Thanksgiving and the winter holidays are just around the corner. It’s time to start cooking. Although we may have spent time in the family kitchen helping out over the holidays, when it comes to cooking your own turkey, it can be a bit daunting. But it doesn’t have to be. In fact, cooking a turkey is a bit like roasting a chicken, it just happens to be a bit bigger. Here are some easy tips to set you up for success on the big day.
Turkey Prep: What you need
Roasting pan: If you don’t own one you can always buy a disposable one at the grocery store.
Meat thermometer: This is the best way to ensure your turkey is cooked.
Tin foil: We recommend covering the turkey with tinfoil for the first part of cooking.
Bulb baster: This simple tool suctions juice up from the bottom of the pan, allowing you to easily baste the turkey with its own juices as it cooks.
Cooking twine: Use cooking twine to tie the legs together.
Before cooking: If you are using a frozen bird then allow for 24 hours of thawing time for every 5 pounds. You can defrost the turkey by placing it on a tray in the fridge. Never thaw a turkey at room temperature for food safety reasons. You can also, submerge the still wrapped turkey in cold water for approximately 5 to 6 hours, breast-side down. Monitor the water and change it every half hour or so to keep it cold. You will want to make sure your turkey is completely thawed otherwise the turkey will not cook properly.
If you are buying a fresh bird, do not buy it more than two days before cooking. Again, for food safety reasons.
The general rule of thumb for cooking a turkey is 20 minutes per pound based on an oven set at 325 – 350 degrees Fahrenheit. A stuffed turkey, however, will take a bit longer. Add at least a half hour more for a stuffed turkey. For instance, a 12-14 pound unstuffed turkey will take 3 to 3 3/4 hours to cook. A stuffed turkey of the same size will take approximately 3 1/2 to 4 hours to cook. To confirm that a stuffed turkey is cooked, check that both the turkey legs and the stuffing inside the cavity have reached 165 degrees Fahrenheit before removing the turkey from the oven.
- Remove and discard giblets and neck from turkey. These are found inside the cavity of the turkey. Some people use these for gravy. If you wish to do so then simply set them aside. Otherwise, they can be discarded.
- Turn oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Based on a 12-pound turkey, place turkey in roasting pan breast side up. Place stuffing inside turkey cavity if you are using stuffing. Alternatively, rub and place fresh herbs in the inner cavity, or in lieu of stuffing, place an onion or an orange inside the cavity. Take note, an unstuffed turkey cooks faster than a stuffed turkey.
- Tie the legs together for a nice presentation. Rub the turkey with olive oil. For the most basic turkey, sprinkle the turkey with salt and pepper. For more flavor, use any mix of preferred spices. Italian spices, herbes du Provence or a Cajun mix are all great options. For a full flavorful effect, pat spices over and under the turkey skin.
- Add 2 cups of water to roasting pan. Cover the turkey with tinfoil. Cook for 2 hours. Remove tin foil and baste turkey with juices. Add more water if needed. Cook turkey for at least another 30 minutes, and then at 30 minute increments until the turkey thermometer reads 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Baste every 30 minutes.
- Once turkey is cooked. Remove from oven. Cover with tin foil again and let sit for 30 minutes before carving.
* Hint for tinfoil: One problem with cooking a turkey is that the turkey breast or white meat cooks faster than the dark meat. To time cooking perfectly, you can always just cover the turkey breasts with tinfoil while leaving the drumsticks.
How to know when the turkey is done?
To check the temperature of your turkey while it is cooking and to see if it is done, insert the thermometer into the meatiest part of the turkey thigh. When the temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s time to remove the bird from the oven.
Stuff or not to Stuff
Stuffing a turkey is a personal preference. For food safety reasons you should never stuff a turkey with cold stuffing, or leave a turkey with stuffing in it over night before cooking or even after cooking. A stuffed turkey will take longer to cook than an unstuffed turkey. Alternatively, stuffing can be made and baked separately.
If you plan to brine the turkey you’ll need a large bucket or cooler in which to submerge the turkey. Brining involves placing the turkey in a chilled saltwater marinade for 12-24 hours before cooking. You can buy brining kits, use a family recipe, or find one that works or you online. Some people swear by brining to keep the turkey moist, yet others say it makes the turkey to salty. The decision on this one is up to you.
Other ways to cook a turkey:
Grilled / BBQ turkey:
With this method, try maintaining the heat of the BBQ around 350 degrees Fahrenheit. On the BBQ, it’s best to cook the turkey with indirect heat. Meaning turn one side of the grill on, but cook the turkey covered on the side of the grill that is not on. If you use coals, have the coals burning on one side of the grill and the turkey sitting on the other side of the grill, but covered. For a 12-pound turkey cover it with tinfoil and cook it for about an hour and a half. Then remove the tinfoil and cook for another 30 minutes, or until turkey reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
This method is a bit fast and furious. Turn the oven on to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook turkey for approximately one and a half hours uncovered. Again using the meat thermometer to confirm when the turkey is ready.
You can spatchcock a turkey just like you would a chicken. You’ll just want to make sure your roasting pan is big enough to hold the turkey once it is splayed out. To spatchcock the turkey ask the butcher at your store to remove the backbone and then crack the breastbone of the bird, so that it can lie fast. Alternatively, you can also do this yourself at home. This method allows the bird to cook more evenly. Once the turkey is prepared with oil and spices, cook it at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately an hour and a half (for a 14-pound turkey) until the meat thermometer registers 165 degrees Fahrenheit when placed in the thigh.