Everything That Goes Into Making the Absolutely, Positively Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey

Alex Beggs

We asked our food editors to test and retest the Thanksgiving classics: to compare Idaho potatoes to German Butterballs, to weigh the merits of whole birds against cooking in parts. And we asked them to do it while filming Making Perfect, a six-part video series documenting every success and setback. Somehow, it all worked out...perfectly. Here’s how Expertly Spiced and Glazed Roast Turkey came together.

Find all of the recipes from the Absolutely, Positively Perfect Thanksgiving menu here.

The Dream Team

Andy Baraghani and Brad Leone

The Challenge

Miraculously roast a turkey that is well seasoned, juicy, and—can we type this loudly enough?—PROPERLY COOKED! Every part of the bird deserves equal love and appreciation, without a dry bite in the house.

The Solution

The absolute inarguably best way to cook a turkey is to break it down into parts, dry-brine it, and roast it on a wire rack in a baking sheet.

Watch Now: Bon Appétit Video.

Why Aren't We Cooking Our Turkey Whole?

You can get a near-perfect turkey roasted whole—we’ve done that in the past—but being able to guarantee both thighs and breasts are succulent? Parts make it happen, exposing every piece for even cooking. If the idea of doing surgery on a raw turkey gives you a stress rash, ask the butcher to do it (even at the supermarket, we called and asked!). Here’s your script: “Hello, talented and smart and under appreciated butcher [pause for uncomfortable laughter], I’d like to purchase a 12-to-14-pound turkey, cut into five pieces: the legs, wings, keep the breast whole, backbone removed. Yes, I’m doing that ridiculous Bon Appétit recipe. Yes, it better not suck.” Works every time.

This Year Break Out the Baking Sheet

High-sided roasting pans keep the heat from directly hitting the turkey, causing some areas to brown more than others and increasing cook time. So we followed a trick that food stylists use for a beautifully browned bird by roasting on a wire rack set inside a baking sheet, which lets air circulate underneath for that crucial crispy skin.

The proper layout
Photo by Alex Lau

Face Off: Dry Brine vs. Wet Brine

The salt in the dry brine (a.k.a. rub) has two effects. First off, it is abundant, which properly seasons the turkey and banishes the blandness. Second, the overnight uncovered chill helps dry out the skin, allowing it to crisp when roasted. When you use a wet brine, it’s difficult to fully dry the turkey afterward, dampening your crispy-skin dreams. Plus, drawing a turkey bath in a huge cooler is a messy nightmare and zero fun to clean. Dry brine for life.

The Ingredient: Pink Peppercorn

Brad advocated (bradvocated) for pink peppercorns in the rub, which are pleasantly pink, floral and fruity, and offer a little something different. If you don’t have them, that’s fine, there’s still black peppercorn as well.

The Turkey’s Lip-Smacking Glaze

...has soy sauce, light brown sugar, sherry vinegar, hardy herbs, orange peel, and garlic, and gives the turkey that high-gloss runway look.

See all that crispy skin and succulent meat?
Photo by Emma Fishman

Drop It While It’s Hot

The oven starts at 425 and immediately cranks down, which creates a nice golden color on the turkey skin without drying out the meat.

How to Take the Turkey’s Temperature

Each piece has an ideal temp: Look for 150° for white meat and 170° for dark. Start with the thickest part of the thigh, directing the thermometer down. Then get into the center of the breast by inserting the tip of the thermometer horizontally from the neck end, aiming for the meatiest part of the breast. Then go in from the side to double-check. Make sure you’re hitting meat not bone.

Shoppin’ Turkey

Show you’re thankful for the farmers who treat their turkeys well. Certified Humane and Animal Welfare Approved (look for those trademarks on the label) hold the highest standards for the treatment of animals, so we especially seek those out.

Get the recipe:

Expertly Spiced and Glazed Roast Turkey

For more Absolutely, Positively Perfect Thanksgiving menu ideas:

Originally Appeared on Bon Appétit