Leland’s first turkeyLeland’s first turkey

This year, instead of traveling through the woods to Grandma’s cabin for Thanksgiving as we do most years, we accepted an invitation from a dear friend on the far Upper East Side. It was his first time hosting, and he was glad to have some help. After a few days going back and forth, he asked me straight up if I would take care of the turkey. I was dreading this moment, since it would be my first time and it would be for some people I didn’t know. But I figured I might as well. What’s the point of all this cooking if I’m too shy to roast a turkey?

Everyone I talked to had strong and unique opinions on turkey. (Oddly enough, only Mom said, “Just look at a recipe!”) Some people had me cutting slits in it to stuff the skin with various things; others had foil on the breast, or a bag around the whole bird. Some recipes had the breast down, while others had it up. I came to the conclusion that you should just follow your instincts, be confident, and listen to the bird.

I knew that I wanted to brine it, so that was the first step. I found basic directions in Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie book, but you don’t need a recipe as much as you need a ratio.

On Wednesday night, I boiled one gallon of water and mixed in one cup of kosher salt and a half cup of sugar. I squeezed in two lemon halves, and then basically put in whatever I could find: quartered onions, halved garlic cloves, chopped carrots, bay leaves, star anise, fennel seed, peppercorns, herb sprigs, leek greens, etc. It was essentially a huge vat of vegetable stock. I brought it all to a boil, let it cool, and then poured it into an immaculately clean trash can. I threw in a bunch of ice cubes to bring the temperature down fast, and then I submerged the bird, putting a bowl on top to hold it down.


Into the fridge it went for about 10 hours (Ruhlman recommends up to 24). I awoke Thanksgiving morning, drained the turkey, rinsed it off, and sat it on the rack in the roasting pan to drain in the refrigerator. A few hours before showtime, I stuffed it with some vegetables and a lemon, tied it up, and prepared it for its trip to 91st Street. And at this point I worked from common sense. I started the roasting at high heat to get some browning on the tacky skin. Then I slathered it with butter and continued to roast, turning the heat down gradually and basting every half hour. It took close to four hours for a 12-pound bird. It came out browned and beautiful.


It rested about 45 minutes, but it was still hot enough to burn my fingers during the carving (I used the butcher method with some success).


The meat was moist, salty, and lemony. The breast was cooked past temperature, but it wasn’t dry or stringy at all. It didn’t need gravy to be edible, which was the goal. Here it is on the buffet. Also in view are Nathan’s sweet potatoes; Crescent rolls; mashed potatoes, which we did through the food mill; Mom’s apple sauce; green bean casserole; cornbread stuffing; and then the turkey, with Alex’s cranberry sauce, in the back.


It was an excellent meal, and I didn’t have to do any dishes!


Your turkey looks gorgeous. Congratulations.

We’ve never brined our turkey but when I read your description of the meat being “moist, salty, and lemony” I immediately thought that we have to start.

Wow, your brine looks great! All Grandpa and I put in ours was salt, and then we forgot to rinse off the turkeys after we took them out. They were still good, though. But are you saying you didn’t make any gravy? Why not?

Poppy used the butcher method for carving, too, and he’s quite pleased with it.The only drawback to it, IMO, is that you don’t have the drama of bringing the whole bird to the table.

Your turkey looks yummy! We didn’t go this year either and we sure missed being with everyone. I’m glad you had a nice Thanksgiving anyway! Love you.

gorgeous. how was the salt level. i’m thinking 10-12 hours is perfect given that size bird. what brand of salt did you use?

Thanks, everyone! And yes, I made gravy, Mom, don’t worry. Ruhlman: thanks for visiting! I’m flattered. The salt level was perfect. I didn’t have to add any to the outside of the bird or to the gravy, and I didn’t see any salt sprinkling at the table. I think I used Morton kosher. Is there a better brand, such as the one in that red box? I’ve heard that it dissolves better.

Bravo Leland! It is daunting to roast something big, but so satisfying. Yours looks perfect. I used just about the same method (but a bigger bird) and it turned out great, just like you said in your comment, no need to salt the gravy or the bird at the table. We used Portuguese flor de sal (like fleur de sel, but not French).

Mmm. Your turkey looks great, Leland. I have to say, the butcher method was great to find in the NYTimes. I showed my dad the video before he carved and he had a great time. I think bringing the entire bird to the table is overrated; a huge pile of meat has a similarly awe-inspiring effect on a hungry crowd.

My parents attend a church service on Thanksgiving morning, so they just throw the bird in the oven and head to church. It’s done by the time they come back. And it’s always delicious and moist. No fuss.

Bravo! It looks delectable. Especially with the heavenly crescent rolls. I’m curious. Why no gravy? Not a fan?

Oops. Just read the other comments about the gravy. Never mind.

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