Alex Guarnaschelli Shares Her Secrets for a Golden, Juicy Thanksgiving Turkey—No Basting Required

Ana Calderone

Are you the kind of Thanksgiving cook who obsesses over basting your turkey every half hour? If so, you’re not alone, but you now have permission to stop.

Chef Alex Guarnaschelli is team no-basting, but she’s not about to just put the bird in the oven and let it fend for itself — she has another suggestion. For her Butter-Roasted Turkey with Sherry-Dijon Gravy recipe, shared exclusively with PEOPLE, the judge on Food Network’s Ultimate Thanksgiving Challenge utilizes a cheesecloth.

The thin piece of cotton, which is traditionally used for making cheese but has nearly an unlimited number of other uses in the kitchen and around the home, gets soaked in melted butter and placed over the turkey breast. The cheesecloth prevents the top skin from burning, says Guarnaschelli. It also helps slow down the cooking process of the breast — exactly what you want for a juicy bird when you consider that dark meat takes longer to reach that safe 165° zone.

Cheesecloths are not only effective, they’re cheap too. Target and Amazon both sell them for under $5. Your local grocery store likely carries them, or in a pinch, a hardware store should have them in stock (just make sure it’s the kind that’s safe to use on food).

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Still not over the whole no-basting thing? Butterball’s Turkey Talk-Line has long suggested home cooks give up the technique.

“You don’t need to baste a turkey. You should not baste a turkey,” Butterball’s Beth Somers told Food & Wine. “Because when you open the oven door it releases all of the heat and it completely prolongs the time of cooking. And the basting doesn’t actually do anything. The skin of a turkey is like a raincoat: If you take a spoon or a baster and pour juices over it, they literally roll right off the turkey — it doesn’t penetrate whatsoever. Basting does nothing but make your turkey take longer to cook.”

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If you’re still new to this whole turkey-cooking thing, Guarnaschelli shared a few other tips with PEOPLE that will help get you through the holiday.

Her recipe includes instructions for roasting a 14-16 lb. turkey, but if you need a different size, in general, “cook for about 12 minutes per pound the turkey weighs,” she says.

Guarnaschelli’s method also includes a low-fuss gravy recipe using the same roasting pan you cooked the turkey in. Thanks to dijon mustard and dry sherry, it’s sweet and tangy.

Oh, and the chef is not about to let all that leftover turkey go dry the next day. “I like to warm meat wrapped in foil in the oven with some chicken stock to keep moist,” she says. “You can also use leftover gravy in place of the stock.”

Get her full recipe below, and watch Ultimate Thanksgiving Challenge Sundays at 9 p.m. EST on Food Network.

Victor Protasio

Alex Guarnaschelli’s Butter-Roasted Turkey with Sherry-Dijon Gravy

1 (14- to 16-lb.) fresh or frozen turkey
4½ tsp. kosher salt, divided
2¼ tsp. black pepper, divided
1 (18×12-in.) piece cheesecloth
½ cup (4 oz.) salted butter, melted
½ cup dry sherry
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
7 cups lower-sodium chicken stock
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Remove giblets and neck from turkey; reserve neck. (Discard giblets, or reserve for another use.) Place turkey on a flat surface, and season inside cavity with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper; sprinkle outside with 2 tea-spoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Tie the legs closed with a strong piece of kitchen twine or string by wrapping it around the drumsticks and pulling them together. Transfer turkey to a roasting pan fitted with a rack.

2. Soak the cheesecloth in the butter. Brush any remaining butter on top of the bird, and cover the turkey breast with the cheesecloth to prevent the top skin from burning.

3. Place the pan in the center of the oven. Roast 1 hour and 45 minutes. Remove the pan, and discard the cheesecloth. Return the pan to the oven, and roast until a thermometer inserted in thickest part of thigh registers 165°, about 30 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, place the neck and chicken stock in a saucepan, and bring to a gentle simmer over medium high. Let simmer until reduced by about half, about 30 minutes.

5. Remove turkey from the oven, and transfer to a flat surface. Let rest 20 to 30 minutes before carving.

6. While turkey rests, place the pan over the burners of the stove. Stir in the sherry and mustard, and heat over low. Scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen drippings and browned bits. Cook until sherry reduces almost completely, about 4 minutes.

7. Pour simmering stock through a fine-mesh strainer into pan mixture; discard neck. Increase heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture thickens, 20 to 25 minutes. Stir in vinegar and remaining ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Carve the turkey, and arrange on a platter. Serve with gravy.

Serves: 12 to 14
Active time: 15 minutes
Total time: 3 hours