How To Prepare A Turkey For Roasting

11/04/2011 12:28 pm ET | Updated Aug 31, 2012

Ready to roast up a beautiful bird? It's easy, says chef Dwayne LiPuma of The Culinary Institute of America.

Preparing the Thanksgiving Turkey

First, he places the turkey on a non-porous surface to keep any contaminants contained. Then he removes the giblets from the large cavity of the bird. (Feel free to roast these separately -- the flavor will give your gravy depth--or just discard.) Next, chef LiPuma makes sure the bird is thoroughly dried (you can use paper towels for this), then begins to season it. You want to season the bird before trussing so you have access to the cavity, which needs to be seasoned, as well.

To begin, he brushes the surface of the turkey skin with melted butter, making sure not to miss any spots. (An even coat of fat will help ensure even browning.) Next, he liberally salts the bird. Don't be afraid of the salt during this step -- it takes more than you think to flavor the turkey. Pepper is next, then it's time for trussing.

The reason for a basic truss is to keep the bird nice and tight during cooking so it browns evenly. First, fold the wings behind the back of the turkey. Then, using a piece of butcher's twine, come up from under the turkey legs, cross the string, then make one loop under each leg bone and tie a double-knotted bow at the top. And that's it! A good general guideline for roasting is 20 minutes for every pound at 350F, so figure about four hours for a 12 pound bird.

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Video Transcript

I'm Chef Dwayne LiPuma, from the Culinary Institute of America, and I'm going to show you this kitchen basic: how to prepare a turkey for roasting.

When we roast a turkey, first of all we have to make sure we put our turkey on a non-porous cutting board, so that no bacteria can seep into our cutting board, and we have no cross-contamination going on.

First we remove all these giblets, the neck and the backbone. Some people like to roast this along with the bird, and the deep flavor that the roasted bones add is going to make your gravy that much more spectacular. Or you can discard them; I leave that up to you. Then we have the little package of liver and kidneys; then everything's good.

The next thing we're going to do is season our bird. It is so important that you pat your bird dry - which we did prior to this - because if you leave it all wet, anything you put on it is basically going to roll off it. We're also going to truss the bird, but I've found that it's easier to season before you truss. If I truss it and close everything up, then I'm not able to get on the inside of the cavity, and you want the bird to cook from the inside out with seasoning as well as from the outside in.

First we're going to use melted butter. I like butter because it's full of fat, fat is flavor, and it just enhances everything. It's important that you baste the bird perfectly evenly, because oil also attracts heat, so if you do not evenly baste your bird, then it's going to brown unevenly. You want to make sure you get every little nook and cranny; make sure you even put some on the inside. In fact, if you want to get all sorts of crazy, you can just pour a little bit inside, straight from the bowl. I don't really concern myself with the bottom of the bird, because there's nothing on the bottom of the bird that we're really going to eat.

After we baste it, then we're going to take our salt - and as you can see, when you put the salt on, it sticks to the buttered bird like glue. If I were to put the salt all over the bird and then baste it, I'd just be spreading salt all over. Now make sure you pick this thing up and season it all around. Don't be afraid - it might seem like this is a little heavy when I"m doing it, but the meat is so thick on this bird that for the salt to get in there, it'll take a lot of salt. In fact after you roast it, it's always nice to put a little sprinkle of salt on the top to get that extra little flavor.

Now that we've seasoned it ever so nice, we're going to do a basic truss. Now what is a truss? A truss is nothing but taking the bird and tying it up a little bit. Why do you want to tie it? Because when you bring the bird together and make it all nice and tight, like we're going to do, then it browns evenly. If I was to leave these wings out like this, these little tips would brown unevenly, it would cook unevenly, the legs would look a little different. By packing it all together and making it a really tight little piece of roast, that makes it cook and brown a lot more evenly.

To start, take the wings and just fold them under - and already it looks nice and tight. Then we take our string and cut a length, and this is very simple. We go under the legs, cross the strings - just like starting to tie your shoes - and then this is the only tricky part. We take one end of the string under one leg, and the other end under the other leg, and then back up to the top, and tie it just like you'd tie your shoes, with a nice little bow. Then you take the extra string and - what I'd do, actually, is double-knot it, so there's no chance of opening - and then just tuck it inside. And there we have a basic truss. It's very simple, the wings are tight under, the bird is nice and tight. Now we take it and lift it into our roasting pan - it sits beautifully, nice and even, ready to go.

The rule of thumb is to cook it twenty minutes for every pound of turkey. This is a twelve pound bird, so it should take roughly four hours, roasting it at 350. So have a little bit of patience - nothing's really going to happen for the first hour, hour and a half. All you're doing by opening the door is letting out all the hot air, and then the oven's got to kick back on and get back up to temperature, you're wasting gas. So give it an hour, hour and a half. Then you can open up the oven real fast, and take a peek at what's going on there. Then you can start basting, and you'll see that your bird will cook a lot faster, more evenly, with better color, and you'll come out with a better product.

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