Slow-roasted turkey is marvelously tender, with meat that literally falls off the bone and golden, rich golden-brown skin. It's an easy, hands-off way to prepare turkey, and yields consistently excellent results.
Why roast a turkey overnight?
To slow roast a turkey, you'll bake in a very slow oven over a period of several hours - typically 8 to 12, depending on the size of the bird. And this long, slow process results in impossibly tender meat that literally falls off the bone, and a golden, deep flavor, and crisp brown skin.
Even better, it's a fairly hands-off approach and that means you have more time to spend with friends and family. And you'll have plenty of time to whip up sides, put the final touches on dessert and set the table.
Timing Your Turkey
Slow-roasting is a simple, easy process that requires little active time in the kitchen. However, because it takes so long for the turkey to cook through, you'll need to carefully plan when you first put it in the oven.
Allow about 12 hours total. That means if you plan to serve your meal at lunch time, you'll want to toss it in the oven around midnight. Or, if you plan to serve it in the evening, you'll need to wake early to get the bird in the oven.
Slow roasting poultry was once common practice. And it was a popular way to cook turkey until recently. Many earlier generations grew up roasting their turkeys overnight in the oven.
Most bacteria on your bird will rest on its surface areas, not deep in the meat. Remember the "danger zone" for food-borne illness is 41 to 130 F. So make sure that your turkey comes to 135 F within about 4 hours and 165 F before you serve. And your turkey should be safe to eat. In 2008 researches found that slow-roasted birds were safe to eat (1).
To ensure your bird stays safely within those temperature windows, choosing small to medium birds works best. I recommend using a higher temperature and different techniques for very large birds. This maple-brined turkey recipe works well.
Tips for a perfect bird
- Choose small to medium birds (12 - 16 pounds) as larger birds run the risk of taking too long to come to safe temperatures.
- Stuff your turkey with herbs, lemons, and onions. Herbs, lemons, and onions give your turkey flavor and keep it moist.
- Bake your stuffing on the side instead of in the bird.
- Mind the internal temperature. The internal temperature of your bird should reach 165 F when taken from the thigh for safety.
- It's okay to cook the bird over temperature. The meat will seize and then yield and become even more tender as it cooks, so I typically cook my bird to 180 F.
- Tent the bird with foil if you notice it browning too quickly.
- Allow it to rest before serving. Your turkey will need to rest about 40 minutes to stay moist. That's just enough time to warm up your sides in the oven.
- Serve the turkey with plenty of sides like sourdough stuffing, cranberry mandarin relish, maple-glazed root vegetables and a nice autumn fruit salad.
- Use your leftovers for turkey bone broth and turkey and wild rice soup.
Slow-roasted Turkey Recipe
- Roasting Pan
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- Beat the butter together with thyme, sage and sea salt until well-combined.
- Rinse the turkey and pat it dry. With a butter knife, loosen the skin of the turkey from the flesh of the breast. Spread the herb butter between the skin and the meat of the turkey breast, and place the seasoned turkey on a rack in your roasting pan.
- Stuff the turkey’s cavity with onions and lemons. Pour wine into the pan. And then tuck it into the oven, baking for about 1 hour. Turn the oven down to 250 F, and then continue roasting the bird, basting with the pan juices every 2 to 3 hours until cooked through and evenly brown all over (about 7 hours). The bird should be a beautiful amber brown, and an instant read thermometer should register an internal temperature of 165 F when stuck into the thickest part of the bird.
- Allow the turkey to rest about 30 minutes before carving. Store any leftovers in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Once you've made the basic recipe, you can vary some of the ingredients and flavors. As long as you keep to the basic method and technique, you'll have a delicious bird.
Try a spice rub instead of herb butter. While the herb butter in this recipe's delicious, you can whisk spices together with olive oil and brush use that instead.
Try stuffing the turkey with oranges and spices instead of lemons and onions. Citrus and onions keep the bird moist as it cooks, and orange make a great swap for lemons.
A turkey needs to cook about 30 minutes per pound at 250 F, and should reach a safe internal temperature of 165 F before serving. I recommend slow-roasting only small to medium birds.
Turkey is safe to eat when it reaches an internal temperature of 165 F; however, slow-roasted birds may reach internal temperatures as high as 180 F. When cooking turkey past the official safe-to-eat temperature of 165 F, keep in mind the meat may seize and then become tender.
If you notice that your turkey is browning too quickly, you can tent the bird loosely with foil and continue cooking it until it reaches a safe temperature.
While researchers found that slow-roasted birds that were stuffed were safe (1), I recommend cooking your stuffing separately from the turkey as a precautionary measure when slow-roasting.
Yes. You can slow-roast a brined turkey, and the technique remains the same.
- Snyder, O.P., (2008) HAACP and Slow-Roasting Turkeys. Hospitality Institute of Technology and Management.