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I compiled this recipe in early November of 2012, in preparation for Thanksgiving, and have been updating and tweaking it over the past few years. Like every aspiring cook, I wanted a "perfect" turkey on my table: one with moist, juicy meat and crisp brown skin. I looked at a lot of different recipes for roast turkey and considered many different methods, from the original roast turkey (325 degrees F the entire time, end of story) to a dry salt brine, to "blasting" the turkey at 500 degrees for the entire cooking time. Some recipes said to flip the turkey; other said to put it into the oven legs first. The high heat method warned the reader to have a clean oven. I considered them all, and finally compiled this recipe with bits and pieces from all of them. This recipe may not win any awards, but it gives a tasty, well-cooked turkey that is anything but dry. It also gave me the chance to use my favorite cooking tool, a cast iron dutch oven.
I'm fortunate to own a huge cast iron dutch oven, and it's been especially useful for cooking piles of food for many groups of people. That, of course, makes it a natural to be the vessel of choice to cook a Thanksgiving turkey. Here's one recipe for preparing a holiday bird that you may find useful, especially if you have a big cooking pot. What's more, the heavy iron cooked this turkey very quickly: the bird was fully done in an amount of ranging from one-third to one-half less than the traditional oven roasting time of three to four hours.
|This recipe uses a huge cast iron dutch oven, with a lid, for roasting the turkey. I've also used a large cast iron skillet as a roasting pan with successful results. The skillet was used for Thanksgiving of 2015, when my kitchen saw the preparation of an entirely different roast turkey: a tribute to horror film icon Vincent Price. See also: Roast Turkey Wayside Inn|
Be sure the turkey is thawed out two days before serving. This will give you plenty of time to brine the bird. Prepare your brine:
The good part about this brine is that it doesn't have to be boiled in advance!
In a container over one gallon in size, such as a large bowl or plastic container, add one gallon milk. Stir in 1 cup apple cider vinegar. Wait 15 to 20 minutes for the milk to curdle and become buttermilk. Stir in salt, sage, thyme, rosemary, pepper. The brine is ready to be used.
Remove giblets and neck from the cavity. Place the giblets into a plastic container or Ziploc bag, and store them in the refrigerator until the turkey is cooked. The giblets will be used for making gravy.
Rinse the outside and inside the turkey. Add the brine solution to a container bigger than the bird, such as an ice chest, cooler, or even a plastic storage bin. Submerge the turkey in the brine, and cover with a lid. The container must be kept at a temperature lower than 40 degrees F for the brining. (One option is to use a brining bag: add the turkey and brine to the bag, tie the bag closed, and place the bag in a container packed in ice.)
Allow the turkey to marinate for a minimum of 12 hours for a small turkey (8-10 lbs) and at least a full day for a bigger bird. Longer brining time is okay; I used this recipe to brine a 7-pound chicken for over 24 hours before cooking, and it still turned out juicy and delicious. Be sure to rinse the turkey and pat it dry before adding additional seasoning for roasting.
Place the cast iron pot, empty but with the lid on, into the oven. Preheat oven and iron pot to 450 degrees F.
Prepare a spice rub of your favorite poultry spices, such as thyme, rosemary, black pepper, paprika, and any other spices you prefer.
Slice the carrots and celery stalks into thirds. Slice the onion in half, peel them, and slice the halves again to quarter the onion.
This turkey does not require basting – once it goes into the oven, you don't have to do a thing until it's time to remove the lid. The basting mixture is prepared in advance while the pot is heating, so it can be applied to the turkey after it goes into the blazing hot cast iron pot. In a saucepan, melt 2 sticks (1 cup) of butter. Pour the butter through a fine strainer into a separate warming pan (such as a cast iron pan), and strain the fat out of the butter to produce a clarified butter. (If you prefer, look in the international food section of the supermarket, or go to an ethnic market that serves Indian food (India the country, that is), and purchase some ghee. This is clarified butter.) Mix 1 teaspoon paprika and 1 teaspoon ground pepper into this liquid. Keep the warming pan on the stovetop at a very low heat, to keep the basting liquid melted so it can easily be poured over the top of the turkey.
Thoroughly rinse the turkey, and discard the brine mixture. Dry off the turkey with cloth or paper towels, including the inner cavity. It doesn't have to be bone-dry, but at least so it won't soak your hands when you lift and move the bird. Apply the dry rub, rubbing it over the entire surface of the turkey.
Stuff the turkey cavity with the onion, carrots, celery, sprigs of thyme, and the bay leaves.
When the oven is at 450 degrees F, CAREFULLY remove the dutch oven and place it on your stovetop. Remove the lid. (Remember, this is a VERY HOT and VERY HEAVY iron pot! Use heavy gloves or oven mitts, and be careful.) Place a trivet on the floor of the dutch oven. Place the turkey on top of the trivet, breast side up. Spread the basting mixture over the entire top of the bird, to produce a crisp and dark skin. (Use all of the basting liquid now!)
Cover the pot with the iron lid – again, remember this is a HOT piece of iron! – and place the covered pot into your oven. Close the oven door, and immediately lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. This will cause the temperature of the pot to gradually decrease as the oven cools, though slowly. It should take 30 minutes to an hour for the dutch oven temperature to reduce, to 350 degrees F.
It is not necessary to add any additional liquid to braise the turkey, because the turkey has been brined and coated with the basting mixture. The turkey and the vegetables will release their own liquid as they cook.
At this point, place the turkey giblets into a saucepan. Add four cups of water to the saucepan. Bring it to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for at least thirty minutes. This will produce turkey broth, which will be used in the gravy (see below).
Bake the turkey in the covered dutch oven for six minutes per pound in the covered dutch oven. After this time, remove the lid and place it aside to cool. Leave the uncovered pot with the turkey in the oven, with the temperature unchanged, for two to three minutes per pound. The turkey will continue roasting for the remaining time with the pot uncovered.
The turkey will be well within the safe cooking temperature after only two minutes per pound of additional roasting. I personally find an internal temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit to be my preferred temperature: at that temperature, the turkey is still solid enough to move from the pot without falling apart; but everything is thoroughly cooked down to the bone, even with a large turkey. Begin testing the temperature of the turkey to see if it has reached 180 degrees F. If the temperature is well below 180 degrees, check the temperature again in 30 minutes; otherwise, check every 15 minutes. When the temperature has reached 180 degrees, carefully remove the pot from oven and place it to cool, while the turkey rests. Allow the bird to stand about 15 minutes before carving.
Remove the mirepoix vegetables (onions, celery, carrots) from the turkey, and use them to make gravy (see below). You can now stuff the turkey with whatever stuffing you want.
|Turkey in the pot,|
without removing the lid
60 minutes (1 hour)
1 hour 6 minutes
1 hour 12 minutes
1 hour 18 minutes
1 hour 24 minutes
1 hour 30 minutes
1 hour 36 minutes
1 hour 42 minutes
1 hour 48 minutes
1 hour 54 minutes
|Remaining cooking time,|
after removing the lid
minimum cooking time
1 hour 20 minutes
1 hour 28 minutes
1 hour 36 minutes
1 hour 44 minutes
1 hour 52 minutes
2 hours 8 minutes
2 hours 16 minutes
2 hours 24 minutes
2 hours 32 minutes
2 hours 40 minutes
Roast until a meat thermometer inserted into the side of the bird, just before the thigh (but not into the thigh itself), reaches 180 degrees F. Allow the bird to stand about 30 minutes before carving.
Prepare the gravy while the finished turkey is standing before being served.
Here's one of the best reasons to use a cast iron dutch oven rather than one of those useless aluminum foil turkey roasters: you can use the same pot to prepare the gravy, without wasting those precious juices and scrapings!
As noted above, the giblets are simmered in a saucepan along with 4 cups of water to produce turkey broth. After the turkey has been removed from the pot, pour the entire saucepan full of broth, and the giblets, into the dutch oven. Gather the used mirepoix vegetables from the turkey – the onions, celery, and carrots – and add them to the pot. Pour three cups of chicken broth into the pot. Place the pot onto the stovetop burner at medium heat, cover the pot, and bring it to a boil. Uncover the pot, and stir the boiling stock for about ten minutes. This will reduce the liquid.
Remove the large pieces of meat and vegetables, using a slotted spoon. Continue stirring the broth.
Next, add flour to a sifter and sift it into the broth. Don't simply dump the flour into the pot, because it will congeal and form big ugly lumps. Sifting the flour into the pot will still produce lumps, but they will be much smaller in size. You can then rapidly stir the broth with a whisk to dissolve the lumps.
Using a turkey baster, remove the stock from the dutch oven, and transfer it into a big glass or metal serving vessel, such as a big measuring cup. Place the sifter over a glass or metal bowl, and pour the broth through the sifter into the bowl, to strain out the extra clumps.
Serve the hot gravy along with your turkey.
|In November of 2014, I experimented and used the recipe for Skillet Roasted Chicken to cook a 12-pound turkey in cast iron at 500 degrees Fahrenheit. The result: an excellent, well-cooked turkey that took only ONE HOUR AND FIVE MINUTES to roast! See the results here: 500 Degree Cast Iron Roast Turkey|