There are more ways to cook turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner then there are turkeys being eaten on the last Thursday in November. Everyone – and their mother – has a strategy and the vast majority of them involve the turkey being in the oven for at least a few hours. I don’t think that there is only one perfect way to cook a turkey and so I am very open to trying new methods when I am ready to roast a big bird. I try to aim for a crisp (or at least not soggy) skin, relatively moist breasts and moist, tender dark meat. My usual method of high heat to start followed by a slow roast at a lower temperature works pretty well, but this year I decided to try an ultra-high heat cooking method to see how the turkey would turn out.
The high heat method, which I’ve mostly heard about as a good option for roasting chicken, not turkeys, calls for cooking a turkey at a high heat the entire cooking time. In theory, this seals in the juices while producing a crispy skin – and gets the turkey done in as little as 90 minutes! I skimmed through some of my past notes on the subject and decided to go with an old New York Times article as a guideline.
Even though it wasn’t part of the NY Times instructions, I rubbed my fresh, not frozen, turkey all over with butter before putting it a roasting pan. I did not put the turkey on a rack, since it doesn’t matter to me if the very bottom of the bird is crispy or not. I popped my turkey into the oven at 500F and sat back to watch it cook. Once in the oven, I kept the door shut and resisted the temptation to peek for the first 45 minutes of cooking. My 14-lb bird was supposed to take up to 8 minutes per pound, about half the time of lower heat methods, but the instructions recommended checking on its internal temperature much earlier.
Overall, the high heat method worked well. The highlight was the fact that I made one of the most attractive looking turkeys I think I’ve ever done, golden brown with a crispy and flavorful skin. Another high point was that the bird took less than 90 minutes to cook. The downside was that the turkey was a little on the dry side because it is very easy to overcook the turkey at this temperature. An extra 8 minutes is a lot of time when the bird is only in the oven for 75 minutes total. If you want to give it a go, especially if you’re short on time, just make sure to check the temperature of the breast after about 1 hour in the oven and try to remember that the turkey will continue to cook when it rests, so you won’t have a bird that is too dry and only fit for turkey sandwiches the day after Thanksgiving. Also, you can’t make stuffing inside of this bird (I don’t do this in general, so it was not an issue for me), so that is worth considering if you’re a stuffing-in-the-bird fan.
I’d definitely go this route again, but since it takes a closer eye than a slow cooking bird, you might want to try a practice bird or two to nail down the cooking time. That said, I think that I’ll stick with my “traditional” way of cooking the bird most of the time because it gives you a bigger margin of error, even if the skin isn’t quite as perfect in the end!
The High Heat Turkey Method
Preheat your oven to 500F. Wash the turkey inside and out and do not dry. Rub skin with softened butter, if desired. Do not place anything inside the turkey. Place turkey in a large roasting pan. Tuck wing tips underneath the bird. Spread drumsticks away from the sides of the turkey without breaking the skin.
Place turkey in the oven. Cook for 45 minutes without opening the door. At this point, check the turkey to see if it is a dark golden brown. If it is too dark, cover it loosely with a piece of aluminum foil.
Continue roasting the turkey at 500F. After 60 minutes of total cooking time, check the temperature of the turkey breast with an internal read thermometer. The breast should read between 155 and 160. The temperature will continue to rise as the bird rests and will get up to 165 on its own (the USDA recommended breast temperature). The bird could take up to 8 minutes total cooking time per pound, but may take less.
Rest turkey for 15-20 minutes before carving.
*note: Tried with a 14.5-lb turkey.