The Best Tips for Making a Thanksgiving Turkey: Some Basics on Cooking a Perfect Bird

Turkey is the star of the show at Thanksgiving and well it should be. It isn’t hard to prepare but it does take a long time so not many people can cook a turkey and eat after working the whole day.

Defrosting a Turkey

The first thing you need to know about preparing and cooking a turkey is that you have to defrost it several days prior to cooking it. A twelve pound bird may take up to three days to defrost in the refrigerator. It is not safe to defrost a turkey on the kitchen counter as you will be putting yourself and your guests at risk of getting food poisoning. Just place your turkey in the packaging on a deep plate or platter and put in the bottom of your refrigerator to thaw. A bigger bird may take another day or so to defrost.

You need to decide on how you are going to cook the turkey before starting to prepare it. Are you going to brine it? This would entail soaking the turkey overnight or at least 12 hours in a salty solution and it has to be kept cold so be sure it will fit in your refrigerator or you can put it somewhere where the temperature doesn’t go above 38 degrees or below 32 degrees F. You don’t have to brine turkeys to make them taste good. Just slathering on butter will make a tasty turkey. You also need to decide if you are going to stuff the turkey. There is great controversy about stuffing but you can stuff a turkey if you stuff it right before you put it in the oven. You CANNOT stuff a turkey one day and cook it the next or you may as well call the paramedics before you eat dinner. Stuffed turkeys take longer to cook than unstuffed. Some people enjoy the extra crustiness of pan backed stuffing anyway.

Ways to Cook a Turkey

There are many ways to cook a turkey as well. You can oven roast it, deep fry it, grill it, smoke it, or put it on a rotisserie. Most people traditionally oven roast their turkeys. Moist birds are not hard to make, contrary to popular belief. You want even the white meat to be moist and not resemble the sands of the desert. You know your turkey is dry if you use an unusual amount of gravy or if you see your guests chewing and chewing and chewing. The secret is to roast the turkey at a low temperature for a long period of time. Then, during the last hour baste the turkey every 15 minutes. Never use basting bags that you put the turkey in to roast it. Those make it so dry your guests will see camels wandering about outside the house. Another problem is that people leave the turkey in the oven even though it is done so they can get everything else completed. Take the turkey out of the oven! It will stay warm if you don’t start slicing it right away and that is another thing. Never start slicing right away as the juices will all run out. Wait 15 to 20 minutes before you begin to rev up the electric knife. That should be ample time to get the potatoes mashed, squash squashed, and stuffing unstuffed.

More Tips

You will need about 1 to 1-1/2 pounds per turkey per person at the table. Therefore, if you are serving 10 people you need a 15 pound bird and if you want leftovers you better go for a 20 pound turkey. If you only have 4 people you need 6 pound bird but those are hard to find. You can just get a breast or get the 12 pound turkey and have lots of leftovers.

Always make sure to take the package that is conveniently placed in the cavity of the turkey out before trying to cook it. This package contains the messy parts of the bird namely the neck and the giblets or organs that some people actually like to eat. You can boil these down and use the resulting soup to make gravy and some people chop up the giblets and put them in the stuffing. If you aren’t into that you can always give them to the dog, but never give them to the dog unless they are cooked.

Some recipes call for putting the turkey in the oven for ½ to 1 hour at a high temperature and then lowering it to a low heat to complete the cooking. It is probably best to just keep the temperature of the oven at 325 degrees F (150 degrees C) and figure on 15 minutes of cooking time per pound for an unstuffed turkey and about 20 minutes per pound for a stuffed turkey. Make sure to use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the turkey. It is ready to take out of the oven when it hits 170 degrees F.

With just these few tips you should be able to serve a great Thanksgiving Turkey along with the potatoes and gravy that everyone will enjoy and talk about until the next one.


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