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Foolproof Roast Turkey Recipe

Course: Main Course
Total Time: A Day Or More
Skill Level: Moderate
Cost: Moderate
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Foolproof Roast Turkey

Photo by: Joseph De Leo

I know of very few people who don’t get anxious at the prospect of roasting a turkey. Because the breast cooks more quickly than the dark meat thigh, it is often dry and overcooked by the time the bird comes out of the oven. Nobody seems to be certain of what, exactly, the best roasting method is, whether high heat or low, tented with foil or roasted breast down.

Brining (submerging the bird in a salt-and-sugar solution before roasting it) is one of the best ways I know of to ensure a succulent, flavorful roasted turkey. And the best brine for turkey was created by Alice Waters, the inspired and inspiring founder of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, from whom this recipe was adapted. The seasonings in the brine bring out the turkey’s natural flavor, making it taste more like a farm bird with subtle herbal overtones.

Yield: Serves 16


Aromatic brine:

  • 2 gallons water
  • ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 celery rib, coarsely chopped
  • 1 leek, white and light green parts only, coarsely chopped and washed
  • 3 to 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 imported bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 star anise (optional)

  • One 12- to 14-pound organic free-range turkey
  • (giblets, liver, and neck reserved for another use, if desired)
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 large rosemary branches, tied together to make a brush for basting (optional)


To make the brine, in a large stockpot, bring 1 gallon of the water to a boil. Stir in the salt and sugar until completely dissolved. Turn off the heat and add the onions, carrot, celery, leek, thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns, coriander and fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, and star anise, if using. Stir in the remaining 1 gallon cold water. Let the brine cool completely, then refrigerate until cold.

Rinse the turkey inside and out with cold water. Carefully place the turkey in the brine. To keep the turkey submerged in the brine, place a weight such as a heavy plate or pot lid on top of the bird. Refrigerate for 72 hours.

Remove the turkey from the brine and pat dry (discard the brine). Place the turkey on a rack in a large roasting pan and rub all over with olive oil. Let sit for 1 hour to come to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Roast until the turkey starts to brown, about 25 minutes. Turn down the oven to 350°F and roast about 10 minutes per pound, for a total of 2 to 2½ hours, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reads 160°F. As the turkey roasts, baste frequently with the pan juices, with the rosemary brush, if using. If the bird begins to darken too much, cover loosely with foil.

Remove the turkey from the oven, transfer to a serving platter, and let rest for 20 minutes before carving.


You can make the brine up to 2 days ahead; cover and refrigerate.

If you don’t have a large (at least 16-quart) stockpot, you can use an inexpensive plastic bucket or new garbage pail. If necessary, adjust a rack in your refrigerator to make room for it.

If you wish, you can stuff the bird before roasting it; truss  and roast the bird about 20 minutes longer.

© 2001 Sally Schneider

Nutrients per serving (% daily value)

Nutritional information is based on using a 12lb turkey.

506kcal (25%)
47mg (5%)
0mg (0%)
6mcg RAE (0%)
209mg (70%)
1216mg (51%)
7g (35%)
26g (39%)
4mg (25%)

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