I remember when I was a young bride, preparing my first Thanksgiving dinner. The Internet was not yet popular (yes I’m that old), so I did not have the convenience of a “Turkey 101” Google search. I must have spent the whole day on the phone with my mother. I had countless questions for her and she graciously helped me along, although I know she was laughing hysterically each time we hung up the phone.
Turkey 101 – How to Roast a Turkey
I hope the following turkey tips will help you prepare a magnificent Thanksgiving feast for your family:
How much turkey do you need? Plan on about 1 1/2 pounds of turkey for each person.
Frozen or fresh? A fresh turkey has never been frozen and some believe that it tastes better. However they do cost more money than frozen. There is also a greater risk that the turkey could attract bacteria if left out for too long. I have always opted for a frozen turkey because of the cost factor and have seldom been disappointed. With a frozen bird, you have to plan ahead to thaw it (I forgot to do this with my first turkey). It takes 24 hours in the refrigerator for every 5 pounds of turkey. You can also thaw the turkey under cold running water, not warm, changing the water every 30 minutes and allowing 30 minutes per pound to thaw.
Before preparing the turkey, you should let it rest at room temperature for up to 2 hours.
Remove the gizzards. Remove the gizzard packet from inside of the turkey, being careful that you have removed everything. You can place the heart, neck and gizzard in a pan of cold water and bring to a boil on low heat, to make a gravy stock. Let your stock simmer for 2 hours. Note: Do not use the liver in this stock. Drain all the juices from the turkey and blot the cavity with paper towels.
Stuffing the bird. If you plan to stuff your turkey, insert stuffing into the body cavity just before the turkey goes into the oven. Never do it ahead of time and don’t pack it too tightly. Otherwise, the stuffing won’t cook evenly and bacteria may grow. Don’t forget to stuff the neck cavity. You may want to pull the neck skin over the stuffing and fasten it to the back using a skewer.
To truss or not to truss. Trussing isn’t necessary, but be sure to twist the wing tips under the back. Turning the wing tips back will hold the neck skin in place. Return legs to tucked position under the tail, if untucked. You can optionally tie the legs to the tail with cooking string.
Just before roasting. Place the turkey, breast side up, on a flat rack in an open roasting pan about 2 inches deep. If your turkey came with a “turkey lifter”, place the string cradle under the bird and bring the loops up around the turkey.
Insert an oven-safe meat thermometer deep into the lower part of the thigh next to the body. Be careful not to touch the bone. Brush the skin with vegetable oil or melted butter.
Roasting your turkey. Roast at 325 degrees Fahrenheit. To find out how long to roast your turkey, see the foodsafety.gov turkey Roasting Chart. For example, an 8 to 12 pound turkey would be roasted for 2 3/4 to 3 hours (unstuffed) or 3 to 3 1/2 hours (stuffed). When the skin is light golden, about 2/3 done, shield the breast loosely with lightweight foil to prevent overcooking. At this point you’ll want to cut the string from the legs, if that’s what you used to hold the legs together. This really depends on how the turkey is browning.
Check for doneness 1/2 hour before turkey is expected to be done. Your turkey is fully cooked when the thigh’s internal temperature is 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
When done let the turkey stand for 20-30 minutes before carving.
Optional roasting methods. Just before roasting, soak a four-layer piece of cheesecloth in melted butter and cover the turkey with the cheesecloth. About 3/4 of the way through roasting, you can remove the cheesecloth to allow more browning. I have had great success with this method.
Bag method- You can also roast your turkey inside an oven bag. Many people swear by this method, however I have never tried it. Prepare your turkey as normal. Place oven bag in roasting pan. Put the turkey in the oven bag, and gather the bag loosely around the turkey, allowing room for heat circulation. Secure the bag with its nylon tie. Cut four or five 1 inch slits in the top of the bag so that steam can escape. Important Note: Your turkey will cook much faster using this method.
Out of the oven. Once your turkey has reached the required temperature of 180 degrees, remove from the oven and remove stuffing to a serving bowl. Cover with foil to keep warm and let rest 15-20 minutes before carving to allow juices to redistribute.