As part of our Thanksgiving 2023 menu, this recipe from Chef Grant Achatz of Michelin-starred Alinea in Chicago takes a hybrid two-step method to cooking your Thanksgiving turkey. Your bird will start in a hot oven to jumpstart the Maillard reaction to achieve perfectly browned skin, then the temperature drops down to cook the interior slowly the rest of the way through. This achieves a balance between breast and thigh, so you don’t have to pick through dry white meat in favor of juicier dark meat.
The herbed compound butter makes this a self-basting recipe, so no need to choose a side in the dry vs. wet brining debate. The butter is inserted under the skin as well as slathered on top, which results in the bird being bathed with fat, moisture, and flavor as it roasts. You’ll be rewarded with a tender, juicy, and flavorful turkey that tastes restaurant-quality but is easy to achieve in a home kitchen.
To determine timing for this recipe, factor in 1 hour for the turkey to come to room temperature, followed by 45 minutes for the high-heat browning stage, and roughly an additional 30 minutes of cook time per pound of turkey, with 1 hour to rest. For example, a 10 pound turkey will take approximately 5 ¾ hours to roast, plus an hour at room temperature before roasting, and an hour to rest afterwards. These times are approximate, and you should ultimately rely on internal temperature—not time—as your guide for doneness. But in terms of planning out your Thanksgiving Day, these rough approximations are useful.
Note: This recipe was developed using Diamond Crystal kosher salt. If using Morton’s, reduce salt by half.
As far from a basic dry turkey as you can get.
Make the seasoning salt: Add thyme and sage to a blender or small food processor and lightly blend until slightly broken down; do not overprocess. Transfer to a medium bowl and stir in the salt. Alternatively, gently combine using a mortar and pestle.
Make the herb bouquet: Bundle herbs and use kitchen twine to tie tightly in a bouquet.
Tuck wingtips under shoulders of bird. Working from one end of turkey nearest cavity, gently slide your hand beneath skin, between skin and breast itself, separating the two (feel free to use disposable gloves for this part). Working slowly and gently, continue sliding your hand between skin and breast to separate it entirely from breast, then work your way down around legs and thighs in a similar fashion. The idea here is to form a pocket to fill with herbed compound butter.
Once skin has been separated, pinch off a large, baseball-sized chunk of herbed compound butter and form an oval-shaped, flat patty (similar to how you’d shape a hamburger). Gently slide it under the skin of one side of the breast, and use your hands on the outside of skin to press butter flat and help distribute it uniformly throughout the ‘pocket’ on one side of breast. Repeat this process on other side of breast and beneath skin around legs and thighs. You should use the bulk of butter for this. Use your hands to slather any remaining butter on exterior of turkey, distributing it evenly over bird.
Using one hand, tip bird vertically upward so that the cavity is facing up. Use your other hand to sprinkle seasoning salt very generously into empty cavity of turkey—do not be frugal here. Use your hands to rub mixture around cavity to ensure it is uniformly distributed. Lay turkey back down and sprinkle more seasoning salt uniformly over breast and legs/thighs of turkey (it’s not necessary to season underside of turkey).
Finally, place herb bouquet deeply into cavity of bird stems-first, so that leaves of bouquet are protruding from cavity. Transfer turkey breast-side-up to a Roasting Pan fitted with a rack.
Position oven rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 450F. Once turkey has sat out at room temperature for 1 hour and oven is preheated, roast turkey for 45 minutes.
Lower temperature to 275F and continue to roast, using approximation of an additional 30 minutes per pound to estimate the amount of time turkey will cook at this temperature, understanding it could be ready 1–2 hours before you have approximated it to be done. A 10-pound turkey will take approximately 5 ¾ hours to roast, while a 12-pound turkey will take approximately 7 ¾ hours to roast.
About 2 hours after you reduce the oven temperature, remove turkey from oven and find highest spot of breastbone. Insert meat thermometer on either side of bone, thrusting it firmly all the way into breast until you feel it hit ribs. Allow probe a few moments to register a temperature. The target temperature range for this part of turkey is 160F-165F (if you have a smaller turkey, aim for higher end of this range; for a larger turkey, aim for lower end). If turkey has not yet reached this temperature, simply return it to oven, and continue to check on it every half hour or to hour until it’s done.
When turkey has reached its ideal temperature, remove it from oven and let it rest. This resting period is very forgiving – allow at least 20 minutes and up to an hour. Carve, garnish platter with roasted herb bouquet, and serve.