If you need an easy roast turkey recipe for Thanksgiving you’ve come to the right place. One of my favorite childhood memories is helping my dad with the Thanksgiving and Christmas turkey each year. Although my mom was typically the cook (except for spaghetti night) the turkey was always dad’s job, and I was his special helper. With 35 years of turkey roasting under his belt, and the analytical mind of an engineer, my dad has tried and tested a myriad of turkey roasting techniques. Here’s the method that is the easiest and cheapest way to get a great turkey every time.
The first thing I learned from my dad is that cooking the perfect turkey starts with some research. If you know you are getting a great deal on your turkey you’re already one step close to feeling like you’ve got the perfect turkey. Although my dad was in the military and we usually did our grocery shopping at the commissary on base, it wasn’t always the cheapest place to get the holiday turkey.
A lot of local grocery stores have great deals on their turkeys, but you really need to carefully look at the stipulations for the sale price. If you have to spend $50 on other items to get he turkey at only .40/lb you need to do the math. If you were planning to spend that much already then go for it, you’re getting a great deal. If you were only planning to spend $20 on the rest of your holiday ingredients, you’d need to be buying a REALLY big turkey for it to be worth spending an extra $30 on food you weren’t planning to buy.
Once you get your turkey, where are you going to put it? If you have more than two days until you’re planning to cook it you probably want to keep it in the freezer. That means that you’ll need to thaw the turkey before the big day, and that my friends is my favorite part of roasting a turkey.
Each year, the day before Thanksgiving and Christmas, I would remind everyone they needed to take a shower before dinner time. This wasn’t out of regard for my family’s personal hygiene, but my excitement for thawing the turkey. See, my dad had the brilliant idea of thawing our turkey out in the bathtub! Before you freak out, know that he kept it in its wrappings so it was totally sanitary.
From as young as I can remember I was in charge of filling the bath with room temperature water to put the turkey in. I’d lovingly check the temperature like a mother warming milk for a baby. When I thought it was ready my dad would ceremoniously carry in our turkey that sometimes seemed bigger than me!
Brushing my teeth I’d sing some silly song about tasty turkeys through a mouthful of peppermint suds. Then I’d pat the turkey goodnight before going to bed. In the middle of the night I would check on the turkey with my flashlight each time I got up to use the restroom, making sure no turkey thief had snatched it while we slept.
My dad would let me sleep in the next morning, but he knew to wake me before touching the turkey. “Diana, wake up, it’s turkey time.” He’d whisper while gently shaking my shoulder. I’d rub the sleep out of my eyes trying to crawl out of whatever dream I’d just been having, then bolt upright when his words finally registered.
I’d follow him into the bathroom in my slippered feet and push my pajama sleeve up as high as it could go to reach in and pull the bathtub plug. My dad, because he was the strongest man in the world, would lift the huge turkey out of the tub and I’d walk with him to the kitchen, holding a towel under the dripping bird.
Since I’ve moved out (11 years ago) my dad has tried a couple other thawing methods. I guess he was holding onto the bathtub method purely for me! His new favorite way to thaw the turkey is in a brine. He’s tried different recipes and brining mixes, but says if money is an issue just go with a cup of kosher salt in your water. Of course you don’t want to brine your turkey in the tub, so you can use a large bucket like he does, or a garbage bag lined cooler like I did.
You may need to weigh the turkey down with something heavy. I used a huge can of salmon the food bank gave me for cooking classes. Brining adds flavor and moisture to the meat. But I’ve eaten a lot of turkeys without brine so if you’re pressed for money the bathtub method works just fine (and is fun for your kids!).
The next day we usually start the turkey cooking by 10 am. If it’s not completely thawed inside just rinse the inside with running water until all the ice is washed away. Make sure to remove the giblets, neck, any turkey parts that are loose or in the little bag in the turkey cavity.
Once the turkey is rinsed it’s time to prepare the next key to an easy roast turkey, and that’s the roasting bag. My dad has tried to cook a turkey without a bag three times, and each time he’s done it we’ve all complained (including him!). It always turns out so moist and juicy when he does it in the bag.
You can find the roasting bags in the ziploc and foil section of the grocery store. Another nice thing about them is that they have directions! If you’re nervous about roasting your first turkey, they walk you through it.
The first thing is put a pinch of flour in the bag and shake it around to coat the bag so it doesn’t stick you your turkey. Set the bag in a roasting pan, the foil ones work fine as long as you can hold them from the bottom. I was given a free roasting pan by Oneida and it serendipitously arrived the day I was cooking our turkey!
Cappucino liked that because I put the box in the kitchen for him. He loves to be around me when I’m home, but gets nervous in the kitchen because I move around so much. He has some kind of hip problem which keeps him from moving as quickly as a normal cat so could easily get stepped on. Whenever I get a new package I let Cappucino have a kitchen throne for the day to sit and supervise my culinary proceedings.
If you don’t have a roasting pan, check places like Dollar Stores and Goodwill before buying a foil one in a grocery store. Even if they’re less sturdy, you’re using a bag to hold the juices in so you don’t have to worry about pouring boiling turkey goodness all over your feet.
Once your bag is resting in the pan with the opening sticking out over one side, begin placing rings of onion and stalks of celery in the bottom of the bag. This provides a bed for the turkey to rest on so it doesn’t stick to the bottom, and adds some flavor.
Carefully put your turkey into the bag resting on the vegetables. Reach into the bag to coat the turkey skin with olive oil or butter. Use the twisty tie in the box to seal the bag and make a few 1/2 inch slits in the top of the bag. Put your turkey in a 350 degree oven. Make sure that you’ve taken out the top rack in your oven so that your bag doesn’t melt on the top heating element (yes, voice of experience speaking!).
The roasting bag comes with cooking times, but I’d suggest using their cooking time chart online which lets you put in exact info such as stuffed or unstuffed. The safest way to tell if your turkey is done is with a thermometer. I really like digital thermometers because they get a faster read and don’t usually need to keep getting recalibrated. You want to stick the thermometer all the way into the dark meat to make sure it’s 180 degrees. I just poke it right through the bag.
As for stuffing, a lot of people are afraid of actually stuffing the turkey. We’ve done it EVERY year and never had a problem with salmonella. I think the key is that the bag holds in moisture so that even if we have to cook the turkey really long to get the center up to temperature, the breast meat doesn’t dry out. Again, it’s all about making sure the internal temperature gets hot enough that you don’t have to worry about food poisoning.
Once your turkey is done, have someone help you hold the bag over a large bowl. Cut one corner off of the bag and let the juices drain from the bag into your bowl. These are what you’ll use to make gravy. Slip the turkey from the bag onto a platter. Now you have the choice of serving it on the platter garnished with some seasonal fruit and herbs like these gorgeous sugar pears, or slicing it to bring to the table.
I know there are a lot of great ways to make a perfect roast turkey, but if you’re looking for easy and cheap but still want a delicious bird give the bag method a try!