My Foolproof Turkey & Gravy Tips

Friendsgiving turkey 3How to brine a turkeyAnother year, another turkey. That's how that saying goes, right? So as some of you long-time readers know, every year Elsie and I host Friendsgiving together. This year we hosted on a Monday and included our entire staff and their families (if they could come; it was a work day after all). This is our third time hosting together, and I'm getting to a place that I feel really comfortable with my turkey routine. 

If you want to read my tale of worry and nightmares from my first year, check here. Roasting a turkey is a daunting task if you've never done it before. And there are about one million different methods out there, so it can feel overwhelming deciding what to do. If you're looking for what I would consider a foolproof method, I'd be happy to share what I do. Spoiler: I'm a briner. But I've got some new tips for you. You'll see.

Cranberry and white wine brineWhat is brining? Basically, we're looking to soak our bird in tasty liquids for about 8 hours. This helps to create a juicy, tender bird during roasting. And you can just do this overnight and your bird will be ready the next day, ready to roast. 

Every year I change up my brining recipe. This year was all about white wine and cranberries. I used 64 ounces vegetable (or chicken) broth, 1/4 cup sea salt, 1/4 cup fresh cranberries, 2 tablespoons whole peppercorns, 5 bay leaves, 1 sprig of rosemary, 3 medium onions (sliced thin), 1 bottle dry Riesling, and then enough water to cover the bird.

Over medium heat, stir together the broth, salt, cranberries, peppercorns, and bay leaves. Stir so the salt dissolves, then remove from heat and stir in the remaining ingredients (except the water).

Brine your turkey overnight in a coolerIf you have a frozen bird, be sure to thaw first. Also, remove the innards before brining. I always buy a fresh, locally raised turkey every year, so this step may be a little different for me than for you if you buy a commercially raised turkey. I highly recommend local if you can find one in your community.

Now one issue I run into sometimes at Friendsgiving is running out of refrigerator space. We've got to keep our bird cold while it brines overnight, or it could spoil. But if you put it in your refrigerator, it may take up a LOT of the available space. So one solution is to brine your bird in a cooler. Simply fill one third with ice, add your bird in a brining bag, fill with the brining liquid and enough water to cover the bird, seal, and top off with more ice. Shut your cooler, and it should stay cool through the night (unless your house is unseasonably hot or something).

In the morning, discard the brining liquid and rinse your bird. Pat dry. Rub down with softened butter or olive oil. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Fill the cavity with aromatics such as sliced onion, lemons, oranges, rosemary, and thyme. Use kitchen twine to tie the legs together so your turkey will keep its shape. Place on a turkey roasting pan (this will have a main pan and then a rack that the bird sits on, allowing air to circulate all around it) and roast at 500°F for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350°F and roast until your bird reaches 155-160° (use an instant read thermometer to find this). My turkey this year was a little over 21 pounds, so it took about 4 hours and 30 minutes to reach this temperature. Once you remove the turkey from the oven, allow it to rest for 30 minutes, loosely covered with aluminum foil. So this is a great time to make gravy. :) 

How to make perfect thanksgiving day gravyFoolproof gravy recipeGravy tied with crème brûlée for my favorite part of the meal this year. I feel like I finally have a good handle on turkey gravy. And it turns out it's not that hard to make at all!

First, collect the drippings from your turkey roasting pan (you can see mine above). If you let this sit in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes, the fat will begin to separate from the liquid. You can use just the liquid or both. 

For gravy you'll need 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) butter or turkey fat, 1/4 cup flour, 1 to 1 1/2 cups turkey dripping liquid, and 1 cup vegetable stock or water to thin.

Melt the butter (or turkey fat) in a large saucepan over medium heat. As soon as the butter melts, add the flour, and whisk to combine. Let that cook, continuing to whisk so it doesn't stick, for a minute or two. Add in the dripping liquid, and whisk to combine well. Now you can use your stock (or water) to thin the gravy to your desired consistency. Taste, and add salt and pepper as needed.

Perfect thanksgiving day turkeyI like to present the turkey with some kind of garnish underneath the bird, mainly for aesthetics. You could use something that hints at the brining flavor (like I did with the cranberries), or you could just use something pretty. Some good options are cut lemons, cut limes, cut oranges, cranberries, pomegranates, rosemary, edible flowers (if you use this, make sure they are food safe!), coffee beans, prepared stuffing, or raw green beans. Get creative—there are a million things you could use here to dress up your hard work. Enjoy, and happy turkey day! xo. Emma

Credits // Author: Emma Chapman. Photography: Sarah Rhodes and Emma Chapman. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.

  • Woah, that is one heck of a turkey! I’ve heard about brining before and how much better it can make meat like turkey taste. I haven’t tried it yet (usually my mom still cooks Thanksgiving dinner), but I’ll make the recommendation this year 🙂

    Cat
    http://oddlylovely.com

  • Your brine sounds delicious! I’m not hosting a Thanksgiving gathering this year, but I will have to keep the wine and cranberries idea in mind. Maybe it would be good with a chicken?

  • I brine my turkey as well and highly recommend it! I also cook it the same way you do. However, my recipe calls for covering the turkey breast area with foil after turning the oven down to 350 degrees to prevent that part from overcooking. Do you cover yours? Your bird is much prettier than mine, btw and I wonder if covering it is the difference. Do you have any issues with the white meat being overcooked compared to the dark?

  • thank you so much for this! i was just telling my fiancé that the one part about being a wife i’m worried about is cooking a thanksgiving dinner!! hahaha

    xoxo, kiely

  • Gravy tip that’s been in my family for generations – if you boiled potatoes (like to mash), use the potato water in your gravy instead of water or stock. It helps it thicken so you can use less (or no) flour. I get weird looks but man does it work well!

  • BEST tip I’ve gotten is to roast the turkey upside down so the juices drip into the part with the most meat. It really made a difference with both the flavor & the moistness. It’s actually a no-brainer b/c there’s really no meat at the bottom of the turkey where all of the drippings run down. Try it- you’ll love it.

  • I think brine makes a huge difference when making turkey! I had a cousin who did a Jack Daniel’s brine and it was the best turkey I’ve ever had… and I’m usually not a turkey fan. (Now I’m thinking I need to get that recipe from her.)
    Well done with the photos, as always. Love the cranberries and oranges as a garnish.

  • Wow! When I read, that this is your third Friendsgiving, it became clear to me, that 1. time flies and 2. I’m daily visiting your blog since almost 3 years now!

    Just wanted to say, that I really really love your blog! It’s such a great inspiration for me, and since I know ABM my sense for interior styling extremely changed (to the better! :D).

    Thanks for sharing all these great ideas with all of us! And I’m so happy for you, that your blog is so enormously successful!

    BIG HUGS from cold and grey Germany!!!
    Sophia

  • That turkey looks gigantic to me! But then again I never had turkey before …
    I kinda feel like I’m missing out on the whole Thanksgiving thing, looks like a very nice holiday =)

  • Love this post, I look forward to the Friendsgiving posts for months. However I really wanted to read about your initial turkey disasters, and I was dismayed to discover that there was no link!
    On another note I’ve been asked to do a presentation for an interview about a website that I regularly visit – so the 6+ hours I’ve spent on ABM over the last two days are now “research” 😉 Wish me luck!

  • My family does this as well! I agree it is the best. The starch from the potatoes gives the gravy an amazing consistency. Additionally, we always salt the water we boil the potatoes in and this helps flavor the gravy. It’s certainly worth a try if you haven’t done it before. I will say I do find it works best when I’m actually making the gravy in the pan I cooked the turkey or roast in, as you get all the little bits off the bottom of the pan to help flavor the gravy.

  • I need to try this!

    Question, did you seperate the skin and butter between the skin and meat or just on top?

  • Oh man, how can I convince my mom to let me cook the bird this year?! Im very inspired and feel geared up to take on the task 🙂
    Thank you for the helpful tips!!

  • I didn’t cover mine this year, but I’ve seen recipes that call for that. It’s a good option for sure. I’m a fan of crispy outsides, so that’s usually what I’m shooting for.

    To be honest with you, I don’t usually eat the dark meat. I know a few folks around the table did but since I don’t eat meat often it’s not my favorite part so I skip it. Probably a childhood thing leftover that I should amend, but it’s the truth. 🙂

    -Emma

  • This looks so fantastic! My mother in law and I panic every year when it comes to the gravy – somehow it always comes out fantastic but having read this beforehand will help, I’m sure!

  • I’ve never brined a turkey, but I read recently that you could use one of your vegetable bins in your fridge to contain it if the turkey fits. I thought that was pretty clever. Everything looks great!

  • Beautiful! Thanks for the tips for sure. I’m not yet hosting big family gatherings (the Mister and I do not have…ahem…a table), but I know some day it will be my turn for the turkey.

    I love that you get a locally sourced turkey! I’m a vegetarian for your same reasons (per your linked first-turkey post), but I’ve only been a vegetarian for a year or so. Which means that I still like meat. And miss it. And definitely don’t pass it up on holidays. So I’ll keep this post in mind!

    Thanks again!

  • Absolutely trying this one! I have to cook a 20-ish pounder this year since I’m hosting my parents and in-laws. I have always wanted to brine, and this one sounds wonderful! The cooler idea is a good one. I’m likely using that idea as well since our fridge is teeny tiny!

  • Looks amazing and I’m going to try this recipe. You didn’t specifically mention this, but you boil the wine with the broth, correct? Just wanted to check!

    Thank you and your turkey is picture perfect!

  • I was wondering, did you use butter or turkey fat in your gravy? I see that you said you could use either, I was just wondering which one you personally used and if you notice much of a taste difference or if you have a preference?

  • I am making my first turkey ever and have it in this brine right now…fingers crossed! I am also going to roast it upside down for at least the first hour so it stays juicer. Good luck all you turkey cookers! 😉