You've all read or heard the experts with their esoteric "secrets" of turkey preparation to ensure a tender, juicy, beautifully browned roast bird for that Thanksgiving feast, right? Don't listen to them. Listen to me. There's but a single, at-bottom "secret" for ensuring a perfect roast bird: start with the right bird.
And what constitutes the right bird? Young (10-15 lbs max), fresh (i.e., never been frozen), and purchased from a source you trust. Go over that weight limit and no matter what you do you're in trouble. Ditto if the bird has ever been frozen. And if you've more guests than a 10-15 lb bird will serve, make two, or three, or whatever. Now... First, remove the bird from the refrigerator an hour or two before preparing so that it reaches room temperature through and through. Next, drain the room-temperature bird of all its juices, and then dry thoroughly with paper towels, inside and out. Don’t be stingy with the towels. If the bird isn't perfectly dry on the outside before applying the basting, first, the basting won't adhere properly, and, second, the skin will never roast brown and crisp no matter how much basting you apply. Liberally season the bird all over and inside the cavity with salt, freshly ground black pepper, sage, and thyme. Quarter a whole orange, and dump the quarters into the cavity. (Please do not cook the stuffing inside the bird. It sounds like a great thing to do but causes more problems than it's worth. Prepare the stuffing stovetop or separately in the oven, as the case may be, and see below for when to stuff it into the bird.) Place the turkey on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Then, very carefully from the turkey's rear, run your hand, palm up, between the skin and the breast meat (and take care to first pare those nails of yours!), separating the two, but leaving the skin fully intact over the breast both sides. With your hand, insert a fair amount of softened, unsalted butter laced with freshly ground black pepper, sage, and thyme between skin and breast meat, making certain to cover all the breast meat with the spice-laced butter (you might want to first run a paper towel between the skin and breast meat to take up excess moisture before inserting the butter as that will make the butter "take" better to the meat). Smooth down the skin so that it lays flat on the breast meat again. Then, tuck the ends of the drumsticks into the skin fold at turkey's tush, and fold the wings under the back. Baste the bird all over with slathers of soft, unsalted butter. You need do this only this one time. No further basting required. Now, put the bird into a preheated oven at 325 F degrees, and roast to an internal temperature of 160-165 F degrees for the breast meat, and 170-175 F degrees for the thigh meat (you'll almost certainly have to "tent" the breast with aluminum foil for about the last 1/2 to 3/4 hours of cooking to ensure that the breast meat won't overcook while the thigh meat comes to temperature). Approximate cooking time for one bird is 2 1/2 - 3 1/2 hours if your oven is reasonably accurate (best to use an accurate oven thermometer to keep track of oven temperature). Begin checking the bird's internal temperature with a good meat thermometer after about 2 hours or so, and adjust total cooking time accordingly. Most home ovens tend to cook hotter at the rear than at the front giving the bird an uneven browning. If you see that happening, simply rotate the pan in the oven 180 degrees (so that what was at the back is now at the front, and vice versa) as many times as needed to even-up the browning. After removing from the oven, let the bird rest at least one hour before carving. (It's a royal pain, we know, but for maximum flavor and maximum moistness, before carving let the bird rest for as long as it took the bird to roast.) Do not cover the bird while it's resting. If you do, it will keep on cooking to a point where it will be ruined. If you've made stuffing, remove the quartered orange, and stuff the cavity with the already cooked but at-room-temperature stuffing immediately the bird comes out of the oven. That's it. The whole schmear. Follow the above no-brainer instructions and a tender, juicy, delicious, and perfectly browned bird is the guaranteed result. Trust me. Happy Thanksgiving, all!