A Chef Who’s Cooked 500 Turkeys Shares Her Secret to a Tender, Juicy Roast

Lan Lam, a seasoned chef and senior editor for Cook’s Illustrated magazine, offers her expert tips and a recipe for a perfectly cooked Thanksgiving turkey.

Thanksgiving is a time for gathering with loved ones and indulging in a delicious feast. For many, the centerpiece of this festive meal is a succulent roast turkey. But for those who are new to the culinary world or simply lack experience, the prospect of cooking a turkey can be daunting. Enter Lan Lam, a renowned chef, senior editor for Cook’s Illustrated magazine, and a cast member of the cooking show America’s Test Kitchen. With her vast expertise and having cooked 500 turkeys in her lifetime, Lam shares her secrets to achieving a tender and juicy roast that will impress even the most discerning palates.

Go for a 10- to 12-pound turkey

When it comes to selecting the right size turkey, Lam advises opting for a 10- to 12-pound bird. This size is ideal for serving eight to ten people with leftovers. However, if you have a larger group and plan to serve more sides, a slightly smaller turkey will suffice. Lam cautions against cooking a larger bird, as it can be more challenging to cook evenly and takes up valuable oven space.

Buy your bird at least a week before Thanksgiving day

To ensure a stress-free Thanksgiving meal, Lam recommends purchasing your turkey at least seven to ten days in advance. This allows ample time for the bird to thaw and be seasoned. The thawing process typically requires one day for every four to five pounds of turkey. So, for an eight-pound turkey, it will take approximately two days to thaw. Additionally, factoring in the time needed to season the turkey is crucial. Depending on your preferred method, seasoning can take anywhere from six hours to two days.

Get that bird in the oven early

Timing is everything when it comes to roasting a turkey. Lam advises starting the cooking process early to ensure the bird is perfectly cooked and ready to be served at the desired time. Depending on the size of the turkey, it will require three and a half to four hours of oven time. For example, if you plan to serve dinner at 1 p.m., the turkey should be placed in the oven around 9 a.m. The goal is to reach a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit in the breast meat and 170 to 175 degrees Fahrenheit in the thighs. Using a meat thermometer is crucial to achieving these desired temperatures, ensuring a juicy and tender result.

A recipe that eliminates the need for flipping

Traditionally, some recipes suggest flipping the turkey midway through the cooking process to prevent the white meat from overcooking while waiting for the dark meat to reach a higher temperature. However, Lam has developed a recipe that eliminates the need for this laborious task. Her method involves cooking the turkey on a preheated roasting pan placed on top of a preheated pizza stone or pizza steel. This setup delivers more heat to the legs and thighs, allowing them to cook thoroughly while the breast meat remains perfectly cooked. By the time the breast reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit, the legs are done, resulting in a hassle-free cooking experience.

Easier roast turkey and gravy recipe

To put Lam’s method into practice, here is a recipe courtesy of America’s Test Kitchen:

– Serves: 10 to 12
– Total Time: 3½ hours, plus 24 hours salting

This recipe incorporates a baking stone or steel to deliver even heat distribution and ensure a perfectly cooked turkey. The turkey is seasoned with a mixture of salt and sugar, and the baking stone helps cook the legs and thighs to a higher temperature than the breast. The result is a flavorful and tender roast turkey accompanied by a rich and savory gravy.


Cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be an intimidating task. With the guidance of experienced chef Lan Lam, even novice cooks can achieve a tender and juicy roast that will impress their guests. By following Lam’s tips and trying her innovative recipe, you can confidently tackle the centerpiece of your Thanksgiving feast and create a memorable dining experience for all. So, gather your ingredients, preheat your oven, and get ready to embark on a culinary adventure that will leave your loved ones craving seconds.






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