Simple Roast Turkey

Around this time every year, my Perfect Smoked Turkey starts making the rounds, and for good reason – it’s relatively simple (with a little practice), and comes out great every time. But sometimes, with so many other things on your plate during Thanksgiving, the idea of tackling a new smoked turkey recipe can be daunting; lots of folks have told me that they would like to try the recipe, but never manage to get to it. So for everyone else, here is how I oven-roast my turkeys.

There’s really not much to this recipe, and that’s the point. This recipe uses a couple handy techniques first discovered by kitchen wizard J. Kenji López-Alt over at Serious Eats: start with a dry brine, then roast the turkey over a hot baking stone.

For the dry brine, you simply rub the turkey all over with kosher salt, pepper, baking soda, and cream of tartar and leave it in the fridge overnight. Baking soda and cream of tartar (which paired together in a 1:2 ratio create baking powder) help to raise the skin’s pH, which more efficiently breaks down its proteins to create a crispier skin.

Placing your baking sheet directly on a hot baking stone will give the lower, dark meat a head start in roasting, so that both parts reach their optimal temperature at the same time: 150F for breasts, 165F for legs and thighs.

When it comes to stuffing the bird, I prefer to use just a few aromatics to fill the oven with delicious aromas without inhibiting air circulation…

…and that’s about it. This simple recipe will give you a chance to focus on other dishes on the big day, like Cranberry Sauce, Basic Mashed Potatoes, Devilish Eggs, or New Brunswick-style Potato Stuffing.

Add just a few aromatics – enough to flavor the oven, but not so much to prevent air flow.

Simple Roast Turkey (Gluten-free, Paleo, Primal, Whole30, Perfect Health Diet)

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: Easy

1 turkey (12-14 lbs preferred)
1/2 cup Diamond Crystal kosher salt (or 1/3 cup Morton kosher salt)
1 tbsp black pepper
2 tsp baking soda
4 tsp cream of tartar
peel of 1/2 lemon
2 whole cloves garlic, smashed
5 fresh sage leaves
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary

1. Remove and set aside the turkey neck and giblets (simmer them for a few hours to make a turkey stock for gravy). If the turkey came already trussed, remove and discard the truss – they make the turkey look nice, but will prevent necessary air flow. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels. In a bowl, stir together the salt, pepper, baking soda, and cream of tartar. Rub the turkey all over with the salt mixture, be sure to get every crack and crevice; you may not need all of the salt, depending on the size of your bird.

2. Place the turkey on a rimmed baking sheet lined with a V-rack or regular wire rack, and loosely stuff the turkey with paper towels to catch any juices that accumulate in the cavity. You may be tempted to use a nice, deep roasting pan instead of a simple rimmed baking sheet – don’t! They also inhibit air flow. Refrigerate in the open air overnight.

3. An hour before baking, place a baking stone in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 500F. Remove the turkey from the fridge, remove the paper towels, and loosely stuff the turkey with the lemon peel, garlic, sage, thyme, and rosemary (as pictured above this recipe); if you don’t have all three aromatic herbs, don’t worry about it – it’ll turn out fine.

4. Place the baking sheet directly on top of the baking stone, then reduce the oven heat to 300F. Bake until the deepest part of the breasts register 150F and the thighs register at least 165F, about 3 hours, rotating the baking sheet after 2 hours. For best results, use a remote thermometer with two probes to monitor your progress, or periodically check with an instant-read thermometer after the 2 hour mark. If the wings brown before the rest of the bird, loosely cover them with tin foil once they look perfectly browned.

5. Rest the turkey for at least 25 minutes (but up to 45 minutes) before carving.

** While 12-14 lbs is ideal for your turkey, feel free to scale it up or down to suit your needs – the cooking time may need slight adjustment,
but the technique remains the same.

Note: In the year leading up to my new cookbook’s release, I will be regularly releasing these recipes to 1) maintain a continuing conversation with my readership and 2) give visitors to this site an opportunity to test and provide feedback before editing. For more information on this new approach, read my post here.

17 thoughts on “Simple Roast Turkey

  1. This sounds like a good method – except that I’m worried about drippings overflowing with a baking sheet instead of a roasting pan – have you never had trouble with that?

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    1. Hi Anna, because of the dry brine, not much moisture will leave the turkey – maybe 1/2 cup total. Far from overflowing the rimmed baking sheet! If your baking sheet doesn’t have a rim, then you may want to use a roasting pan instead.

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        1. It was great! Breast was moist and the skin was delicious! And no overflow :) We don’t have a stone though, so we ended up putting the dark meat back in for longer after we cut off the breast meat, but we both agree we’ll be doing this recipe again :D (maybe we should get a stone though . . . :) )

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  2. Well we just ate ours, and this was honestly the most juicy, tender turkey we’ve ever had. Delicious! The only problem was that it seemed to be a little too salty. But if we didn’t eat the skin it was fine. Do you normally just take the skin off anyway?

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  3. So I did this recipe Thursday, and indeed I didn’t have overflow problems – the dry brine worked great. It wasn’t too salty or soapy-tasting either, as I had feared it might be, with so much baking soda. The skin did indeed get nice and crisp.

    HOWEVER, as far as heat and timing went, this recipe did not work for me at all. I didn’t find the pizza stone technique gave the dark meat any noticeable boost, and at 2 hours, it was so very far from cooked (barely above 110 degrees), I had to jack the heat up and turn the turkey upside down. That done, the dark meat at last reached the target temp. around hour 4, but the breast was, alas, overcooked as usual. And by the way, my turkeys were even smaller – about 11 lb. – so size wasn’t the problem.

    I’m not complaining – I usually find your recipes great – but just giving feedback in the interests of advancing science…

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