How to Roast Turkey in a Brown Paper Bag
When I was single and living in Dallas, I invited a group of friends over for Thanksgiving dinner. The task of roasting a turkey sounded easy enough. Buy a turkey, put it in a roasting pan and pop it in the oven til done. Right? But as the day neared, I realized there was more to it than just putting the turkey in a large pan and turning on the oven. Actually, I went into full blown PANIC! Roasting a turkey?? I no idea how to roast a turkey. Clueless!
My boss at the time suggested I talk to his wife because she always made a “perfect” turkey. Lucky for me, she was gracious enough to share what she called her “embarrassingly simple” recipe, and I’ve been using it ever since. She roasted her Turkey in a Brown Paper Bag. It’s a Southern thing, she said–truth.
Roast Turkey in a Brown Paper Bag 101
Here are the basics from my original notes, circa 1985, written like the young novice I was. I remember writing all of this down as I talked to her. My thoughts on how to roast turkey in a brown paper bag were recorded afterwards I’m guessing.
While at the grocery store, don’t get too big a turkey or it won’t fit in the bag. (Get a 10-12 pounder).
Start with a big brown grocery sack from the market (ask for a clean one) and oil it. Rub every pore of it with Wesson oil or else it might burn (any vegetable oil works but not olive). MASSAGE the oil into the paper bag/sack. (And I mean MASSAGE).
Now remove all the giblets ? (innards) from the turkey. Add “Holy Trinity” (??) to the cavity (Holy Trinity = some onion, celery and carrot).
Massage REAL mayo all over bird. You don’t need to spend $$$ (on the mayonnaise). You need the fatty kind for the oil (full-fat real mayo only). Sprinkle poultry seasoning generously. (It’s easy to find at any grocery store). And some S&P.
Put bird in the bag, seam side up. Fold the bag over and staple it shut.
Roast til done, 10-15 minutes a pound (larger turkey takes the longer time).
Enjoy your dinner!
So now you know how to roast a turkey in a brown paper bag.
What about those plastic cooking bags? I’ve heard of many Thanksgiving cooks who swear by the Reynolds cooking bag, but that seems to steam the turkey instead of roasting (the paper bag actually breathes a little air, changing the results). The Reynolds’ method works just fine, but I like the taste of the paper bag version better.
Will the bag set on fire? No, the oil keeps that from happening, but it can get a slightly smoky toward the end of roasting so turn on the vent or open a window a crack. Remember only use vegetable oil and NOT olive oil.
Aren’t there chemicals in the paper bag that are dangerous to your health? Maybe, but I’ve been roasting the turkey this way for 30 plus years, and I’m still here. And besides, there are probably chemicals in that Reynolds cooking bag or even aluminum foil, too. We won’t even talk about hot dogs. Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith. Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.
And now for a more clearer and detailed version of her recipe for Roast Turkey in a Brown Paper Bag.
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Roast Turkey in a Brown Paper Bag
- 1 10-16 lb whole turkey
- 2 stalks celery, cut in half
- 1 carrot, cut in half
- 1 onion, cut into quarters
- Vegetable oil (make it the inexpensive kind)
- Preparing the Turkey
- DEFROST the turkey in the fridge, keeping it in the plastic bag it came wrapped in. (Plan on 1 day for every 4 pounds of turkey so a 16 pounder will take 4 days to defrost)
- REMOVE the packaged neck and giblets from the neck cavity and body cavity. ADD the celery, carrot, and onion to the cavity (you don’t need to peel).
- TIE the wings and legs to body of turkey with some string (dental floss works in a pinch). If you don’t tie up the bird, the legs/wings will cook faster than the rest of the turkey and turn out dry. If you don’t know how to do this, check out the YouTube video at the end of the post.
- “Massage” the turkey skin with lots mayonnaise, about 1 cup or so. (Use inexpensive mayo but NOT low fat). You can use vegetable oil for this too, but mayo seems to help the turkey brown better. Season with poultry seasoning, salt, pepper.
- Preparing the Bag
- CHECK bag for holes (do not want steam to escape)
- OIL the brown paper bag completely. Rub any type of vegetable oil i.e., peanut, canola, corn but NOT olive oil (it burns at a lower temp) into every pore of the bag to prevent it from burning.
- Roasting the Turkey
- PLACE the turkey in a brown paper bag from the grocery store, keeping the SEAM side UP.
- FOLD the opening over a couple of times and STAPLE the bag shut or fasten with paper clips (stapling works best).
- Very carefully, PLACE the bagged turkey inside a roaster or lasagna-style 9 x 13 pan (if the turkey isn’t too big). Once again, be sure the SEAM of the bag is UP otherwise it will come apart during roasting.
- PLACE the roasting pan on the middle rack of the oven.
- Once you have placed the turkey in the oven there is no need to open the oven door or peek into the bag until the turkey is completely roasted.
- ROAST the turkey at 325 degrees, about 12 to 15 minutes per pound. (Less time if you have a smaller turkey). To check for doneness, use an instant read thermometer, sticking it right through the bag near the leg, trying not to hit bone. This is a little tricky. It should register 180 degrees in thigh and 170 degrees in breast. If it doesn't, keep roasting, checking every 7 minutes.
- When done, REMOVE from roasting pan oven, let rest for 15 or so minutes, and carefully CUT away the bag. Step a little ways away from the turkey so you won't get burned by the steam.
- Keep the drippings for gravy.