Thanksgiving is just about a week away and that means we need to talk about turkey! Thanksgiving dinner is one of my favorite meals, and one I’ve been making at home for my family for the last few years. Everybody certainly has their favorite ways of doing things, but here I’ll share my turkey tricks that are simple, easy and result in a super tasty bird.
Step 1: DEFROST SAFELY
First and foremost, if your turkey is still hanging out in your freezer, now is a good time to check its weight and refer to the chart below (from the USDA) to ensure that you move it to the fridge in enough time for it to be fully defrosted in time for the big day. A basic rule of thumb I follow for defrosting is FRIDGE DEFROST ONLY! According to multiple reliable resources (the USDA, Butterball, and The NY Times to name a few), defrosting in the refrigerator is the safest way to go, simply because the consistent cold limits the amount of sickness-causing bacteria than can form versus leaving it in a sink of water.
Refrigerator thaw rule = Allow 24 hours for every 5 pounds
So if your turkey is…
4–12 pounds: 1 to 3 days in fridge
12–16 pounds: 3 to 4 days in fridge
16–20 pounds: 4 to 5 days in fridge
20–24 pounds: 5 to 6 days in fridge
Step 2: PREP YOUR BIRD
I’m a turkey purist – I don’t deep fry, and I’m not one for injecting my turkey with bottled marinades and flavors. Instead, I roast my turkey covered in butter and herbs! This easy method has not failed me yet, and results in moist and juicy meat and a crispy skin. See my Compound Butter recipe below!
Compound Butter (enough for a 12-14lb turkey – double for larger birds)
◾ 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
◾ Handful of fresh parsley, stems removed and coarsely chopped
◾ 2 Tablespoons of fresh or dried thyme leaves
◾ Pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix until combined. Once turkey is in your roasting pan, spread butter mixture all over the outside of your turkey, taking special care to gently get mixture under the skin without tearing. Inside the bird, I typically just throw in a raw onion, cut in half for some extra flavor. Loosely cover the bird with foil and begin your cooking. Uncover for the last hour of cooking to crisp up skin.
Step 3: HOW LONG DO I COOK IT?
The most useful resource I have ever found online was Butterball’s Turkey Calculator. I referred to this when I first started cooking my own Thanksgivings and found it to be an invaluable tool, particularly for first timers. It’s a simple fill-in-the-blanks page that automatically calculates how much turkey and stuffing you’ll need to feed your number of guests (including estimates if you want leftovers!) – you can find that free calculator HERE.
Cooking times will of course vary depending on the size of your turkey, whether it’s stuffed or unstuffed, and even how well your oven works – but at 325 degrees F, here’s the guide that I’ve always gone by. Just remember to ALWAYS use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature when you think your turkey’s ready – 165 degrees F is the magic number, and you want to hit that temp in the thickest part of the breast, the inner thigh and under the wing. If you’re stuffing your bird, be sure to check that the stuffing temp hits 165 in the middle as well.
Weight —– Cook Time (Unstuffed/Stuffed)
6-7 lbs. —-— 2-2½ hrs. / 2¼-2¾ hrs.
7-10 lbs. —– 2½-3 hrs. / 2¾-3½ hrs.
10-18 lbs. —– 3-3½ hrs. / 3¾-4½ hrs.
18-22 lbs. —- 3½-4 hrs. / 4½-5 hrs.
22-24 lbs. —– 4-4½ hrs. / 5-5½ hrs.
24-30 lbs. —– 4½-5 hrs. / 5½-6¼ hrs.
Let rest 15-20 mins before carving and you end up with a beauty like this:
When in doubt… there are excellent resources online and by phone provided for free by the USDA (and they’re updated often)! You can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) to talk to a food safety expert or chat live at ask.usda.gov from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. If you need help on Thanksgiving Day, the Meat and Poultry Hotline is available from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time.
You can also visit FoodSafety.gov to learn more about how to safely select, thaw, and prepare a turkey. For more Thanksgiving food safety tips, follow FSIS on Twitter @USDAFoodSafety or on Facebook at Facebook.com/FoodSafety.gov.
Feel free to drop your best turkey tips in the comments!