(Image from the National Turkey Federation)
Let’s start with the basics. When buying a turkey, choose one that allows for ap
proximately one pound of
bird per person. If this means purchasing one 24 pounds or larger, consider
buying two smaller birds to cut down on the cooking time. It is also a good
idea to check ahead of time to be sure a large bird will fit in your oven. Of
course, if leftovers are important (and when are they not) buy a slightly
larger bird than needed.
Give a frozen turkey plenty of time to thaw. The best way is to place the bird in the back part of the refrigerator, allowing at least one day of thawing time for every four pounds of turkey. If time is short, a quicker method is to place the still-wrapped bird breast-side down into a sink or large container and cover with cold water. It will take about 30 minute per pound to thaw a whole bird, and you will need to change the water every 30 minutes to keep things cold.
Next, be sure to have all the kitchen tools you need to
- A roasting pan and rack large-enough to hold the bird. Disposable aluminum pans will work fine. Just be sure to set the pan on a cookie sheet to give it added stability. Also, in place of a rack, the bird can go on top of cut-up roasting vegetables (onions, carrots, celery, parsnips, etc). This will keep the turkey elevated while also flavoring the pan drippings.
- Kitchen twine for trussing, which allows the bird to cook evenly and keeps it looking nice. Many cookbooks give instructions on trussing, which may seem a bit complicated. All that is really needed is to tie the legs together.
- An instant-read thermometer to take the guess work out of when the turkey is done.
(My friend, Steve Barns, looks amazed at his turkey efforts years ago.)
If you are worried about a dry turkey, cover just the breast with foil to keep the meat moist, and then remove 45 minutes before the turkey is scheduled to be done to allow the breast to brown. Another idea is to rub some softened butter mixed with your favorite herbs under the turkey’s skin. Just be careful not to tear the skin while separating it from the meat.
If you plan to stuff the turkey, it is important to do so just before roasting to
prevent any harmful
bacteria growth. Do not prepare the stuffing
or stuff the bird the night before. Also, be sure the bird is completely thawed
and do not tightly pack the stuffing into the turkey.
(My friend, Aaron Burnham, was getting ready to deep fry this bird years ago.)
The turkey is done when the thermometer reaches 170 to 175 degrees in the thigh (away from the bone) and 165 degrees in the breast. Also, the juices should run clear. If the bird is stuffed, the center of the stuffing needs to be 160 degrees. After removing the turkey from the oven, allow it to rest covered with foil for 30 minutes before carving so the juices redistribute back into the meat.
When the meal is over, what about the leftovers? First, be sure to take the meat off the bone and remove any remaining stuffing within two hours of roasting. Then wrap them separately and refrigerate to use within three days. Leftovers may also be frozen for up to two months. Just wrap the meat and stuffing in foil, place in zippered plastic bags, and freeze. That way you can enjoy a little bit of Thanksgiving whenever you like.