Whether you’re a newbie to cooking a Thanksgiving turkey or a seasoned pro, it’s time to call to session Turkey 101 and answer all of your turkey questions.
What kind of turkey should I buy?
If you choose to go with a frozen bird (because you got a screamin’ deal at the market), remember it takes about 24 hours to thaw 5 pounds. If you buy a 15 pounder, it will take you about 3 1/2 – 4 days to completely thaw your turkey. You should thaw your bird in the refrigerator, not on the counter top (prime breeding ground for bacterial growth). If you are short for time, you can do a cold-water thaw in which you place the turkey in the sink or in a bath tub and completely cover with cold water, changing the water every 30-60 minutes. With this method, you can thaw 5 pounds in 2 hours. Score!
TIP: start your thawing TODAY!
We’re not big fans of frozen birds, as you don’t know when the turkey was actually frozen. Quite often, supermarkets are selling last year’s turkeys at bottom basement prices. We recommend that you go with a fresh turkey – not only does it taste better, but you know that it’s truly fresh. News from Butterball says that there is a shortage of fresh turkeys weighing over 16 pounds.
How big of a bird should you buy?
If you’re wondering how big of a bird you should buy for this year’s gathering, the rule of thumb is one pound per guest. No, people aren’t actually eating a pound of turkey meat – this rule takes into account the bones, skin, and connective tissue in the bird. So, if you’re feeding 25 people this year, you will need a 25 pound turkey. Personally, we think that any turkey over 25 pounds starts to taste a little tough and gamey, so we would instead opt for two 13-pounds birds. They will taste better and cook in much less time than a 25-pounder.
How to cook a turkey
- Start with a fresh or thawed turkey. Remove the neck and giblets from the body cavity. Drain the juices from the cavity. Give the turkey a wash (inside and out) under cold water. Pat dry.
- Preheat the oven to 325 F.
- Place the turkey on a V-shaped rack in your roasting pan, breast side up. Stuff with herbs, sliced onion, and citrus fruits, which will perfume the turkey as it cooks. Lightly rub the outside with oil of choice and season with salt and pepper. If you are looking to jazz up your bird this year, try adding chili powder, smoked paprika, and orange zest to your rub.
- Insert the meat thermometer (We use a digital one in which the display magnetically sticks to the fridge) into the lower part of the thigh, but not touching the bone. Set the thermometer alarm to 160F.
- Place the roasting pan into the oven and cook until about 2/3 of the way done or when the skin turns golden. At that point, tent the breast and legs with aluminum foil so you don’t burn the skin as it continues to cook. An unstuffed bird will take about 1 1/2 – 2 1/4 hours for every 5 pounds. When your turkey reaches 160F, remove it from the oven and allow it to stand for 30 minutes before cooking. This will allow the juices to redistribute throughout the turkey, resulting in a moist and juicy turkey.
To stuff or not to stuff?
We aren’t proponents of stuffing the turkey. Even though the stuffing can obtain some great flavor from the fat of the turkey dripping into it while it cooks, the stuffing and the turkey cook at different rates, which can lead to a properly-cooked bird but undercooked stuffing (which poses a bacterial hazard), or an over-cooked turkey and a properly cooked stuffing. The turkey needs to reach a temperature of 160 F (in the thigh), while the stuffing needs to reach a temperature of 165 F. Unfortunately, they don’t cook at the same rate. By the time the stuffing reaches 165F, your bird will be overcooked and very dry. Your best bet is to stuff the turkey with some great aromatics, such as a sliced lemon, orange, onion, and fresh herbs. Cook the stuffing separately in a covered casserole dish until it reaches 165 F. That way you’re assured of a delicious turkey and excellent stuffing.
How long do you cook the turkey?
Make sure to use a meat thermometer to know when your turkey is done. Our favorite is a digital thermometer, which allows you to monitor the internal temperature without having to constantly open the oven door. Stick the thermometer probe into the thigh of the turkey, without touching the bone, and set the thermometer alarm to 160 F. The turkey will be done when it reaches 165 F, but it’s important to pay attention when it hits 160 F, as it will continue to cook once you remove it from the oven. The last thing you want is an overcooked, dried out bird.
TIP: cook your stuffing (now known as “dressing”) separately