The Best-Ever Slimmed-Down Turkey and Gravy

Thanksgiving cookbook guru Rick Rodgers offers up exclusive recipes and tips.
Roasted Thanks giving turkey

The mere sight of a huge, uncooked turkey can send even a seasoned cook into a panic. How do you cook the dark meat completely without drying out the white meat? And can you do this without slathering the beast in unspeakable amounts of butter? With turkey master Rick Rodgers, author of Thanksgiving 101, as your co-pilot, we promise a moist, delicious Thanksgiving bird and silky, rich, 1 PointsPlus™-value-per-1/4-cup-serving gravy.

Exclusively for, Rodgers slimmed down his foolproof classic turkey and gravy recipes and gave us some simple tips on getting the most flavor out of your bird.

Buy a fresh bird
"Turkeys do not like to be frozen, they are very lean and tend to dry out," explains Rodgers. "Commercially frozen birds, which take ages to defrost, are injected with a moistening solution, which can sometimes contain artificial seasonings and flavors." Most large supermarkets will have plenty of fresh, not previously frozen, turkeys for Thanksgiving (ask ahead of time, and special-order if you need to). "If you're going to get a frozen bird, get a kosher one. This way you know the liquids used to preserve it and season it are all natural."

Invest in a good roasting pan
"Turkey is often as good as the pan it's roasted in. If you use a disposable aluminum pan — or a flimsy one — the heat bounces off the foil and the turkey just stews in its juices," Rodgers laments. "Get a good solid roasting pan (stainless steel or heavy gauge nonstick, approximately 17 by 14 inches) and be sure it has a rack, which lifts the bird up off the bottom of the pan so it can brown properly and doesn't stew or stick to the bottom. Most importantly, a heavy pan helps to darken the pan drippings, the key to delicious gravy."

Baste the bird with homemade, fat-free turkey stock
"I'd put homemade turkey stock in my pumpkin pie if they'd let me!" raves Rodgers, who also uses it to enhance everything from stuffing to sautéed vegetables. "By basting with homemade turkey stock, you end up with a moist bird and rich, mahogany-hued pan drippings that are almost like a demi-glaze. These will be the base of your gravy, and with them you will never need to use a store-bought gravy enhancer."

Let the bird rest at least 40 minutes before carving
"When a turkey or any piece of meat roasts, the hot air in the oven forces the juices toward the center of the meat," explains Rodgers. "By letting it rest, you are giving the liquid time to redistribute, which makes the whole bird juicer. Plus this gives you plenty of time to make gravy, heat up sides and make last-minute dishes."

To brine or not to brine?
Although soaking a bird in a salt-water solution, often enhanced with sugar and spices, prior to roasting is a popular way to produce a moist bird, Rodgers isn't a huge fan of the technique. "I don't like the flavor," he says. "It doesn't taste like turkey anymore; it tastes like ham. Plus, I don't think it's worth the trouble. If you use my technique of wrapping the breast meat in foil for much of the roasting in the roast turkey recipe , it takes care of the problem of dry white meat."

Choose the right bird for your gathering
"Know your audience. If you're having a big crowd, buy an affordable supermarket turkey. If you are entertaining people who love fine food and are going to bring $50 bottles of wine, go with an expensive, organic one," says Rodgers. "With organic, free-range, farm-raised, 'wild', and heritage birds, the key word is 'fresh.'" While these pricey birds offer old-fashioned, good gamey flavor, they are generally leaner than supermarket varieties, so pecial care should also be taken when cooking them. "Because heritage birds especially are leaner than ordinary turkeys, they can easily dry out," says Rodgers, so protect the breast meat with foil, baste often, and closely monitor the internal thigh temperature with a meat thermometer toward the end of cooking.

Get the recipes
Homemade Turkey Stock
Roast Turkey with Rich Rosemary Gravy

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