This story is part of and contains tips for optimizing the holiday season.
Thanksgiving is upon us, which means it's time to talk about turkey. If you're a freshman or just need a refresher, we've got everything you need to know to cook a Thanksgiving turkey – with tips on what turkey size you should buy (if any are left in the grocery store). how long it will take to cook and when to thaw it (plus what to do if you forget). We also discuss what tools you need to demolish it, and what to do if you screw it up – because, hey, it happens.
Precaution: There are countless ways to roast a Thanksgiving turkey (and even before you even get into smoked and fried turkey), but we'll go with one of the most basic because it always works.
What size of turkey do you need?
A normal 12-15 pound turkey feeds between six and eight people as part of a meal, so increase or decrease it as needed. Generally, you should budget one pound per person or up to two pounds per person if you want to have turkey leftovers.
How long to cook a 15-18 pound turkey: About 3.5 to 4 hours at 350 degrees
How long can you get one 18-20 pound turkey cooks: Approx. 4 to 4.5 hours at 350 degrees
How long does one cook a 21-24 pound turkey? About 4.5 to 5 hours at 350 degrees. Of course, if you prefer a higher heat method, it will take less time, but you risk getting your skin burned. This also applies to the method "start high, then heat down". We do this sometimes (see our recipe for roast turkey with herbs), but generally prefer to keep the oven at the same temperature throughout, as this is the fussy and reliable method.
We start the wrong way around to get a completely wet turkey, but you do not have to do that. see more below.
Should you salt your turkey?
This is another optional step, but we always prefer to salt a turkey the day before roasting. It must first be completely thawed, and then you can either salt the bird wet or dry. The recipe below refers to the dry method, as it is easier than dealing with gallons of liquid, but rubbing with salt achieves the same thing: juicy meat that is well flavored. A word of caution: brewing too long can do the opposite and drain your turkey. And if you're cooking a butterball, you do not need to put it down. Most supermarket birds were pre-injected with a saline solution.
What You Need to Cook a Turkey
You do not need a lot of special ingredients or equipment for a roast turkey, but a griddle with broiler is incredibly helpful, and a turkey baster or brush and meat thermometer will also be useful.
A frying pan with a grate is perfect for cooking a turkey (not to mention other poultry and pork ) and beef roast). It is far more stable than a disposable pan, deep enough to catch many drops, and the handles make it much easier to get in and out of the oven.
If you water your turkey with dripping noodles, you want one in your arsenal. It comes with a cleaning brush to remove all the grease.
A meat thermometer is the only way to know when your turkey is actually done (do not dare) the little plastic pop-ups that can get into the bird). Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the chest or thigh, making sure that the probe does not touch the bone when measuring the internal temperature.
If you do not have a proper frying pan with a grate, you should not purchase any of these disposable aluminum pans (they can pose a fire hazard). Instead, you can chop them with a baking sheet and roughly chopped vegetables (or slightly less tasty, but still functioning aluminum foil). See how to cook turkey without a frying pan.
How to season a turkey
For the raw ingredients, you need a few herbs, spices and aromas in addition to the turkey itself. The following list is a good starting point, but you can improvise as you like. Chicken spice is fine as long as it's fresh (do not use the bottle left over from last year), but we prefer fresh herbs. Here is a basic grocery list for turkey spices:
- kosher salt
- freshly cracked black pepper
- vegetable oil (or olive oil)
- half a bar of butter, softened at room temperature
- half a lemon
- half Onion, cut into four pieces
- one celery stick, cut into three pieces
- fresh sage
- fresh thyme leaves
- bay leaves (fresh or dried)
preparing a Thanksgiving turkey
1 Make sure the turkey has thawed the day before roasting and remove the contents from the recess. Discard the innards (heart, liver and stomachs), unless you like them as a sauce or filling (or you would like to cook them for your pets). Reserve the neck!
2. Rub the thawed turkey with several pinches of salt, some under the skin that covers the chest.
3. Place the turkey on a plate or baking tray, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until next day. This improves the taste of the bird and helps it stay juicy. You can omit the plastic wrap if you want (the drier the skin, the better it gets brown and crispy), but make sure nothing else in the fridge touches the raw turkey.
4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees the next day and place a rack in the lower third. It takes about 20 minutes for the stove to reach the temperature. In the meantime, take the turkey out of the fridge and prepare for the next steps for frying.
5. Dab the turkey inside and out with paper towels and put the tips of the wings back and down. Rub a generous amount of vegetable oil into the cavity, outside and under the skin, and then season well with salt and pepper, also inside the cavity.
6. Stir the fresh herbs (sage and thyme) into the soft butter, cut into small pieces and place under the breast skin. Place the lemon, onion, bay leaf and celery in the cavity. (That's it, not a filling; the Food Safety Police strongly advise against cooking the stuffing inside the turkey, and cooking it separately will still give you a more crusty surface.)
7. Put the Put the turkey breast side-down on the grill and place the reserved neck in the bottom of the pan for extra flavor. Fry for 45 minutes in the oven and pour the turkey every 20 minutes as soon as the pan juices have accumulated.
8. Turn the turkey on its back for 45 minutes and fry it for another two to two and a half hours.
9. If a meat thermometer in the inner thigh indicates 170 degrees and the juices are clear, remove the turkey from the oven and allow it to rest for 20 to 30 minutes before placing it to carve. If you plan to prepare your own turkey sauce, set aside the frying pan and store both the vegetables in the bird's throat and the neck.
An Easier Method
If you do not want to deal with turning the turkey, you can simply roast it in the normal position for the entire cooking time. Just pinch the breast often to make sure it does not dry out, and tenter the pan with foil if the skin starts to brown too soon before the meat is done cooking). Or try the buttered cheesecake trick. This is preferred by many as you lower the oven temperature each time you open the door when stapling.
Climbing on turkey breast
If you want to try a bit of butchery, carve the turkey breast before you roast it – this will help it cook faster and more evenly, resulting in juicy white flesh and a lot of crispy skin. It's also fun to say. If you choose this route, you do not need to start the turkey down with your chest and check it sooner than you would normally, as this happens earlier.
How to Repair a Cooked, Dry Turkey
Sometimes things go awry despite all efforts – but they can usually still be repaired. See how to fix a dry turkey when you have overcooked the bird. (You need a lot of sauce or broth.)
How to repair inadequately cooked, raw turkey
If it turns out that your deceptively golden brown turkey is inadequate inside, you can quickly repair the undercooked turkey as follows. Tip: Do not just put it back in the oven and hope for the best.
For more tips, tricks, hacks, and recipes, see Chowhound's Ultimate Guide to Thanksgiving.