Turkey

A Foolproof Method for Juicy (Not-Dry!) Roast Turkey

Your guests will thank you.

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October 30, 2018
Photo by Ty Mecham

In partnership with If You Care, we're highlighting recipes, tips, and videos that help take the pressure off this holiday season. Here, a low-maintenance Thanksgiving turkey recipe that's impossible to mess up (and never dry!) thanks to a clever trick: Roasting Bags.

Growing up in a Korean household, Thanksgivings were always a mishmash of East-meets-West foods: braised Korean short ribs; vegetable glass noodles known as japchae; and plenty of banchan side dishes like kimchi and pan-fried savory pancakes crowding the table alongside Stove Top Stuffing Mix (in later years replaced by Pepperidge Farm Herbed Seasoned Classic Stuffing); Entenmann's Pumpkin Pie (a favorite to this day); and a golden...chicken?

Yes, my childhood Thanksgivings were one markedly devoid of turkeys, the marquee star of any holiday spread. Scandalous! The large bird was deemed too dry to have a spot at the table; in its place was a decidedly more diminutive roast chicken that, to my father's taste, was still pretty dry, save the most luscious dark meat pieces. Instead of gravy, we'd make little piles of salt and pepper on our plates in which we'd dip pieces of shredded chicken torn directly off the carcass. It was a truly Korean-style way of enjoying the bird on a holiday we were learning to treat as our own.

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All this to say, it turns out my father's complaint of a dry, tough bird was more common than I knew. Roasting a turkey inevitably brings on a set of challenges many Americans try to cope with every November: Its size and proportion of light versus dark meat pieces necessitate some thought, a strategic parsing of timelines and tin foil.

You're just a few short hours away from succulent turkey goodness. Photo by Ty Mecham

I’m glad I've found an easier—nay, foolproof!—way, courtesy of Martha Stewart, to get the best of both worlds: tender hunks of juicy meat, with a nice caramelized crust that ensures you get some crispy skin, too.

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Top Comment:
“Long before the clear type of oven roasting bags, my mom would use a brown paper bag to roast a whole chicken in. She would oil the outside of the bag (cooking oil), put the chicken in and tie the bag with kitchen twine/string. Moist, juicy with lots of gravy. Been married 41 years and still roast my chicken this way. Over the past few years have had a tough time finding paper bags!!! Sign of the times. I know if one does a turkey this way, it will be scrumptious. I have also heard there is a way to bake an apple pie in a paper bag.”
— clwright
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Say hello to to your Thanksgiving sidekick, the roasting bag.

Those familiar with the French technique of cooking things en papillote (or how many Asian cultures wrap and steam food in large leaves) will know the drill. Here, we put the entire bird in the roasting bag, where it slowly steams to juicy perfection for most of the cooking time (a little over two hours for a 12-pound bird) in a low 325°F oven; towards the end, we bump up the heat to 425°F, cut the bag open, rolling it away from the bird, to give it a nice hot blast for another 45 minutes or so. No basting required.

Last chance for a sun tan! Roll that roasting bag way down to ensure you get nice, even heat all around. Photo by Ty Mecham

Exact cooking times depend on the size of your bird, of course, but the method is pretty simple. You'll want to give the turkey as much of a head start as possible, in terms of amping up flavors. Make sure to pat the skin dry before showering it with plenty of salt and pepper. Then, throw aromatics into the cavity, and tuck a simple herbed compound butter to spread in between the breast and skin, as well as the leg meat and skin. Finally, place the turkey in the bag, and then the bag on top of a rack placed inside a roasting pan. Fans of gravy with giblets and neck meat can toss the turkey neck and giblets (removed from their pouch) into the bag at this point as well.

Speaking of gravy, we've got helpful tips for you there, too. After the turkey's finished cooking, you'll want to transfer the bird to a large cutting board (preferably with a juice groove), and tent with foil for at least 30 minutes before you start carving. Remove the roasted turkey neck and giblets and let them cool for a bit before removing the meat from the bones and chopping the giblets to your liking. In the meantime, you can get going on your gravy.

First, carefully pour the drippings amassed in the bag into the roasting pan (you'll want to remove the rack, by the way), then discard the bag. Now pour those juices into a separate small pot or measuring cup. Place the empty roaster pan over a burner or two set to medium heat, depending on the size. Melt the butter until it foams, and then add in the flour, stirring until golden. Whisk in the reserved juices, stirring constantly (no lumps!), and more stock, until you get the gravy consistency you desire. If you like your gravy with giblets and turkey neck meat, you can stir those in now.

If you have any turkey haters or non-believers in your party, I urge you to try this method out this year. I, for one, would be so happy (and confident!) to offer up this juicy bird to my dad. If you'd like to practice on a smaller chicken in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, even better. Just don't be surprised if you find yourself looking for excuses to cook up a whole turkey long after the holidays.

Have you ever tried steam-cooking your turkey in a roasting bag? Share your experiences with us below!

Make dry Thanksgiving turkeys a thing of the past! In partnership with If You Care, makers of kitchen and household products with a low environmental impact, we're highlighting clever tips and low-lift yet delicious recipes to make your holiday season totally stress-free.

4 Comments

clwright November 7, 2018
Long before the clear type of oven roasting bags, my mom would use a brown paper bag to roast a whole chicken in. She would oil the outside of the bag (cooking oil), put the chicken in and tie the bag with kitchen twine/string. Moist, juicy with lots of gravy. Been married 41 years and still roast my chicken this way. Over the past few years have had a tough time finding paper bags!!! Sign of the times. I know if one does a turkey this way, it will be scrumptious. I have also heard there is a way to bake an apple pie in a paper bag.
 
tia October 31, 2018
I had good luck using freeze dried garlic on a turkey. I ground it up and mixed it with the salt and did my best to shove the mix under the turkey skin. I don't even like turkey and it was pretty good. I might have to give a roasting bag a try. In the past, I've skipped turkey entirely and this year we're having brisket.
 
Emily October 30, 2018
I've made a bacon-wrapped turkey the past 4 years. It is practically foolproof because there's no way a turkey wrapped in bacon (and bacon-butter) could ever dry out. The flavor is amazing too because bacon.
 
Doug R. October 30, 2018
This is basically how my mother does it, although she makes the bag from foil (my sisters have tried to get her to use roasting bags, but they've say in the cupboard for years now). We're more a fan of brining in our home, though.