Roasting a Bird

Domesticated Turkey

Domesticated Turkey

by Cat, Jan 2009 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

This article discusses the following topics: Planning Ahead; Prep; Brining; Duck & Goose Fat; Stuffing; Trussing; Roasting; Gravy or au jus; and Carving.

I seldom roast a turkey, mainly because it’s just too big for one or two people.  I prefer capons (neutered roosters) or roasting hens. Or even a duck (I don’t care for goose).  However, this winter, Better Homes and Gardens featured an article on prepping, roasting and carving a turkey.  It included such good information, I want to document it here, adding sections on brining (2,3), and on steaming fatty birds (5,6).

For duck, see also the SF Chronicle article: Bringing duck home; A guide to cooking a bird that’s both crisp and juicy (5) for excellent tips and recipes.

For chicken pieces (rather than the whole bird), see also my article on Brining Chicken.

One more word on poultry:  avoid birds raised on factory CAFO or “boiler house” farms, where birds are raised in less than humane conditions and yield meat of inferior quality (refer to the video Supermarket Secrets Part 2 (7) to understand what I mean).  Know your farmer!  or hunt your own game birds.

Steps for Roasting a Bird

Plan ahead:

Allow 1-1 1/2 pounds of poultry per person, to leave enough for leftovers.

Allow plenty of time to thaw a frozen bird in the refrigerator, and even more time if you plan to brine it.  I highly recommend brining, as it helps to keep the breast meat moist, and also brings our the flavor.  You can even add desired flavors (herbs, spices, sugars, etc.) to the brine.


Remove giblets from the cavity.  Cut off the tail (Bishop’s nose) if desired, and discard. Cook the giblets in lightly salted water until done, then save giblets and cooking water in refrigerator for making the gravy.


Brining poultry helps keep the meat moist when roasted, and can also be used to infuse flavors (spices, herbs) into the meat. See Brining Poultry for details.

Duck & Goose Fat:

If using a duck or goose, you may want to render off most of the fat by steaming for about 1 hour (after brining):  If you have a large steamer that will accommodate the bird, you can use that.  Otherwise, use your roasting pan (5,6):

  1. Set a flat rack in roasting pan, perching rack on overturned custard cups or ramekins to keep it above the level of the water.  If you have quartered your bird (or are just using the breasts), you can use a colander, and rest the pieces against the sides of the colander; avoid stacking them. 
  2. Pour in water to 1″ deep; bring to boil over high heat.
  3. Put bird on the rack.
  4. Cover with tent of heavy-duty foil, tucking over rim of pan so that no steam can escape (or use pan lid if  it can fit over the bird.
  5. Lower heat to keep water at a steady but not vigorous boil, and steam 1 hour.
  6. Off heat.  Carefully remove foil to avoid getting burned by the steam (open the lid or tent away from you)
  7. Remove bird to platter; remove rack and cups; pour water/fat into a bowl or jar and chill in refrigerator so that the fat will congeal.  Then remove fat.  If it has impurities, melt it gently, then strain through a fine sieve. Store in a clean jar with lid in the refrigerator.  It will last a long time stored this way, and is an excellent fat for cooking and baking, especially for deep fat frying.  See Good Fats For Cooking for more.
  8. Then prick through the skin of the bird with a small knife in several places, especially where you feel fat deposits, so that the fat can drain out during roasting.


Prepare stuffing (if using) according to your recipe.  Plan about 3/4 cup stuffing per pound of bird, or 1 cup stuffing for one Cornish game hen.  Loosely spoon into neck and body cavities.  DO NOT PACK TIGHT.  If packed too tightly, the stuffing will not fully cook and may harbor harmful bacteria.

Or cut 1-2 lemon(s) or onions in half, and place in cavity with sprigs of fresh herbs such as rosemary or thyme, in lieu of stuffing.  An apple, cut in half, adds wonderful flavor to a goose.

Or bake stuffing separately in a casserole dish, and season the inside of the bird with a little pepper and herbs used in the stuffing.


  1. Pull neck skin over stuffing, using a long skewer to hold it in place.
  2. Tuck drumsticks under band of skin near tail, and tie legs together with string.
  3. Twist wing tips up and under the bird’s back.
  4. Place on rack in shallow roasting pan, breast-side up.  If the pan’s sides are higher than about 2 1/2 inches, the thighs will not cook evenly.



  1. Preheat oven to desired temperature.  Refer to Roasting Time Chart, above.
  2. Brush bird with melted butter or olive oil.  Season with pepper if desired.  Cover loosely with foil and roast.  About 2/3 of the way through the cooking time, remove foil to cut string between legs, then replace foil and continue to roast.
  3. Remove foil for the last 30 minutes to create a crisp, golden skin.
  4. Safe to eat when a meat thermometer inserted into the thigh (but not touching bone) reads 1650F; however, you’ll get the best flavor if you continue to roast until the thermometer reads 1700F (breast) or 1800F (thigh).  The leg should be very loose in it’s socket. See also WhatsCookingAmerica (3) or (8)
  5. Remove bird from pan and set on carving board or platter to rest for at least 15 minutes.  This improves the flavor and juiciness of the meat.

[NOTE for fatty birds:  After roasting, chill juices, then remove excess fat (reserve remaining juices for sauce, if desired).  Melt fat gently, then strain into a jar and screw on lid.  Save in refrigerator indefinitely; excellent fat for frying or baking.]

Gravy or au jus:

If the pan juices are too fatty, you can pour off into a bowl or measuring cup and chill for a while in the refrigerator to solidify the fat, then spoon off.

Refer to Rick Brown Gravy (from Dark Roux) for instructions to deglaze the pan for gravy (or au jus).  It also provides a recipe of a rich stock to flavor your gravy.


  1. After the bird has rested, begin carving.  Always use a sawing motion with your sharp knife, rather than a ripping motion (bearing down will tear the meat).
  2. First remove the leg:  Holding to end of the drumstick, cut between body and thigh.  Then separate thigh and drumstick by cutting through the joint that holds them together.  You may wish to slice the thigh meat, but the drumstick is more difficult to slice.  Instead, remove each section of muscle.
  3. Then slice the breast:  Steady the bird with a carving fork and cut horizontally into the breast, just above the wing.  Remove the entire breast by cutting down, next to the breast bone, to the horizontal cut.  Put the breast on a cutting board, and slice in even pieces.
  4. Cut off the wings.  You can also separate the sections of the wing if desired.
  5. Arrange white and dark meat slices on platter.  Add wings or wing sections.


  1. Better Homes and Gardens, November 2008
  3. Whats Cooking America, on Brining Poultry ( and Meat Temperature Chart (
  4. << link no longer valid; see saved pdf file: Cooks Illustrated: Brining Basics
  7. Supermarket Secrets Video, Part 2 (
  8. O Chef on Meat Temperature, and How Not to Overcook Meat (

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