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 BuyFor 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 before the turkey is scheduled to come out of the oven.) Stuffing recipes >>
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.
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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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