From America's Test Kitchen Season 10: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving
Roasting a whole turkey is a race to keep the white meat from drying out while the dark meat cooks through. We wanted no less than the perfect turkey recipe—an approach that would get our fowl from supermarket to table in just a few hours. We required meat as moist as prime rib and with crisp, crackling skin, and it all needed to be accompanied by rich gravy. For a greater challenge, we wanted to do it without salting the turkey or brining it, both of which take the better part of a day.
First, we roasted two nonbrined turkeys, one using our standard high-heat method and the other at 275 degrees the entire time. The outer layers of the high-heat breast dried out, but the slow-roasted breast cooked through moist, even without a brine. Coordinating the cooking between the breast and legs and thighs, however, was a problem. Instead we discovered that swapping in turkey parts for a whole turkey would help ensure the breast and thighs cooked through at about the same time. We roasted a breast and two leg quarters (thighs and drumsticks) on a rack over a baking sheet to promote air circulation. The results? Tender, juicy meat.
We next had to tackle crisping the skin. Most recipes achieve crisp skin by starting the bird in a hot oven to brown it, then lowering the heat. But that meant a higher oven temperature, which meant dried-out meat. Instead, we let the turkey cool before popping it back in the oven to crisp the skin. This turned out a perfect turkey from center to edge surrounded by flawless, crisp skin.
Serves 10 to 12
Instead of drumsticks and thighs, you may use 2 whole leg quarters, 1 1/2 to 2 pounds each. The recipe will also work with turkey breast alone; in step 2, reduce the butter to 1 1/2 tablespoons, the salt to 1 1/2 teaspoons, and the pepper to 1 teaspoon. If you are roasting kosher or self-basting turkey parts, season the turkey with only 1 1/2 teaspoons salt.