For our family, Thanksgiving morning means waking to the smell of turkey roasting in the oven. Warm, welcoming and full of tradition, that aroma signals the beginning of a celebration and a dizzying array of delicious, favorite dishes. Some of those are made for everyday occasions, but most are reserved for holiday feasting and when, at minimum, the number of family sitting around our table will be 12, I need to be sure there is plenty to feed a crowd, still have leftovers for evening and do it all on a reasonable budget. It’s easier than you think and I’m going to show you how. The secret to my turkey and mashed potatoes is that they are prepped the day (or night) before, which saves me time and energy when I am trying to coordinate getting many dishes ready to serve all at the same time. Then everything is served buffet-style, the next day, so our large family can fit around the dining room table. 🙂 Let’s get started with the heart of our Thanksgiving dinner — the turkey. I have cooked my turkey in exactly the same way, every year for about 30 years, now. It’s not technical or gourmet or fancy. It’s just GOOD!
Easily Prepare Roast Turkey with Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
If you have access to fresh, free-range, organic turkeys you’re well ahead of the game to get started. For those of us who need to buy them frozen, the process has to start two or three days before we want to roast that bird. Click here for detailed, instructions on the two safe methods for thawing a turkey. Once your turkey is thawed, you’re home free. Prepping it for roasting is a cinch!
I hesitated to show you every step in the process, for fear that you would see the length of the post and think that roasting a turkey is too difficult. But in the end, I wanted to show you all the pictures, so you wouldn’t have any questions. Know that the time from rinsing and prepping the bird to putting it in the oven takes me 15 minutes or less. It took much more time to create and edit this post and pictures than to prepare the entire Thanksgiving meal! It’s simple and you can DEFINITELY do this!
Easy Prep for Roasting the Turkey
You’re well on your way to a Roast Turkey with Mashed Potatoes and Gravy dinner spectacular! In about 15 minutes, you’ll have your thawed turkey prepped and in the oven.
- 20+ lb turkey
- ½ cup softened butter
- 1 Tablespoon flour
- oven roasting bag, turkey-size
- Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.
- Once my turkey is thawed, I place it in a large stainless steel bowl and carry it to the sink to be rinsed. I keep the cool water spray going while I thoroughly rinse and clean the bird before roasting. I remove the plastic fastener that is holding the legs together, pull out the neck and depending on the brand, the gravy packet, from the body cavity and thoroughly rinse out the whole inside of the bird.
- I also check the flap of skin at the top of the bird, that covers a small cavity where the neck used to be. There is usually a small bag of giblets stored there. Then I rinse the entire outer surface of the turkey. (If you want, you can save the giblets, neck and "gravy" packet. I always toss them and they will not be important in this recipe.)
- Once the bird is clean, set it aside while you prepare the roasting bag and roaster. I use a porcelain enameled roaster, that I've had for years, but any roaster that will accommodate the size of your bird will work.
- Oven roasting bags come two to a box, which will also include instructions and special oven-proof bag ties.
- It's easy to overlook the ties, so it's good to know to check inside the folds of the instructions to find them.
- Unfold and open the roasting bag.
- Add 1 Tablespoon flour. The instructions say that this prevents the bag from bursting and after decades of never having one burst, I feel fairly confident that it works. 🙂
- Lay the bag on the counter and get ready to lift the turkey into the bag.
- Slide the turkey into the bag, breast-side-up.
- Tie the bag closed with the included zip tie.
- Place the bagged turkey into the roasting pan, breast-side-up, then using the tip of a sharp knife, poke six small holes in the top of the bag. These will act as tiny steam vents. (Who knew how hard it would be to snap a picture while using a sharp, pointy object to poke holes in a bag? 🙂 )
- Shocking! I know! I could have gone into Photoshop and created a perfectly clean oven for this photo, but in the interest of full disclosure (and the fact that it was around midnight and I didn't want to mess with it 🙂 ), I felt compelled to "show it like it is". Yes, I did run the self-cleaning feature the day before and then yes, I did not sweep the ash out of the bottom of the oven, as I should have. Yes, I did roast the turkey with the oven still in that condition and yes, the turkey was AMAZING!
- Anyway, YOU can totally use a spotlessly clean oven. It won't hurt your turkey in the least. 🙂 You're going to want to use the rack that is about 6 inches off the bottom of your oven. Slide the roasting pan into the pre-heated oven and head to bed. Now, your oven will do all the work.
- This is the part where I have to say that different people have different opinions about the best way to roast a turkey. Some want high heat and shorter cooking time and others, like me, use low heat over a longer roasting time. I have found that low heat/slow roasting can yield a perfectly moist and tender bird if 1) you leave it unstuffed and 2) you do not tie the legs closed, so the legs and thighs cook all the way through. Trussing the legs holds them close to the breast and prevents the heat from circulating evenly and cooking them all the way through. This is just my opinion and preference and you could certainly use a different timing method, if you prefer. (As a matter of fact, there will be a high heat roasting guide included in the roasting bag instructions.) This will be my 30th Thanksgiving, preparing a turkey and we have never had a problem, using this low heat/ long roasting method.
- I usually put our turkey in the preheated oven about midnight. When I wake up between 7 and 8 am the next morning, the whole house is filled with the wonderful aroma of roasted turkey. Poke a small hole in the side of the bag and insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of a thigh. (Be sure not to let it rest against a bone.) When the thigh temperature is at 165 degrees (no less), pull your bird from the oven and set the roaster on a cooling rack. Leave the turkey in the bag to cool for at least 30 minutes. I often wait up to an hour. It will continue to finish cooking, as it rests and the juices settle back into the meat. That gives you plenty of time to peel and cook potatoes or prep some of your other dishes for the meal.
- After cooling, tear open the roasting bag and cut away as much of the excess as you can, so the turkey is exposed and easy to work with. Just look how much stock is in the pan! That's without adding any liquid to the bag!
- I use an electric knife and a long-handled fork to slice up the turkey.
- Starting at the top, I slice down along the breast bone, separating the meat from the bone.
- The turkey is usually so tender that the entire half breast lifts easily away from the bone.
- Place the breast on a cutting board and slicing across the grain, cut nice slices. Lay the slices into a baking pan. For this large 22 lb bird, my half-sheet sheetcake pans work perfectly!
- Slice the other half of the breast, in the same way.
- Next, remove the drumsticks. They will probably just lift away without any cutting. I use my hands to remove the meat from the legs as they are riddled with long feathery bones and I want to be sure none make it into the meat that is being served.
- After you have removed the meat from both legs, then do the thighs, wings and back, laying the pieces into the baking pan as you go.
- You can discard all the bones and skin, if you prefer. I collect them in a second bowl, all the time I am slicing the turkey. Then, I put them into a ziptop bag and freeze them, until I have more time to boil them down for turkey stock.
- With all the meat and bones removed from the roaster, what's left is the stock with a few "floaties". I pour the turkey broth through a strainer, into another bowl and discard the "floaties".
- And this is another reason I love using a roasting bag. Look at that roaster! It's a cinch to clean.
- Next, reserve 4 cups of stock for your gravy. Cover and refrigerate it. Drizzle the rest of the stock over the sliced turkey in your baking pan.
- Take the stick of softened butter and dollop bits of it over the white meat in your baking pan.
- Now, cover and tightly seal the pan with heavy-duty foil.
- Refrigerate until you are ready to warm it for your meal.
- Straight from the refrigerator, place the foil-covered pan into the oven and turn it on to 350 degrees. Let the meat roast for about 1 hour to an hour and 15 minutes. (until it is hot). The broth and butter already in the pan will help to yield tender, moist and perfectly delicious turkey. Once you remove the meat from the oven. Uncover and baste the top with the pan drippings.
- Serve with mashed potatoes and turkey gravy, along with all your other traditional Thanksgiving dishes.
How to Make Special Occasion Mashed Potatoes
I pre-prep Special Occasion Mashed Potatoes, just like I do the turkey. They are made the day before and left in the refrigerator until about an hour and fifteen minutes before serving time. If you want to time them so they are ready right at mealtime, the recipe works just as well, though. Here’s the easy recipe.
- 10 lbs russet or red potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
- 1 (8 oz) pkg cream cheese
- 2 sticks (1 cup) softened butter
- 1 stick butter (1/2 cup) cut into thin slices
- ¼ - ½ cup whole milk
- Boil the potatoes in a large stock pot of well salted water. The water should cover the potatoes completely. I use an 8 qt stock pot when I'm cooking the full 10 lbs of potatoes and a 2- or 3- qt saucepan for smaller batches on a regular weekday.
- Cook until the potatoes are fork-tender.
- Drain the potatoes and then place them back in the pan. Place the pan back on the burner over low heat and use a hand-held potato masher to begin mashing them. The reason for the heat is to evaporate off any excess water that may not have drained off. That's the secret to fluffy, creamy mashed potatoes. Excess water will give them more of a slimy, slick texture. Not good. 🙂 I use a handheld potato masher for the same reason. If your potatoes are still wet, instead of dry and flaky, when you put them in a bowl and start beating them with a mixture, the water and the starch in it will give your potatoes a really unpleasant texture. Hand mashing doesn't take that much more time and results in a far superior product.
- Continue mashing until all the large potatoes are broken up. Add the cream cheese and 2 sticks of softened butter. It's easiest to cut them into chunks, as they will mix in more quickly.
- Continue using the handheld masher to incorporate the butter and cream cheese with the potatoes.
- Add ¼ to ½ cup whole milk, to achieve the consistency your family likes best.
- When your potatoes are creamy and fluffy, scoop them into an oven-safe baking dish and dot the top with the thin slices of butter.
- Cover with a lid or heavy-duty foil and place in the refrigerator until about 1 hour and 15 minutes before serving. (I usually warm my turkey and potatoes at the same time.)
- Place in the oven and turn oven to 350 degrees. Allow to heat through for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
- Remove from oven and stir to incorporate any melted butter.
- Serve as the perfect side with your favorite meats.
How to Make Turkey Gravy
Last, but certainly not least is homemade turkey gravy. With all the stock that was generated from roasting the turkey, I usually have 4 cups or more left, even after drizzling some over the sliced turkey. This flavor-rich broth is the secret to delicious gravy. If you have a layer of fat that has settled on the top, you will want to skim that off before starting.
- 4 cups, defatted turkey stock
- ½ cup corn starch
- ¾ cup cold milk
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Pour the turkey stock in a saucepan and bring to a rolling boil over medium heat.
- Mix the milk and cornstarch until the cornstarch is completely dissolved, making sure there are no lumps.
- Slowly pour the cornstarch slurry into the boiling stock, whisking as you do, to avoid lumps.
- Continue to cook over medium heat and stir until the gravy is thickened. If it seems too thick, you can add a little more milk, a Tablespoon at a time, until you get your desired consistency. Serve over mashed potatoes and turkey slices. Delish!
Now, you’re set. You’ve got your Thanksgiving entree squared away! It’s that easy! Be sure to hop over to the other #HolidayProgressiveDinner blogs and pick up the great recipes for making an appetizer, salad, side dish and dessert, too!