Having a perfectly cooked turkey as the centerpiece for your Thanksgiving meal can seem intimidating.
Especially after watching the Griswold family crunch their way through a totally dried out bird simply because Catherine, "put it in too early.”
But, in reality, cooking a turkey is actually pretty easy.
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Here are some tips and tricks to make sure yours comes out perfect.
Here are the basic steps to roast a turkey, from Butterball:
- Preheat oven to 325°.
- Remove bag with giblets from inside the turkey. Drain juices and lightly pat the turkey dry, using paper towels.
- Place the turkey on a rack inside a roasting pan*, breast side up. Turn the wings back. Brush or spray the skin with oil.
- Insert an oven-safe meat thermometer into the turkey. It should be placed in the lower part of the thigh, not touching the bone.
- Begin baking the turkey.
- Once the turkey is about 2/3 done, loosely tent with foil so the skin doesn't burn.
- When you think the turkey should be done (check time estimates below), check the temperature to be sure. One the thigh reaches 180° your turkey is done.
- Put turkey on a platter on let stand 15 minutes.
*If you don't have a rack, you can use vegetables or crinkled up aluminum foil to keep the turkey off the bottom of the pan. This ensures it cooks evenly.
The length of time you need to cook your turkey is based on how much it weighs and whether or not it is stuffed.
These are just estimates. Always look at temperature to determine whether or not your turkey has finished cooking. When the thigh reaches 180° and the breast or stuffing reached 170°, the turkey is done.
Brining your turkey before you roast it is a great way to be sure it stays moist.
As a general rule, you should brine your turkey for about an hour for each pound, according to Butterball. Here's how it works:
- The night before roasting, remove the giblets from your turkey and rinse it inside and out.
- Prepare your brine recipe. Mix ingredients until all salt is dissolved and it's cooled to room temperature.
- Place turkey, breast side down in your brining container or bag. It needs to be able to fit in your fridge and be made of food-grade plastic, stainless steel or glass.
- Pour in liquid until in completely covers turkey.
- Place in refrigerator for about one hour per pound of turkey.
- Remove turkey from brine. Rinse and gently pat dry. Roast as directed above.
Where a brine is for keeping a turkey moist, a marinade is to add flavor.
There are hundreds of recipes for turkey marinades: everything from spicy Cajun to sweet pineapple and teriyaki to rich bourbon and cola.
No matter what you choose, you'll need about 1/4 marinade for every pound of meat, according to Butterball.
Depending on the recipe, you'll marinade the turkey between two and eight hours. If it's on the shorter end, you can make your marinade early so that the flavors have time to develop before you add the turkey. And be sure to never exceed eight hours to protect the turkey's texture.
Always make sure the marinade is cool before pouring it over your turkey and marinade your turkey in the fridge.
Frying a turkey
If you aren't going to roast your turkey, deep frying has become more and more popular over the last several years.
Fried turkeys are especially tender and moist, with a delicious crispy outside.
Here's how it's done, according to Butterball:
- Remove the giblets from your turkey and ensure it's completely thawed. Pat dry. If your turkey is 14 lbs or less it can fried whole. Otherwise separate the legs and thighs to fry them separately*.
- Add oil to your fryer. Don't exceed the maximum fill line on an electric fryer. If you're using a propane deep fryer, you can figure out the amount you'll need by putting the turkey in the fryer, filling it with water until the turkey is just covered and marking the line.
- Preheat the oil to 375°.
- Submerge the empty frying basket in hot oil for about 30 second then remove to help prevent sticking.
- If you're using a propane fryer, turn off the burner. Add turkey to the basket and slowly submerge into the oil. If the turkey is not completely covered in an electric fryer, it will still cook fine.
- Cook turkey about three to four minutes per pound, then check temperature. When dark meat reaches a temperature of 175° F to 180° and white meat reaches a temperature of 165° F to 170°, it's done.
- Lift turkey in basket from fryer and place in a pan or on paper towels to drain. Let stand for about 20 minutes before removing it from the basket to carve.
*If you're frying pieces of your turkey separately, they should cooked in oil that's heated to 325°. It will take four to five minutes per pound.