So, you've got your bird defrosted. Now what? Don't just pop it in the oven and hope it cooks. Follow these instructions to get the perfect, moist and juicy bird with a lovely crisp, brown skin.
Step 1: The brine
Though some people argue that brining introduces extra salt you don't need, it does help keep your turkey moist. This process should be started a couple of days before you need to cook the turkey. You can use your favorite brine recipe, but whichever one you choose, we recommend using one with extra flavors added (something besides just salt and sugar).
Use half water and half vegetable stock for the liquid (for an extra kick) and add spices: like peppercorns, allspice berries and more in the mix. For extra richness, substitute half as much brown sugar for the sugar in the recipe.
Step 2: Stuff with aromatics
We know, you like putting the stuffing in the bird. But this can introduce the possibility of salmonella to your stuffing, so cook it on the side.
Instead, stuff your turkey with vegetables, fruits and herbs that come to life when heated. Apples, pears or lemons; onions of any kind, fennel or garlic; rosemary sprigs, cinnamon, sage or thyme — they all give the bird a unique hint of extra flavor. Note that some aromatics (cinnamon for example) need to be steeped in water to release their scent before you insert them into the cavity. (Don't forget to remove the giblets!)
Step 3: Prepare the skin
It may not be great for you, but some of your guests only allow themselves a treat of crispy turkey skin during the holidays, so make it good. Using an oil with a high smoke point (like canola, refined safflower, sunflower or soy oil), give the bird a good massage. That's right, rub it right in! Don't overdo it, of course. Just make sure every surface has a decently slick coating.
Step 4: Cooking
Make sure your oven is preheated all the way to 500 degrees F before putting the turkey in. Also, make sure the wings are tucked under so they don't get too brown. Roast it for about half an hour, then insert a probe thermometer in the thickest part of the breast and reduce the heat to 350 degrees F. Let it cook until the thermometer reads 161 degrees F (about 2 hours for a 15 pound bird).
When you pull it out of the oven, put it in a large mixing bowl and cover it with foil to rest. If you don't have a mixing bowl large enough, use any dish it will fit in. Just don't leave it in the roasting pan.