Foolproof: The Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey

Correction Nov. 24, 2011

We left out a key step in SAVEUR Editor-In-Chief James Oseland's roasting instructions: After sliding the turkey into the oven, immediately lower the heat to 350 degrees.

From roasting, smoking or even frying the bird, to particulars of brines and dry rubs, how to cook the Thanksgiving turkey is a debate about as old as the holiday itself. Host Audie Cornish talks with SAVEUR Editor-In-Chief James Oseland about his fail-proof method for producing the tastiest, juiciest Thanksgiving turkey.

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AUDIE CORNISH, BYLINE: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish. Here's one less thing to worry about as we celebrate Thanksgiving this week: preparing and cooking the turkey. From roasting, smoking or even frying the bird to particulars of brines and dry rubs, it's a debate about as old as the Thanksgiving holiday itself. Well, James Oseland joins us with what he calls a fool-proof method for roasting turkey. He is the editor-in-chief of Saveur magazine. He's in our New York Bureau. James, welcome to the program.

JAMES OSELAND: Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: You say you prefer to roast the bird. For a while, though, I feel like there was a movement of deep fryers. There are people who were like if you're going to show off, it involves three gallons of oil.

OSELAND: Deep fryers, smoked turkeys, there was that turducken period, which I think a lot of us want to try and forget about.

CORNISH: Yeah, let's not talk about that.

OSELAND: To my mind, roasting really is sort of the pinnacle, the ultimate way to cook turkey. It allows its flavors to come through just so clearly and so beautifully. And it just couldn't be better.

CORNISH: Now, walk us through the preparations. Please tell me that it's not like a week in advance or something like that. Like how soon can you start dealing with the turkey? 'Cause I have a very small refrigerator.

OSELAND: Me, too. This method came to me by way of the Saveur contributor, Molly Stevens, who has a wonderful book out called "All About Roasting." It calls for dry salting the bird rather than brining it. All you do is you simply salt the turkey - kosher salt is best because it's going to melt very well. You want to rub it with a lot of freshly ground pepper. I like a good, coarse grind on my pepper. And then put it on a rack, put this turkey directly into the refrigerator uncovered for at least eight hours or up to two days. And as you check on it, you're going to be kind of alarmed. It's going to look like, oh my gosh, the turkey is drying out, it needs moisture, it needs covering, it needs a hug, it needs something. But, no, just keep it in there. And then meanwhile, another great tip is make a stock from turkey parts that you're going to pick up from a butcher. Roast those in the oven two or three hours until they're nice and brown and wonderful smelling, put them in a pot, fill that pot with a good amount of water. Add some aromatics, some pepper, some carrots, some celery, some parsley. Make a wonderful stock at a low simmer for a good two or three hours. The next day - so, we're at the morning of Thanksgiving now - you take your turkey out of the refrigerator, transfer it to a roasting rack, you add about two cups or so of that wonderful broth that you've made the day before, you crank up your oven to 450, you leave the turkey out for a good two hours out of the fridge before putting it in the oven. So, you roast it probably about 13 minutes per pound for a medium-sized bird. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: After putting the turkey in the oven, immediately lower the temperature to 350 degrees.]

CORNISH: And you haven't answered, of course, one of the most important questions of Thanksgiving: stuffing inside or outside the bird?

OSELAND: It took a while to really believe this, but it's best to put the stuffing, when it in fact becomes a dressing, separate to the turkey. To cook it separate...

CORNISH: Oh, your cooking time is taking into account no stuffing in the bird. And you're saying that there's no, you know, blast towards the end of my (unintelligible)...

OSELAND: No crazy pyrotechnic blasts for the turkey.

CORNISH: I sound like a terrible cook, huh?

OSELAND: No, really, all you need to do is maybe once or twice turn that roasting pan. I tell you, you will have a turkey that you're not even going to need the stuffing.

CORNISH: This seems pretty straightforward but it's two pages of instructions in eight steps. So, how, you know, easy is this for a novice, someone who's going to have many relatives standing around them giving advice?

OSELAND: Well, I'll tell you, having made fairly recently two turkeys exactly by the method that I just described and having witnessed a good six or seven other turkeys made by this method also, it's almost astoundingly streamlined and easy. I think it's like many things in life - we want to complicate, we want the new and the flashy, we want turducken. But, you know what? At the end of the day, a simple, dry, salted, roast turkey, fabulous, fabulous. You could not do better. And it really is absolute Norman Rockwell, delicious perfection.

CORNISH: James Oseland is the editor-in-chief at Saveur magazine, speaking with us from New York. The article, The Perfect Bird, appears in Saveur's November issue. James, thanks so much.

OSELAND: Thank you so much for having me.

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