I hear so many people say they don’t like cooking turkey, they are afraid. It makes them nervous. It freaks them out. Why is that? Personally I find turkeys to be super easy to cook. I do cook them a few times a year though, so maybe it’s all the practice. I have also been told by one (or perhaps more) of my sisters that I tend to think weird things are easy, which really aren’t easy to at all. I don’t know, but I would love for you to be as comfortable with cooking a turkey as I am so you can relax about Thanksgiving and not stress. Enjoy your family and friends and give thanks! So lets get started with talkin’ turkey shall we? Of course the first thing you will need to do is purchase your turkey – unless you’re super crazy like we are and raised your own. Yup, this year we raised our own Black Spanish Heritage Turkeys and they have already been butchered for the big day, so no picking a turkey out for me! You, however, will need to choose your turkey. Also since you are most likely headed to the store to do this I have a list for you go over and make sure you have the necessary items:
- Chef’s Twine
- Meat Thermometer
- Large roasting pan
- A way to cover the turkey while roasting, like foil, unless you have a crazy awesome roasting pan that has a lid.
- Stuffing ingredients (here is a Classic Sage Stuffing recipe if you would like it).
- If you are going to brine (see below) you will need something large enough to put the turkey in that will seal like a food grade bag or a large pot.
- A turkey baster or brush
CHOOSING YOUR TURKEY The main decision will be whether to get fresh or frozen. I have done both and let me tell you, the fresh ones are delish. Especially if you can get one from a local farmer, oh they are good. Yes you can taste the difference. But if you can’t get a line on a fresh turkey, or just don’t care about it, then the frozen ones can be excellent as well. The other thing you need to consider when choosing the bird, is size. How many people will you be feeding? Do you want leftovers? Who doesn’t want leftover? Are you crazy?! Of course you want leftovers. So account for that. My mom has planned a lot of events, namely very large weddings. She is crazy good at putting together huge parties, and she always plans 1/2 pound of meat per person. I find that to be totally and completely accurate 100% of the time. So my little add-on to that is, if you want the leftovers you do have to think about the fact that the little label on the turkey that states the weight is including the carcass. So I go ahead and count any children as adults even though we all know the kids will be having fun and will hardly eat anything and what they do eat will likely be a roll and jello. But I count them anyway. Then I also go ahead and add a couple extra fictional people to the crowd. I always have plenty of leftovers that way. Do NOT plan to use the little plastic pop up deal thermometer deal that sticks out of the bird. Those things are stupid and very rarely work properly. Buy a proper meat thermometer if you do not already have one. Amen. THAWING THE TURKEY Ok so you have the bird. Is it frozen? If so you will need to plan thawing it accordingly. Are you planning to brine it? Because you will need an extra day for that. These things are NOT chickens! You cannot thaw them out that morning! This is crucial! See the exclamation points?!!! You can, however, thaw them out overnight if you have a smaller bird. You just have to (ahem….) leave them out on the counter overnight. Don’t tell anyone I said that. You need to have them in the fridge (depending on the size) for a couple days in most cases. I typically purchase at least a 20 lb turkey and I usually take mine out of the freezer on Sunday before Thanksgiving. Thawing in the fridge will take about 1 day per 4 pounds of turkey according to Butterball’s website. If you forget, you can thaw it out in cold water, but you still need about 30 minutes per pound so it’s not exactly a quick solution. PREPPING THE TURKEY The next thing you need to think about is whether or not you want to brine. A brine is a salt water solution that you soak the turkey in which makes for an incredibly moist and delicious turkey. It is not difficult to do and I highly recommend it. It does take some time though because you have to make the brine which requires boiling and then cooling the water and then a large turkey will need about 12 hours in the brine. So you do need to plan a ahead a little if you are going to go this route. If today is Thanksgiving and you are reading this and going, “Oh man, I wish I had read this a couple days ago. I would have liked to try that.” Have no fear. You can create a similar effect simply with a bunch of salt. What you will need to do is get about 3/4 cup of course salt. I like sea salt, but kosher works great. Salt inside the cavity of the turkey, quite generously. Then take your hand and run it under the skin, separating it from the meat. Then take a handful of salt and coat the meat (under the skin) with it. You will need a couple handfuls for each side of the breast. Then you can stuff the bird as you normally would and bake it. I still think a brine is better, but this creates crazy good results as well. STUFFING THE TURKEY Ok now I know this may be a little controversial. The good ol’ FDA I am pretty sure recommends, still, cooking the stuffing separately. But you know what? I don’t care. My mom stuffs her birds, my grandma stuffed her birds, I am sure if my grandma’s mom and grandma were to have cooked (which they didn’t since they had maids) they would have stuffed their birds and you know what else? Martha Stewart stuffs her birds – I heard her say that on her show one time. Darn it all if it’s good enough for grandma and Martha Stewart it’s good enough for me. I also use a wooden cutting board so there. Stuff your birds people. It tastes better. The main reason I am addressing stuffing the bird at all is because you do need to truss the turkey with twine. This helps to keep the moisture in the legs and wings. It’s a little tricky to explain in print, I recommend youtube: how to truss a turkey ROASTING THE BIRD The first thing you need to consider in regards to roasting is when to start roasting it. This will depend on a couple things like, when you want to eat it and also how large your turkey is. We usually eat at 6pm, I don’t do the afternoon turkey eating deal, it kind of drives me crazy because then what about supper? Am I supposed to cook again? I don’t know, it annoys me and heaven forbid Megan is annoyed. Therefore we eat at a normal dinner time. Plus it works well if you want to crash someone else’s party…. So when we are eating at 6pm I start getting my turkey ready at 11am. This gives me an hour to get it stuffed, trussed, whatever. It should be in the oven at noon. Anyway, here is a handy little chart to help guide you in your decision as to when to start. Give yourself about an hour to prep and account for a about 20 minutes to rest after the turkey comes out of the oven and of course about 15-20 minutes to carve:
|Approximate Roasting Times for Stuffed Turkey|
|6 to 8 pounds||3 to 3-1/2 hours|
|8 to 12 pounds||3-1/2 to 4-1/2 hours|
|12 to 16 pounds||4-1/2 to 5-1/2 hours|
|16 to 20 pounds||5-1/2 to 6 hours|
|20 to 24 pounds||6 to 6-1/2 hours|
|Approximate Roasting Times for Unstuffed Turkey|
|6 to 8 pounds||2-1/2 to 3 hours|
|8 to 12 pounds||3 to 4 hours|
|12 to 16 pounds||4 to 5 hours|
|16 to 20 pounds||5 to 5-1/2 hours|
|20 to 24 pounds||5-1/2 to 6 hours|
Ok so now we are at the point where you have your turkey ready to go. Brined, salted, stuffed, trussed. Preheat your oven to 325˚. You will need to place the turkey in the roasting pan. Then you will need to moisten it. I like to do this with butter personally. Because I am obsessed with butter. I simply take soft butter and rub it all over the turkey in a good thick tasty layer. But if you can’t bring yourself to go with butter, you can use just about any kind of fat. Most people use olive oil, but I am just sitting here thinking to myself that duck fat would be delicious. I am sort of obsessing over duck fat right now because we just butchered a but of ducks and I rendered a little of the fat and it is SO good. No wonder it’s so expensive to buy. Whatever you use, just coat the whole top side of the bird with it. Then cover it tightly with foil. It’s ready to place in the oven. Go for it. Set a timer for about 30 minutes, this is your basting time. When this timer goes off, you will carefully remove the foil or lid, and use your baster or a brush to baste the turkey. Simply scoop up some of the fat from the bottom of the pan and pour it over the bird until it is coated. Then re-cover the turkey as best you can without burning yourself, close the oven and set the timer for another 30 minutes. Repeat this process until about the last 30-45 minutes of cooking. At this point, baste the turkey one last time and then take the cover off completely to brown the skin up. This is when you will check the temperature for the first time to see where you are at. Stick your thermometer in the thickest part of the breast. Shove it all the way in until you hit a bone, then pull back a little bit and wait for it to read the temp. You will need to adjust your roasting time according to what read you get. It usually takes about 10 minutes per 10 degrees (roughly – keep in mind I live at high altitude so if you are at sea level it might not be as long), so if it is reading 130˚ you should need about another 35 minutes to come up to temperature. But keep an eye on it. I still like to read the temperature about every 10 minutes at this point. You’re goal is to roast to 165˚. Once you get a reading of 165˚ turn off the oven and remove your dinner. Set aside for a bit, I usually give it about 15-20 minutes before we carve. My lovely husband usually does the carving so maybe if I think of it I will take a video of him doing it this year and post it here. He does a beautiful job and also arranges the meat all perfectly, I swear he should be a food stylist. But for now, just go to youtube if you need instructions on carving. Or be like me and wing it ;b Just remember to remove the stuffing first… Then you can use the pan juices to make a delicious gravy. And that’s it! You are all set to make a Thanksgiving turkey for your family. Please feel free to add in your must-know tips or ask questions below… Happy Thanksgiving!