Cooking a turkey for the holidays is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, meal preparation projects most people tackle all year. Just the size of the bird itself can be intimidating, but cooking a turkey is actually easier than many people think. With a few simple tips you can cook the perfect bird every time.
Avoid Novice Mistakes
- Allow for Enough Thawing Time – Turkeys are big and they take a long time to defrost. The USDA and we recommend thawing your turkey either in the refrigerator one day for every four to five pounds, immersed in cold water for 30 minutes per pound, or in the microwave according to the manufacturer’s instructions. DO NOT leave a turkey out to thaw at room temperature.
- Remove the Innards – Whole turkeys come with either one or two packets, which include the neck and giblets. They’ll be located in the cavities in the front and/or back. Be sure to take them out when you prep the bird.
- Don’t Stuff the Bird – Stuffing the turkey is a loved tradition, but it also makes it harder to cook a juicy bird when you have to cook it long enough to warm the stuffing, too.
Add Extra Flavor
- Turkey has a mild flavored that pairs well with extra seasonings. You can do this a number of ways. When you add flavor with moisture, you increase the chances that the breast meat will stay juicy through the cooking process. You can add juices by injecting the turkey with a variety of ingredients such as butter, honey, etc. You can also add juices and flavor by soaking the turkey in a brine solution. Brine is made up of salt water, sugar and whatever ingredients you may choose. If these ways seem like too much work, you can just slather some herbed butter under the skin around the breasts for more flavor.
- Beyond moist flavorings, you can add any number of seasonings and rubs to the outer skin, or stuff the bird with aromatics, like sliced onions, celery, apples, sage, carrots, rosemary or anything else that strikes your fancy.
- Make monitoring the turkey as simple as possible by placing an oven temperature in the thickest part of the raw thigh away from the bone.
- Remove the bird from the oven when it is about three to five degrees cooler than your desired temperature as the bird will continue cooking while it rests.
- Allow the turkey to rest for 20-25 minutes before carving. This will allow the juices to redistribute.