For 15 years I’ve been iterating on the turkey recipe that among friends and family is referred to as ‘Josh’s Turkey’. Like most enjoyable things, including the many tech-infused products and solutions I usually talk about here, this turkey recipe is the compilation of many ideas and the result of multiple iterations. Learning from others, from experiments (both good and bad) and from hard work and time can have great results with food, with business, with tech and with life.
Josh’s Turkey takes two main concepts and several techniques and puts them all together to create a bacon-wrapped, garlic and rosemary infused turkey. The first major breakthrough was about a dozen years ago when I found a website with a rosemary and garlic turkey recipe. The person who posted the recipe explained turkey would taste like this if Italians had invented Thanksgiving. I used garlic and rosemary that year and the flavor was an instant hit and an improvement over prior year’s experiments with onions, carrots and celery.
Encouraged by learning something new, trying it and having a success, I continued looking for more recipes and ways to improve the turkey as Thanksgiving rolled around the next year. This led to the second main concept, a bacon-wrapped turkey. The recipe poster had posed a question I have never forgotten, “Why have turkey without bacon when you could have turkey with bacon?” Since the garlic and rosemary had done so well the year before, I decided to try both together. No regrets!
is was one of the people who don’t didn’t like turkey. This has meant enjoying a beautiful roast lamb on more than one occasion for Thanksgiving or for Christmas over the years. Every time she has turkey I’ve made she says the same thing, “I don’t like turkey but I love Josh’s Turkey.” So, it is because of her I call this recipe Josh’s Turkey. She has the most fantastic skill of anyone I know with food and her compliment means a lot. Josh’s Turkey is a turkey everyone will love, including vegetarians and vegans. I know that is a strong claim, but we have had guests who are not carnivores and though they do not eat the turkey, they love the smell compared to plain turkey. If you follow this recipe you will not only create food but an entire envelope of aroma in your home that will have you, your family and your guests salivating for hours.
The third year after the first garlic and rosemary turkey I did two things different, I began to braid the bacon on top of the turkey and I tried something else that was a TOTAL FLOP. Hawaiian style pizza with ham and pineapple is a popular US interpretation of a classical Italian dish. I like Hawaiian pizza! After braiding, I added fresh pineapple slices inside the turkey and around the base of the pan. The turkey came out with a beautiful braid on top that everyone was excited about at carving time. But the pineapple wasn’t good at all and it had ruined the flavor of the gravy and the meat. It was edible, but not desirable.
Pineapple bacon wrapped Italian turkey just didn’t work. I remember my mother-in-law, a recent turkey convert, asking me what was wrong! She had come prepared for the Josh Turkey product and was left disappointed with a flavor wreck. In innovation you push to the extremes of what is possible and what reality will take. It is usually necessary to take a step or two back to create the appropriate consumer oriented product strategy and deliver the right customer experience. Pineapple was a step out there and taking a step back returns us to the recipe below. While it was sad to produce a flavor-confused turkey nobody really wanted to eat, the lesson was valuable.
- Smoked Bacon
- Whole Turkey
- Fresh Garlic
- Fresh Rosemary
- Freshly Ground Pepper
Note: There is no salt in the recipe for a reason! The bacon has enough salt in it.
1 – 2 hours
Depends on weight, use an online guide and add the weight of the bacon to the weight of the turkey when estimating cook time. Use a meat thermometer or other methods to ensure the turkey is fully cooked. Plan on 5 hours for a big, bacon covered bird.
Step One: Bacon
Why cook a turkey without bacon when you could cook a turkey with bacon? When I first began experimenting with the turkey recipe, bacon was not first on the list. But it is now!
Step one starts well before you preheat the oven, it starts at the meat department. The bacon used on the turkey can impact both flavor outcomes and prep time. In the photo is a 19 pound young turkey with a 5 pound package of thick cut, hickory smoked bacon. (For my many non-Imperial unit friends that is 8.6 kg turkey and 2.3 kg bacon).
The last thing you want to do when prepping your version of Josh’s Turkey is run out of bacon! Get enough and you won’t regret it. The first bacon wrapped turkey I did was with one package of thin sliced bacon. There wasn’t enough bacon but it was enough to prove the two meats complimented each other nicely.
All bacon isn’t cut equal. Through trial and error I learned to use thick cut bacon. Here are a few of the reasons:
- When wrapping the turkey, thicker bacon is less flimsy and easier to manage.
- Thick cut bacon slices tend to be wider which means you’ll be doing less weaving to get a beautiful braid.
- Thicker bacon has more fat and flavor which seeps into the turkey during roasting.
- Thin bacon tends to shrink a lot when roasted and can leave gaps that are not covered by bacon.
In the United States bacon is sold in long, straight strips. In Australia and other countries where I’ve had the privilege of indulging on bacon, the cuts are not always straight. Weaving will be harder and will not look as good but the flavor should be great regardless of bacon shape. You could also trim your non-conforming bacon and save the straightest strips for the braid on the breasts and use the smaller pieces on the wings, legs or inside. Those of you with the luxury of a local butcher may be able to make a special request for your bacon to be sliced thick and straight for braiding.
All bacon isn’t cured equal. The best flavors for your version of Josh’s Turkey will come from a smoked bacon. I prefer either hickory or apple wood. If the decision is between thick cut hickory and thin apple wood, pick the thick cut bacon.
In the picture the turkey is a young turkey. Young turkeys supposedly have better flavor. I haven’t tried a fresh (not frozen) or organic turkey. I’ve heard they can be better so try it and see or maybe I’ll add a note back here after trying it.
As to size, most people will follow serving recommendations for the number of people who will attend dinner. I like to pick a larger bird to have more leftovers. Many people do not want a larger turkey because their bird comes out dry and no one wants to eat dry turkey after the gravy runs out. This has NEVER been a problem with Josh’s Turkey! If you do have leftovers be sure to not leave them out all afternoon so you don’t have to throw it out.
Step Two: Prep
This is where art meets science to get you a good result. Preparing Josh’s Turkey takes between one to two hours. This isn’t something you can just rush through. Back when I first started cooking the turkey and experimenting I would simply clean the turkey up, maybe pop an onion inside, and be done. But with this method you need to spend the time on each step. Be patient and you won’t be disappointed. There are several components and you’ll want to get them right or experiment to find your personal adaptations that work for you and your guests. I break prep into three areas, the garlic & rosemary rub, the turkey and roasting prep, and the bacon wrap.
Garlic & Rosemary Rub
The ingredients for the Garlic and Rosemary Rub are pressed garlic, fresh diced rosemary, fresh ground pepper and canola oil. There is no salt in the rub or added to the turkey at any time. The bacon has enough salt for the turkey.
Start the Garlic & Rosemary rub by putting on a pair of latex-free gloves. One year I prepared all the garlic right before bed the night before and my fingers smelled like fresh garlic bread all night!
Many people are unfamiliar with cooking with fresh garlic. Pre-diced garlic or frozen pressed garlic just does not have the same amount of flavor. Similarly, garlic powder would absolutely be sub-standard as far as flavor goes. I’ve never tried using garlic powder on a turkey and wouldn’t even imagine doing it for such an important meal. I usually use the largest cloves from two or three bunches of garlic and that is because of the time involved with pealing all the skins off the little buds in the middle.
The amount of garlic can vary per your family’s taste preference. In the picture above there are 18 medium to large cloves. That is about right for us and we love fresh garlic. If your experience cooking with garlic is limited to a dash of garlic powder here or there and you rarely order dishes with garlic at restaurants, you may want to only use five or six cloves for your first time. If, on the other hand, you’ve wondered why Italian foods taste amazing at restaurants compared to home or are a huge fan of garlic broccoli or garlic green beans at Chinese restaurants, 18 might just be your number too!
I’ve both minced and used a garlic press to prepare the garlic but when mincing it needs to be super fine. If you do not have a garlic press you can use a food processor or take a clove, mash it with the side of your knife flat down on it and then finely dice/mince it. The point here is to not have huge chunks so the flavor is evenly distributed around your bird.
I’m fortunate to have a rosemary bush and access to fresh rosemary year round. If you don’t have a bush, pick up fresh rosemary. Chop the rosemary up as fine as you can. I pick the greenest tips for the youngest, most tender flavor and I do not use the woody stems.
Fresh Ground Pepper
Fresh ground pepper adds a nice flavor to the turkey and is a welcome addition to the rub. I don’t measure how much pepper goes in but it is a few teaspoons if not a tablespoon. If your family doesn’t care for pepper, you can skip it. I’ve never tried pre-ground pepper opting always for using the pepper grinder but if you don’t have a pepper grinder, use the pre-ground pepper and feel free to go light on it if it isn’t your thing.
The oil to use for the rub is canola oil. When I did the first Italian style turkey I used extra virgin olive oil with the garlic and rosemary because I’d seen it used on cooking shows. The problem with olive oil is that the roasting is going to be warmer than the smoking point of olive oil. The only smoke flavor you want getting into the turkey is from the bacon. Canola oil has a higher smoking point so you won’t get that burnt oil taste and smell. You could use vegetable oil if you don’t have canola oil. Canola oil is considered a healthier oil than vegetable oil and since you’re going to be wrapping the bird in bacon, you may as well go healthy with the oil!
Use enough canola oil in the rub to make a paste. In the rub above I probably could have done a better job with the garlic but this picture is from a time before we had a garlic press.
Turkey and Roasting Prep
Thaw that Bird!
You’ve got to have a fully thawed bird. Period. It takes at least 3 days to thaw in the fridge and fridge thawing is the best way. If it isn’t all the way thawed and you’re adding bacon to it you run the risk of having raw meat inside or having to overcook the outside to get the inside cooked. Carefully follow instructions for sink or other thawing methods you find online if you aren’t able to get your bird into the fridge and thawing soon enough.
Handling poultry properly is important. I start by scouring the sink and finish by scouring the sink. Rinsing the turkey is really important and the best place to do it is in a clean sink. Get all the surfaces inside and out and rinse off the neck, liver, heart and gizzard too. Make sure all of the feather stems are removed. Since everything will be covered with bacon you won’t be able to spot them later. Let the turkey drip dry a bit, you don’t want a whole bunch of extra water. I usually hold it up by the legs to let the water inside out.
Remove the Extra Fat
After washing the turkey I remove the fat lump at the rear of the turkey where the turkey’s tail feathers are. With all the bacon I haven’t felt the need for the extra fat in the drippings. I will also trim away some of the extra neck skin if the butcher has left a lot on. You just need enough to keep the meat covered.
Lift the Skin
When the bird is cleaned and trimmed I carefully lift the skin starting at the neck. I learned about this a few years after making the first garlic and rosemary turkey. My first try I just put the rub under the skin on the breasts. Now I lift the skin all the way down across the legs to spread the rub. If you do this carefully the skin will not tear. You don’t need a knife to do this.
Cover every inch of the bird with the rub, inside and out, under and on top of the skin…everywhere! Do the rub before the bacon wrap.
Cooking Materials Prep
Use two disposable turkey roasting pans on a cookie sheet. You need the cookie sheet to maneuver it in and out of the oven for basting and having only one turkey pan can be a bit flimsy.
The neck and giblets are placed around the turkey in the pan. They’ll be absorbing juice from the garlic, rosemary and bacon the whole time and for those who enjoy them, they’ll be extra delicious.
Take two sheets of tinfoil (aluminum foil or aluminium foil) about twice the length of your turkey and fold about 1/4 in (1cm) up on one of the long sides of the sheets and fold it over the other sheet a couple times to form one, double wide sheet of foil with a neat fold in the middle that won’t let out steam. The foil covers the turkey and tucks around the edges of the turkey pan.
If you aren’t having fun yet, you will when the bacon gets involved! By the time you are done your bird will be snug under not one, not two but THREE LAYERS OF BACON. You’re welcome.
The first bacon wrapped turkey I did wasn’t really ‘bacon wrapped’. I took a package of bacon and laid it across the turkey in strips. These slid apart during the roasting a bit and I was using thin bacon so the turkey sort of looked it was incarcerated in bacon. To get the bacon to stay you’ll need to do some weaving and it will take a try or two to get just what you’re going for. Every turkey turns out different. The flavor will be amazing even if the weave isn’t perfect. Life is a learning experiment and so is this turkey. Be proud of your progress and try again next year.
But, I’ve gotten a bit ahead of myself. After learning about lifting the skin and having the turkey turn out so nice, I tried putting a couple slices of bacon under the skin before doing the weave. Wow! I now do it every time. I didn’t know what it would do for the cook time if I covered the turkey under the skin completely with bacon, but increasing the roast time with the additional weight of the bacon made it a non-issue, and the flavors mixed nicely. The layer under the skin is bacon layer number 1.
And now comes the tricky part, the weave. Weaving is over/under so when you’ve completed the weave there are two layers of bacon on top of the skin.
In this picture you see a completed weave with the over/under layers. Look closely to find where one slice of bacon ends and the next begins. Depending on how much of the slice of bacon remains I will either make a long overlap or cut it off and use it on a wing or inside the cavity. By the time you’re done you have a nice little carpet of pieces inside the cavity.
What to do with the wings and legs? I first left the legs and wings exposed and just covered the breasts but it didn’t seem fair to the dark meat lovers! I typically wrap the wings. I’ve weaved onto the legs like you see in this picture and I’ve wrapped the legs around and around, do whatever works for you and your bacon.
Notice in the upper right of the picture on the sink the little plastic thermometer that comes with the turkey is removed. I don’t leave it in with all the additional layers of bacon. If you’ve completely thawed the turkey and cook according to weight you should be fine without it. If you’re concerned, use a meat thermometer.
If there is any bacon left over, pop it back in the fridge for another day. One year I left the extra slices in the bottom of the pan thinking it would add to the gravy but found it didn’t add enough to the drippings to make a difference. The gravy is going to be amazing no matter what so you can set the extra bacon aside for another meal. If I prep the turkey the night before it is great to fry it up for breakfast on Thanksgiving Day.
Step Three: Roast
Preheat the oven to 450, cover the turkey with foil and cook at 450 for 30 min then lower the temperature to 325.
Cooking time will depend on the size of the turkey AND how much bacon you use. Plan for 13 minutes per pound of turkey AND bacon. For the turkey I’ve been showing pictures of in this post was a 19 lb bird. 19 lbs turkey + 5 lbs bacon = 24 total pounds. 24 x 13 minutes = 312 minutes or 5.2 hours. That is about right, probably a little less because I don’t drop the temp right away in the oven.
NOTE: I learned the hard way that when adding bacon you MUST add roasting time. Nobody wants to wait an extra hour, especially when they’ve arrived at a home that smells the way your home will smell.
I’ve never stuffed the turkey. You’re welcome to try stuffing it, but I would suggest doing an un-stuffed turkey first. Plus if you do not stuff the turkey it will be gluten-free and stuffing the turkey adds cooking time.
Remove and baste at the first hour and then about once an hour after that until about 30 min before it should be done. When you pull it out to baste if things aren’t progressing along enough by the third hour you can increase the temp to 350. Not every oven works the same so pay attention to how things are going. I haven’t done this in a convection oven yet so I can’t provide any extra insight there.
The photo above is at one of the basting stops. I don’t remember which one. I pull the turkey out of the oven because I don’t want the oven door open a long time so that when it goes back in it continues roasting evenly. Using a solid cookie sheet underneath is important for being able to handle the turkey this many times for basting. When I baste I try to also spray the under side of the cavity. This is tricky and you can burn yourself as I have so please be careful.
Final Baste, 30 Min to Done Time
The final baste at 30 Minutes before done time is the busiest baste session. You’ll do three things:
- Baste as you have in all the prior baste sessions
- Collect all the juice and drippings for gravy
- Remove the foil cover…the turkey goes back in without the cover to brown the bacon
You may not actually need a whole 30 minutes if the meat is already done per your meat thermometer or the juices are running completely clear (no red/pink). But you do want to have at least 15 with the cover off to get the browning on the bacon.
Here is a different turkey turkey (not the one we’ve had throughout, and a much smaller bird) at that final basting stop:
Notice how the tips of the leg bones look done, the tips of the wings look good and the drippings look right. The bacon is cooked but not brown or dried out. You can’t smell the picture but it smells right too! The tinfoil ‘handcuffs’ on the legs hold the legs together. You need this for smaller birds so the legs don’t flop off to the sides too far stretching and distorting your bacon weave (yet another lesson learned). After the bacon is browned you can remove the handcuffs and the turkey will stay in shape for the big wow when you bring it to the table for carving.
The above bird is the one in all of the assembly pictures in this blog post. You’ll see with the thick cut bacon on this one I didn’t quite do a tight enough weave on it so it left gaps. Don’t worry if that happens; nobody will complain!
This bird is wrapped with thinner bacon and a tighter weave with no gaps. Notice the smaller width bacon means more braiding and thus more time is spent in prep.
And here is one more bird, the bacon on this one is wider strips but not as thick. If you like it like this, then buy this kind of bacon. It is up to you! Also, this one is one where the legs were wrapped not braided.
As you can tell, these birds all turned out delicious! Good luck with your birds and bacon!
For gravy I take all the drippings and juice from the pan, strain it and skim off all the fat by pouring it all into a container that is slightly larger than the amount of juice. Once all the liquid from the pan is poured in I add in water until all the bacon and turkey grease comes off the top. That is what becomes the base for the gravy.
Bring the juice to a boil while you pre-mix cold water and corn starch and mix it in. Taste it for salt, you’ll probably be ok but it might need a bit. I’ve also added parsley to the gravy. If you have been really good at keeping the turkey covered you’ll have a whole lot more drippings and juice than what is in this picture. I make it all into gravy and if there is leftover gravy we save it. Sometimes a large turkey with lots of bacon can produce half a gallon or more of gravy. In those cases I’ve frozen it and it is super nice to thaw and use in a soup or with plain mashed potatoes even though the consistency isn’t the same after freezing.
We tend to have the Thanksgiving feast at lunchtime. If you’re going to be slow roasting a turkey for five hours and it takes two hours to prep, this means starting at 5am. I used to chop the rosemary and garlic and grind the pepper the night before to save time in the morning leaving the basic turkey prep (wash/rinse) and bacon braid for the morning. But then my lovely wife suggested doing all the prepping the night before and it worked out great. While I haven’t roasted two turkeys at the same time, one prepped the night before and one prepped the morning of, it is probably safe to say the garlic and rosemary also have more time to enhance the flavor of the meat. If you do prep the turkey the night before, cover it with plastic wrap, air tight, in the fridge. The foil cover isn’t enough for overnight in the fridge but you can prepare the foil cover the night before to save you that time too.
If you do prep the turkey the night before, take it out of the fridge and uncover it while the oven preheats. It is good to let the turkey come up closer to room temp before putting it in.
Pull the turkey out when the meat is all the way done and the bacon is brown even if it hasn’t been 30 min since the last baste.
Let the turkey sit 15-25 min before carving it.
If you like to transfer the entire turkey to a large platter, slip off the outer pan and then bend one side of the remaining pan down to move/slide the whole bird. You can use the second pan for another turkey.
Experiment with what you like. Turkey doesn’t have to be plain and dry! I’ve thought several times about trying to do pineapple and bacon without garlic and rosemary thinking it might turn out alright. I’ve also thought of using apples when the bacon is an apple wood bacon. But because the Josh’s Turkey recipe works every time for us without the fruit I haven’t tried it.
Enjoy your turkey no matter what!