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Spice-Rubbed Roasted Turkey Recipe

How to Cook a Perfect Turkey  and Have a Memorable Thanksgiving

thawing and cooking guide to turkey

by Valorie Paul

We don't wait until Thanksgiving to ask my father to cook.  He has many special and often-requested dishes, from sausage gravy to chili for a crowd. Fresh-caught bass, fried to golden perfection, and apple-kissed lemon chicken are two of his other specialties. But nothing else, all year long, is as greatly anticipated and savored as his Spice-Rubbed Roasted Turkey on Thanksgiving. Throughout the years it has been my job to stuff the turkey, or to rub seasoning into the skin, or even to lay the bacon over the rounded top of the turkey...this method gives plenty of opportunities for little hands to help, and on Thanksgiving Day there were always lots of little hands hoping for an opportunity to get in on the action.

Dad said he developed this method by cooking turkeys over the campfire, but that it has changed substantially since that original fire-roasted turkey.

This recipe uses approximately a 20 to 24 pound turkey. Fresh turkey is so much better than frozen, Dad always prefers it. On years that we couldn't get a fresh turkey, though, frozen is still delicious. It is easy today to get fresh turkey at Thanksgiving or Christmas.

If frozen, the first step is to thaw the turkey by putting it in the refrigerator for a day, or possibly two.The night before, we oven-toast 28 slices (or so) of bread to dry them, and tear them into bite-size pieces. Before starting the turkey we cook a chopped onion in butter, and simmer 3 cups diced celery in 2 cups of chicken broth (amounts are approximate, use what looks right). After placing the bread bits in an impossibly large silver bowl, pour the celery and chicken broth, and the onion and butter, over the bread and toss with 1 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons sage, 1 teaspoon pepper, and 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning. The sage is forgiving, but be sure not to use too much poultry seasoning. Toss with enough additional chicken broth to moisten the stuffing. Set it aside.


Remove giblets and place in a saucepan (excepting only the liver, unless you particularly like liver-flavored gravy), with half a chopped onion, two stalks of sliced celery, a cored and quartered apple, and several sliced carrots. Salt and pepper it, add a bay leaf, and leave it on low heat to simmer for several hours. You're basically making turkey giblet stock, so whatever procedure and spices you use to make stock, go ahead and use them at this point. I like adding several leaves of rosemary and a few peppercorns, for example. This stock makes a creamy, rich gravy, so desired on Thanksgiving Day.

Thoroughly rinse the turkey, inside and out, and lightly pat dry. Stuff the cavity, packing the stuffing firmly. We always use the same stuffing for our Thanksgiving, but whatever stuffing recipe you use, make sure that every ingredient is fully cooked. Any extra stuffing we bake separately, covered, in a casserole dish. Using liberal amounts, rub salt and pepper into the skin of the turkey, both top and bottom. Then sprinkle parsley over the bird and rub it in, especially into the crevices and by the wings. Then rub sweet delicate Hungarian paprika in a heavy, even layer over the entire bird. A sprinkle of garlic salt is the final step, rubbed lightly into the seasonings already coating the skin.

Place the turkey on a raised wire baking rack in large metal pan (turkey must not be sitting on the bottom of the pan!). Put about 1" water in the pan, along with a quarter stick of butter (sliced into four pieces and dropped into the corners), 3-4 cored and quartered apples, and one or two pared onions. Cover the top of the turkey with a single layer of thickly-sliced country bacon, but cover it completely! Toothpicks help secure the bacon to the turkey.

Don't forget the legs, they get pieces of their own. Put foil around the wings, because they're thin and will burn otherwise. Over bacon drape a wet hand towel (the towel will be ruined, so don't use your prettiest! It should be fairly wet, almost dripping). Put heavy foil between the edges of the turkey and the pan, so they don't touch. Then fold a large piece of foil four times and place a square of foil over the breast. Then put at least three layers of heavy foil over the top and to the edges of the pan, crimping them tightly.

Put the bird in a preheated 375°F oven for about 2 hours, until thoroughly heated. Then raise the heat to 400-450°F, depending on the sizzling, for about 1 - 1 1/2 hours. Look at the bird and its moisture content, and finally bake at 500°F for 1/2 to 1 hour. Dad can tell by the aroma when the bird's heat needs to be raised, and when it is done, but this is the procedure he nearly always follows.  Enjoy the people gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving while the turkey cooks.

Finish the gravy by straining the broth and discarding the vegetables. The meat can be set aside and served later, or eaten then. Add a can of cream of mushroom soup, and stir until thoroughly mixed.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.In a mason jar, shake water and flour vigorously and add it to the gravy until thickened.  Remove the turkey and discard the foil and bacon. Remove stuffing to a serving bowl.


Carve and serve turkey. Moist, fragrant, and delicious. Although I'm always tempted to add garlic, or lemon, Dad uses this method because he doesn't want anything to change the essential flavor of the turkey meat, which is roasted to perfection. The bacon keeps the turkey moist, and the skin tender, so no basting is needed.

Served with mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and rolls, peas and corn and lima beans, this is the Thanksgiving dinner we enjoy year after year. Despite the many other dishes on the table, the turkey is always the grand star, and with Dad's careful preparation and spices, it is truly grand. Now, those candied sweet potatoes, boiling in brown sugar syrup on the stove for nearly as long as the turkey roasts, are another delicious story altogether.

Editor's Note: We thought about formatting this in our usual way, but felt we would lose more than we gained, since this is a loving story told joyfully, and possesses real kitchen advice and the spirit of Thanksgiving. We felt like we were there cooking with Carl and Valorie and didn't want to lose the experience.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone


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