A Chef’s Secret to a Tender, Juicy Roast: Tips for Cooking the Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey

Lan Lam, a seasoned chef and editor, shares her expertise on cooking a delicious turkey for Thanksgiving, offering valuable tips and a foolproof recipe.

Thanksgiving is a time for family, gratitude, and of course, a mouthwatering turkey. For those who are new to the task of cooking a turkey, the endeavor can seem daunting. However, Lan Lam, a renowned chef and senior editor for Cook’s Illustrated magazine, assures us that preparing a tender and juicy turkey is much easier than it may appear. With over 500 turkeys under her belt, Lam shares her expert advice and a tried-and-true recipe developed for America’s Test Kitchen. Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned cook, Lam’s tips and recipe will help you conquer the centerpiece of your Thanksgiving feast.

Choosing the Right Size Turkey

Lam advises that a 10- to 12-pound turkey is ideal for serving eight to ten people with leftovers. However, if you have an abundance of side dishes, you can opt for a slightly smaller bird. Lam emphasizes that larger turkeys are more challenging to cook well and take up valuable oven space, which is often needed for other Thanksgiving dishes.

Buying the Turkey in Advance

To ensure a stress-free Thanksgiving, Lam recommends purchasing your turkey at least seven to ten days before the big day. This timeframe allows ample time for thawing and seasoning. The U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests allowing one day of thawing for every four to five pounds of turkey. Additionally, factor in the time required for seasoning, which can range from six hours to two days, depending on your preferred method.

Timing is Key

Lam stresses the importance of starting early to ensure a perfectly cooked turkey. Depending on the size of the bird, you will need approximately three and a half to four hours of oven time. Therefore, if you plan to serve dinner at 1 p.m., the turkey should be in the oven by 9 a.m. The key is to reach a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit for the breast meat and 170 to 175 degrees Fahrenheit for the thighs, ensuring both tenderness and juiciness.

The No-Flip Method

Traditionally, recipes suggest flipping the turkey halfway through cooking to prevent overcooking the breast meat while waiting for the dark meat to reach the desired temperature. However, Lam has developed a recipe that eliminates the need for flipping. Her method involves using a preheated roasting pan placed on top of a pizza stone or steel. This technique delivers more heat to the legs and thighs, allowing them to cook faster than the breast meat. By the time the breast reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit, the legs are perfectly done, eliminating the need for flipping and reducing the risk of burnt fingers.

Recipe: Easier Roast Turkey and Gravy

Lam shares her foolproof recipe for an easier roast turkey and gravy, developed by America’s Test Kitchen. This recipe incorporates the use of a preheated baking stone or steel to ensure even cooking and a flavorful, concentrated gravy. The turkey is seasoned with a mixture of salt and sugar, and the legs and thighs receive an extra boost of heat from the baking stone. The breast meat is protected with a foil shield, allowing it to brown after the shield is removed. The resulting turkey is tender, juicy, and accompanied by a delicious homemade gravy.


Cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be a daunting task, even for beginners. With the guidance and expertise of Lan Lam, a chef with extensive experience in the kitchen, anyone can achieve a tender and juicy roast. From choosing the right size turkey to utilizing the no-flip method, Lam’s tips ensure success in the kitchen. By following her foolproof recipe for an easier roast turkey and gravy, you’ll be well on your way to creating a memorable Thanksgiving feast that will impress your guests and leave them craving seconds.






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