How to Roast the Perfect Turkey
A picture-perfect turkey will make a beautiful centerpiece for your Thanksgiving or Christmas table. The skin will
be crisp and golden brown, the meat will be moist, and the flavor will be delicious because you took care every
step of the way. Follow a few basic guidelines and your guests will be impressed with the results.
What Size Turkey to Buy
For a whole turkey, buy about one pound per person. If you like a lot of leftovers, allow up to 1-1/2 pounds per person. This does not mean that each person will be
eating one pound because for each pound of turkey that you roast, you will get just under a half pound of meat carved from the bones. If you require a very large
turkey, make sure your roasting pan, oven and refrigerator can accommodate the size turkey you buy. There's nothing worse on Thanksgiving than realizing the bird
won't fit in the oven or the pan or that it is too heavy to lift. If the visual presentation of a large turkey on a platter is important to you, then go with a large turkey.
But many cooks have found that two smaller birds not only take less time to roast but they stay moister, too.
Fresh or Frozen Turkey
Many people will claim that fresh turkey is better than frozen and it may simply
be a matter of taste. Cook's Illustrated did a taste test and stated that, "Our
tasters consistently found the frozen birds to be moister than the fresh.
Frozen turkeys can be purchased a few weeks in advance of the meal for which
the bird is to be served. Frozen turkeys must spend up to a week thawing in
the refrigerator. If you are buying a frozen turkey, look for one that has a clean,
undamaged wrapper and is free of ice crystals.
If you are buying a fresh turkey, check the sell-by date. A fresh turkey should
not be purchased more than a day or two before it is to be served and it needs
to be kept in the coldest portion of the refrigerator. Fresh turkeys do cost more
money than frozen. Turkeys may be labeled as "fresh" if they have been
chilled to as low as 26 degrees.
Thawing a Frozen Turkey
Be sure to leave enough time for your turkey to thaw. For a whole frozen
turkey, leave it in its wrapper and place on a tray or baking dish in the
refrigerator for 2 to 5 days. Plan on 24 hours of thawing for every 5 pounds of
bird. Don't count the day you will be cooking as part of the thawing time. For
example, a 15-pound turkey should start thawing Sunday night to be ready for
Thanksgiving Day roasting. The bird is ready for roasting if the giblets can be
removed easily and there are no ice crystals in the body cavity. If the center is
still frozen, the bird will roast unevenly.
If your turkey is not completely thawed on the day you plan to roast it, place it
in a clean sink full of cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the
bird is thawed. Don't be tempted to thaw the turkey on your kitchen counter or
in the microwave; these methods may cause bacteria to grow
in the bird.
After thawing, remove the giblets and neck from the interior. Rinse the turkey
and pat it dry with paper towels.
Brining a Turkey
Brining means to soak in a strong salt water solution. The salt solution causes the muscle fibers to swell, moistening and
seasoning the meat, resulting in a tastier turkey. Brining a turkey is easy but you must remember to start the brining process 12
hours before you plan on roasting the turkey. For more information on how to brine a turkey and the science behind it, click here.
Stuffing a Turkey
On the average it takes about an hour to stuff and prepare a turkey for roasting. Stuffing ingredients may be combined ahead of time
but you should not put the stuffing into the turkey until you are ready to put it in the oven; harmful bacteria growth could spoil the
uncooked turkey. Allow about 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound of turkey. (That's 11 cups for a 15 pound bird.) Spoon the stuffing loosely
into the neck and body cavity. Do not pack it in as the stuffing will expand during cooking. If packed in too tightly, it will be very
dense instead of light. Spoon any remaining stuffing into a baking dish, cover and chill until you're ready to bake it (about one hour
Trussing a Turkey
Truss means to secure the turkey with string, skewers or clamps so that it maintains its shape during oven roasting. Trussing makes
a turkey look more presentable and it also prepares it for more even roasting. Trussing does not need to be complicated. Pull the
skin over the opening with the stuffing and fasten to the back with a short skewer. Using kitchen twine, tie the drumsticks together
or secure the legs by tucking the ankle joints into the pocket of skin at the tail end. Tuck wing tips back under the shoulders of bird.
Choosing a Roasting Pan
If you have purchased a roasting pan within the last few years, you may have noticed that they are getting deeper. If your pan is
deeper than 3 inches, be aware that it can increase roasting time by up to an hour. A deep pan can reduce heat circulation to all
areas of the turkey and you also wind up steaming the meat rather than roasting it. Use a sturdy, shallow roasting pan about 2 to 2-
1/2 inches deep with handles. Dark roasting pans also cook faster than shiny metals.
BEWARE of the aluminum foil disposable roasting pans as they are not sturdy enough to hold a large turkey and can buckle up
when trying to remove the hot turkey from the oven. Most of these pans will not support a turkey that is 12 pounds or more. Make
sure your roasting pan is sturdy enough to transport the bird in and out of the oven safely.
Roasting the Turkey
Place your oven rack in its lowest position in the oven. Preheat the oven to
325 degrees F. Place the turkey, breast side up, on a rack in the roasting
pan. To encourage browning, brush the turkey with oil or melted butter.
Season it with salt and pepper. Cover the turkey with aluminum foil, securing
it around the edge of the roasting pan. Roast, using our timing chart as a
guide. When the turkey has been in the oven for half of the time shown on
the chart, remove the foil. Since most turkeys are self-basting, it is not
necessary to baste, butt it will add flavor. Use a bulb turkey baster, basting
brush, or a large spoon to scoop up the juices and drizzle them over the
turkey about every 30 minutes until done.
The USDA guidelines for poultry state that for safety the internal temperature
of the turkey should be 165 degrees F. when done. Push a meat
thermometer into the center of an inside thigh muscle without touching the
bone to check the temperature. When the turkey is done, the drumsticks
should move very easily in their sockets and their thickest parts should feel
soft when pressed. Juices should run clear when pierced with a long-tined
fork. Never rely on the little plastic thermometers provided in some turkeys to
pop out. If you wait for it, the turkey may overcook.
Remove the turkey from the oven, cover it loosely with foil, and allow it to rest
for 20 minutes. While the turkey cooks, the juices are forced away from the
heat to the middle of the turkey. This allows the juices to redistribute
throughout the turkey. If you have not done so already, prepare your gravy
while the turkey is resting. After the turkey has rested, remove the stuffing
from the turkey and place in a serving dish. Carve your turkey and serve.
Roasting Times for Stuffed Turkey
Turkey Weight Hours
6 to 8 pounds 3 to 3-1/2 hours
8 to 12 pounds 3-1/2 to 4-1/2 hours
12 to 16 pounds 4-1/2 to 5-1/2 hours
16 to 20 pounds 5-1/2 to 6 hours
20 to 24 pounds 6 to 6-1/2 hours
Roasting Times for Unstuffed Turkey
Turkey Weight Hours
6 to 8 pounds 2-1/2 to 3 hours
8 to 12 pounds 3 to 4 hours
12 to 16 pounds 4 to 5 hours
16 to 20 pounds 5 to 5-1/2 hours
20 to 24 pounds 5-1/2 to 6 hours
**These are approximate times**
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