Barbara Kafka's Simple Roast Turkey

October 28, 2015

Test Kitchen-Approved

Author Notes:

To make Kafka's Giblet Gravy to go with the bird, see here. Barbara Kafka’s high heat-roasting technique ruffled feathers in the 1990s (500 degrees! No rack, no trussing, no basting!)—until everyone realized it gives you crackly-skinned turkey in no time at all. There's no salt, which isn’t a typo. The bird is so juicy you won’t miss it. Some notes from Kafka: "Many Thanksgivings at my house have proved the high-heat method to be ideal. A fifteen-pound turkey at room temperature takes two hours to roast. However, it may take several hours for the turkey to reach room temperature. While the turkey is sitting out, cover it loosely with a towel, otherwise the skin will dry out.

There are certain things to think of to ensure success before beginning: remove the giblet bag from the interior of the bird. Remove the wing tips. Make sure there is a pan big enough for the turkey without its touching the sides of the pan. Do not truss.

Consider whether the bird will be stuffed or the stuffing served as a dressing baked separately. If stuffing, think in terms of twelve cups of stuffing for a 15 pound bird, which will allow the big cavity to be stuffed and some more stuffing to be crammed under the skin flap at the neck. I seldom stuff because there are real food safety questions about the bird and its stuffing sitting out at room temperature.

The oven must be very clean before roasting, or cooking at this high temperature will cause unpleasant smoke. In any case, there will be some smoke, so turn on the fan or open a window. Don't put the rack too high or the skin on the breast will get overcooked. For a 20-pound turkey, the rack should be in the lowest position. Always put the turkey in legs first- dark meat takes longer to cook and the rear of the oven is the hottest area.

If the top skin seems to be getting too dark, slip a doubled piece of aluminum foil on top of it. Don't move the turkey. Use an oven mitt to protect hands and forearms. Remove the foil with the same oven mitt 10 minutes before the turkey comes out.

Large turkeys are most easily removed from the pan by holding them with two pot holders, which will need to be washed. After the meal, get out a large stockpot to boil up the carcass and leftover bones for turkey soup and stock variations." Adapted slightly from Roasting: A Simple Art (William Morrow, 1995)


Serves: 10 to 15


  • 1 15 pound turkey, thawed if necessary, and at room temperature, wing tips removed, reserving giblets and neck for gravy, liver for stuffing
  • 1 cup water, turkey stock, or chicken stock
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
In This Recipe


  1. Place the oven rack on second level from bottom of oven. Heat oven to 500° F.
  2. Rinse the turkey inside and out. Pat dry. Sprinkle the outside with pepper. If stuffing, stuff cavity and crop, securing openings with long metal skewers. Lace them. Do not truss.
  3. Put turkey in an 18 by 13 by 2-inch roasting pan, breast side up. Put in oven legs first. Roast until the leg joint near the backbone wiggles easily, about 2 hours. After 20 minutes, move the turkey around with a wooden spatula to keep from sticking. Remove the turkey to a large platter. Let stand 20 minutes before carving.
  4. Pour off grease from roasting pan and put pan on top of the stove. Add water or stock. Bring to a boil while scraping the bottom vigorously with a wooden spoon, loosening all the crisp bits in the bottom of the pan. These add intensity to the gravy. Let reduce by half. Serve on the side in a sauceboat or add to gravy.

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Chicken|Turkey|Serves a Crowd|5 Ingredients or Fewer|Thanksgiving|Winter|Fall|Entree

Reviews (9) Questions (3)

9 Reviews

Chris December 7, 2017
I bought the book and was going to roast the turkey. Is it safe to leave a turkey out this long at room temperature?
Chris December 7, 2017
if frozen...
Margie November 22, 2017
I've used Barbara's 500 degree roasting since she was on the Today Show in November of 1995, when her Roasting cookbook came out...I bought it within 2 days!<br />THE BEST TURKEY anyone had EVER had were the statements by everyone over 10 years old. I'm 63 yrs old, my kids have kids and I've served turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas since 1976. Barbara's way since 199? Her way is the way I cook my 16+ lb turkeys. My smaller turkeys are in my Ron Popei , "set it & forget it" rotisserie. Also a major success.
Nicole W. November 23, 2015
Gonna do a test run tomorrow. I'll keep y'all posted!
alysa November 22, 2015
How do I adjust the time for a much larger bird? 24 lbs.
walkie74 November 19, 2015
Could someone tell me how this actually tastes? I'm thrilled, but a little leery, of a turkey with absolutely no salt...
newkiwi November 9, 2015
Uh-oh, Valerie. I think you should go out to eat! :)
Corinne November 9, 2015
I haven't cooked a whole turkey in years since I don't have many people over. I cook a turkey breast plus 4-6 turkey thighs. Could I cook them the same way as the recipe?
Valerie November 7, 2015
"However, it may take several hours for the turkey to reach room temperature." ??? OOhhh, it took a while for me to understand this part. It means before cooking it, rather than after?!