Here comes the biggest food holiday of the year! Are you ready? If this is your first try at roasting a turkey, never fear. My basic how-to provides easy to follow directions and yields a moist, tender bird.
How to Buy a Turkey:
Whether this is your 1st or your 40th Thanksgiving, it is wise to purchase two smaller birds rather than one larger bird. This way you can roast one turkey ahead, carve it, and reheat it before serving. The second bird can come out of the oven and go straight to the presentation platter! You’ll have a much less stressful Thanksgiving!
Fresh turkeys eliminate the angst over how soon to begin defrosting the bird, but are less abundant than frozen turkey (and priced slightly higher per pound). Either way, the bird will be delicious.
How to Cook a Turkey:
If purchasing a frozen turkey, place it, still in its wrapper on a rimmed baking sheet (to catch the juices) in the refrigerator. A frozen turkey needs 1 day of thawing for each 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. A 12-pound turkey should be placed in the fridge on Sunday or Monday morning of Thanksgiving week, as a thawed turkey stays fresh in the refrigerator up to 4 days before cooking.
If using fresh, proceed with directions.
Preheat oven to 325°F.
Remove the wrapper from the turkey and move it to a paper towel lined rimmed baking sheet. Note the weight of the turkey before discarding the wrapper. Remove any goodies from inside the turkey – check both ends as you’ll find the neck in one and the giblets in the other. Drain any liquids onto the pan and dry the turkey thoroughly with paper towels.
Move the turkey (breast side up – that’s the rounded side) onto a rack placed into a 2-inch deep roasting pan. Rub the outside of the turkey with 3 tablespoons or so of softened butter. Season the outside of the bird with salt and pepper.
If using a meat thermometer, insert it now into the thigh, located below the leg (drumstick), being careful that the end of the thermometer is not in contact with bone. If using an instant-read thermometer, you’ll be inserting it into the same place, but just to check the temperature near the end of cooking time. Pour 2 cups chicken broth or stock to bottom of roasting pan.
Move the prepared turkey to the preheated oven and bake according to weight. Use this handy chart for cooking times. I do not recommend cooking a stuffed turkey. The cooking time is listed in case you must acquiesce to a guest’s demands.
Discard all paper towels and wash all utensils, equipment, and surfaces with hot, soapy water to prevent cross-contamination and food-borne illness.
|Weight||Cook Time(Unstuffed)||Cook Time(Stuffed)|
|4½-7 lbs.||2-2½ hrs.||2¼-2¾ hrs.|
|7-9 lbs.||2½-3 hrs.||2¾-4½ hrs.|
|9-18 lbs.||3-3½ hrs.||3¾-4½ hrs.|
|18-22 lbs.||3½-4 hrs.||4½-5 hrs.|
|22-24 lbs.||4-4½ hrs.||5-5½ hrs.|
|24-30 lbs.||4½-5 hrs.||5½-6¼ hrs.|
While the turkey is cooking, feel free to baste the skin with the liquid accumulating in the bottom of the roasting pan, or baste it with melted butter. Basting is not required, but it helps with browning the skin. I like using a baster for this. The baster is difficult to get completely clean, so I usually purchase a new one each year (check the dollar store).
About 2/3 the way through the baking time, take a sheet of aluminum foil, make a crease down the center, and use it to tent the breast. The foil will shield the bread from drying out.
About 30 minutes before you anticipate the turkey being fully cooked, check the temperature of the bird. Turkey is fully cooked when the thigh’s internal temperature is 180°F. The thickest part of the breast should read 170°F.
When the turkey is fully cooked, remove it from the oven and let it sit 20 to 30 minutes before carving. If you anticipate the bird might have to sit longer (guests are running late), go ahead and cover it with foil.
How to Carve a Turkey:
For quality, let the turkey stand for 20-30 minutes before carving to allow juices to set. The turkey will carve more easily. Remove all stuffing from the turkey cavities. To help make carving easier, use a straight and sharpened knife.
Carving is easy – it’s just like cutting a chicken, only on a much bigger bird! If you’ve followed my advice, you’ll carve your first turkey ahead in the peace and quiet of your kitchen (consider it your warm up). The “picture perfect” turkey will come out of the kitchen for presentation, then can be removed for carving in the kitchen for seconds and leftovers.
Carving is best learned by watching. My friends at Southern Living magazine produced this video showing the easiest method for carving.
Happy Turkey Day!