Christmas is less than a week away. Chances are you already have your turkey tucked safely away in your freezer for the big family meal. And I know the last thing you want to do is serve your family and other guests a meal that will come back to haunt them later. Cooking with poultry is nothing to be afraid of but handling, preparing and cooking it (like any other meat) does need to be done with care. Here are the essentials you need to know before you get that bird in the oven (and after).
Thawing the turkey
There are two basic and safe ways to thaw a turkey – in your fridge or covering it with cold water. How much time it takes to defrost your bird of course depends on how big it is. Here are your basic guidelines for thawing:
In the refrigerator:
Keep the turkey in it’s original packaging. Place it on a cookie sheet or any tray large enough to catch any drippings. The last thing you want it turkey juice all over your fridge! You need 24 hours of thawing time for every 4-5 pounds of turkey so make sure you take it out well ahead of time! Remember a turkey that has been thawed properly in the fridge can be kept in the fridge for up to an additional 2 days.
In cold water:
Again keep the turkey in it’s original packaging to keep it water tight. Put your turkey in the sink or any vessel you have that is big enough to allow you to completely cover it with water (my mother use to use the bathtub!). Cover the turkey entirely with cold tap water. Be sure to change the water and replace it with cold water every 60 minutes. This method is a lot faster than thawing in the fridge. It takes about 30 minutes per pound to thaw your turkey in water. Cook it immediately after it is entirely thawed.
* If you have purchased a prestuffed turkey DO NOT thaw it. Cook according to the instructions on the packaging.
** If you plan to brine your turkey either purchase a fresh turkey or use the refrigerator method to thaw it. Here’s some tips for turkey brining.
Preparing the turkey to cook
The first thing I want to mention here is DO NOT rinse your turkey. Chances are your parents or grandparents did this but it’s just not necessary, nor is it sanitary. It just leaves you with more of a mess to clean up and sanitize.
If you are going to stuff your turkey leave this until just before you are ready to put the turkey in the oven to roast. Don’t mix up your stuffing ahead of time either. You can get the dry ingredients ready but don’t add the wet ingredients until you are ready to mix it up and stuff it. It’s important that you DO NOT overstuff your turkey. The average bird will take between 1/2 and 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound of turkey. Packing your stuffing too tightly may prevent it from cooking thoroughly which you definitely don’t want!
Cooking your turkey
Everybody has their favorite ways of cooking a turkey. In the end the most important thing is that your turkey is completely cooked. Here are the basics of turkey cooking:
Preheat your oven to 350. You can cook it a little lower but NEVER cook a turkey at an over temperature below 325.
Place your turkey breast up in a roasting pan. For a nice brown crispy skin baste the outside of the turkey with melted butter or vegetable oil.
Place a meat thermometer into the deepest part of the turkey thigh, without touching the bone. If your turkey has one of those pop up buttons to indicate it’s done please do not rely on it! They are great for giving you an indication that your bird is done or near being done but a meat thermometer is a must when cooking a turkey!
You can cook your turkey uncovered or you can loosely cover it with foil. If you don’t cover your turkey in foil you might want to check the wings and legs after a few hours and if they are looking more done than the rest of the bird (which they typically do) then you can cover them loosely in foil.
How much time does a turkey need to cook?
Here are the approximate cooking times for a turkey in a standard 325 degree oven. If you are using a convection oven it will take approximately one hour less.
Stuffed – 3-3 1/4 hours
Unstuffed – 2 1/2 -2 3/4 hours
Stuffed – 3 1/4 – 3 1/2 hours
Unstuffed 2 3/4 – 3 hours
Stuffed – 3 1/2 hours – 3 3/4 hours
Unstuffed – 3 – 3 1/4 hours
Stuffed – 3 3/4 – 4 hours
Unstuffed – 3 1/4 – 4 1/2 hours
Stuffed – 4 3/4 – 5 1/2 hours
Unstuffed 4 – 5 hours
When the thermometer, that you placed in the thigh reaches 180 degrees pull the thermometer out and stick it in the bird where it will reach the centre of the stuffing. The stuffing much reach 165 degrees. If your turkey is not stuffed then stick the thermometer into the breast, it should reach at least 170.
Once your meat thermometer tells you that your turkey is fully cooked remove it from the oven and let it rest for 15-20 minutes. After 20 minutes immediately remove the stuffing, carve your turkey and serve!
Storing cooked turkey
Do not let any stuffing, turkey or gravy sit out at room temperature for more than 2 hours. Get them in the fridge or freezer ASAP after dinner. Use any refrigerated turkey leftovers (including stuffing and gravy) within 3 days. Either eat leftovers cold from the fridge or heat until internal temperatures reach 165 degrees.
Wishing you a yummy and safe holiday season!