The Trick to Roasting a Perfect Turkey Without a Roasting Pan

Don't have a roasting pan? Thanksgiving is not lost! Grab that broiler pan that came with your oven and get to work.

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Having worked in a number of test kitchens over the course of my career, I’ve learned almost nothing scares home cooks more than the idea of roasting the Thanksgiving turkey. I get it, for many it’s the centerpiece of the whole meal. Personally, I always focus on the pecan pie, especially if it’s laced with bourbon and loaded with chocolate.

But if you’re worried about the turkey, don’t fret! We’ve got tips on how to keep the turkey moist and flavorful—and what you can do if you forget to defrost the bird. What if, though, you don’t have all the tools you need for Thanksgiving like a roasting pan? You don’t need to worry another moment. You can grab that broiler pan that came with your oven and make an amazing centerpiece of a turkey.

The Benefits of a Broiler Pan

You’ve all heard the phrase, “use the right tool for the job” so naturally, it would seem logical the right tool to roast a turkey would be a roasting pan, right? Well, I disagree. First, most roasting pans are three to four inches deep but think of your turkey sitting in it. At least one-third to one-half of the turkey is shielded by the sides of the pan while the rest of the turkey is wide open to the oven. What does that mean? The part that’s more exposed tends to cook faster, and that’s usually the delicate breast meat. The part that are more protected by the pan are the thighs and legs. Since we like to cook the breast to no more than 165ºF but we like the legs and thighs between 170 and 175ºF, do you see the first problem?

I will argue the best tool for this job is the broiler pan that probably came with your oven. It has two pieces that fit together and the top piece has holes in it. The reason I like this is because when they are fitted together there is usually a lot of room between them, which you can fill up with lots of onions, carrots, celery and even the turkey neck. As the turkey cooks, the juices will drip down into the pan where the veggies will help flavor and protect the precious drippings from evaporating. This helps get you the most drippings for lots of homemade gravy. If you don’t have a broiler pan, grab a heavy-duty cookie sheet that has sides.

What this shallow pan also does is expose every part of the turkey to the heat of the oven. This ensures your legs and thighs are exposed to the same heat as the breast meat. The beauty of this is since the breast is much bigger than the legs and thighs, it will reach 165ºF at the same time the rest of the bird reaches 170ºF.

How to Roast Turkey with a Broiler Pan

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Step 1: Prep the Aromatics

Place 2 cups of chopped onions, 1 cup of chopped carrots and 1 cup of chopped celery in the bottom piece of your broiler pan. Add the neck and giblets, if desired. Cover with the top piece. If you’re using a rimmed cookie sheet, spread the veggies evenly across it.

Step 2: Season the Turkey

Place your thawed turkey on top of the broiler rack, or directly on top of the veggies if using a cookie sheet. Pat the skin dry and rub it with olive oil or vegetable oil. Oil helps you get beautiful golden brown crispier skin than you would get with butter. Sprinkle with plenty of salt and pepper, both inside and out.

Step 3: Roast

Slide the turkey into the oven legs first. We do this because oven temps are usually warmer in the back of the oven. This helps the thighs get the higher heat they need. Start out at 425°F; this not only jump-starts the cooking but you’ll find the legs and thighs get extra crisp this way. After 40 minutes reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.

Step 4: Rest Before Carving

Remove the turkey from the oven when the internal temperature is five degrees below the desired doneness. All large items continue to cook after being removed from the oven. This is called carryover cooking. Taking it out of the oven before it reaches 165ºF helps ensure it doesn’t overcook or dry out.

Now that it’s out of the oven you want to let it sit on the cutting board for about 20 to 30 minutes before you even think about cutting it. If you slice it right after you take it out of the oven, all the juices will come pouring out and you’ll end up with pretty dry meat. Don’t worry, the turkey won’t cool down in that amount of time.

Step 5: Use Those Drippings

As your turkey is chilling out on the counter, now is the time to collect all the delicious pan drippings. Be careful, there may be a lot of hot liquid in the bottom of the pan. Pour the contents through a strainer, pressing out as much liquid from the vegetables as possible. This then is the base for your gravy.

For those of you who got a roasting pan as a wedding gift from your Great Aunt Edna, and you know she’s going to be looking for it when she comes over, don’t worry! You can use it to make all these delicious recipes.

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James Schend
As Taste of Home’s Deputy Editor, Culinary, James oversees the Food Editor team, recipe contests and Bakeable, and manages all food content for Trusted Media Brands. Prior to this position, James worked in the kitchen of Williams-Sonoma and Southern Living. An honor graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, he has traveled the world searching for great food in all corners of life.