Turkey is traditionally the main entrée for many holiday gatherings-Thanksgiving, Christmas, and sometimes even Easter. Whether its your first time to serve the turkey or you’ve done it many times, we can always learn a few new tricks to making the turkey the “belle of the ball”.
When to Purchase and Thaw
Buy your turkey 1-2 weeks in advance. If you wait and buy it fresh, make sure you don’t do it too far ahead because it will go bad. Most turkeys take 4 days to defrost in the refrigerator. Turkeys thaw at a rate of 4 pounds per day.
When you thaw it, place it breast side up on a cookie sheet to avoid making a mess with juice on the lowest rack in your refrigerator. This is the coldest place. Use a meat thermometer to periodically check the readings throughout the thawing period. The temps should be around 40-45 degrees throughout the turkey.
If you forgot to put the turkey in the refrigerator there are 2 other methods to thaw safely. The turkey will thaw at a rate of 2 pounds/hour by submerging in a cold water bath. This will require constant monitoring to make sure the water stays cold.
Emergency method of thawing turkey involves the cold water bath for as long as time permits. Remove the giblets for faster thawing. As time runs out you will need to cut the turkey into smaller pieces by cutting out the backbone first. Then with a cleaver remove the legs and thighs. Cut into smaller pieces if possible by cutting through the bone. This will allow it to cook faster also.
Things to Avoid
- Thawing turkey on the countertop-bacteria!
- Leaving turkey outside on porch to thaw-critters!
- Pre-stuffed turkeys-just don’t do it!
Cooking the Turkey
Did you know that most turkeys come pre-brined? That means the turkey is injected with a solution of water, seasonings, and salt. Next, allow the turkey to acclimate to room temperature before roasting in oven to insure an even cooking and a moist bird. Make sure the turkey is dry inside and outside before setting in pan. Do you have a roasting rack? Using a rack will allow the meat on the bottom to cook evenly and not dry up. May be a good investment for chicken too.
Start your turkey cooking at 475 degrees for the first 30 minutes, and then lower to 325 degrees for the remaining time. Add your butter or basting prior to roasting to eliminate constant opening of the oven. This will prevent drying out of the turkey and taking a longer time to cook. It is recommended that you do not stuff turkey with dressing, as this may prevent all of the dressing from being cooked uniformly. An 8-12 pound turkey cooks for 3 hours, and then add approximately 20 additional minutes per pound.
A meat thermometer is the best way to check the doneness of your meat. Do not use the pop up thermometer as it usually pops up at 180 degrees, resulting in a dry turkey. Use a digital thermometer and check the temp in the thick part of the thigh at 2.5 hours cooking, and then again every 15 minutes. It should read 155-165 degrees. It will continue to cook for some time after removing from oven. Be sure and wait about 30 minutes before carving.
More than just Turkey
- Save the pan drippings for gravy
- Purchase a turkey large enough to allow for leftovers. Everyone loves turkey sandwiches!
- Don’t throw away carcass or turkey bones-use for stock
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