The secret to cooking a perfect turkey is only $3.99

I got you with that title didn’t I?

The perfect turkey. Is that even possible?

I’ve cooked a lot of turkeys, but only a few really good ones. Last year my husband and I had a turkey battle where I followed the recipe below and he smoked one outside on the porch.

I totally won.

I won because, after cooking a lot of mediocre (and a few BAD) turkeys, I learned what to do. And the BEST THING you can do for your turkey this year is to buy him this:

It’s only about $3.99. Tom Turkey meet Cherie Cheesecloth. Tom and Cherie are a match made in heaven. Swoon.

The theory behind using the cheesecloth is simple — turkey is lean and dries out very quickly. Covering it in cheesecloth that’s been drenched with flavorful liquid keeps it moist and infuses flavor. It also means you don’t have to open the oven every ten minutes to baste, which really screws with your heat and cooking time.

What you drench your cheesecloth in is up to you. Wine, butter, herbs, stock — a combination of all four — no matter. But if you take the extra five minutes to soak (and I mean SOAK) it and cover the bird with it, it will repay you tenfold.

Below is the recipe I used last year, from one of my favorite celeb chefs, Michael Symon. I baked cookies with him on Good Morning America once and we filmed the segment right after Thanksgiving. During a commercial we talked turkeys and he told me about this recipe. It’s a keeper — and a nice, uncomplicated one that turns out perfectly each time.

Here’s a quick how-to video from YouTube, using his recipe:

Turkey 101
Recipe Courtesy of Michael Symon
My note: The cheesecloth will dry out and brown, even blacken. That is okay — it will look beautiful underneath. Don’t be afraid to baste the cheesecloth once or twice to prolong the moisture. I usually just drizzle leftover stock on it once or twice during cooking. Also, be sure to read the important note below (last paragraph) about removing the cheesecloth.

Turkey 101

Turkey 101


1 10- pound turkey

2 tablespoons Kosher salt

1 head of garlic, halved through its equator

4 sprigs of fresh oregano

4 sprigs of fresh thyme

1 lemon, quartered

1 onion, peeled and quartered

1 fennel bulb, quartered

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

1/4 cup chicken stock or turkey stock or water


The day before roasting, rinse the turkey inside and out under cold water, set on a clean kitchen towel, and pat dry. Season the turkey inside and out with the salt. Wrap the turkey in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Remove the turkey from the refrigerator 1 to 2 hours prior to roasting to bring to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees with the oven rack set on the lowest rung.

In the turkey’s neck cavity, place a few cloves of the garlic, a few sprigs of oregano, a few sprigs of thyme, and a quarter of the lemon. Wrap the neck skin over and around the cavity to enclose the seasoning ingredients. In the body cavity, place half of the remaining garlic, half of the onion, half of the fennel, the fennel fronds, 2 lemon quarters, and half of the remaining oregano and thyme. Place the turkey, breast side up, on a rack set into a large roasting pan. Fold the wings and tuck the tips underneath the bird.

In a saucepan, over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the remaining garlic, onion, fennel, lemon, oregano and thyme to the pot with the stock or water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat so that the liquid simmers and continue to cook at a low simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. When cool enough to handle, soak a double layer of cheesecloth big enough to cover the bird in the butter mixture and drape over the breast and legs of the turkey. Pour the remaining contents of the pan over the bird, pushing the pieces of vegetables and herbs into the bottom of the roasting pan. Add the neck and gizzards to the bottom of the roasting pan.

Place the turkey in the oven and roast for 45 minutes (there will be a distinct possibility of smoke depending on how clean your oven is). Turn the oven temperature down to 375 degrees F and continue to roast for another 15 to 20 minutes (removing the cheesecloth for the final 10 minutes to brown, if needed), or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of a thigh registers 160 degrees F. IMPORTANT: WHEN YOU REMOVE THE CHEESECLOTH, IT MAY START TO TEAR OFF ALL THE BEAUTIFUL SKIN. BASTE IT WITH SOME STOCK/JUICES TO SOFTEN IT BEFORE REMOVING. Remove the turkey from the oven and allow to rest for 20 minutes before carving.

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  1. Can you convert this recipe for larger turkeys? I am concerned that with a larger turkey it wont be completely cooked as the cooking time seems much shorter than average turkey cooking times. I really want to try this recipe this year but don’t want sick guests from raw turkey. Thanks.

    • Sugar Mama says:

      Hey Michelle – using a meat thermometer is your best bet (vs. time). You’re looking for 160 degrees when inserted into the center of the thigh. Then, as it sits for 15-20 minutes, the temp will rise to the required 165. Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Thank you Lindsay for sharing the secret.

    I’ll try it with my oven roasted chicken. I really hate it when it’s too dry too. I love it when it’s juicy.

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