First time cooking a turkey? This recipe promises a juicy roast with less work : Life Kit If you roast your turkey on a pre-heated pizza stone, you can avoid the dreaded task of flipping the piping hot bird midway through the cooking process, says Lan Lam of 'America's Test Kitchen.'

This Thanksgiving turkey recipe skips a stressful step: Flipping the bird

This Thanksgiving turkey recipe skips a stressful step: Flipping the bird

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In Lan Lam's recipe, the turkey is cooked in a preheated roasting pan placed on top of a preheated pizza stone or pizza steel to deliver more heat to the legs and thighs. "By the time the breasts hit 160 degrees, the legs are done and you don't have to go in and do much to the turkey," she says. America's Test Kitchen hide caption

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America's Test Kitchen

In Lan Lam's recipe, the turkey is cooked in a preheated roasting pan placed on top of a preheated pizza stone or pizza steel to deliver more heat to the legs and thighs. "By the time the breasts hit 160 degrees, the legs are done and you don't have to go in and do much to the turkey," she says.

America's Test Kitchen

It can be daunting to make a turkey for friends and family for Thanksgiving, especially if you haven't done it before. How big should the bird be? What seasoning should you use? What recipe should you try?

Lan Lam, a chef, senior editor for Cook's Illustrated magazine and a cast member of the cooking show America's Test Kitchen, has cooked 500 turkeys in her life — and she says "it's a lot easier than you would think."

It's also "a great starter project" for beginner cooks, she says. "It doesn't require a ton of equipment or complicated knife skills."

Lam offers some basic guidance for first-timers on how to prepare a turkey. And she shares a recipe that she developed for America's Test Kitchen. It involves roasting the turkey on a pre-heated pizza stone to avoid the dreaded task of flipping the piping hot bird midway through the cooking process. Click here to jump to the recipe.

Go for a 10- to 12-pound turkey

Many cooking guides will tell you that you'll need about a pound to a pound and a half of meat per person. But Lan says there isn't a hard and fast rule. Generally, "a 10- to 12-pound bird is going to serve eight to ten people with leftovers. You can get away with something a little smaller if you have a lot of sides."

If you plan on having more guests at dinner, don't cook a larger bird, says Lam — cook more turkeys. "Large turkeys are harder to cook well than small turkeys. They also take up more space in your fridge and they take more time in your oven. At Thanksgiving, you need that oven for other projects."

Buy your bird at least a week before Thanksgiving day

If you plan to serve a homemade turkey on Thanksgiving day, buy your bird at least seven to ten days in advance. "Seven days is the minimum because it gives you time" to thaw and season the bird, says Lam.

Once you have your turkey, transfer it into the fridge to thaw. How long that takes depends on how big the turkey is. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, you'll need a day for every four to five pounds of turkey. So if your turkey weighs eight pounds, it will take about two days to thaw.

Don't forget to factor in the time you will need to season your turkey, says Lam. That can take "anywhere between six hours to two days," depending on your method.

If you choose to brine your turkey, you will need to soak it in salted water for six to 12 hours in the fridge. If you choose to rub salt into your bird, you will need to let it rest for one to two days in the fridge.

Get that bird in the oven early

Depending on the size of the turkey, you will need three and half to four hours of oven time, says Lam. "So if you're serving dinner at 1 p.m., you're going to have to get your turkey [in the oven] at 9 a.m."

The goal is to get the breast meat to 160 degrees and the thighs to 170 to 175 degrees, says Lam, which you can measure with a meat thermometer. "Then it's juicy and tender."

Because the white meat cooks at a lower temperature than the dark meat, it can overcook while you're waiting for the dark meat to get to that higher temperature. To account for this, says Lam, some recipes tell you to cook your turkey on a roasting rack, starting with the breast side down to give the legs and thighs more heat from the top of the oven.

"Then halfway through cooking, you have to pick up that hot turkey and turn it upside down so that the breast meat is on top," she says. "But nobody wants to touch a hot turkey. And so I worked on a recipe where we didn't have to flip the bird."

In Lam's recipe, the turkey is cooked in a preheated roasting pan placed on top of a preheated pizza stone or pizza steel to deliver more heat to the legs and thighs. "By the time the breasts hit 160 degrees, the legs are done and you don't have to go in and do much to the turkey."

To try this method, follow the directions below. Courtesy of America's Test Kitchen.

RECIPE: Easier roast turkey and gravy

Serves: 10 to 12

Total Time: 3? hours, plus 24 hours salting

When you want all the advantages of a great roast turkey with less work, this recipe delivers. No flipping. No long-simmered gravy. The key is a tool borrowed from pizza making: a baking stone (or steel). But first, to season the meat and help it retain more juices as it cooks, loosen the skin of the turkey and apply a mixture of salt and sugar to the flesh.

Next, preheat both the baking stone and roasting pan in the oven before placing the turkey in the pan. The stone absorbs heat and delivers it through the pan to the turkey's legs and thighs, which need to cook to a higher temperature than the delicate breast meat (which we call for protecting with a foil shield).

After the leg quarters have gotten a jump start, reduce the oven temperature and remove the shield to allow the breast to brown. The heat boost provided by the stone also helps the juices brown and reduce into concentrated drippings that we turn into a flavorful gravy while the turkey rests.

Note that this recipe requires salting the bird in the refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours. This recipe was developed and tested using Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt. If you have Morton's Kosher Salt, which is denser than Diamond Crystal, reduce the salt in step 1 to 3 tablespoons; rub 1 tablespoon salt mixture into each side of the breast, 1? teaspoons into each leg and the remainder into the cavity. Table salt is too fine and not recommended. If you are roasting a kosher or self-basting turkey (such as a frozen Butterball), do not salt it. The success of this recipe is dependent on saturating the baking stone and roasting pan with heat. We recommend preheating the stone, pan and oven for at least 30 minutes.

? cup kosher salt
4 teaspoons sugar
1 (12- to 14-pound) turkey, neck and giblets removed and reserved for gravy
2? tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 carrot, peeled and sliced thin
5 sprigs fresh parsley
2 bay leaves
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3? cups water
? cup dry white wine

1. Combine salt and sugar in bowl. Using your fingers, gently loosen skin covering turkey breast and thighs. Rub 4 teaspoons salt mixture under skin of each breast half, 2 teaspoons salt under skin of each leg, and remaining salt mixture into cavity. Tie legs together with kitchen twine. Place turkey on rack set in rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate uncovered for 24 to 48 hours.

2. At least 30 minutes before roasting turkey, adjust oven rack to lowest position and set baking stone on oven rack. Place roasting pan on baking stone and heat oven to 500 degrees.

Combine 1? teaspoons oil and baking powder in small bowl. Pat turkey dry with paper towels. Rub oil mixture evenly over turkey. Cover turkey breast with double layer of aluminum foil.

3. Remove roasting pan from oven. Place remaining 2 tablespoons oil in roasting pan. Place turkey into pan breast side up and return pan to oven. Reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees and cook for 45 minutes.

4. Remove foil shield; reduce temperature to 325 degrees; and continue to cook until breast registers 160 degrees and thighs register 175 degrees, 1 to 1? hours.

5. Using spatula, loosen turkey from roasting pan; transfer to carving board and let rest uncovered for 45 minutes. While turkey rests, use wooden spoon to scrape any browned bits from bottom of roasting pan. Pour pan drippings through fine-mesh strainer set in bowl. Transfer drippings to fat separator and let rest for 10 minutes. Reserve 3 tablespoons fat and defatted liquid (about 1 cup). Discard remaining fat.

6. Heat reserved fat in large saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add reserved neck and giblets and cook until well browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer neck and giblets to large plate. Reduce heat to medium; add onion, carrot, parsley and bay leaves; and cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until flour is well coated with fat, about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in reserved defatted liquid and cook until thickened, about 1 minute. Whisk in water and wine, return neck and giblets, and bring to simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Discard neck. Strain mixture through fine-mesh strainer and transfer to serving bowl. Carve turkey and arrange on serving platter. Serve with gravy.


The audio was fact-checked and produced by Audrey Nguyen. The digital story was edited by Malaka Gharib. The visual producer is Kaz Fantone.

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