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Tips For A Perfect Turkey

What to do with that humongous bird?  Here are a few tips for preparing and cooking a holiday turkey.

What size turkey to choose?
You can figure you need 2 pounds per person for a 12-14 pound turkey. In a larger turkey,where the meat to bone ratio is greater, you will need 1 pound per person.

How To Thaw a Frozen Turkey?
Open the packaging, rinse the turkey and place it in a large pan in the refrigerator. You can also thaw it in a pan of cold water in the frig.

In the frig – 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds
In a pan of cold water – 30 minutes per

If you thaw the turkey in cold water, change the water every few hours.

How Long to Cook?

4 to 8 pounds (breast) 1½ to 3¼ hours
8 to 12 pounds 2¾ to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds 3 to 3¾ hours
14 to 18 pounds 3¾ to 4¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds 4¼ to 4½ hours
20 to 24 pounds 4½ to 5 hours

To Stuff Or Not To Stuff?
I stuffed the turkey once, but it was no big deal so I don’t stuff it these days. You will need to cook your turkey longer if you stuff it, because of the possibility of bacterial growth. You’ll need to cook it anywhere from 15-30 minutes longer depending on its size. If you stuff your turkey, just toss the stuffing in lightly, don’t pack it in. If you pack it, the heat from the oven will have a hard time penetrating the stuffing and bacteria can grow.

Cooking Times for Stuffed Turkey

6 to 8 pounds (breast) 2½ to 3½ hours
8 to 12 pounds 3 to 3½ hours
12 to 14 pounds 3½ to 4 hours
14 to 18 pounds 4 to 4¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds 4¼ to 4¾ hours
20 to 24 pounds 4¾ to 5¼ hours

Cooking Temperatures:

Crank that oven up to a whopping 500*F, cover the bird with your foil tent, and roast the turkey for 30 minutes. Then turn the temperature down to a more moderate 350*F and complete the cooking time.

Before Roasting :
Tuck the wing tips back up under the rest of the wing. This “akimbo” position will help the bird cook more evenly.

If your roasting pan does not have a lid, you can place a tent of heavy-duty aluminum foil over the turkey for the first 1 to 1 ½ hours of roasting. This will allow for more even roasting, better heat circulation and keep that turkey moist! To prevent over-browning, you can place foil over the turkey once it has reached the desired level of browning.

Go ahead and invest in a meat thermometer. I’ve never had an under-cooked (or over-cooked) turkey or any other kind of meat since I started using one. Turkey needs to reach 165*F to be well cooked. Measure the temp of a turkey by inserting the thermometer into the thickest meatiest portion of the thigh, without touching the bone. Remember that when you remove the turkey from the oven and cover it with foil, it will continue to cook for another 10-15 minutes.

Other Tips

I have used all kinds of marinades, basting concoctions and methods over the years. Here is what I have found. If you just want a delicious turkey and you don’t care how it looks, use a Roasting Bag.  When I use a roasting bag I am always pleased at the tenderness and flavor of the turkey, but it usually looks pretty ragged.  Doesn’t matter to me, I cut all the meat off the carcass, place it in a large metal pan, cover it and refrigerate it til time for the meal. Then I take it out of the frig and reheat it.

If you really want your turkey to be pretty, rub the turkey with oil or butter and baste it throughout the roasting process.

If you want a truly tender, flavorful bird, that’s also pretty to look at, use my brine recipe coupled with basting and the oil/butter as above.

Let the turkey rest 15-30 minutes after roasting, depending on the size of the turkey. This will allow the juices to flow back into the meat and let the bird cool a bit to make for easier slicing

Let the turkey rest under foil for about 15 minutes before carving.

Remember to wash your hands, utensils and counter-tops, pans, pots and anything else that comes into contact with the raw turkey WELL, with soap and water.

Back to All My Turkey Helps

1 Comment

  1. Fee

    Thank you Sylvia for these invaluable tips.
    Sometimes when we have many guests to cook for, I just don’t know where to start regarding the turkey. I will be checking out the brining recipe you recommend, and I will also be giving your stuffing a go!
    I just love your Newsletter and all your practical tips to help keepers at home.