Cooking a turkey is practically a requirement for the Thanksgiving menu, but if you like turkey leftovers almost as much as the main event, you may want to consider preparing turkey more often! Get it right every time with the step-by-step process of cooking turkey below (and brush up on food safety for leftovers while you’re at it). After that, take a look at the treasure trove of turkey how-to guides and turkey recipes available here—including an article on how to brine a turkey and an entire collection of Thanksgiving videos.
Preparing The Turkey: Thawing
Refrigerator thawing is recommended. However, if there is no time, submerge the turkey in cold water. Thawing the turkey at room temperature allows bacterial growth and is not recommended.
Refrigerator Thawing: Thaw breast side up in its unopened wrapper on a tray in the refrigerator. Allow at least one day of thawing for every four pounds of turkey.
Cold Water Thawing: Cover the bird (breast down) in cold water in its unopened wrapper. Remember to change the water every 30 minutes to keep turkey surface cold. Estimate minimum thawing time to be 30 minutes per pound.
Preparing The Turkey: Stuffing
Rinse Bird: When initially preparing the turkey, first make sure it is properly and completely thawed. Remove neck and giblets from inside the bird. They are usually found packaged inside the breast cavity. Refrigerate the giblets and neck for use later in gravy preparation or discard. Thoroughly wash inside and out with cold water. Pat dry.
Prepare Stuffing: Use 1 package STOVE TOP Stuffing Mix when cooking a turkey up to 8 pounds, 2 packages for an 8 to 12 pound turkey and 3 packages for a turkey 12 to 20 pounds. Toss contents of each box stuffing with 1 2/3 cups hot water and 1/4 cup butter, cut up. Let stand 5 minutes. PREPARE STUFFING JUST BEFORE IT GOES INTO THE BIRD.
Stuffing The Bird: If You Don't Have a Reliable Meat Thermometer, Don't Stuff the Bird! Checking visually is unreliable and unsafe. Stuff the bird loosely with about 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound of turkey when ready to roast. This will allow the interior of the stuffing to reach a safe 165°F temperature. Also, the stuffing should be moist, rather than dry, since heat destroys bacteria more rapidly in a wet environment. Pull the neck skin over the loosely stuffed breast area, fastening it with a short skewer underneath bird. Tie the legs and tail together with butcher’s twine (purchase in housewares sections of grocery stores). For a drier, crispier stuffing, place extra stuffing in a separate covered baking dish and bake with the turkey during the last 30 minutes it is in the oven.
Cooking the Turkey: Roasting
For a traditional Holiday meal prepared the easy way, roast an unstuffed turkey and serve plenty of STOVE TOP alongside.
||Roasting Time For Unstuffed Turkey
|12 to 14 pounds
||3 to 3-3/4 hours
|14 to 18 pounds
||3-1/2 to 4 hours
|18 to 20 pounds
||3-3/4 to 4-1/2 hours
|20 to 24 pounds
||4-1/4 to 4-1/2 hours
Place turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Brush with cooking oil and sprinkle with a crushed dried herb, such as thyme or oregano, if desired. Place a meat thermometer in the center of an inside thigh muscle, not touching bone. Cover loosely with foil. Press foil over drumsticks and neck. Roast at 325°F, using timings above.
During roasting, baste with drippings occasionally, if desired, when bird is 2/3 done, cut skin or string between drumsticks. Remove foil during the last 30 to 45 minutes.
Safe Doneness: Stuffing should be 165°F. When done, the thigh meat should be 180°F (the temperature will rise on standing). The meat should be tender and the juices from the thigh should run clear. Remove the turkey from the oven; cover loosely with foil. Let stand 20 minutes before carving.
Serving The Turkey: Carving
Place the cooked turkey on large plastic or wooden cutting board (a damp towel underneath helps secure the board to the counter or tabletop while cutting and also catches turkey juices that flow during carving). Start with a sharp knife. Cut off both legs and thighs first (a heavier knife works best for this job because you are cutting into bone). Sometimes twisting the thigh joint helps in removing it from the turkey. The dark meat can be cut from the bone and placed on the serving platter, or a family member's favorite piece may be a whole drumstick.
Make a straight downward or vertical cut along either side of the breast bone.
Make a perpendicular cut across the breast above leg/thigh area to meet the vertical cut just made in the breast.
Make vertical slices about ¼-in. thick across the breast half parallel to the first cut.
The carver's finished piece of culinary art provides another year of memories!
Following this easy-to-use guide for cooking a turkey will make your next family Holiday meal a breeze. Less stress while preparing the turkey means you have more time to relax and enjoy the company of those you hold dear.