Talking Turkey: A How-To

Issue 230

Indypendent Staff Nov 19, 2017

Maybe it is Thanksgiving, maybe it is Friendsgiving. You’ve been bragging all over town about the feast you are going to serve up. Your family, friends, neighbors, your bar buddies and your bail bondsman will be arriving at your pad in a number of hours. The simple truth of the matter is you have no idea how to roast a turkey. Or maybe you thought you knew how but then you caught the end of a Food Network segment proclaiming that you’ve been doing it wrong all these years. Relax. Have an eggnog.

Cooking is for everyone, regardless of your budget or experience. And more than anything it should be fun! Life is stressful enough in the age of latent capitalist apocalypse!

It seems every year about this time a cast of celebrity chefs begin making the rounds, presenting the public new recipes for what is a traditional American meal. Two years ago was all about the wet brine. But no, we learned last year wet brines sap turkey of its natural flavor, dry brining works best. That’s the beauty of food, there are a million ways of cooking basic traditional staples. It is also a side effect of the hyper-commercialization of food and can be confusing.

Here’s a simple recipe for roasting turkey.* You might want to do some research on your own and decide which brining technique you prefer best or skip that step entirely. These instructions will work whether you have brined or not.

We recommend practicing a bit in advance on a chicken, essentially the turkey’s smaller cousin. Just adjust the ratios of butter and seasoning by about a third or half depending on the difference in pounds between the two winged creatures. After you’ve practiced a bit, you might want to put your own stamp on the animal. Try adding a teaspoon or two of paprika or cayenne, or substituting creole spices or Old Bay for fresh herbs. I like to sear my birds on the stovetop using a large, cast-iron enamel pan before putting them in the oven. Maybe I’ll share that recipe next year, but we’re keeping it basic this time.


1 fresh turkey (10–12 pounds)

1 stick of butter

1 tablespoon each of finely chopped parsley, rosemary, thyme and sage

1 lemon

1 head of garlic, protruding stalk and papery exterior removed

2 tablespoons of salt

1 tablespoon of pepper

Special equipment

Large roasting pan

Cooking twine

Cheese grater

Tin foil

Meat thermometer


Remove turkey and butter from refrigerator to bring to room temperature about one hour before beginning preparations. When you are ready to get cooking, set your oven to 450 degrees. Finely grate lemon to produce about a tablespoon of zest. Halve lemon. Combine herbs, salt, pepper, lemon zest and the juice of one squeezed lemon half with butter.

Remove turkey from wrapping and extract any innards in the bird’s cavity. If you want to get thrifty, you can mince up the gizzard, heart and liver into a stuffing or rice dressing or feed them to your dog. Otherwise these items can be tossed.

Wash and pat turkey dry with a paper towel. Using your hands (you can do it!), rub turkey all over with the lemon-herb-butter mixture. Gently tear and reach under its skin with your fingers and rub the region above the breasts with the flavoring mixture. Tuck turkey wings underneath the bird so they will not burn.

Insert garlic head and remaining lemon half into the turkey’s cavity. Tie the turkey’s legs together over the cavity. This prevents the bird from drying out as it cooks and locks in the piquancy of the garlic and lemon inside.

Place bird on roasting pan breast side up and insert into the middle rung of your oven. After 20 minutes or when the top is dark brown, reduce the temperature to 325 degrees. From here on out keep an eye on your bird but resist the temptation to baste. While it will give you something to do, opening and closing the oven frequently interrupts the cooking process. If the breasts look like they are beginning to burn, carefully give your turkey a tinfoil hat.

After three to three and a half hours, or once its temperature reaches 160 degrees in multiple locations, remove turkey from the oven. Wait 20 minutes before carving.

*If you are looking for a meatless centerpiece dish to fill the turkey void, we highly recommend culinary podcaster Dan Pashman’s “veggieducken.” The recipe is available at

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Photo credit: Alison Marras.

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