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Roast Turkey in Cast Iron

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YouTube: Cast Iron Roast Turkey - 2017 (Part 1)'

In November of 2017 I tried slow-roasting a turkey in a huge cast iron skillet, and the result was incredible! This turkey took over six hours from start to finish, but over five hours of that time was simply letting it slow roast in the oven. If you have the time to slow-roast a turkey, give this a try:

Slow Roasted Cast Iron Turkey

Slow Roasted Cast Iron Turkey

This recipe began in early November of 2012, in preparation for Thanksgiving, and I 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 pan.

I've roasted turkeys in a huge cast iron dutch oven and a cast iron skillet, and they've been especially useful for cooking piles of food for many groups of people. Cast iron, 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 helps to cook the bird evenly: the hot iron contacts directly against the dark meat, giving it extra heat to cook. This means the dark meat is done at the same time as the white meat, and we can avoid drying out the white meat.

Tools needed

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.

Brining the Bird

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I've read about dry-brining the turkey with salt instead of using a wet brine. I like the results of a wet brine, as it keeps the meat moist and juicy; also a wet brine takes only one day as opposed to two to three days for a dry brine. For this recipe, I'd like to recommend using a buttermilk brine! After all, buttermilk is the best way to soak chicken in preparation for making fried chicken. If it's good enough for fried chicken, it's certainly good enough for roast turkey.

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 Roasting

The brine included spices to add flavor to the turkey. For the roasting, all we need are:

Preheat the oven to 325 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. Add salt and pepper to the inner cavity of the turkey, and coat the inside with salt and pepper.

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 it from the oven. The basting liquid is prepared in advance. Melt 1 stick (1/2 cup) of butter in a cast iron skillet, over low-medium heat. (For a turkey skin that looks more smooth and evenly colored, you may want to use clarified butter or ghee. The milk fat in the butter can tend to make the skin look blotchy, even though it tastes just fine.) Add the sprigs of thyme, rosemary and parsley to the butter, and sautee them in butter for about a minute. Remove these spices, and place them inside the turkey. Add 1 teaspoon paprika and stir it into the butter mixture. Turn off the heat.

Slice the onion in half and peel it. Crush the garlic cloves and peel them. Slice the lemon in half; we don't have to peel the lemon. Place the onion and lemon halves into the turkey. Add the garlic cloves to the inside of the turkey. Tie the legs of the turkey together with string, to keep these aromatics inside the bird as it cooks. The legs will also cook more evenly when they are pressed against the bird, and typing the legs together helps with this.

Slice the carrots and celery stalks into thirds. Slice the onion in half, peel them, and slice the halves again to quarter the onion.

Place the turkey in the center of the cast iron pan. Don't use a trivet or rack; place the turkey directly into the pan. Fold the wings back and underneath the bird; or you can cut off the wing tips. Either way, this will keep the wing tips from burning.

Use a basting brush to baste the butter mixture over the entire top and sides of the bird. Use as much of the butter mixture as you can! Sprinkle additional salt and pepper over the entire top of the turkey.

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.

Add the carrots and celery to the pan, placing them around the turkey. Pour one cup of white wine into the pan. Add the bay leaves to the pan. The carrots, celery, bay leaves and wine will mix with the juices from the bird as it cooks. Not only will this help to flavor the meat, it will also enhance the flavor of the gravy.

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Place the entire pan with the turkey into the oven. Roast at 325 degrees Fahrenheit until the breast temperature reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a few degrees below the target temperature of 165 degrees. That's because it's necessary to let the turkey rest after it comes out of the oven. "Carryover cooking" means the temperature of the bird will continue to rise after it is removed from the oven, and that will let it reach the goal of 165 degrees.

When the temperature of the turkey is around 100 degrees and there is still some time before the bird is finished, 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, with the saucepan still covered. This will produce turkey broth, which will be used in the gravy (see below).

When the turkey comes out of the oven, move the turkey from the skillet to the serving tray. This will let you use the pan drippings to make gravy (see below). Allow the bird to stand about 30 minutes before carving. Remove the garlic, lemon and onion from the turkey. You can now stuff the turkey with whatever stuffing you want.

Don't Forget the Gravy

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!

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, 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.) Remove the vegetables from the pan. Add three tablespoons of flour to the pan drippings. Use a whisk to mix them all together into a roux.

Remove the giblets 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.

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Additional Turkey Recipes