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 it 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, 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 6 hours total for a medium-sized bird. If you have a large bird, and plan to eat early in the day, you may need to wake in the wee hours of the morning to get your bird ready on time. Or, if you plan to serve it in the evening, you'll start the bird by noon.
The recommended temperature for roasting turkey is 325 F; however, 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. In 2008, researchers 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 risk 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.
- If you find the turkey cooking too quickly, you can reduce the heat to 225 F.
- Allow it to rest before serving. Your turkey will need to rest for 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.
- If your wine and liquid ingredients evaporate in the pan, add more wine, stock, or water.
Variations + Substitutions
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 is 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 oranges make a great swap for lemons.
More Thanksgiving recipes
A turkey needs to cook for 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 or even 190 F. When cooking turkey past the official safe-to-eat temperature of 165 F, remember that the meat may seize and then become tender.
If you find your turkey cooking too quickly, you can decrease the oven temperature to 225 F.
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.