I used to be scared of cooking turkeys. They frightened me. They are big. They have the potential to transmit food-borne illnesses if cooked improperly. They are heavy. They are unattractive in their naked, uncooked form. I was intimidated.

That is, until my Aunt Marilyn pulled through with her incredible 2-hour turkey recipe/method. For the record, I’ve made this twice now (my Aunt has made it numerous times). The first time I happened to set my oven on fire, but let’s not dwell on that, because the second time, this turkey was undeniably the juiciest, most tender, flavorful turkey I’ve ever had. No brining, no overnight bakes and soaks, just old-fashioned seasonings and a unique cooking method. The name is a tad misleading because with oven preheating time included, it takes a bit longer than two hours, but the result is well worth it. It is the main attraction, after all, so it does deserve some extra TLC.

I’m no longer afraid of the Thanksgiving bird and I will never need another turkey recipe. This one’s a keeper. Oh, and the drippings make unbelievably delicious gravy.

Make Ahead Tip:
The only tip I’ll mention is to be sure and plan ahead for defrosting your turkey! The safest way to defrost a turkey is in the refrigerator. If your turkey is frozen, the best method to plan on is to place the turkey in the refrigerator and allow approximately 24 hours of defrosting for every 5 pounds of turkey. That means, plan ahead! If your turkey weighs 20 pounds, you’ll need four days of defrosting time.





  • 1 18-22 pound turkey (I’ve used a 14-pound turkey with great results, also)
  • carrots, celery (cut into large chunks), onion (peeled and cut into large chunks), garlic cloves (peeled and smashed)
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
  • butter
  • brown paper bag


  1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees and let it heat for one hour. Meanwhile, remove giblets and neck and wash the turkey. Fill the cavity of the turkey with carrots, celery, garlic and onion. Combine the lemon juice, salt, pepper and poultry seasoning in a small bowl. With your hands, rub the entire turkey with the lemon juice mixture.
  2. Place the turkey breast down (this is opposite of how a turkey is normally cooked – so just flip the turkey upside down) in a large roasting pan. Place the roasting pan in the hot oven for as many minutes as the turkey weighs (ie. 19 lb. turkey = 19 minutes). Bake for the allotted time.
  3. Meanwhile, grease a large brown paper bag with butter on both sides. Remove the roasting pan from the oven and carefully (because the turkey and roasting pan are HOT) make a tent out of th paper bag and drape it over the turkey, taking care to tuck the sides of the bag into the roasting pan (otherwise, the butter will drip off the bag, leap onto the oven burner and possibly create a large fire…I may or may not know this from experience). See pictures below for a visual image. Turn the oven down to 400 degrees and cook the turkey for two hours.
  4. Remove the roasting pan and turkey from the oven and let turkey sit for 20 minutes. Remove turkey from the roasting pan and pour the drippings into a medium-sized saucepan. Bring to a boil. Make a slurry from flour and water (to the consistency of thick, heavy cream) and add to the drippings until desired consistency is reached.

Recipe Source: adapted slightly from Aunt Marilyn

*There is information, like this link, that recommends not using grocery store paper bags for cooking. If you are concerned about that, you can try a large oven bag, but I’ve never tried it and can’t attest to how it would work.

Here is a sideview of the roasting pan with the paper bag tucked INTO the sides. The paper bag should be greased with butter on both sides and tucked in like picture below. With my large roasting pan, I still had to trim about four or five inches off the side of the paper bag so it wasn’t too long to tuck in.

Front View. No biggie, I promise!

135 Responses to Turkey

  1. Ashley says:

    I made this for the second time for Thanksgiving yesterday and I am SOLD. Best turkey ever, even my guests raved about it. Sounds like a crazy idea but works so well.

  2. matt loehrer says:

    Hey, Mel—you’ve done it again. Short version: my sis-in-law was in charge of the turkey this Thanksgiving, which was a bummer for me because no leftovers (my favorite part—I love nothing quite like a turkey and swiss on rye with REAL Thanksgiving turkey). Fortunately, my folks surprised us with a visit Sunday, which presented an opportunity! I didn’t want to brine, too lazy, so I went with this recipe, and it was everything you said it was. Juicy, flavorful (I went beyond your suggestions and shook lemon pepper on the bird as well), and done inside 2-1/2 hours, including the initial 15 minute searing time. Even the leftover stuff I’ve been snacking all week is still pretty juicy! So great job, thanks so much.

    For the rest of you, all you need to know is 1. yes, it is juicy and done in a little over 2 hours, and B. if you’re worried about the paper bag, I tented foil over the bird instead and had great results. Maybe the inverted bird is key, or the pre-heat searing, but either way, I will cook my birds this way from now on.

  3. matt loehrer says:

    Wait, one other thing I forgot—I stuffed the bird with carrots, onion and celery, and since I didn’t have a rack, I took some carrots and the rest of the celery and made a little bed in the bottom of the pan for the bird to rest on. And then I ate the carrots. It was a good day.

  4. Ann W says:

    First time making turkey so this is a silly question but how many carrots, celery, garlic and onion should I use? I have a 14 pound turkey. Thanks!

    • Mel says:

      Probably 2-3 large carrots and a couple celery stalks. Really, you can just eyeball it – half an onion maybe? Several cloves of garlic. Good luck!!

  5. Emilee says:

    I have two questions.
    First, do you keep the turkey upside down after you wrap it with the paper bag? And second if the answer to the first question is yes, does the skin still get crispy?

    • Mel says:

      Hi Emilee – no, I don’t flip the turkey back over. It cooks breast side down the entire time. It makes for a super juicy turkey but the skin won’t get as nice and crispy as if it were baking breast side up.

  6. Becca says:

    I’m going to try this this week but my roasting pan has a lid? Do you put the lid on the the roaster either time it’s in the oven? I’ve never cooked a bird in the oven without covering it with a lid?

  7. Allie says:

    I have a small turkey this year–12.5 lb.–and I’m wondering if the cooking time would need to be adjusted for a smaller bird. What do you think?

    • Mel says:

      Allie – Maybe a slightly shorter cooking time, but due to the nature of how this is cooked it will probably be close to 2 hours still. I did a 14 pound turkey one year with this method and it still took right around 2 hours.

  8. Julia says:

    Awesome turkey! I no longer “fear the turkey”! I had wiped out my oven before turning it up to 500 and a tiny scrap of paper towel was left on the bottom of the oven. I was a little scared about that, so I turned it off, then fished it out carefully. Otherwise, everything went smoothly and the turkey was moist and delicious. I tented the turkey with heavy duty foil smeared with butter instead of a paper bag. My turkey was about 12 pounds and I think I cooked it for 1 hour 50 minutes. It rested on the counter for 30-45 minutes while the sides were cooking. Thank you so much for your recipes!

  9. Amanda says:

    Another reassurance that this does indeed work! I used a turkey that was about 15lbs and used foil instead of a paper bag. I think I could have taken it out about 10-15 shy of 2 hours, as it was at about 180 when I took it out at 2 hours. It was slightly overcooked, but cooking it upside down helped negate that quite a bit!

  10. Robin says:

    Hi Mel,
    If you happen to see this before Christmas Eve morning … do you keep the “tent” over the bird while it’s resting on the counter (post-two-hours in oven)?

    • Mel says:

      Sorry for the delay in responding, Robin – I’ve been spending time with family this last week and blogging a bit less. But yes, I keep the bird tented after taking it out of the oven.

  11. Suzanne says:

    I have used this recipe THREE times in the last month, and every single time, the turkey tasted incredible… moist, flavourful, etc. I had no idea turkey could taste so so good! Every turkey was a different weight, ranging from 14 – 19 lbs, but oddly, every turkey required more than 2 hours to hit the minimum temperature… guess it all depends on the oven?? Used foil instead of a paper bag, and made my own poultry seasoning rather than use the ready-made mix — think that may have contributed to the making of some seriously killer gravy. Thanks for this recipe!

  12. Janelle says:

    Have you used this recipe and put bread stuffing in the turkey as well?

  13. carissa says:

    will this work in an electric roaster oven?

  14. Corinne says:

    I’m curious as to why you need to leave your oven at 500 for 1 hour before putting the turkey in there. Isn’t it at 500 once it’s preheated? Thanks.

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