Last Thanksgiving I flew home to cook for 20 of my closest family and friends. Since I was traveling, I put my parents in charge of picking up turkeys and putting them in the fridge to thaw before my arrival. "Buy two smaller turkeys rather than one massive bird, please," I instructed. I arrive to find the biggest bird I would ever cook (22 pounds!) thawing in their garage fridge.
Honestly, I panicked at first. But my mom reminded me that she had leftover turkey roasting bags from last year and that was how she always cooked her Thanksgiving turkeys in the past. Never one to shy away from learning something new, I tried this turkey-in-a-bag method and was quite pleasantly surprised that this method resulted a super-tender, flavorful bird that even had crisp skin.
Who Roasts a Turkey in a Bag?
Probably your mom or grandmother has done it this way, but cooking a turkey inside a bag isn't new. Roasting in a bag has its roots in the 1970s, and is ideal for anyone who might be nervous about roasting their first turkey and wants some serious guarantees. (With this method, you get them.) There's no hands-on work and it's really hard to mess up.
For Your Information
- This recipe is written for a 12- to 15-pound turkey. If you've got a bigger turkey, consult your bag's box for longer cooking times.
- Despite roasting in a bag, you will still need a roasting pan for this technique.
What Kind of Bag Are We Talking Here?
There are a few turkey-in-the-bag techniques out there, including a method that involves butter and a brown paper bag, but this is not that. Here we are giving basic guidelines (and seasoning ideas) for an oven-specific turkey bag. Reynold's is probably the most recognizable brand of these, but PanSaver and BirdBags have also graced my kitchen. You want an oven-safe nylon bag, not a plastic brining bag. The big takeaway here: If it doesn't say it's oven-safe, it is probably not.
Your Turkey-in-a-Bag Game Plan
- Coat the roasting bag. Your turkey will brown best if your bag is coated with flour. Some folks say you can flour the bag without any adhesive, but I found better coating (and browning) if I spray the bag with cooking spray, add the flour, and then shake the bag to coat.
- Make a seasoning blend. At minimum, your turkey needs some salt, but why not up the ante with some dried herbs, garlic, and onion powder? You can coat the turkey in both before bagging.
- Bag, seal, and vent. Move your seasoned turkey to the roasting bag and seal it with the ties included in the bag kit. If, for instance, your mom lost the tie from the box of bags she lost last year, no problem. Tie a knot in the bag to seal. Lastly, before roasting, make about six (one-inch) vents in the bag with scissors or a knife.
- Roast and rest. Move the bagged turkey to the roasting pan and be sure to tuck the bag into the pan; we don't want the bag to come in contact with the oven walls or racks. Roast the turkey for two to two-and-a-half hours, or until it temps at least 165°F in the breast. Rest the turkey in the bag before carving.
Carving and Serving Turkey from a Bag
After roasting, carefully cut open the bag and carve the turkey. The turkey tends to be pretty tender from steaming in the bag, so it may fall apart a little more than your standard roast bird. Feel free to use the drippings from the bag for gravy.
How To Make Turkey in a Bag
Makes 1 (12- to 15-pound) turkey
What You Need
freshly ground black pepper
(12- to 15-pound) whole turkey, thawed if frozen
Oven roasting bag
Heat the oven and prepare the roasting bag. Arrange a rack in the lower third of the oven to ensure that your turkey has plenty of clearance, then heat to 350°F. Spray the inside of your oven bag with cooking spray. Add the flour, twist to close briefly, and shake to coat the bag with the flour. Set the bag in a roasting pan and roll it back to ready the opening for adding the turkey.
Combine the herbs and seasoning in a small bowl. Combine the basil, garlic powder, sage, thyme, onion powder, and black pepper in a small bowl. Place the salt in a second small bowl. Set these aside.
Season the turkey. Remove the turkey's neck and giblets, or save for another use. Pat the cavity and the outside of the turkey dry with paper towels and place breast-side up on a cutting board or rimmed baking sheet. Season the outside and cavity of the turkey generously with the salt — it's okay if you don't use the full amount called for here. Season the exterior of the turkey with the dried spice rub.
Put the turkey in the bag and close the bag. Place the turkey breast-side up in the roasting bag inside a roasting pan. Close the bag tightly with either the included closure (for some this is an oven safe zip-tie; for others it's a twist tie). If you've lost the closure, simply tie a knot in the end of the bag. Make sure that any ends of the bag are tucked inside the roasting pan. Using scissors, cut 6 (1/2-inch) vents in top of the bag.
Roast the turkey for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Roast the turkey undisturbed for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. You can test the turkey with a probe thermometer inserted into one of the bag's vents — the thigh meat should reach an internal temperature of at least 175°F and the breast 180°F.
Rest the turkey in the bag. Remove the turkey from the oven and rest, sealed in the bag, for 15 minutes. Use caution when cutting open the bag, as some steam can remain in the bag. Carve the turkey as desired.
Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.