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There have been several reports that cooking a turkey very slowly, at a low temperature, ends up producing a very tender and juicy bird. In November of 2017 I gave this one a try, especially since I'd recently had great success slow-roasting a big pork shoulder using the Serious Eats recipe for slow roasted pork shoulder. This recipe also reverses a popular method for browning the skin of the turkey. Many turkey recipes say to begin by giving the turkey a blast of high heat at the beginning, then turning the temperature down to cook the inside of the bird. In this recipe we begin by cooking at a low temperature, then finish with a 500 degree blast at the end to crisp the skin.
|This recipe uses a huge cast iron skillet for roasting the turkey. I've also used a large cast iron dutch oven as a roasting pan (without a lid) with successful results. A dutch oven will work just fine for roasting the turkey; but it may be difficult to lift a huge turkey out of a deep cast iron pot. Also, the dutch oven would block the view of the roasted bird. A cast iron skillet would allow the entire turkey to be viewed, even as soon as it is taken out of the oven.|
A cast iron skillet large enough for a turkey can be found or purchased from a number of suppliers. The Lodge 15-inch skillet often sells at discount stores such as TJ Maxx-Marshall's-HomeGoods for about $40, and can be ordered from Amazon for around this price or a little more. An Asian-made imitation of the Lodge skillet, the Ozark Trail 15-inch skillet, sells for under $20 at Wal-Mart. And the Camp Chef 14-inch skillet can be ordered from many suppliers for around $25 or less.
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!
It can be expensive to purchase a whole gallon (four quarts) of buttermilk. A much less expensive solution is as follows: in a container over one gallon in size, such as a large bowl or plastic container, add one gallon of whole milk. Stir in 1 cup apple cider vinegar. Wait 15 to 20 minutes for the milk to curdle and take on the consistency of 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.
The brine included spices to add flavor to the turkey. For the roasting, all we need are:
Do not stuff the turkey! Because this is being cooked for a long time at a relatively low temperature, it is vital that the turkey cavity needs to be empty. Stuffing it with stuffing will prevent the inside of the turkey from cooking thoroughly, and there is a possibility bacteria could survive at the center without being killed by the oven heat. You can always prepare your stuffing separately, and stuff the turkey after it's completely finished roasting.
Preheat the oven to 225 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remove the turkey from the brine. 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.
Place the turkey directly into the cast iron pan. Add salt and pepper to the inner cavity of the turkey, and coat the inside with salt and pepper. Prepare a rub of 2 tablespoons kosher salt, 1 tablespoon ground black pepper, and 2 teaspoons baking powder. Mix them together, then vigorously rub them over the skin of the turkey.
Fold the wings back and underneath the turkey. Don't tie the legs together. In order for the skin to be dry, the legs need to be loose and away from the bird. Insert the probe thermometer into the breast – not the midsection, but the breast. The heavy cast iron will help with cooking the underside and dark meat of the turkey, so we only need to monitor the temperature of the breast.
And that's all you need to do. Place the cast iron pan with the turkey into the oven. Roast at 225 degrees Fahrenheit until the breast temperature reaches 150 degrees Fahrenheit.
Set the probe thermometer to alarm when the breast temperature reaches 150 degrees Fahrenheit. The low temperature is intentional: when the turkey rests, carryover cooking will raise the temperature about ten degrees. Meanwhile, we'll be giving the turkey a blast of 500 degree heat at the end, which will also raise the temperature of the bird.
This turkey does not require basting, until the very end – once it goes into the oven, you don't have to do a thing until it's time to remove it from the oven.
The turkey will take from between 4 to 6 hours to cook, depending on the size of the bird. During this time, use the giblets to prepare gravy (see below).
When the breast temperature reaches 150 degrees, remove the entire pan and the turkey from the oven. Cover the turkey with a foil tent, to allow it to continue cooking internally. Raise the oven temperature to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Let the turkey rest on your table or countertop under the foil, while the oven temperature rises.
When the oven temperature reaches 500 degrees, remove the foil from the turkey. Place the entire pan and turkey into the 500 degree oven, and roast for 15 minutes to crisp the skin.
Remove the pan and the turkey from the oven. At this point, use a basting brush to brush the pan juices over the skin and give the entire turkey a glossy look.
Move the turkey to a serving platter. You can now prepare gravy. Assign a kitchen volunteer to stuff the turkey while the gravy is being prepared.
Later, when the turkey is ready:
Prepare the gravy while the finished turkey is standing before being served.
Here's one of the best reasons to use a cast iron pan rather than one of those useless aluminum foil turkey roasters: you can use the same pan to prepare the gravy, without wasting those precious juices and scrapings!
When the cooking thermometer for the turkey registers between 90 and 100 degrees, prepare the giblets for gravy. Heat up a cast iron pan over medium heat for five to ten minutes. Cut one carrot and one stalk of celery into large pieces. (You don't have to peel the carrot!) Peel one onion and also cut it into large pieces.
Add oil to the pan, then sear the turkey giblets on both sides to brown them. When the giblets are browned, add chopped carrot, celery and onion and stir fry everything for about two to three minutes.
Add four cups of hot water to the pan and stir it all around. Cover the pan. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the temperature to a simmer. Keep the saucepan covered, and simmer for at least one hour. After one hour, you can turn the heat down to low to keep the broth hot.
After the turkey has been removed from the pot, move the turkey to a serving platter and stuff it. While the turkey is resting, place the cast iron pan onto your stovetop, and turn the stovetop heat up to between low and medium. (This may require two stovetop burners if the pan is especially large.) Add three tablespoons of flour to the pan drippings. Use a whisk to mix them all together into a roux. The roux should be thick, and add a little more flour if needed. Stir it briskly with the whisk, to break up clumps of flour.
Remove the giblets and vegetables from the saucepan full of broth, add the broth to the cast iron pan. Stir it all around at medium-low heat until it becomes a good, thick gravy. You can use a turkey baster to move the gravy into a gravy boat, or carefully pour it out of the pan into the serving vessel.
Serve the hot gravy along with your turkey.