Thanksgiving Turkey with Gravy

dsc_1512RECIPE #334, DAY #522


ORIGINAL RECIPE: From my years of experience, although I referenced “Citrus-Stuffed Herbed Turkey” in Healthiest Meals on Earth by Dr. Jonny Bowden*

TIMING: 4 hours, plus a day for brining

DIFFICULTY: It’s not that easy to get perfect, but with practice it can be done

TOOLS: A roasting pan with rack, brining bag or other container that will fit in your fridge, soup pot, meat thermometer, fat separator, platter, paper towel, carving knife and fork, baking twine, foil, baster, etc.

COOK TYPE: Oven and a little stovetop

dsc_1523HEALTH: Considering that roast turkey makes an appearance in Healthiest Meals on Earth, it’s not the turkey that’s killing us softly on Thanksgiving. With lean protein, vitamin-rich skin, and a touch of gravy and natural cranberry, we’re okay. But we’re even better with homemade cranberry relish, homemade gravy, and a free-range turkey. (Among other things, free-range turkeys have much less of that squidgy fat under their skin.)

EXPERIENCE: I do make a good, juicy turkey. With a lot of care and love, as well as research and experimentation, I have made my fair share of holiday turkeys over the years. Ignoring fried or grilled turkeys, I have pretty much mastered the flavorful, moist bird. Now I am sharing my strategies with you.

img_0291NOTES: First thing: I splurge and buy the best Turkey when it comes to a holiday feast. For years this has meant driving to a farm a couple days before and picking up my freshly-killed turkey. However, I decided this year, that although I miss the tradition, I was priced out of this experience. This time, I went to the store to buy a high-quality, free-range turkey, although I didn’t go with the heritage breed. This is not only my suggestion for you, it is also important because I have probably never cooked a commercial-grade turkey. Why do you care? Commercial (and–let’s face it–treated) and conscientious products behave differently, that’s why. The cook time and temperature may vary some, as well as what happens during and after with texture, taste, and even fat content.

This recipe is for an approximately 12 pound, all natural turkey. Make adjustments as necessary, to the tune of about 15 minutes per pound.


  1. In a soup pot, combine 1 gallon water, 1 cup kosher salt, 1/2 cup honey (or brown sugar), 1/2 tablespoon cardamom, and a few sprigs thyme. (You will need to double or triple this if you are not using a brining bag.) Heat gently, and stir until sugar and salt have dissolved.
  2. Place empty, defrosted or fresh, rinsed and dried 12 pound turkey in a brining bag (or other brining receptacle that can fit in your fridge). Pour in salt water solution, then remove extra air and seal up the bag. Set turkey carefully in the fridge and leave for about 24 hours.
  3. Preheat oven to 400F and adjust rack so turkey will sit in the center of the oven.
  4. Remove your turkey from the brine and dispose of the bag. Dry the turkey well with paper towels and set the turkey on a roasting pan fitted with a rack.
  5. Mix together 1/2 stick softened butter with 4 tablespoons olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt. Using your hands, rub the mixture all over the outside of the turkey, especially under the breast skin (really get in there!) and a little in the cavity. Wash those hands, then generously sprinkle the whole bird (including inside) with salt and pepper. Your turkey should land breast-side down.
  6. Using twine, truss up the turkey so that the legs and wings stay close to the body. Inside the empty cavity (double check), stuff 1 peeled halved onion, 1 halved lemon, 1 halved orange, a few sprigs thyme and a few sprigs rosemary.
  7. In the bottom of the pan (not on the turkey), pour 1 bottle hard cider and 3-4 cups turkey or chicken broth.
  8. Bake for 45 minutes. Reduce heat to 325F and turn the turkey breast-side up. Cover with foil and bake another 2 hours. Make sure the bottom of your pan never dries out (add broth if needed) and it wouldn’t hurt to baste now and again. Remove foil and begin checking on your turkey. You want your internal temperature to hit 165 (but not exceed too much) at the center of the breasts and thighs. (Leg juices will run clear.)
  9. Carefully (without piercing) move the turkey to a platter and tent with foil. Allow to rest 20-30 minutes before carving.
  10. Meanwhile, pour the juices from the bottom of the pan into a fat separator. Place 2 tablespoons of the fat in a sauce pan. Heat over medium heat, then add 2 tablespoons all purpose flour and whisk for 1 minute. Add the turkey juices and enough turkey broth to make 3-4 cups of gravy. Heat, whisking occasionally, until gravy has thickened. Taste for seasoning and move to your gravy boat.


Serve with a Thanksgiving or even Christmas feast. Or just a feast, including cranberry sauce, bread and sausage stuffing, rolls, and mashed potatoes. Also desirable? Corn, squash, sweet potatoes, mulled cider, red wine spritzers, and apple and pumpkin pie with whipped cream.

*Recipe changed from the original.


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