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Cooking a Turkey: a Review of the Basics

Cooking a whole turkey is just not something we do very often so having a perfect, juicy turkey on Thanksgiving Day can be illusive. Here are a few tips, hints and things to look for when making your turkey.

Choosing a Turkey

As Thanksgiving Day gets closer shopping market shelves seem to burst with turkeys of all sizes and brands. How do you know what size turkey to get? First figure out how many people you will be serving. Perhaps you should jot this number down on top of your shopping list because it will be helpful as you buy other items. If you are only feeding a few people and plan on getting a turkey less than 12 pounds expect figure about ¾ of a pound per adult as servings. If you are feeding a lot of people and are getting a larger turkey add up each adult serving as a pound and that is the size turkey you will want to look for. So if you are feeding 15 people you will want to get a 15-pound turkey. If you want to have leftovers add about 3-4 pounds.

White or Dark Meat?

Look on the labeling of the turkey carefully. If your family prefers white meat, then you will want to get a hen turkey. If dark meat is more desirable then get a tom turkey.

Thawing a Frozen Turkey

Thawing is an important part of getting the turkey to cook right. If the turkey is not completely thawed it will cook unevenly. Plan on the turkey taking 24 hours for every 5 pounds to thaw. So if you get a 15-pound turkey it will take three days for it to thaw. You also can’t count that day you are planning on roasting the turkey. To thaw, place the turkey on a tray and put in the fridge. You can tell the turkey is thawed if you can remove the giblets easily and there is no ice on the inside of the bird.

Preparations for Roasting

When the turkey is thawed release the legs, and remove everything from the inside cavities. Rinse the turkey thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels. If you want to cook the stuffing inside the turkey make sure you have a meat thermometer. If you don’t have a thermometer you will want to cook the stuffing separately. Reset the legs with the leg clamp or tie with string. Put the wing tips under the back. Place a roasting rack in a shallow roasting pan and put the turkey on the rack breast side up. If you have a meat thermometer insert it into a thigh or some other place where it will not touch bone. Cover the turkey loosely with foil (make sure there is space between the turkey and the foil.

Roast in a 325 degree oven. Turkeys that are 8-12 pounds need to be roasted for 2 ½ -3 hours, 12-14 pound turkey for 3-3 ¾ hours, 14-18 pound turkeys for 3 ½- 4 ¼ hours, 18-20 pound turkeys for 4 ¼-4 ½ hours, and a 20-24 pound turkey will need to cook for 4 ½ to 5 hours. If you have opted to put stuffing in your turkey then you will need to allow for an extra 15-45 minutes on all cooking times.


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