Back in the 90’s, food and wine expert Bill St. John and I used to appear on a Denver television show called Colorado Today, a ‘lite’ morning news and lifestyle show. Every Friday morning I shared photos and design ideas about a Colorado home, but the real draw of the show was Bill St. John’s food segment. At that time he was the food editor at the Denver Post, and one November morning he demonstrated how to massage the turkey with a butter/flour mixture before roasting it.
It was a little kinky, but it was a great tip. I’ve been cooking our turkey this way ever since.
The French call the kneaded mixture beurre manié, which I believe means “poultry rubdown,” and it’s simply equal parts of flour and butter. Beurre manié is usually used to thicken sauces, but for this preparation the flour is reduced by half. After lovingly caressing the turkey and coating it with the mixture, you pop it in a hot oven and don’t peek for 30 minutes. This creates a little crust on the outside of the bird, which seals in all the juices. Then you lower the temperature for a nice roast.
Here’s the recipe.
Golden, Crispy, Juicy Roast Turkey
For the brine:
- 1 untreated* turkey, size and type of your choice (completely thawed, if frozen)
- 2 cups non-iodized salt
- 2 gallons water
For the turkey coating:
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) salted butter, softened
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Brining the Turkey
I’m a convert to the brining process, which I (and the turkey) begin the day before Thanksgiving. It’s really worth taking this extra step, because brining imparts such a noticeably improved flavor to the meat.
*You only want to brine a plain, untreated turkey. If your turkey package has the words “enhanced,” self-basting” or “kosher,” salt has already been added and brining would make the meat too salty.
You’ll need to find a container large enough to completely submerge your turkey. We have a large, lidded, food-safe bucket just for this purpose, but you can also use a large stockpot. Some people even clear out and clean one of their refrigerator drawers for brining; just check it first and make sure it doesn’t leak.
To make a simple brine, dissolve 2 cups of salt in 2 gallons of water. Or you can try a fancier recipe, like this apple cider and herb brine from my friend Michele Morris.
Pour the brine over the thawed turkey in the container, cover and refrigerate. If the turkey floats, you may need to weigh it down with a plate. Brine for 12 to 24 hours.
On Thanksgiving morning, take the turkey from the brine, rinse and dry it, and set it breast side up in the pan. Let it sit out until it warms to room temperature, about 1 1/2 hours. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
Massaging the Turkey
Meanwhile, make a mixture of 1 stick of softened salted butter and 1/4 cup of flour. (If you don’t have salted butter, add 1/4 teaspoon of salt.) You can use a pie cutting gadget to do this, but the real French technique is to use your hands.
When the butter and flour are mixed together, it will look like this:
Now, rub the turkey all over with the flour and butter mixture. Try to get it evenly on all the major area on top, and over the drumsticks. This works best if the turkey is at room temperature and very dry. If the turkey’s a little cold and the mixture doesn’t go on evenly, don’t worry! Just pat it on the best you can.
Insert a meat thermometer in the thigh, and push it in so it’s in the meat but not touching a bone.
Roasting the Turkey
Put the turkey in the preheated, 450 degree oven, close the door, and immediately lower the heat to 325 degrees. Do not open the oven door for 30 minutes. The high heat will cook the flour/butter mixture and make a light crust all over the turkey, which holds in the juices. Your thermometer will indicate when it’s time to take the turkey out, but here’s a rough time guideline:
6 to 8 pounds 2 ¼ to 3 ¼ hours 3 to 3 ½ hours
8 to 12 pounds 3 ¼ to 4 hours 3 ½ to 4 ½ hours
12 to 16 pounds 4 to 4 ½ hours 4 ½ to 5 ½ hours
16 to 20 pounds 4 ½ to 5 hours 5 ½ to 6 ½ hours
20 to 24 pounds 5 to 5 ½ hours 6 ½ to 7 hours
24 to 28 pounds 5 ½ to 6 hours 7 to 8 ½ hours
After about 1 1/2 hours, the turkey will have developed a nice crust and you can start brushing it with some of the pan drippings. You will probably need to cover the drumsticks with foil about halfway through cooking so they don’t get too brown.
The final temperature on your cooking thermometer should be 170 to 175 degrees F in the thigh (and 165 degrees F in the stuffing). When you are cutting the turkey, the juices should run clear, not pink.
When the turkey is done, remove the thermometer, flip the bird (the turkey, that is) upside down and cool on a platter. This will help prevent dry white meat and let the juices from the bottom of the bird distribute to the top of the bird. Let it cool for 20 minutes or so, before flipping it back breast-side-up for carving.
Let me warn you now that your guests are likely to fight for some of the crispy skin.
I hope your Thanksgiving is happy and delicious. When I count my blessings, you are high on my list.
P.S. If you’re looking for a yummy side dish, it’s hard to beat this Better Bacon Green Bean Casserole.