The Perfect Turkey Handbook: 20+ Tips and Secrets
We were going to give you just 20 simple turkey-cooking tips, but we realized there are far too many turkey questions, so instead we created this comprehensive “Handbook for The Perfect Turkey.”
It’s still very simple and easy to follow, but we think it addresses more of the complexities of why turkeys come out properly cooked, overcooked and unfortunately at times, undercooked (itself a health hazard).
If you follow our advice, you’ll end up with the best turkey you’ve ever eaten, no matter whose basic recipe you’re following.
Thawing a Frozen Turkey
There are three different ways to thaw a frozen turkey — placing it in the refrigerator for some time, submerging it in cold water for several minutes and using the defrost function of a microwave.
Each option comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages.
Depending on the defrosting method of choice, thawing a turkey can take anywhere from as short as 4 hours to as long as 9 days. Besides the thawing approach, there are also a handful of other determining factors that can impact the length of the defrosting time, and spearheading the list is the turkey’s size.
Let’s talk about the various ways on how to thaw a frozen turkey the right way:
The most common and popular way to defrost a turkey is by transferring it from the freezer to the refrigerator. This is perfect for those who have a lot of things to do between the start of thawing a turkey to the moment it’s time to get that giant bird marinated and roasted.
Just stash the bird in the fridge and forget about it — and come back to it only after a few days.
In order to thaw a turkey, all you have to do is place the rock-solid frozen poultry in a tray large enough to accommodate it. There’s no need to take it out of its original packaging.
How long you will have to defrost a frozen turkey using the refrigerator thawing method depends on its size. As a general rule of thumb, every 1 pound of turkey requires around 5 hours to thaw in the fridge. So, in other words, the larger the turkey, the longer the thawing time.
Here’s a table demonstrating the refrigerator thawing time length per weight of turkey:
|8 pounds||1 to 2 days|
|9 pounds||1 to 2 days|
|10 pounds||1 to 2 days|
|11 pounds||1 to 2 days|
|12 pounds||2 to 3 days|
|13 pounds||2 to 3 days|
|14 pounds||2 to 3 days|
|15 pounds||2 to 3 days|
|16 pounds||3 to 4 days|
|17 pounds||3 to 4 days|
|18 pounds||3 to 4 days|
|19 pounds||3 to 4 days|
|20 pounds||4 to 5 days|
|21 pounds||4 to 5 days|
|22 pounds||4 to 5 days|
|23 pounds||4 to 5 days|
|24 pounds||5 to 6 days|
|25 pounds||5 to 6 days|
|26 pounds||5 to 6 days|
|27 pounds||5 to 6 days|
|28 pounds||6 to 7 days|
|29 pounds||6 to 7 days|
|30 pounds||6 to 7 days|
|31 pounds||6 to 7 days|
|32 pounds||7 to 8 days|
|33 pounds||7 to 8 days|
|34 pounds||7 to 8 days|
|35 pounds||7 to 8 days|
|36 pounds||8 to 9 days|
|37 pounds||8 to 9 days|
|38 pounds||8 to 9 days|
|39 pounds||8 to 9 days|
|40 pounds||8 to 9 days|
While refrigerator thawing allows you to attend to your other tasks until the bird is ready for the oven, it can take some time to complete, especially if you have a large turkey to defrost.
Do the math in order to be able to transfer the frozen turkey to the fridge at the perfect moment.
Cold water thawing
A faster way to thaw a frozen turkey than placing it in the refrigerator is submerging it in cold water for several hours. This method can take anywhere from as short as 4 hours to as long as 20 hours to complete.
While quicker, unfortunately, cold water thawing requires constant attending to the poultry.
But you may be wondering why use cold water for defrosting a turkey instead of hot water — won’t hot water make the entire process easier and faster? Although it’s true that hot water seems like it’s better for the thawing task, using it should be avoided at all costs in order to prevent:
- Damaging the meat
- Harboring bacterial growth
Cold water should also be replaced every 30 minutes or so in order to effectively thaw the turkey and at the same time prevent the bad things mentioned above.
The following is a table showing the cold water thawing time length per weight of turkey:
|8 pounds||4 to 6 hours|
|9 pounds||4 to 6 hours|
|10 pounds||4 to 6 hours|
|11 pounds||4 to 6 hours|
|12 pounds||6 to 8 hours|
|13 pounds||6 to 8 hours|
|14 pounds||6 to 8 hours|
|15 pounds||6 to 8 hours|
|16 pounds||8 to 10 hours|
|17 pounds||8 to 10 hours|
|18 pounds||8 to 10 hours|
|19 pounds||8 to 10 hours|
|20 pounds||10 to 12 hours|
|21 pounds||10 to 12 hours|
|22 pounds||10 to 12 hours|
|23 pounds||10 to 12 hours|
|24 pounds||12 to 14 hours|
|25 pounds||12 to 14 hours|
|26 pounds||12 to 14 hours|
|27 pounds||12 to 14 hours|
|28 pounds||14 to 16 hours|
|29 pounds||14 to 16 hours|
|30 pounds||14 to 16 hours|
|31 pounds||14 to 16 hours|
|32 pounds||16 to 18 hours|
|33 pounds||16 to 18 hours|
|34 pounds||16 to 18 hours|
|35 pounds||16 to 18 hours|
|36 pounds||18 to 20 hours|
|37 pounds||18 to 20 hours|
|38 pounds||18 to 20 hours|
|39 pounds||18 to 20 hours|
|40 pounds||18 to 20 hours|
Because cold water thawing requires you to replace the cold water about every half an hour, it’s a good idea to instead opt for refrigerator thawing if you have a very large turkey or are too busy.
Microwave thawing (NOT RECOMMENDED)
The vast majority of microwaves manufactured these days have a defrost functionality.
As the name suggests, it quickly thaws frozen food using low-level radiation heating — about 30% less power in order to defrost food without cooking them. To prevent cooking, as a matter of fact, some microwave models allow you to input the food type and/or the weight to determine how much power to use.
When thawing a turkey in the microwave, one should allot 6 minutes per pound of the bird. In addition, it should be rotated and even flipped once in a while to ensure even thawing. It’s also done to keep the turkey from being cooked.
And speaking of which, you are running the risk of cooking some parts of the turkey if you thaw it in the microwave. This is true even if it’s on the defrost mode. Just in case it seems like the turkey is beginning to cook, allow it to rest for about 5 minutes before resuming the microwave thawing process.
Below is a table showing the microwave thawing time length per weight of turkey:
|8 pounds||48 minutes to 1 hour and 12 minutes|
|9 pounds||48 minutes to 1 hour and 12 minutes|
|10 pounds||48 minutes to 1 hour and 12 minutes|
|11 pounds||48 minutes to 1 hour and 12 minutes|
|12 pounds||1 hour and 12 minutes to 1 hour and 36 minutes|
|13 pounds||1 hour and 12 minutes to 1 hour and 36 minutes|
|14 pounds||1 hour and 12 minutes to 1 hour and 36 minutes|
|15 pounds||1 hour and 12 minutes to 1 hour and 36 minutes|
|16 pounds||1 hour and 36 minutes to 2 hours|
|17 pounds||1 hour and 36 minutes to 2 hours|
|18 pounds||1 hour and 36 minutes to 2 hours|
|19 pounds||1 hour and 36 minutes to 2 hours|
|20 pounds||2 hours to 2 hours and 24 minutes|
|21 pounds||2 hours to 2 hours and 24 minutes|
|22 pounds||2 hours to 2 hours and 24 minutes|
|23 pounds||2 hours to 2 hours and 24 minutes|
|24 pounds||2 hours and 24 minutes to 2 hours and 48 minutes|
|25 pounds||2 hours and 24 minutes to 2 hours and 48 minutes|
|26 pounds||2 hours and 24 minutes to 2 hours and 48 minutes|
|27 pounds||2 hours and 24 minutes to 2 hours and 48 minutes|
|28 pounds||2 hours and 48 minutes to 3 hours and 12 minutes|
|29 pounds||2 hours and 48 minutes to 3 hours and 12 minutes|
|30 pounds||2 hours and 48 minutes to 3 hours and 12 minutes|
|31 pounds||2 hours and 48 minutes to 3 hours and 12 minutes|
|32 pounds||3 hours and 12 minutes to 3 hours and 36 minutes|
|33 pounds||3 hours and 12 minutes to 3 hours and 36 minutes|
|34 pounds||3 hours and 12 minutes to 3 hours and 36 minutes|
|35 pounds||3 hours and 12 minutes to 3 hours and 36 minutes|
|36 pounds||3 hours and 36 minutes to 4 hours|
|37 pounds||3 hours and 36 minutes to 4 hours|
|38 pounds||3 hours and 36 minutes to 4 hours|
|39 pounds||3 hours and 36 minutes to 4 hours|
|40 pounds||3 hours and 36 minutes to 4 hours|
As you can see, it can take quite a while for a frozen turkey to thaw in the microwave. It can take a lot of your energy, too, since throughout the defrosting time, as mentioned earlier, you will have to rotate and flip the bird in order to obtain an even thawing as well as prevent some parts from being cooked.
Especially if the turkey is very large, consider going for a different thawing method altogether.
To Stuff or Not to Stuff a Turkey
It’s traditional to stuff turkey. And, traditionally, turkey is stuffed with raw stuffing before the bird is roasted. So, in other words, it’s customary to cook both turkey and stuffing at the same time.
However, times have changed and both professional chefs and health experts agree to let go of the habit.
For the sake of both enjoying a perfectly cooked turkey and keeping food-borne illnesses at bay, it’s a much better idea to stuff the turkey with already cooked stuffing. I may not be exactly how grandma used to make turkey alright, but it can help fend off a tough and stringy turkey and food poisoning.
Still not convinced that you should give this method a go? Then check out the following reasons why you should cook your turkey and stuffing separately:
Faster cooking time
A stuffed turkey takes a longer time to cook than an unstuffed turkey — an hour longer, on average. That’s because both poultry and stuffing must reach a safe internal temperature of 165°F or 74°C.
Most especially if you have a massive turkey to roast and are in a time crunch, too, you will feel less stressed and save precious time as the designated Thanksgiving host if you cook the turkey and stuffing separately. From the thawing to the roasting, serving turkey is not really the most time-efficient culinary undertaking!
But if you prefer to stick to the traditional way of preparing turkey, consider stuffing the bird lightly in order for it to cook faster than usual. Generally speaking, it’s better to understuff than overstuff a turkey.
Safer poultry to eat
Above, it was mentioned that an internal temperature should be reached not only by the turkey but also by the stuffing inside it. Such is very important to achieve in order to make sure that you won’t be serving something with bacteria that can leave your guest suffering from food poisoning.
Stuffing a raw turkey can cause the stuffing to absorb raw meat juices that can contain salmonella.
A type of bacterium, salmonella can cause salmonellosis — or what everybody calls salmonella food poisoning or simply salmonella or food poisoning. Cooking the turkey for a long time to ensure that the stuffing’s internal temperature reaches 165°F can kill salmonella. But by the time the stuffing is salmonella-free, your turkey may already be overcooked.
Now that you know why not stuffing the turkey before placing it in the oven is preferred by more and more people, it’s time to discuss how long to cook the turkey for.
When it comes to making sure that you will be serving perfectly delicious and safe-to-eat turkey at the table, there’s only a single rule to remember: cook the bird at 350°F or 177°C for 13 minutes per pound if unstuffed. With no stuffing to cook inside the turkey, the cooking time, as mentioned earlier, is shorter.
The table below demonstrates the cooking time per weight of unstuffed turkey:
|TURKEY WEIGHT||COOKING TIME AT 350°F|
|8 pounds||1 hour and 44 minutes to 2 hours and 36 minutes|
|9 pounds||1 hour and 44 minutes to 2 hours and 36 minutes|
|10 pounds||1 hour and 44 minutes to 2 hours and 36 minutes|
|11 pounds||1 hour and 44 minutes to 2 hours and 36 minutes|
|12 pounds||2 hours and 36 minutes to 3 hours and 28 minutes|
|13 pounds||2 hours and 36 minutes to 3 hours and 28 minutes|
|14 pounds||2 hours and 36 minutes to 3 hours and 28 minutes|
|15 pounds||2 hours and 36 minutes to 3 hours and 28 minutes|
|16 pounds||3 hours and 28 minutes to 4 hours and 20 minutes|
|17 pounds||3 hours and 28 minutes to 4 hours and 20 minutes|
|18 pounds||3 hours and 28 minutes to 4 hours and 20 minutes|
|19 pounds||3 hours and 28 minutes to 4 hours and 20 minutes|
|20 pounds||4 hours and 20 minutes to 5 hours and 12 minutes|
|21 pounds||4 hours and 20 minutes to 5 hours and 12 minutes|
|22 pounds||4 hours and 20 minutes to 5 hours and 12 minutes|
|23 pounds||4 hours and 20 minutes to 5 hours and 12 minutes|
|24 pounds||5 hours and 12 minutes to 6 hours and 4 minutes|
|25 pounds||5 hours and 12 minutes to 6 hours and 4 minutes|
|26 pounds||5 hours and 12 minutes to 6 hours and 4 minutes|
|27 pounds||5 hours and 12 minutes to 6 hours and 4 minutes|
|28 pounds||6 hours and 4 minutes to 6 hours and 56 minutes|
|29 pounds||6 hours and 4 minutes to 6 hours and 56 minutes|
|30 pounds||6 hours and 4 minutes to 6 hours and 56 minutes|
|31 pounds||6 hours and 4 minutes to 6 hours and 56 minutes|
|32 pounds||6 hours and 56 minutes to 7 hours and 48 minutes|
|33 pounds||6 hours and 56 minutes to 7 hours and 48 minutes|
|34 pounds||6 hours and 56 minutes to 7 hours and 48 minutes|
|35 pounds||6 hours and 56 minutes to 7 hours and 48 minutes|
|36 pounds||7 hours and 48 minutes to 8 hours and 40 minutes|
|37 pounds||7 hours and 48 minutes to 8 hours and 40 minutes|
|38 pounds||7 hours and 48 minutes to 8 hours and 40 minutes|
|39 pounds||7 hours and 48 minutes to 8 hours and 40 minutes|
|40 pounds||7 hours and 48 minutes to 8 hours and 40 minutes|
As mentioned earlier, cooking unstuffed turkey is faster than stuffed turkey — the oven only has to focus on cooking the turkey perfectly and nothing else.
What’s nice about cooking stuffing outside the bird is that you can do it a day before roasting the turkey or right before or even while cooking the turkey. If you choose to cook it in advance, you can let it cool completely and then stash it in the freezer until you are ready to stuff your turkey with it.
To cook stuffing separately, all you have to do is cook it in a skillet, as usual, and then bake it for about 25 minutes covered with aluminum foil in an oven preheated to 350°F.
Remove the foil and bake the stuffing for 10 to 15 minutes more.
But if you want to do things the traditional way or you just don’t like having to cook the turkey and the stuffing separately, feel free to stuff the turkey before roasting it. However, keep in mind that instead of just 13 minutes per pound of turkey, the cooking time of stuffed turkey is 15 minutes per pound of poultry.
Here’s a table showing the cooking time per weight of stuffed turkey:
|TURKEY WEIGHT||COOKING TIME AT 350°F|
|8 pounds||2 hours to 3 hours|
|9 pounds||2 hours to 3 hours|
|10 pounds||2 hours to 3 hours|
|11 pounds||2 hours to 3 hours|
|12 pounds||3 hours to 4 hours|
|13 pounds||3 hours to 4 hours|
|14 pounds||3 hours to 4 hours|
|15 pounds||3 hours to 4 hours|
|16 pounds||4 hours to 5 hours|
|17 pounds||4 hours to 5 hours|
|18 pounds||4 hours to 5 hours|
|19 pounds||4 hours to 5 hours|
|20 pounds||5 hours to 6 hours|
|21 pounds||5 hours to 6 hours|
|22 pounds||5 hours to 6 hours|
|23 pounds||5 hours to 6 hours|
|24 pounds||6 hours to 7 hours|
|25 pounds||6 hours to 7 hours|
|26 pounds||6 hours to 7 hours|
|27 pounds||6 hours to 7 hours|
|28 pounds||7 hours to 8 hours|
|29 pounds||7 hours to 8 hours|
|30 pounds||7 hours to 8 hours|
|31 pounds||7 hours to 8 hours|
|32 pounds||8 hours to 9 hours|
|33 pounds||8 hours to 9 hours|
|34 pounds||8 hours to 9 hours|
|35 pounds||8 hours to 9 hours|
|36 pounds||9 hours to 10 hours|
|37 pounds||9 hours to 10 hours|
|38 pounds||9 hours to 10 hours|
|39 pounds||9 hours to 10 hours|
|40 pounds||9 hours to 10 hours|
The Stuff Called Turkey Stuffing
Having a tasty accompaniment to roasted turkey — this is the reason why turkey is stuffed in the first place. Especially if the stuffing is cooked inside the turkey, it absorbs all the juices that come out of the turkey as it cooks. At the same time, the spices in the stuffing infuse the turkey meat with added flavors.
But whether you prefer to cook the stuffing inside the bird or separately as you don’t want to run the risk of serving an overcooked Thanksgiving gem or inflicting food poisoning, always stuff with the right amount of stuffing.
A couple of reasons exist why you should avoid overstuffing your turkey:
- Uneven cooking. It’s not just some parts of the turkey that may end up being raw if you put too much stuffing in the bird’s cavity but also the stuffing itself.
- Food poisoning. Naturally, if the stuffing is undercooked, it can harbor bacteria from the turkey and cause salmonella to anyone who puts it in their mouth.
Professional chefs and long-time Thanksgiving hosts will agree that it’s so much better to understuff your turkey rather than overstuff it. Fret not — stuffing expands as it cooks. And it tends to be tastier as there’s not a lot of stuffing around to divide those rich and flavorful turkey juices among themselves.
As a general rule of thumb, you should use anywhere from 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of stuffing for each pound of turkey. Keeping in mind this formula, you can take the guesswork out of cooking a turkey.
Allow the following table to show you just how much stuffing to use per weight of turkey:
|TURKEY WEIGHT||AMOUNT OF STUFFING|
|8 pounds||4 cups to 6 cups|
|9 pounds||4 1/2 cups to 6 3/4 cups|
|10 pounds||5 cups to 7 1/2 cups|
|11 pounds||5 1/2 cups to 8 1/4 cups|
|12 pounds||6 cups to 9 cups|
|13 pounds||6 1/2 cups to 9 3/4 cups|
|14 pounds||7 cups to 10 1/2 cups|
|15 pounds||7 1/2 cups to 11 1/4 cups|
|16 pounds||8 cups to 12 cups|
|17 pounds||8 1/2 cups to 12 3/4 cups|
|18 pounds||9 cups to 13 1/2 cups|
|19 pounds||9 1/2 cups to 14 1/4 cups|
|20 pounds||10 cups to 15 cups|
|21 pounds||10 1/2 cups to 15 3/4 cups|
|22 pounds||11 cups to 16 1/2 cups|
|23 pounds||11 1/2 cups to 17 1/4 cups|
|24 pounds||12 cups to 18 cups|
|25 pounds||12 1/2 cups to 18 3/4 cups|
|26 pounds||13 cups to 19 1/2 cups|
|27 pounds||13 1/2 cups to 20 1/4 cups|
|28 pounds||14 cups to 21 cups|
|29 pounds||14 1/2 cups to 21 3/4 cups|
|30 pounds||15 cups to 22 1/2 cups|
|31 pounds||15 1/2 cups to 23 1/4 cups|
|32 pounds||16 cups to 24 cups|
|33 pounds||16 1/2 cups to 24 3/4 cups|
|34 pounds||17 cups to 25 1/2 cups|
|35 pounds||17 1/2 cups to 26 1/4 cups|
|36 pounds||18 cups to 27 cups|
|37 pounds||18 1/2 cups to 27 3/4 cups|
|38 pounds||19 cups to 28 1/2 cups|
|39 pounds||19 1/2 cups to 19 1/4 cups|
|40 pounds||20 cups to 39 1/4 cups|
Here’s an idea that will wow your family and friends with a really moist turkey that’s absolutely free of salmonella: putting the stuffing under the skin instead of in the poultry’s cavity.
To go about this, all you have to do is loosen the skin over the breast, legs and thighs and then gently insert the stuffing. Unlike stuffing a turkey in the traditional manner, this method allows stuffing to cook thoroughly — there’s no need to cook it separately, outside the bird.
Is it best to cook the stuffing inside the bird, or separately in a baking dish?
Many chefs today recommend cooking the stuffing in a separate dish instead of in the cavity. When placed inside the bird, stuffing cooks unevenly and may not be completely cooked through, offering a potential health hazard. Also, an unstuffed bird requires less cooking time, leaving the breast meat moister.
Baked separately, a stuffing should initially be cooked covered for 45 minutes, and if the interior is too dry, simply moisten with some of the pan juices. Then uncover for a final 20-30 minutes of cooking to develop a wonderful crackly top.
Do I need to close up the cavity after turkey has been stuffed?
Some cooks like to skewer or sew the cavity shut after stuffing but it’s not at all necessary and is entirely up to the cook
Secrets of Cooking Turkeys
And so we have arrived at a part of this post where I will give you a bunch of turkey-cooking tips.
I will not cover various ways of cooking perfect turkeys in this post. Please read more about my four favorite turkey cooking ways: Roasting, Foil Test, Foil Wrapped, and Barbeque Methods.
Cooking a large turkey
Nothing can impress your guests more than serving a massive turkey in front of them. Unfortunately, as a general rule of thumb, the larger the turkey, the more prone it is to becoming dry.
That’s because large turkeys require longer cooking times, which can cause them to lose their juices.
It’s a good thing that you don’t really have to steer clear of a gigantic turkey just to avoid carving something as dry as a bone — there are certain steps that you may take in order to roast a large bird without causing it to lose a lot of the moisture within. And one of those steps is as simple as brining.
As the name suggests, brining is the process of submerging a turkey in a solution of salt and water — 1 cup of salt for every 4 quarts of water — anywhere from 8 hours to 18 hours. Herbs and spices may be added to the solution, too.
You may also simply rub salt all over the turkey, which is a process known as dry-brining.
Earlier, we talked about tenting a turkey. In order to keep a large bird from drying up, you can coat the inner side of the aluminum foil tent with olive oil before placing it over your turkey.
Saving an undercooked turkey
Nothing can increase the risk of your guests rushing to the ER more than serving them an undercooked turkey. Just in case you discover that the bird is not cooked enough while carving it, there’s no need to panic. That’s because Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be a nightmarish experience for you and everyone else.
And no, it doesn’t involve simply placing the entire turkey back in the oven until it’s cooked.
Re-cooking the turkey is a complete no-no as it will cook the uncooked areas alright, which tend to be the breast and legs in a situation like this, but will overcook areas that are already cooked.
In order to have a perfectly cooked turkey on the table in no time, all you have to do is carve off the legs and breasts while keeping them as intact as you possibly can. Transfer them to a baking sheet and place in the oven that’s preheated at around 375°F or 190°C. Check the bird parts every 10 minutes until they hit 165°F internal temperature.
Slice up the now flawlessly cooked turkey legs and breast together with the rest of the bird and serve.
In some instances, it’s not the turkey itself that’s undercooked but the stuffing, which tends to happen a lot if you cook the stuffing in the poultry’s cavity. The good news is that it’s easily fixable.
Preheat the oven to 375°F to 400°F or 204°C and then remove the stuffing from the bird and transfer it to a baking dish large enough to accommodate it. Add some butter or broth and cover the baking dish with aluminum foil. Roast until it hits the recommended internal temperature of 165°F.
Storing a turkey
It’s important to store a turkey the right way whether it’s raw or already cooked.
Raw turkey that’s bound for the oven in 1 to 2 days may be stored in the refrigerator. But make sure that you place the bird in the coldest area of your fridge, which is usually the bottom shelf or the meat drawer — if it’s large enough to accommodate a whole turkey.
How long can a whole turkey be kept frozen?
A whole frozen turkey in its original packaging may be stored at 0 degrees F. for up to one year before the quality begins to deteriorate. Properly thawed frozen turkeys can be refrigerated in their original packaging from 1 to 5 days before cooking.
How long can a fresh turkey be kept refrigerated?
A locally raised fresh turkey will last only 1-2 days refrigerated at 40 degrees F. or below. Commercially raised fresh turkeys in their unopened packaging may last longer and should be marked with a “Use By” date, which is your best indicator (but in our experience that date stretches the quality and freshness a day too long); they may usually be kept as long as 3-4 days under refrigeration.
How long can a cooked turkey be kept refrigerated?
In the fridge, cooked turkey can stay in excellent condition for 3 to 4 days. In the freezer, it can stay in top condition for 4 to 6 months. Just make sure that you divide the bird into small portions and store them separately in shallow containers, which will allow them to chill or freeze well, thereby preventing microbial growth.
See to it, however, that you refrigerate or freeze the turkey within two hours after roasting it.
Buying a turkey
You have a couple of options when buying turkey: fresh or frozen. But believe it or not, there’s no difference between the qualities of the two even though some people say that fresh turkey tastes better.
What’s different between them, though, is the way they leave the processing plant, the NTF says.
As the name suggests, frozen turkeys are frozen. But it’s not just any freezing that they go through — they are flash-frozen to 32°F or 0°C or even lower. On the other hand, fresh turkeys are deeply chilled, which does not go below 79°F or 26°C.
Anything lower than the said temperature and stamping the word “fresh” on the packaging isn’t allowed.
So, what size turkey should you buy?
For a whole turkey, allow about one pound per person, which includes a moderate amount of leftovers. If you like a lot of leftovers, allow up to 1-1/2 pounds per person. Turkeys range in size from 4 pounds, which are baby turkeys about the size of a chicken, to whoppers up to 25 pounds.
Most markets stock 8 to 20-pound turkeys, so if you plan on a small or very large bird, you may want to order it in advance.
Turkey Tip: Make sure your roasting pan, oven, and refrigerator can accommodate the size of turkey you buy. There’s nothing worse on Thanksgiving than realizing the bird won’t fit in the oven or the pan.
Is it better to buy one large turkey or two small ones?
If the visual image of a huge, whole bird on a platter is important to you, then go with a large turkey (if you can lift it). But today’s chefs have found that two smaller birds not only take less time to roast, but they stay moister too.
In many cases, one of the birds is served on Thanksgiving and the remaining one is stored for leftovers, again staying moister and taking up less room in the refrigerator than the leftover carcass of a large bird.
Should I buy a fresh or frozen turkey?
That depends on your tastes and budget. A fresh, commercially raised turkey is easy since it does not require thawing. Many people feel it tastes better than frozen, but USDA rules allow for poultry to be labeled fresh even if it has been frozen to some extent.
Birds sold as frozen can taste just fine, provided they have not been frozen so long that the quality begins to deteriorate.
Fresh, locally raised turkeys are often raised on special diets that are claimed to make them tastier and are available from the turkey ranch directly or by advance order to certain specialty and natural foods markets. These types of turkeys really are fresh and not frozen in any step of the process, and consequently cost more.
How to Tell When Turkey Is Done
Always use a meat thermometer to check for doneness.
See our section on Using a Meat Thermometer.
Should you use a plastic pop-up timer that comes with turkey
You can use pop-up timers, but many cooks have found them unreliable, usually resulting in overcooked turkey. The best method is to use an accurate meat thermometer, whether it be oven-safe or instant-read variety.
Turkey Tip: To test the accuracy of your instant-read thermometer, insert the tip about 2 inches deep into boiling water. At sea level, it should register 212 degrees F. If it does not, replace it; or if it has a calibration device, reset it for accuracy.
How can I tell when the turkey is done?
There are several ways to determine if the turkey is cooked through. For safety and doneness the internal temperature, as registered on a meat thermometer, must reach a minimum of 165 degrees, though most cooks will prefer up to 180 degrees F. in the thigh.
The center of the stuffing should reach 165 degrees F in the cavity, and the center of the breast is done at 165 to 170 degrees. You can also prick the leg joint with a fork, and if the juices run just slightly pink or clear, the turkey is done.
Worry not if you have queries on your mind that have not been answered above. That’s because we have now come to the section where I will answer some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) about cooking turkey.
What is that pink juice in the turkey cavity?
The pink juice in the turkey cavity is water and a red-colored protein called myoglobin, whose task is to carry oxygen molecules and store them in the muscles of the turkey. It’s not uncommon to see this pink juice if the turkey is roasted without stuffing since there is nothing in the cavity that can absorb it.
Why is turkey tough and stringy?
A couple of reasons exist why turkey can end up tough and stringy. First, there’s overcooking that can make turkey meat dry and chewy. Second, there’s marinating the bird in a marinade that’s too acidic and for a period of time that’s longer than necessary, which can cause the meat to become mushy and then bone-dry and ropey.
What does undercooked turkey taste like?
Undercooked turkey tastes bland. It doesn’t have the unmistakable taste of turkey that’s cooked to perfection due to failure to develop as well as marinate in its own natural juices. Turkey that’s undercooked may even taste like blood (and look bloody, too) since its proteins have not been given enough time to be broken down by the heat.
What is that plastic thing in turkey?
The plastic thing in supermarket-bought turkeys is referred to as hock locks. They are designed and installed in order to keep the legs of turkeys, which are also known as hocks, from moving around as the birds are being processed and packed. Some hock locks are made from heat-resistant plastic, while others are out of metal.
Can you cook a turkey without removing its hock lock?
A metal hock lock may be left on when cooking the turkey. The same can be said for a plastic hock lock as the material it’s made of is certified heat-safe on food. However, it’s important to note that keeping the lock hock in place can extend the cooking time of the turkey’s legs because some of their parts are less exposed to the hot air in the oven.
What does trussing a turkey mean?
Simply put, trussing is the act of crossing the legs of the turkey over the cavity and then tying them up using either a butcher’s twine or kitchen twine. It’s also possible to truss a turkey with kite string or unwaxed and unflavored dental floss. Commonly, trussing is done during the final step of turkey preparation, before the bird is roasted.
Is it really necessary to truss a cooked turkey?
Trussing a turkey can help keep the bird from drying out because it prevents moisture from escaping through the cavity unnecessarily. As a matter of fact, it’s one of the things that can be done to obtain a juicy turkey. In addition, trussing helps cook the bird evenly — it saves the legs and thighs from getting cooked faster than the rest.
Can you cook a turkey in the microwave?
Although microwaving a turkey is not an ideal way to roast the bird, it can be used as a cooking method. However, cooking times can vary depending on the wattage of the microwave oven. In order to cook a turkey properly in a microwave, the bird should be covered with vented plastic wrap to prevent steam buildup.
What are the disadvantages of microwaving a turkey?
One of the main disadvantages of cooking a turkey in the microwave is that the cooking time can vary tremendously from when a traditional oven is used. It will depend on the kitchen appliance’s features. It’s also very much likely for the turkey to end up unevenly cooked, especially if it’s not turned and flipped enough while being microwaved.
Just Before You Cook a Turkey
With the way it looks, smells and tastes, it would seem like roasting a turkey is a gargantuan Thanksgiving task. But it’s not really that bad, especially if you have an idea of the things to do right from the very first few steps. No matter how little your previous turkey roasting experience is, becoming a turkey pro is very much possible.
Above, we talked about many of the most important matters everyone needs to know about serving turkey that’s not only mouth-watering but also something that won’t leave family and friends with food poisoning.
Don’t forget to bookmark this page so that you can easily come back to it and take a refresher every Thanksgiving!