When it comes to big holiday feasts, one oven just isn’t enough, and I always find myself trying to sort out the intricate timing of roast turkey, stuffing, rolls, and any roasted or baked vegetables. I sit down with recipes and a schedule and plan it all out. If the turkey is done too early, it sits and gets cold and loses that wonderful fresh-from-the-oven juiciness while waiting for the rest of the dishes to finish.
Of course my grandmothers only had one oven, and even with so many of us to feed at Thanksgiving or Christmas, they somehow managed it. My mom’s mother eventually bought one of those roaster ovens that will cook a whole turkey, ham, or other large piece of meat on the counter top, leaving the other oven free for the rest of the dishes. Their kitchen was small, so the turkey roasted in the basement while she and Mom worked on the rest of the meal.
Grandma gave up cooking big meals several years ago and I was the fortunate recipient of her big roaster oven. We’ve tried turkeys and hams in it and have cooked with it just about everywhere, including the front and back porch when I just need the extra room in the kitchen. One thing I’ve learned about cooking turkeys in the roaster oven is that the skin doesn’t brown the way I like if I cook at the recommended 325° F. Last year my sister sent me a note about cooking at 500° F for the first 30 minutes then cooking at 325° F until done, and I thought that was a flash of brilliance. The skin browns and crisps and seals in the juices, and that extra blast of heat shaves a little off the overall cooking time.
I highly recommend doing this with a thermometer, the digital kind with a probe connected. This allows you to monitor the internal temperature and remove roast the turkey at precisely the right time. We’ve tested with both the thermometer and the little popup timers that some turkeys come with, and the digital thermometer always signals ready about 5 to 10 minutes before the popup timer. Since the residual heat will continue to cook the bird for a little while longer, this can mean the difference between moist and juicy or dry meat. Cook time is based on weight, so the cook time and total time are subject to variation based on the size of your turkey. Make sure to read the label and follow the directions.
And of course feel free to rub and season with whatever you like, this is just how we like it.
[Updated November 2016.]
Roast Turkey in a Roaster Oven
- 18 or 22-quart roaster oven with rack
- digital thermometer/timer
- wooden cutting board or other heatproof surface
- whole turkey (10 pounds or larger (up to 18 pounds for an 18-quart roaster oven, and up to 24 pounds for a 22-quart roaster oven))
- 6 large sage leaves
- ½ cup olive oil
- ½ lemon
- handful of fresh thyme
- handful of fresh parsley leaves
- 4 rosemary sprigs
- kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- Place the roaster oven on a large wooden cutting board or other heat-safe surface. It's going to get hot, so leave plenty of room around it. Remove the rack and the inner liner and put the lid back on. Preheat the roaster oven to the hottest temperature, usually 450° to 500° F.
- While the oven heats, prepare the turkey. Remove the neck and giblets and use the neck to make turkey broth for the gravy. Loosen the skin around the turkey breast and tuck one large sage leaf under the skin on each side. Pat the skin back down. Rub the turkey all over with the olive oil. Tuck the lemon half into the rib cavity and stuff in the thyme, parsley, and rosemary. Place the turkey on the rack in the roaster oven liner. Sprinkle the kosher salt and black pepper all over the bird. Insert the thermometer probe deep into the thigh muscle, but not touching the bone. Leave the probe cable hanging outside the liner.
- Place the liner and turkey in the preheated roaster oven and cover. Connect the probe cable to the digital thermometer and set the temperature alarm for 165° F, the minimum safe internal temperature recommended by the USDA. You can set it higher according to your personal preference. Cook for 30 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 325° F.
- When the internal temperature reaches 165° F or your preferred temperature, turn off the oven and lift the bird onto a cutting board or platter. Leave the temperature probe in and cover the bird with foil. Allow to rest for 15 to 20 minutes to allow the juices to soak back into the meat, then remove the herbs and lemon, and carve.