In case this is your first Thanksgiving turkey... :)
I am sure a lot of you reading this already know how to cook a turkey. But I also know that many ladies have never done it before. I was in my late 20’s before I cooked my first turkey. My grandma or mom or mother in law had always done that part. When I went to cook my first turkey I was reading lots of cookbooks and talking with my mother to learn. It is not like we have the opportunity to practice turkey roasting too often!
I thought I would just share from my own turkey roasting experience how I have done it. There are lots of ways to do this and tips, etc.. and I am sure I won’t cover them all but will share what has worked for me.
First is the actual buying of the turkey. I typically have purchased frozen turkeys. The week before Thanksgiving you can find turkeys at the best price of the year. In fact I usually take advantage of these great prices and buy another turkey or two for the freezer. A mini Thanksgiving dinner at another time of the year is actually kind of fun. A couple of years ago I bought a fresh turkey from Costco and it was good too.
If you buy your turkey frozen you will need a few days to let it defrost. Do not sit it on the counter to defrost. The outside of the turkey will start to spoil before the center has completely defrosted. This is especially true for bigger birds. I put my turkey in the refrigerator to defrost. Two days ahead of time for a small turkey (say 12lbs or under) and three to four days for a bigger turkey.
The night before Thanksgiving I open the turkey up and wash him and remove the giblets. I put those in a bowl and put them back in the fridge. The next day I boil those with some salt and use the broth for my gravy as well as cutting up the giblets to add to the gravy. I rinse the turkey off in cool water making sure he has defrosted completely. I put him in a large roaster pan, cover him up with plastic wrap and put him back in the fridge until the next day.
I also make up my stuffing the night before. Don’t put the stuffing in the bird the night before to save time. This can once again cause spoilage. After I make the stuffing I store it in the fridge.
On Thanksgiving morning I pull the turkey out, preheat the oven, remove the plastic and stuff my turkey. I find the easiest way to do this is to set the turkey in my clean sink and use a big spoon (or my clean hands) to spoon in the stuffing. Then I set the stuffed turkey on my roasting pan. I melt a cube (we call them cubes here in my parts.. some call them sticks) of butter and if it is a big turkey I melt 2 cubes. I take a brush and brush the top of my turkey with this melted butter. Cover the bird with foil and put him in the oven to start baking.
After he has baked for about an hour I use my trusty turkey baster and baste him with the melted butter that has drizzled to the bottom of my pan along with any other juices that have also accumulated.
I continue to cook and baste for the required amount of time. The closer I get to the finish time the more frequently I baste. I also take the foil off for the last couple of hours so the turkey can brown nicely.
Now for some specifics:
Temperature to Bake a Turkey:
325 is what I have always done
How Long to Cook:
If your turkey is stuffed:
8 to 12lbs about 3 hours
12 to 15lbs about 4 hours
15 to 18lbs about 4 ½ hours
18 to 24lbs about 4 1/2 to 5 hours
If you don’t stuff your turkey you can subtract about anywhere from 15 minutes to a half hour off the above times.
However my experience has been that this is a rough estimate. I have had it take longer or shorter.. Your very, very best guide will be your thermometer.
The temperature of the whole turkey, no matter where you put the thermometer (but not touching bone) should read a minimum of 165 (and that includes taking the temp of the stuffing). I actually like it when the temps are a bit higher than that say.. 180.
I also wiggle the drumstick and it should move very easily. When the turkey has finished cooking, take it out of the oven and let is sit for 15 to 20 minutes. This will give you time to make the gravy and mash the potatoes.
I hope you all have a wonderful day of good food, family and much thankfulness.