If it’s your first time making Thanksgiving dinner or if you have had a Turkey disaster in the past this article is for you. I have been making Thanksgiving dinner now for the past 17 years so I think I can qualify myself as a Turkey Cooking Pro.
Over the years I have had some disasters all of them minor but they were just bad enough to teach me a lesson. The worst one was catching my kitchen on fire. Don’t worry my husband and I beat the fire out with towels and we only have one tile with a small burn in it. My first Thanksgiving I didn’t realize you needed to remove the giblets before cooking. No big deal, the only consequence of that was my Mother and Mother In Law teasing me. Another year I only defrosted a 24 lb turkey for 12 hours. Needless to say when I got ready to cook the turkey it was still pretty frozen. No big deal there either I just had to water defrost it for a couple of hours and dinner was at 5:00 instead of 3:00.
Why have I shared my failures with you? Well just to let you know that even if you make a mistake your Turkey dinner doesn’t have to be a total disaster. Unless maybe you burn the Turkey then you can just claim you’re a Cajun.
While we’re on the discussion of disasters if you buy frozen pies make sure you read the box. Some pies need to be defrosted or baked for an hour before serving. Remember to stick a frozen pie that needs baking in the oven as soon as you remove your turkey. That way it can cook while the turkey is carved and while the eating is occurring. If everything times out correctly, you should be able to remove the pie at the end of the meal and it can be cooling off as the dinner dishes are being removed and the leftovers put away.
Now if you want to cook a perfect Turkey just follow these simple steps and you will be successful.
Step 1: Defrosting
Yes, oh yes you must defrost that bird. There are two methods refrigerator, or water. The water method is the speed method, if you use the water method you must use cold water. If you use the water method make sure that you change the water every hour or so, to help assure that no bacteria creeps in. The turkey should be left in its packaging while defrosting with either method.
If you are using the refrigerator method remember to place the turkey on a plate or plater, as it will begin defrost and release water, and other things you don’t want dripping all over the bottom of your fridge.
Defrosting times are as follows:
A turkey that weighs 8 to 10 pounds should be defrosted 1 to 2 days using the refrigerator mehtod. 4 to 6 hours if using the water method.
A turkey that weighs 12 to 16 pounds should be defrosted 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator or 6 to 8 hours using the water method.
A turkey that weighs 16 to 20 pounds should be defrosted 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator or 8 to 10 hours using the water method.
A turkey that weighs 20 to 24 pounds should be defrosted 4 to 5 days in the refrigerator or 10 to 12 hours using the water method
A turkey that weighs 24 to 28 pounds should be defrosted 5 to 6 days in the refrigerator or 12 to 14 hours using the water method.
I actually cooked a 34 pound turkey once. It took about 16 ½ hours to thaw using the water method. By the way this is the one that caught the kitchen on fire. The Turkey was bigger than any pan I could have possibly fit in my oven and it created so much juice that it dripped onto the bottom of the stove and since the juice had oil in it guess what? FIRE!!!!
Quick Tip: If you are making a turkey over 16 pounds I do not recommend using one of those throw away aluminum pans, the weight of the turkey and the juice of the cooked turkey will bend them and you will end up burning yourself or spilling grease. Invest in good sized roasting pan, it will pay for itself over the years.
Step 2: Preparation
- Remove the turkey from the outside packaging.
- Rinse the Turkey inside and out with cold water.
- Remove the giblets. (Yep you guessed it, you must stick your hand rite in there. Usually they are already in a package so they are easy to pull out. If your Turkey is of the fresher variety you will have to do the work yourself. Also make sure that the neck bone is removed this can usually be found at the less wide opened part of the Turkey. A firm tug should do the job.
- Rinse inside and out again.
- Preheat oven: Set your oven at 325
- Lubricate the bird. This is where my method may differ from others. I set the bird in its cooking pan. Then I pour a generous amount of olive oil in the palm of my hands. I then massage the bird with the oil. Making sure to get every inch of it.
- Season: I like to sprinkle on a generous amount of poultry seasoning. That is usually all the seasoning I need. Feel free to use your own combination of dried seasonings. Also a flavor infused olive oil adds a very nice touch.
- A little dab of butter I usually put a little square of butter in the pit of each of the legs. Since the legs dry out quicker than the rest of the bird.
- A little bit of liquid. I usually add a very small amount of water to the bottom of the roasting pan it just provides a little extra moisture.
- Stuff it if you must: Over the last few years stuffing the turkey has become a news media issue. They are claiming that semolina poisoning is caused by bacteria in the stuffing from the Turkey. Therefore I no longer stuff, and I don’t recommend it. If you did stuff you should now tie the legs of the Turkey.
- Making a tent: Take aluminum foil and tear off 4 sheets the sheets must be big enough to cover over half of the turkey. You then attach the four sheets to the Turkey pan two at each side. You do this by folding the foil onto the lip of the pan. You should have several inches sticking out on both sides. You then pull the sides of foil together and fold then at the top forming a tent over the Turkey. Then seal up the sides the best that you can. Make sure that the foil is not touching the Turkey.
- Start cooking If your oven heats from the bottom you want to place Turkey as high as you can, while leaving enough space from the top. If your oven heats from the bottom do the opposite.
Step 3: Cooking Times
8 to 12 pound turkeys should cook for 2 ¼ to 3 hours if they un-stuffed . 3 to 3 ½ hours if they are stuffed.
12 to 14 pound turkeys should cook for 3 to 3 ¾ hours if they are un-stuffed. 3 ½ to 4 hours if they are stuffed.
14 to 18 pound turkeys should cook for 3 ¾ to 4 ¼ hours if they are un-stuffed. 4 to 4 ¼ hours if they are stuffed.
18 to 20 pound turkeys should cook for 4 ¼ to 4 ½ hours if they are un-stuffed. 4 ¼ to 4 ¾ hours if they are stuffed
20 to 24 pound turkeys should cook for 4 ½ to 5 hours if they are un-stuffed. 4 ¾ to 51/4 hours if they are stuffed.
Add 15 minutes for each additional pound of an unstuffed turkey, add an additional 15 minutes if it stuffed.
Note: Don’t worry if you forget all this information, a general rule of thumb is 15 minutes per pound. Just remember to cook it an additional 15 minutes if it is stuffed.
Step 4: Basting – Or Not Basting
Basting: I don’t baste. It is dangerous and not necessary if you lubricate your bird before you cook it. You may want to just check your bird about half way through the cooking to make sure that it still appears to be moist. If not you may want to baste. I have never had to baste one yet, but just check, better safe than sorry. Be careful not to burn yourself when removing and replacing the foil, there will be steam that arrises out from under it that can burn you quite nicely. If you do need to baste make sure you use an appropriate basting tool to avoid spilling, of course you could you a deep spoon but you increase the danger of spilling grease down in to your oven and starting a fire. Put a small amount over the top of the turkey and pay special attention the the leg area. Again if you followed my preparation instructions you really should not need to baste your turkey.
Step 5: Browning
About 45 minutes before the Turkey is to be done cooking; remove the foil from the pan. This will allow the bird to brown. I will sometimes wrap a little foil on the legs if they appear to be drying out. Cook your Turkey for that 45 minutes uncovered. You may want to peek at it every 15 minutes or so just to make sure it is not getting too brown. Especially be careful if your oven heats from the top instead of the bottom.
Step 6: Remove and Carve
Most experts say that after you remove your turkey that you should let it set for 15 to 30 minutes before carving. However, my Turkeys get to set around 5 minutes before my family starts complaining about how hungry they are. I do make them all look at the Turkey first and make them chant “Oh what a beautiful bird!” Other wise they don’t eat. Seriously do take a moment to admire what you have done. After several hours it is nice to look at it and pat yourself on the back.
Step 6: Carving (Or not)
If you want to carve a turkey like I do, you will have to ask my dad. Because that is how I get my Turkey carved. I say, “Dad it is time to carve the Turkey. Can you do the honors?” To me that is the easiest part of the whole process. Seriously though there is usually someone in the crowd that is more than willing to carve the turkey, some like to do this because it gives them some sort of odd ego boost. My advice is let them do it. It might not end up being perfectly carved but if you are just serving friends and family no body really cares. Besides if you are the one doing most of the cooking you will need this time to do you last minute cooking (keep an eye on those rolls), and to start getting the food to the table. You really don’t have time to carve the turkey yourself, especially when you can get someone else to do it. I find that even on Thanksgiving that delegating can be a worthwhile skill to have.
Good Luck, and Good Eating!