I just gave my Aunt Jane a full-proof recipe for roasting a turkey that will produce juicy breast meat every time. She was relieved to hear of such a solution, saying, “They hate my turkey — it’s always so dry.” If you, too, are looking for a better turkey recipe, check this out: I have been serving a wildly successful Thanksgiving meal for my extended family every holiday for 15 years, and one of my secrets is roasting the turkey upside down… (photo: Geri and her son both love to cook!)
I read about the technique in the Washington Post Food section many years ago — and still refer to their instructions on the now-yellowed and torn paper.
The food editors roasted seven turkeys in seven different ways to judge which was the best for Thanksgiving feasts. The topsy turkey won hands down. Owing to the juices flowing downward into the breast during the longest phase of cooking, the breast meat turns out moist and tender. There are two disadvantages to this method, but your guests will no doubt give two thumbs-up for its taste.
It’s not going to be the most picturesque bird. If you were to carry the whole turkey to the table on a platter, as seen in old Norman Rockwell paintings, the skin may appear torn or uneven from its contact with the rack. Our family — and my aunt’s — carve the bird before it ever hits the platter so it wouldn’t matter much, even if we did want the perfect-looking turkey.
The other consideration is that you actually have to flip a hot turkey that may weigh 20 pounds! My husband has a fairly easy time of it and my aunt wasn’t daunted by the sound of this challenge. I’ve provided some tips below to get over this hurdle.
Geri’s own recipe for cooking a Topsy Turkey:
- After stuffing the bird, rub the turkey and roasting rack with olive oil
- Place the bird breast-side down on the rack in the roasting pan and season liberally with coarse kosher salt
- Add a meat thermometer to the fattest part of the breast pointed outward so you can read it from outside the oven
- Roast at 325 degrees
- The bird isn’t basted for the first three hours or so (pour yourself a mimosa!)
- When the temperature registers 170 degrees in the breast, take out the bird and turn it breast-side up using two clean oven mitts (washing the mitts was aunt Jane’s suggestion — for years, we’ve rotated the turkey with whatever mitts were on hand, dirtied by months of cooking! Shhh, don’t tell my mother-in-law.)
- Baste with pan juices, and return to oven
- The bird is done when the inner breast temperature reaches 175 degrees — depending on the size of the bird, this phase could take anywhere from 50-100 minutes. (Note: if your bird has an instant pop-up thermometer, only use it as a second opinion. It could pop up prematurely after coming in contact with the roasting rack, or in the jostling to flip the bird.)
- Let the meat rest for 20 minutes before carving
APPROXIMATE ROASTING TIMES:
For stuffed birds:
8-12 pounds: 3 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours
12-16 pounds: 4 to 5 hours
16-20 pounds: 4 3/4 to 6 hours
20-24 pounds: 6 to 7 hours
For unstuffed birds:
8-12 pounds: 3 to 3 3/4 hours
12-16 pounds: 3 1/4 to 4 hours
16-20 pounds: 3 1/2 to 4 3/4 hours
20-24 pounds: 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 hours