Saturday, November 19th, 2011
The Simplest Roast Turkey

Although a whole roast turkey makes a beautiful presentation, I prefer to cook my turkey in parts.  (You’re going to cut it up before you serve it anyway, right?)  It cooks much faster this way (generally between one and two hours, as opposed to upwards of three or four) and won’t take up your whole oven, so you’ll actually have room to cook other things.  Just buy turkey parts (breasts, legs, thighs, wings) rather than a whole bird.  Bonus: if your family prefers dark to white meat (or vice versa), then you can purchase more of the pieces they’ll eat.  (Note that the dark meat pieces will generally take longer to cook than the white, so you can remove the white meat pieces from the oven earlier and let the dark continue cooking.)

Makes as much turkey as you choose to cook.


Turkey parts, preferably bone-in
Canola oil
Sea salt or kosher salt


Heavy roasting pan with high sides – NOT a baking sheet
Oven mitts
Digital meat thermometer (optional, but highly recommended)


  1. Remove the turkey parts from the refrigerator 1 hour before you want to start cooking them.  (Letting them warm up a bit at room temperature will help the turkey parts cook faster and more evenly.)  Preheat the oven to 450F.
  2. Take out a heavy, high-sided roasting pan that’s large enough to hold all your turkey parts in an even layer.  (You don’t want the pan to be too crowded; if necessary, use a second pan as well.)  Pour a drop of canola oil (about 1 tablespoon or so) into the bottom of the roasting pan and rub it in.
  3. Pat the turkey parts dry using paper towels.  Arrange the turkey parts in an even layer in the prepared roasting pan.  Drizzle the turkey parts with a couple tablespoons canola oil and toss to coat.  (Wash your hands.)  Sprinkle the turkey parts all over with sea salt or kosher salt.
  4. Place the roasting pan in the oven.  After 1 hour, carefully remove the roasting pan from the oven and rest the roasting pan on your stove top.  (Be sure to close the oven door promptly.)  Using a large spoon, carefully scoop up some of the pan juices and pour them over the turkey pieces (aka “baste” them).  This will help keep the turkey moist and will make the skin extra crispy.  At this time you can also use tongs or a spoon to move the turkey pieces around a bit to un-stick them from the bottom of the pan.  Return the turkey  to the oven and lower the oven temperature to 350F.
  5. Continue cooking until the turkey parts are brown and crispy, and fully cooked.  (The breasts will typically need to cook for a total of 1 hour and 15 to 30 minutes.  The thighs and legs usually take a total of two hours.)  You can tell that the turkey parts are fully cooked when the juices they’ve released into the pan become clear and have lost their pinkish hue, but the easiest way to tell is by checking their internal temperature with a meat thermometer.  White meat (breasts) is done cooking when it reaches 165˚F; dark meat (thighs and legs), 170˚F.  If some pieces (like the breasts) are done cooking before others, remove those pieces to a platter using tongs, and return the rest of the turkey parts to the oven to finish cooking.
  6. Once all the meat is cooked and out of the oven, allow it to rest for 20-30 minutes before you slice it up.


  • This process is very similar to that for cooking chicken pieces.  Click here to see step by step details.
  • When cooking turkey, a digital meat thermometer (sometimes called an instant-read thermometer) is one of the most useful tools you can have — especially if you’re nervous about undercooking (or overcooking) your meat.  To use it, turn on the thermometer and insert the tip into the turkey. Be sure that you don’t push the thermometer all the way through to your pan, and that you don’t hit any bones, as this will cause an inaccurate reading. White meat (breasts) are done cooking when they reach 165˚F; dark meat (thighs and legs), 170˚F.
  • It’s best to remove the roasting pan from the oven when you want to check the temperature.  (As always, be sure to close the oven door promptly.  You can rest the roasting pan on your stove top.)
  • If you don’t feel like removing the pan from the oven and basting the turkey halfway through cooking, you don’t have to.
  • When you remove the pan from the oven, take care not to spill any of the hot pan juices.
  • Great with basic gravy and cranberry sauce.
  • Recipe featured at Bottlerocket’s 2011 Thanksgiving Workshop

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