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T-Day dilemma: A turkey without added fat or salt?

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Hey everybody!

I wanted to check out everyone's answers to this topic because I'm in a real quandary about Thanksgiving this year. I was hoping to find some healthy alternatives for roasting turkeys that didn't involve slathering it with butter, oil (read: fat) or brine or stock (read: salt).

But seriously....Chef Alton Brown is our favorite chef and he goes with the brine method, so that might be reason enough for me to try a brine this year for the first time ever. But years ago I had heard someone on t.v. (Joan Lunden, maybe?) talking about rubbing down a turkey with orange juice before roasting. I can't be positive, but I think she said she was going to use a can of frozen o.j. concentrate, squeezing a little out of the can at a time as she went along. But I don't know if you'd have to keep basting it, or if you'd need to use a roasting bag or what? Does anybody know the answer to this? I'd really like to try it because, yes, although it would contribute "sugar" to the meal at least it would be "natural sugar" (when buying unsweetened o.j.) and so I'd feel a little bit better about that than I would about adding fat or salt to an otherwise healthy bird.

*sigh* Or maybe I should just say, "'s Thanksgiving. We watch what we eat the rest of the year, let's live it up today" (and at Christmas, of course!)?

What do y'all think? Is o.j. a viable alternative? If so, would I need to baste or use a roasting bag or what would I do? Does anyone else have any other "potentially healthy" alternative they'd like to contribute? Should I maybe just throw caution to the wind on this one and go with a fat- or salt- laden bird?

I value your opinions! Thanks in advance, and Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! Smile

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I'm salt sensitive so I can't brine my turkey.  I solve the juiciness problem by roasting it breast down.  I've described this method in another post and will edit to provide a link.

edited to add: ming-turkey-suggestions-please-ft120399#3

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The orange rub sounds good, you could put some stock in the bottom for some added basting liqui (orange, garlic, ginger and paprika would make a good rub combo)

This may not be the answer you were looking for...but I wouldn't worry too much about the turkey (I wouldn't deep fry it, but do what you would normally do), but instead make all the side dishes as healthy as possible.  No butter/cream in the potatoes (or mashed sweet potatoes or, my family loves, mashed turnip), roast or steam with herbs as many other veggies as you can.  Then you can have a portion (5oz is a serving I think) of turkey without breaking the bank.  Maybe skip the stuffing, if you can....

Good luck.

I'm going to try making turkey breasts in a slow cooker. I expect that to make it moist, although I can't say for sure since I've never tried it before.

Here's the recipe I'm using. I don't eat bacon, and most of the reviews said it should be omitted, so I'm going without it.

You can stuff the cavity of the turkey with orange and/or lemon slices, fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme, etc, a few cloves of garlic. You could use low sodium chicken stock to baste. A good quality turkey will taste great just roasted, even without being slathered in buttery goodness :)

I've always just sprinkled the turkey with poultry seasoning (the herby kind, not the salty kind), quarterd an onion and an orange, stuck the pieces inside and was careful to not over cook the turkey, not basting required.  Its always worked out nicely so far :)...Though I do always cover it in a foil tent to elminate oven mess, but that might help stop it from drying out too, just take off the tent for the last 20-30 minutes to let the bird brown

I rub the turkey with a little olive oil.  No butter.  I have never brined a turkey, and they are fine and moist.  Use a meat thermometer instead of the lottle red pop-up thing.  I have heard roasting breast down is good too as another poster suggested.   I've never tried it.

Anyway rubbuing the bird with a few tablespoons of olive oil shouldn't present a fat concen, you will be roasting out more fat than that while cooking. Don't use a self basting (sodum injected) bird and you won't have a sodium issue.

We (and by we I mean my mother), don't usually use much extra fat or salt when roasting the turkey.

I think the most important part for keeping it moist is to cook it in a covered roasting pan.

Here's what she does.

Take about one tablespoon of soft butter (you really don't need much if it's soft) and rub it over the outer skin of the (washed and patted dry) turkey. Sprinkle/rub some Bell's poultry seasoning on the outside, and distribute some inside the bird's cavity. I think she uses one or two teaspoons total. She then stuffs the cavity with homemade stuffing, which she does not add a lot of salt to.

You can find Bell's seasoning in the cooking/baking section of the supermarket. It's in a little yellow cardboard box. I believe it has no added sodium, or very little.

Wow! Thank you so much for your help, everyone! I appreciate each and every response. Smile

It looks like I'll be roasting it breast side down for sure. As for what fruits, veggies, herbs and seasonings to use, you have all given such great and diverse answers, my d.h. ("bubbadan") and I will go through every one of them together before making a decision, I promise!

And yes, thermal, you have a valid point- we do need to find some balance with the side dishes as well. So thanks for the gentle reminder.

Thank you again to everyone for the time and care you put into your answers, to help us have a delicious yet healthy Thanksgiving dinner. I appreciate it and I'm sure my family will, too! Happy Thanksgiving!


There is no need whatsoever to add salt OR fat to your turkey. There's plenty of fat under the skin naturally, more is overkill. It will roast up just fine if you put a little liquid in the base of the pan and use that to baste it with. It will even roast up fine if you don't baste it at all - just don't overcook it. I've always found that the popup timer they give you works just fine to tell me when my turkey is done and it's never been dry or overdone.

Me..........I would not brine a turkey.

We ordered an all natural, fresh turkey and it was wonderful last yr.  Expensive but wonderful.  


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I'm almost surprised no one mention the use of a rotisserie.  Either an attachment for your outdoor grill, or there are lots of other counter top rotisserie options out there as well.  I'll admit I caved a few years back and bought a Ronco Rotisserie...and I LOVE know..the whole "set it and forget it" deal.  Granted the only limitation is that you can only do up to a 15 pound turkey, but if you need more than that, you could always prepare two turkeys, or....what we do sometimes is just roast an extra turkey breast in the oven since that usually stays pretty moist.  But since we've had the rotisserie we use it for everything and it's great becuase you don't have to worry about basting or covering anything.  Another slight drawback is that there are also no drippings for gravy...but I'm guessing on this thread, gravy is not a top priority.  The rotisserie does a great job on all kinds of meats and roasts w/o having to add any extra salt or fat. I just season with poultry seasoning, celery powder, and onion powder and it just bastes itself and actually takes less time than in the oven.  We use ours a lot throughout the year for all kinds of stuff. you can even use it in the winter to make fantastic kabobs and lots of other healthy lean stuff.

I smoke my turkey in a water smoker. They can be found at any good Bar B Q supply store. Check out the Brinkman web site for recipes and types of smokers. The turkey is cooked out doors which frees up the oven and it is the most moist delicious turkey you ever had. I have to stand guard over my turkey as everyone comes running for a piece of my smoked turkey. You can use plain water with fresh herbs and vegetables or white wine in the steam pan. BTW you can cook two turkeys in most smokers at the same time. I usuallly cook two and freeze one for Christmas! Because they are cooked over water they are so moist that when you take it out of the freezer it is just like when you cooked it. It takes a while to cook it but you don't have to baste or watch it. Just stoke the charcoal every couple of hours through the little door on the front of the smoker. Two words of caution! Don't be tempted to take the top off the smoker it lets out the heat and takes too long to build it back up. Trust the timing given by the recipe. If the turkey is not done enough finish it in the oven by CAREFULLY heating it to the proper internal temperature. DO NOT OVER COOK!  Next, smoke turkey might appear a little dark (ok burnt looking on the outside) but it will be fine on the inside. It is not a center piece turkey but it sure taste good. Just slice it in the kitchen and serve attractively arranged on the platter. You will have to make a gravy from stock because the dripping are in the steam pan and not really suitable for gravy making. This is a good thing because you can control the fat in your gravy. I boil the necks and gizzards to make my stock for gravy. OK, I know I said two words but more keeps coming to mind about my first time smoking and the lessons learned. Don't listen to people who say they don't like smoked turkey because it taste like ham. They had turkey somked over hickory or oak wood. Use a sweet wood for turkey smoking like cherry, apple, grape, or if you can find it Jack Daniels Whiskey Barrel Wood (sweet stuff, I have seen it and other sweet woods at Whole Foods or Ace Hardware).One more thing, smoke turkey white meat might look a littl pink if you get it to the right internal temperature it is done don't over cook it. Don't use a butterball and don't rely on pop up timers with smoke turkeys.  I promise this is the last one more thing, a lot of people buy small under 16 lb turkeys. I did catering for years and a reliable butcher explained this to me. Under 16 lbs you get more carcass than meat per lb. Over 16 lbs you start to get more meat per lb. Sooooo, as long as you're doing all this work to get a moist great tasting turkey you might as well get the most bang for the buck buy a 20 to 24 lb turkey for the smoker two will fit just fine in most smokers. Remember smoked turkey freezes very well and you will have turkey for special occasions, that is if your guest and family don't take it home or gobble it up at Thanksgiving. I'll stop now but I hope you get the idea. Good Luck.

Several years back we fell into the Ronco rotisserie thing.  I love the dang thing, hate cleaning it though.  Anyway it can hold up to a 14 lb turkey so we tried it.  Cook it for the alotted amount of time,  at the end you have the juciest turkey ever with the crispiest skin.  Also, we like to cool it off on no heat rotation that traps the juices everywhere they are supposed to be.  I have never before this had turkey breast that was so juicy!!! It is sooo totally healthy too (if you don't eat the skin)!!


Good luck and Happy Thanksgiving!!

You can also try putting it in a crock pot, (you'll want to use the cotton turkey lifter that comes with some of them) & cooking with water, spices (a clove studded onion and a quartered orange w/the peel still on + a few sprigs of rosemary work well), etc.  Then about 45 min before serving, take the turkey out (CAREFULLY - it will be hot and can break apart easily) and let it cool slightly.  Then carve and place on an oven proof dish, skin side up.  Broil until browned and serve.

While the bird is resting and broiling, pour the broth in a glass or metal container that is taller than it is wide and place in your refridgerator.  This will allow the fats to rise.  You can skim it and use the resulting broth to make the best gravy!  Any leftover broth is the beginnings of a superb soup starter - fat removed.

Have fun!

Well, I use a brown paper bag, like the ones you used to get at the grocery store. We still have stores that use them in Oklahoma. I stuff the cavitity with an apple, onion, celery and some seasonings. Then I use unsalted butter, softened and rub it under the skin. Place the turkey in the brown paper bag, place in roasting pan with the breast down. Bake for 15 minutes per pound at 325 degrees. Comes out juicy everytime! I even  bake one for the church every year and it is devoured in no time flat.  

I find with a fresh turkey I do not need to use any extra butter, oil, broth or shortening on the turkey.  I stuff it and use pepper and a very sparing amount of salt outside on the turkey. I also use a brown paper bag that I rip open and trim down so that I can make a loose tent over the turkey that extends into the pan and helps cut down on oven splatters.  I spray some pam on one side of the bag that will be next to the skin so it won't stick but remove the paper bag tent about an hr before the turkey is to be done so that it will brown some more (it is already nicely browned even with the bag. Since the bag is not closed the turkey is not steaming.)  I put some water in the bottom of the pan and might have to put some more water if it all dries out but eventually the turkey will be making a lot of drippings and fat. As long as it is a fresh turkey it always comes out juicy and produces enough fat that if you want to make gravy you still have to skim off fat from the pan.  I baste it maybe twice during the cooking with the drippings.  I have tried breast side down but found 2 problems, the skin is not crispy and it is hard to get the turkey out of the pan without ruining the breast and the looks for presentation.

I roasted my turkey in one of the turkey sized oven bags.  It keeps the moisture inside and no basting is required.  It also cooks much faster.  It was very moist.  The only downside is that it doesn't brown as well, but it was delicious!!

I'm in Canada so we've already celebrated our Thanksgiving and I still managed to create a wonderful, very tasty, HEALTHY meal. I did a lot of research an read online that a traditional turkey day meal, with regular portion sizes, without any drinks can add up to over 3000 calories per person!! Wow I had no idea it was that high. That's why I decided to follow recipes in a healthier cookbook. I used a bunch of recipes from the Eat-Clean Diet cookbooks (Tosca Reno) and everyone loved them! They had no idea they were healthy alternatives! From the Eat-Clean Diet Cookbook, I made the Turkey w/ Brown Rice & Cranberry stuffing & prepped the turkey as she suggests, with natural, healthier alternatives. You general add A LOT of sugar to cranberries for sauce so instead with them in the stuffing, I made applesauce and it was a big hit.

Also, a couple more recipes, I made the Molasses Bread pudding from the same book for dessert and it was divine! No one missed the fatty apple pie (500 cal a slice)! And from her new Cookbook I made the Lemon & Cinnamon Sweet Potatoes...definitely look into a healthier version... no one felt lethargic or ill from eating too much or eating bad foods! It was a great holiday!

One additional thing I did not mention for cooking a turkey under a paper bag tent without using added fat: when I stuff the turkey, I carefully loosen the skin under the breast on both sides and force some stuffing between the skin and the meat.  This helps keep the white meat moist.  And since my family loves the stuffing most of all it is one more place to put some. The dark meat does not need anthing extra to prevent drying out.

A good way of fixing turkey or chicken without added fat is to take two lemons, {depending on the size of the bird} roll them one the counter to soften, then take something sharp and poke holes in them all around. Put them in the cavity of the turkey/chicken and close the opening with something.. maybe the string that comes with the turkey, or even toothpicks. You don't even have to baste it. The turkey comes out really moist and delicious, and the skin is nice and brown! I do this every year. When I make a chicken like this my son says it even taste like turkey. This gets rave revues when I make it this way. Smile

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