It’s the centerpiece of holiday joy as a smiling family gathers around a perfectly golden, whole turkey for their holiday meal. The cook looks perfectly calm and refreshed as they carry their bird to the table. But the truth is? Every year home cooks spend hours of uncertainty trying to find just the right way to make their turkey turn out like they do in the movies.
The truth about a turkey is that they are truly a blank slate for whatever flavors you want to add. Today the ever-popular deep fried turkey still reigns supreme—but it also sends lots of people to the emergency room. Not to mention it’s messy and costly to prepare. And if you don’t have the outdoor space for such a feat, it’s a good time to consider the classic oven-roasted turkey. In this version, we’ll slather our bird in a compound butter made with herbs and then glaze it with a reduction of apple cider and real maple syrup for a little something sweet with the savory.
But before we dive into the recipe, let’s discuss some of the tips for center stage turkey success.
-Choose the turkey that’s best for you. Fresh or frozen, organic, free range, or wild…there are lots of choices and you won’t really go wrong with any of them. Wild turkeys may have a stronger flavor than your regular Butterball, and organic or free range will cost more than some brands. So take into consideration what’s important to you and ask your store staff for help if you are unsure.
-Plan ahead. You can’t cook a frozen turkey. By planning ahead, we mean way ahead. If your turkey is frozen (and it likely will be) you’ll need 3-4 days to thaw it safely. Turkeys should be thawed either in the fridge in a large roasting pan (to catch liquid as it drips off) or you can follow one of the cold water methods but that means keeping an uncooked turkey in your kitchen sink all doggone day and changing the water every 30 minutes. Yuck. However you go about it, just make sure your turkey is completely thawed before the big day.
-Remove the giblets. It’s a classic scene—the newbie cook leaves the giblet bag inside the turkey. Well, you know what? So what if you do! Giblets are just some of the turkey’s insides like the liver, neck, and other parts that some cooks love to roast for gravy or make stock with, and if you forget and roast them with your bird, it’s perfectly fine. In a whole turkey, you’ll usually find the giblet bag under a flap of skin at the neck. Just take it out and throw it away. You should also check the cavity of your bird to make sure there’s nothing extra tucked in there either.
-Take steps for a crispy skin. Does anyone like flabby, squishy skin on their turkey? Nope. That’s why you need to take every effort to get the skin of your turkey golden and crisp. To do this, you’ll want to make sure your turkey is a dry as possible before you season it. Pat it thoroughly with paper towels. Get all the cracks and crannies dry on the outside—like under the wings and behind the legs. If you aren’t sure if it’s dry, dry it again. Then season your bird liberally with the seasoned butter-making sure to get it up under the skin so it can reach the meat, and evenly over the outside. If you have a convection setting on your oven, this is a great time to use that because it promotes crisping. But if you don’t, no worries.
--To foil, or not to foil? Once your turkey is ready for the oven, it’s just a matter of patience. Every 40 minutes or so, you’ll want to baste it with the cider-syrup glaze and put it back in the oven. Many recipes will recommend tenting your turkey with foil after the first 30 minutes of cooking time but it won’t really be necessary unless certain parts of your turkey are getting very dark. Then you can cover it lightly if needed. Otherwise it’s fine to leave the foil off.
How to tell if your turkey is done
When your turkey is done (you’ll need to check its temperature with a meat thermometer—stick it into the thigh meat but not to the bone—and it should register about 170 degrees) you’ll want to remove it from the oven and cover it lightly with foil. Allow it to rest 15 to 20 minutes on the counter. Don’t cut it. This allows the juices to get back into the meat where they belong so they don’t run all over your counter.
Roasting a turkey isn’t hard. It just takes some planning and good time management. Depending on the size of your turkey, it could take up to 3 hours for your turkey to cook. Use that time to prep other sides, decorate a festive table or spend time with your family. You’ll be so pleased with the final result!
Cider-Maple Roast Turkey
- 2 cups apple cider
- 1/3 cup real maple syrup
- 1, 12-pound whole turkey, thawed, rinsed and patted dry
- ¾ cup softened butter
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1 tablespoon pepper
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- 1 medium onion, sliced in to quarters
- 1, 1-pound bag baby carrots
- 4 stalks celery, sliced into thirds
- 2 cups chicken broth
What You’ll Need
In a saucepan, mix the cider and maple syrup. Bring to a boil and reduce until there’s about ½ cup of liquid left—this can take up to an hour or more so it’s fine to do it a day ahead.
When you’re ready to prepare your turkey, preheat your oven to 375 and make the butter. In a bowl, mix the butter, thyme leaves, salt, pepper and lemon zest. Transfer your turkey into your roasting pan, breast side down, and rub the butter under the skin (you can turn the turkey over to get it on the breast meat and then turn it back over) and all over the skin on the outside of the turkey covering it thoroughly.
Add the onion, celery and carrots around the turkey and add the chicken broth to the bottom of the pan.
When your glaze is ready, use a basting brush to gently cover the bird in a thin layer of the glaze. No more than 3 tablespoons or so.
Place the turkey, uncovered in the oven and roast for 30 minutes. Turn the temperature down to 350 and continue to roast, basting your turkey lightly with the glaze every 40 minutes until golden and cooked through—about 2 ½ to 3 hours depending on the size of your bird.
When your turkey tests done, (170 degrees Fahrenheit at the thigh) remove it from the oven and cover the turkey lightly with foil to rest for 15-20 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter or slice and serve.