Slow-Roasted Turkey

November 8, 2014

Test Kitchen-Approved

Author Notes: This method produces an amazingly crisp skin and some very juicy meat. It requires a lot of time and a very low oven temperature, so it's a good method for those with kitchens with two ovens (lucky!) or for when you're cooking the turkey ahead of time and reheating gently before the big meal.Erin McDowell

Food52 Review: WHO: Erinmcdowell is our Test Kitchen Manager. She wears bandanas and has a dog named Brimley.
WHAT: A turkey that embodies the moral, “Slow and steady wins the race.”
HOW: Place your turkey on a rack in a roasting pan and butter him up. Stuff the bird with lemon and herbs, then roast low and slow for 10 hours, basting frequently. An hour before dinner starts, crank up the heat and finish the turkey for that crispy, golden skin.
WHY WE LOVE IT: This foolproof method ensures a turkey with snappy skin and juicy meat. Plus, you do all of the heavy lifting ahead of time, which means less stress during the hour before the meal: Start the turkey early in the morning, then finish the cooking when your guests arrive.
The Editors

Serves: a lot
Prep time: 48 hrs
Cook time: 11 hrs

Ingredients

  • 14 pounds turkey
  • 4 ounces (1 stick) softened butter (preferably something with high butter fat, like Plugrá or Kerrygold)
  • 5 lemons, halved
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 4 sprigs sage
  • 1 pinch Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, for seasoning
  • 1 cup white wine
In This Recipe

Directions

  1. OPTIONAL FIRST STEP: One of the keys to a miraculously crispy skin is a VERY dry turkey. The best way to accomplish this is to air dry your turkey (in the refrigerator) for 1 to 2 days before you roast. I know this sounds a little crazy, and I do have the luxury of a second fridge at home, but I do it with my chickens too—and it makes a huge difference. Unwrap the turkey, rinse it, and pat it dry inside and out with paper towels. Then place the turkey onto a tray or into a roasting pan and refrigerate, uncovered, for 24 to 48 hours.
  2. Preheat your oven to 250° F. Remove the wing tips or tuck them behind the turkey by bending them backwards and securing them near the neck. Tie the legs tightly together. Place the turkey on a roasting rack inside a roasting pan.
  3. Use your hands to evenly cover the outside of the turkey with the softened butter. Make sure to get the sides.
  4. Stuff the inside of the turkey with the lemon and herb sprigs. Season the turkey well with salt and pepper (inside and out). Pour the white wine into the base of the roasting pan.
  5. Roast the turkey, basting every hour or so (you can go 2 to 3 hours safely without basting, but every hour is best), until the skin is crisp and evenly golden, about 10 hours. (Basting often is the best way to ensure a crisp skin and a moist interior. You could not baste it as often, but the more you baste it, the crisper the skin, the more even the browning, and the juicier the interior.) At this point the turkey can be safely cooled and held until you're ready to reheat and serve.
  6. Turn up the oven temperature to 375° F. Roast the turkey for 40 minutes, until the skin is even crisper and more golden and the meat is fully cooked through. Let cool at least 15 to 30 minutes before carving.
  • This recipe is a Wildcard Contest Winner!
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Reviews (30) Questions (6)

30 Reviews

Molly November 16, 2016
If I brined the turkey, would that impact cooking time?
 
Jeff P. November 19, 2016
Hi Molly,<br /><br />Wow, this is a great question. I can't believe I've not seen it before! I may just have to run off to my kitchen to test the difference.<br /><br />In theory, brining would increase the water content, adding an additional 5-10% of weight in the meat tissue. Given that we're talking a whole bird here, though, it'd be about half that, due to bones, etc (about 50% of a bird is edible meat, from what I read; I haven't tested).<br /><br />So, a 14 lb / 6350g turkey would end up weighing, after brining ... I'm going to skip the pounds and just do grams: ~6500-6600g.<br /><br />That's an additional 150-250g of water that needs to be heated from 40°F/~4°C (you should be brining in a fridge for food safety reasons) to ~160°F/70°C — a ~65°C increase. And since it's 1 calorie to heat 1 gram of water 1°C, we're conveniently able to do some math: 150*65=9.750 and 250*65=16,250, and since 1 calorie = 4.184 joules, that's a range of 40,000-68,000 joules.<br /><br />I know that we're far, far away from turkey at the moment. (I'm enjoying thinking about this way too much. I swear, I'm a much more interesting dinner guest than this response would leave you to believe.)<br /><br />Since a watt is defined as "1 joule per second", we can get a really hand-wavey crazy approximation of how much time this would take in an oven now. If an electric oven runs at ~2,000 watts, we can say the number of seconds needed to heat the extra water in the bird is 20 to 34 seconds.<br /><br />Now, I'm assuming that 100% of the energy that the oven is consuming transfers directly into the turkey. And that the heat transfer through the muscle tissue is instant. And that adding water doesn't cause chemical differences. And that I did my math right.<br /><br />But even if my assumptions have the numbers off by an order of magnitude, and it takes 200 to 340 seconds longer, brining the bird shouldn't make any meaningful difference in cooking time over a 10+ hour cooking time.<br /><br />At least, in theory. Of course, in theory, there's no difference between theory and practice, but in practice, there is.<br /><br />Happy Roasting!<br />Jeff<br /><br />P.S. I recommend using a probe thermometer and setting the alarm to beep when the turkey interior reaches ~150°F. (Carryover should do the rest.) That way, it doesn't matter how long it takes...
 
John November 26, 2015
I was all excited about trying this but unfortunately my 20 lb. turkey is done 4 hours early. Trying wrapping tightly in foil and keeping warm in oven until then...hope it is ok!
 
erin.obrien.752 November 27, 2015
I had the same thing happen with my 18 lb bird. It wasn't dry, but the white meat had that mushy mouth feel that happens when you overlook it. I'd like to try it again, but I think that I would start checking the temperature of the bird at around eight hours. My guess is that my bird would have been perfect sometime between 9-10 hrs. At ten,mi started to check the temperature thinking that my larger bird would take longer to cook and it was well past done.
 
Katherine November 19, 2016
1. I also am going to do a 20 lb. bird, and I like to stuff the bird. Never had a problem in 48 years of marriage. However, I heed your warning. I always heat the stuffing well before I stuff. Will this alleviate the problem? <br />2. I am not using a fresh turkey this year (has to do with cost sharing) and the frozen turkeys are all full of brine. I can never get the timing just right. Sounds from the responses that the timing is pretty iffy anyway. However? <br />any guidance?
 
diane A. November 17, 2015
Can I stuff the turkey with dressing.
 
skigolfgirl November 9, 2015
This method may not be safe. The turkey must reach a temperature of 140 degrees within 4 hours for it to be safe so it is recommended that you test with a thermometer to insure that it has done so. Also, basting does nothing, just rolls of the skin and prolongs cook time due to opening the oven.
 
Bascula December 3, 2014
To Nicole: I regularly slow-cook chickens in this way. They 'marinate' overnight in a dry rub of seasonings, then I cook them at 250 for about 5 hours (this would be like a 4-5 lb bird). They come out very well - brown and tender.
 
pamseif November 28, 2014
I did this for Thanksgiving dinner and it turned out great. I cooked at 250 with my convection oven. It cooked faster than conventional so I was surprised it was cooked in about 6 hours instead of 10. I forgot to baste as often as recommended. It looked and tasted great.Thanks for the recipe.
 
holly November 26, 2014
My 14lb bird has just thawed mostly after 4 days in the fridge. Eek! Now I won't have a full 24 hours to let it dry in fridge but plan to stick it in there as long as possible. This also means I'll probably be slow roasting all day tomorrow. The Question is: Can I skip pulling the bird out after 10 hrs and reheating it? Can I just slow roast it longer and raise the temp after 10 hours to finish roasting and crisp skin (in place of reheating)? If so, after initial 10 hours should I still bump it to 375 for 40 minutes, reduce the 40-minute time, OR just keep oven same temp and continue roasting some period of time after 10 hours. Help! I don't improvise well. New cook.
 
Courtenay P. November 27, 2014
I don't know if you're still needing the answer, but your first suggestion was great. If the timing of your dinner works with that, just slow roast, then raise the temp for crisping, and skip the reheating portion all together. I'm sure your meal will be amazing!
 
Alfredo C. November 26, 2014
Ive seen other people advocate cooking the turkey upside down to get the juices to run down into the breast meat, but they are talking about higher temps for longer times. Do you think this would make a difference with the slow cook method?
 
Lisa B. November 24, 2014
I am cooking a 12 pound Turkey. How long should I slow roast it at 250 and how long should I leave it in the oven once I turn it up the heat to 375?
 
Kieanna M. November 22, 2014
This sounds awesome! Any recommendation on what wine to use? I've never cooked with it before.
 
Kate R. November 21, 2014
How does this affect the pan drippings? Are you still able to make a gravy?
 
Rick S. November 19, 2014
I am definitely going to try this next week. Question: What if I still really want to add stuffing? Can I do that?
 
Author Comment
Erin M. November 20, 2014
Stuffing traditionally makes a bird take longer to cook, but I always cook mine separately, so I have to confess I'm not sure how it would affect cook times here. If you try it out, definitely let us know!
 
FieldandFurrow November 17, 2014
This method is so appealing, largely due to the ability to do the heavy lifting in advance. I am also wondering whether how the cooking time would be adjusted for a 20lb bird. Any suggestions?
 
Author Comment
Erin M. November 18, 2014
See my answer to weshook below!
 
gjolene November 17, 2014
Like Judy I'm also wondering about brining before air drying in the fridge, what do you advise?
 
Author Comment
Erin M. November 18, 2014
Yes you can brine before you air-dry!
 
weshook November 16, 2014
Perfect timing! I was just wondering about slow roasting a turkey since I need to cook one on a day I have to work. Of course I won't be able to baste as often but it should still be delicious. Any thoughts on how much to increase the cooking time for a 20 lb. turkey?
 
Author Comment
Erin M. November 18, 2014
I would start by increasing the time to 12 hours and check the internal temperature at that time. Remember it will continue cooking during the "crisping" time once you turn up the temperature. You might want to increase that time to 1 hour.
 
weshook November 23, 2014
I tried this out with my 20 lb. turkey while I was at work so I was unable to baste every hour. I did baste the first two hours. At eleven hours when I finally got home, the turkey was overcooked. Still delicious but falling off the bone. Never even got to the crisping temperature.
 
Judy_N November 12, 2014
Would I be able to brine my turkey before I air dry it in the refrigerator?
 
Author Comment
Erin M. November 18, 2014
Yes absolutely!
 
Radish November 12, 2014
I always wondered if this method was safe. My Mother always did the Christmas turkey overnight and we had Christmas dinner/breakfast at about 11:00 with wild rice and what we called duck butter which was butter infused with a great deal of Worchester sauce. My sister and I always wondered why we didn't die. I would not mind trying this again if I knew it was healthy.
 
Author Comment
Erin M. November 12, 2014
Because the temperature on the inside of the oven is always a safe one, you're ok - but I definitely understand the worry. The thing that always gets me is some people are afraid to leave their oven on overnight, but it produces some awesomely delicious slow cooked foods!
 
Nicole A. November 12, 2014
can i do this with a whole chicken too or would it dry out faster because it's not as meaty?
 
Author Comment
Erin M. November 12, 2014
I think you could do it with a chicken, but I would obviously severely reduce the cooking time - I'm guessing 3-4 hours at this temperature. I will say I do the optional first step of air-drying with chickens and it's always a winner!