this means the turkey isn't piping hot. This resting step bothers me a lot because I like all my food hot rather than room temperature! But, there you go! Your choice to let it rest or not. Maybe 5-10 minutes?

During this rest time, use a bulb baster to remove accumulated fat and stock from the bottom of the roasting pan to use in the gravy. If you want to remove the fat entirely from this broth, once it's in a container skim off what you can and then drop an ice cube into the stock. The temperature of the ice cube will congeal the fat immediately around it. Remove and put in another. For gravy, figure 1 c flour + 1 c fat (drippings, olive oil, etc.) to 4 c stock. This will make between 2 c and 3 c gravy. Thin, if necessary.

If, at carving, the meat near the leg/thigh joint seems not done enough, cut off these pieces and pop them back into the oven for a little while (at 400). Try 5 minutes for starters. Or zap in the microwave.

If, at carving, any other parts of the turkey don't look cooked, put the entire bird back in the oven. (Did you read the thermometer correctly? Was it placed correctly? Was the oven on? Set to 475?)

Garbage Disposal Tips:

Remember not to put any leftover grease down the garbage disposal! Sop it up with paper towels and put them in the trash. The last thing you want is a backed-up garbage disposal, on this day or any other! As an extension, let the fat-surrounded ice cubes melt on a paper towel so you can trap the grease.

You probably will want to clean out your garbage disposal before the big day so you start in the best possible shape. Use some commercial product or use this "grandma's recipe" (did Grandma even have a garbage disposal?). Using a funnel so it gets directly inside the disposal, pour c baking soda into the disposal. Add c vinegar. Let stand about 5 minutes and then run hot water through. Better living through home chemistry!


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marbeth@marthabeth.com