Holiday Roast Turkey Recipe

An easy how-to from the MasterChef cookbook. Roasted with herb butter and giblet gravy, this succulent recipe is a holiday hit.

Succulent, tender, and aromatic, roast turkey is an American classic that all cooks should know how to make. There are a lot of schools of thought on how to master the perfect roast turkey. Graham Elliot’s philosophy is the simpler, the better. “I don’t truss or change the oven temperature 50 times. I like to start roasting the turkey breast side down to protect it from the initial intense heat. Gravity works, so all of the juices gather in the breast meat during the first half of cooking and keep the meat really moist. Then I turn the bird over to finish cooking and brown the breast.”

This recipe doesn’t include stuffing — most families have their own closely guarded recipe for that!

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, plus 10 whole sprigs
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves, plus 10 whole sprigs
2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary needles, plus 8 whole sprigs
2 tsp chopped fresh sage leaves, plus 8 whole sprigs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon
1 (12-14 lb.) whole fresh turkey, preferably organic, liver discarded, neck and giblets reserved
Olive oil
4 onions, quartered
4 carrots, cut into large chunks
4 celery stalks, cut into large chunks
2 cups chicken broth
2 tbsp all-purpose flour


Step 1: Adjust a rack at the lowest position in the oven and remove the other racks. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Step 2: Combine the softened butter and chopped parsley, thyme, rosemary, and sage in a mixing bowl. Season with 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. Zest the lemon and add to the butter mixture. Mash with a fork or spoon until the herbs are well-incorporated and the butter is flecked with green. Transfer 1 generous tbsp of the mixture to another small bowl and reserve. Let it stand at room temperature.

Step 3: Rinse the turkey inside and out under cold running water. Pat dry with paper towels.

Step 4: Starting at neck end, run your fingers between the skin and meat to loosen the skin from the breast, legs, and thighs, taking care not to tear. Smear the softened herb butter under the skin, massaging and distributing it evenly. Drizzle the skin of the turkey all over with a couple of tbsp of oil. Season generously with salt and pepper — you should see the seasoning on the skin.

Step 5: Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice inside the cavity and rub all over. This will take away some of the gaminess. Sprinkle the cavity generously with salt and pepper. Stuff the cavity with a couple of pieces of onion and a few sprigs each of parsley, thyme, rosemary, and sage. Loosely tie the drumsticks together with kitchen string to hold the aromatics inside the bird.

Step 6: Fit a large roasting pan with a V-shaped rack or a wire cooking rack. Place the turkey breast side down on the rack and tuck the wing tips under.

Photo Recipe Turkey MasterChef

Step 7: Scatter half of the onions, carrots, and celery around the turkey (above). Drizzle with 1 tbsp of oil and season with salt and pepper. Add the 1 tbsp of reserved herb butter to the roasting pan. Pour in the broth, which will keep the drippings from burning and create a delicious pan sauce.

Step 8: Roast the turkey for 1 hour, basting periodically with the pan juices or oil. Remove the pan from the oven (closing the oven door to retain heat) and carefully turn the turkey over, breast side up. Cook for another 2-1/2 hours, basting periodically. The turkey should take about 3 hours to cook (around 15 minutes per lb.). If the legs or breast brown too quickly, cover them with foil.

Step 9: While the turkey is cooking, start the giblet gravy. Put the reserved turkey neck and giblets in a large pot and add the remaining onions, carrots, and celery as well as the remaining herb sprigs. Pour in enough water to cover the ingredients by 1″.

Step 10: Bring to a boil over high heat, and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer for 2 hours, periodically skimming the foam that rises to the surface. Strain the broth to remove the neck and giblets. Set aside.

Step 11: The turkey is done when an instant-read thermometer inserted into the meatiest part of the thigh registers 165°F. (The thigh juices will run clear when pricked with a knife.) Transfer the turkey to a cutting board and let it rest for 20 minutes before carving so the juices can settle back into the meat.

Step 12: Meanwhile, finish the gravy. Remove and discard the vegetable pieces in the roasting pan. Carefully pour the pan drippings through a fine-mesh strainer set over a large measuring cup. Skim off and discard all but 2 tbsp of the fat that rises to the top. Pour the strained drippings into a pot and place over medium heat.

Step 13: Whisk the flour into the drippings, stirring as it thickens to prevent lumps. Pour in the giblet broth and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for 3 minutes, or until the gravy has reduced slightly.

Step 14: Carve the turkey (see below) and serve with the giblet gravy.

Carving a Turkey

Step 1: Using a sharp knife, cut between the leg and the body to remove the thigh and drumstick together. Do this on both sides.

Step 2: Separate the drumsticks from the thighs by cutting through the joint, then slip the knife into the joint to remove the wings from the body on each side.

Photo Recipe Turkey MasterChef

Step 3: Cut clean against the breast bone on one side to remove the breast (above).

Step 4: Carve thin slices off of the breast, making parallel cuts. Repeat with the other side.

Photo Recipe Turkey MasterChef

Reprinted with permission from JoAnn Cianciulli’s MasterChef cookbook and MasterChef Kitchen (2010 Rodale).

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