There are lots of differing opinions on how to cook turkey. Well, there is more than one way to skin a... err, cook a turkey: low heat for many hours; high heat at first then lower it; covered; uncovered; lots of different temperatures. Presented here is my cooking method for turkey. This method evolved from my Mom's Turkey and Stuffing technique. I've added a few of my own touches, and updated the procedure for faster cooking times at higher cooking temperatures.
If you don't like giblet stuffing, you can use the stuffing technique to make plain stuffing, or change it to make a different kind of stuffing, or just forget about the stuffing all together.
Recipe by: Mom and craig,
with honorable mention going to Betty Crocker[amazon.com]
Preparation Time: 7:00
Categories: American, Main Dishes, Poultry
For turkeys less than 12 pounds, allow at least 3/4 pound per serving. For heavier turkeys, 12 pounds and over, allow at least 1/2 pound per serving. If you are serving a bunch of big guys like me, then allow a pound per person. If you do not use it all, then you have some great leftovers for sandwiches or turkey pot pie!
If you can get a fresh, never-frozen turkey, then do that. The meat will lose less of it's natural moisture if it has never been frozen.
I like to have my turkey thawed the day before I cook it, so I can start preparing the giblets and stuffing ahead of time, and brine the turkey if I am doing that. So plan an extra day into your thawing time for those activities.
The best way to thaw your turkey is to thaw the turkey in the refrigerator. Don't unwrap the turkey, but still place it in a container to prevent the juices from dripping on other foods. Different sized turkeys will take differing times to thaw in the fridge, about 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds (about 6 hours per pound).
|Thawing Times according to the USDA||
Thawing Time in Refrigerator
4 to 12
1 to 3 days
To thaw a turkey and cook it the next day, leave it out at room temperature over night, about one hour for each pound.
The fastest way to thaw a turkey is by submerging it in water. The turkey needs to be in a leak proof plastic bag, to prevent cross-contamination, and to keep it from absorbing water. Submerge the wrapped turkey in cool water. If your kitchen sink is large enough then use that, otherwise a large cooler, or bucket will work. Change the water every 30 minutes. It will take at least 30 minutes per pound to thaw the turkey completely.
Then there is microwave oven thawing. I recommend against this for a variety of reasons, the main one being that you will end up partially cooking the edges of the bird before the thickest innermost parts are thawed. So just don't do it. Plan ahead.
If you wish to brine your turkey, then this is the time to start. The brine needs to be boiled, then brought back to "refrigerator temperature" before you put your turkey in it. Start making the brine two days before the day you plan to cook your turkey, that gives you enough time to leave the brine in the refrigerator over night, then put the turkey in the brine the next evening. Here is a recipe and instructions for how to brine a turkey.
The morning of the day before you are serving your turkey: Remove turkey from bag. Remove neck and giblets from body cavities. Just reach in and pull them out. The neck and giblets are usually in a bag or bags, plastic or paper, in one or both cavities. The turkey has one cavity at the front and one at the back. Put the turkey back in the bag, or re-wrap the turkey in plastic wrap and put it back in the refrigerator.
In a medium sized pot, cover the gizzard, heart, and neck with water; sprinkle with 1/2-teaspoon salt, a dash of ground black pepper, a pinch of ground cloves, a small bay leaf, and a small whole onion. I like to add about a Tablespoon of Old Bay Seasoning instead of the bay leaf. Heat to boiling; reduce heat to slow simmer. Simmer covered for at least two to three hours, adding water if necessary to keep everything covered, until gizzard is fork-tender and neck is tender. I cook my giblets longer, until the neck is falling apart. When done add the liver and simmer for 5 minutes, then turn off the heat. Leave covered, and let set 15 minutes to finish cooking the liver, then refrigerate until you are ready to make the stuffing. Don't discard the giblet broth; it will be used to moisten the stuffing. Instead of cooking on a stove top, you can simmer the giblets in a crock pot or slow cooker on high, but you will need to cook them longer, at least 4 hours, on high if your slow cooker has a high setting. Other than that, if cooking them in a crock pot, you just follow the same directions except in a crock pot rather than on stove top.
Prepare the stuffing the night before you are serving the turkey. Allow 3/4 cup stuffing for each pound of turkey. This recipe makes enough for about a 12 pound turkey. You need toasted bread cubes. Do not buy the dried out pre-spiced junk. I generally save the heals (crusts) from loaves of bread in the freezer and use those, but you can just lightly toast a loaf of bread, and then cut the toasted slices into cubes. OR -- cut the bread into cubes and put on a cookie sheet and bake to lightly toast, this is not as messy. Cutting toasted bread into cubes leaves lots of crumbs. Use white bread. In a large pot melt the butter, then cook and stir the onion and celery in it over medium-low heat until the onion is tender. Stir in the bread cubes a bit at a time until all bread is in the pot. Reserving the giblet broth, remove the giblets and chop them into small pieces, discard the neck skin and remove as much meat as possible from the neck, discarding the bones. Chop the neck meat and add it and the chopped giblets to the mix. (Or if you do not want giblets in your stuffing, then just leave them out and make the stuffing without them.) Chop up the onion from the giblet mixture and add it too. Sprinkle on each of the remaining spices individually: salt, ground sage, ground thyme, and black pepper, stirring and turning the stuffing after each addition. Slowly add a bit of the giblet broth to moisten the bread, turn and mix the mixture a bit and continue to add the broth until the stuffing mixture is quite moist, but not mushy. If you want to make a sausage stuffing, then brown some sage flavored breakfast sausage, breaking it up and mix it into the stuffing.
I recommend that you cook the stuffing separate from the turkey, that is, don't stuff the turkey. If you stuff the turkey, then it has to cook much longer to reach the proper safe temperatures, and the turkey meat will dry out during this longer cooking period.
If you still plan to stuff the turkey, do not stuff it until just before you are ready to cook it. The stuffing should be refrigerated until you are ready to cook the turkey.
I recommend cooking the stuffing in a crock-pot on the "low", or "crockery" setting. Crock-pots differ on what this temperature is, so watch your pot to make sure your stuffing does not dry out. I guess, since I'm not stuffing the bird, it should be called "dressing" rather than "stuffing", and around here, some people call it "filling". Whatever you call it, I put it together the day before, putting it in the removable crock for my crock-pot, and then refrigerate it, crock and all. I cook it in the crock-pot for about six hours the next day. This makes the turkey cooking time much shorter, and helps keep your turkey from drying out. The stuffing also stays very moist in the crock-pot, and you can fit more stuffing in a crock-pot than in a turkey, so I can make more for my hungry guests and family. I like to get some extra giblets to go in the stuffing, so consider that when you purchase your turkey.
Unwrap the turkey, rinse it out quite thoroughly, removing any gunk from the interior that you would not want to eat. Pat the turkey dry. If you are stuffing the turkey, now is the time to do it. Stuff the turkey filling the wishbone area first (the end that holds less stuffing). After filling that area, secure the neck skin with a skewer to hold the stuffing in place. Stuff the body cavity, and when full, tuck the drumsticks under the band of skin at the tail, or tie them together with cooking string, then tie to tail.
Some turkeys come with a wire or plastic mechanism to hold the drumstick ends, if so, then leave that in and use it. Wrap the wings with foil, to keep them from over cooking. I recommend Reynolds Release (non-stick) folded so that a non-stick surface is toward the wings, and a non-stick surface is on the outside too, or the foil will stick to the side of the bird by the wing.
Place the turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Brush with melted butter or Canola oil. Place a meat thermometer in the breast meat, get close to the bone, but do not touch the bone. Add one to four cups of water to the roasting pan. The pan will go on the bottom rack in the oven.
One of the main problems with cooking turkey is that the breast is done well before the dark meat. You end up with dried out white meat or undercooked dark meat. To alleviate this, make a triangle out of a double layer of foil, Reynolds Release is good, and mold it to the breast of the turkey, then remove and save it. After cooking the turkey at the initial high temperature below, put the foil triangle on the breast.
The reason that you added the water to the roasting pan, is that it prevents the meat drippings from burning on to the pan. The drippings and broth are used to make gravy later. If, during cooking, the pan dries out, add more water so the drippings do not burn on. (If you are using a glass pan, make sure the water never boils away, or you will break it when you add more). If the wings seem to be getting brown, then cover them with foil so they do not over-cook -- careful, it's hot. Alternately, cover the wings with foil from the start, and remove the foil about half way through cooking.
For an unstuffed Turkey: Roast at 500 degrees for 30 minutes, or longer, until the skin is nicely browned. Then apply your foil triangle. Cook remaining time at 350 degrees. For a 14 to 16 pound turkey, this is about another hour and a half, longer for larger birds.
For a Stuffed Turkey: For a 10 to 15 pound bird, roast at 400 degrees for an hour, apply foil triangle, then 250 for about 4 hours. For a 16 to 24 pound turkey, 400 degrees for one hour, apply foil triangle, then 250 degrees for 5 hours. For 24 to 30 pounds, 400 degrees for 1 1/2 hours, apply foil triangle, then 250 degrees for 5 hours.
Note that you will use temperature to decide when the turkey is done though, not time!
DO NOT OVERCOOK THE TURKEY! If the turkey has a pop-up gizmo to indicate when it is done, leave it in, but ignore it. The pop-up gizmo (How Pop-Up Turkey Timers Work[howstuffworks.com]) is set to go off when the dark meat is done and the white meat is overcooked. When the breast thermometer gets to 165 degrees, take the turkey out of the oven. At this point, the breast is done, but the dark meat may not be done yet. If the dark meat is not done, carve off the breast in halves, carve off each side of the breast as a whole piece, and set it aside. If the wings are done, cut them off, and set them aside.
If you wish, you can present the turkey before cutting off the breast meat, and serve only the breast meat, no dark meat, no stuffing from the turkey, at this time. If everyone really likes white meat, and you have enough white meat for everyone, then this works just fine.
If you have stuffed the turkey, then put a thermometer into the center of the stuffing. You also need a thermometer in the thigh. Again, be careful not to touch the bone. Make sure your drippings are not dried out, and add water to the pan if necessary. Now turn the breast-less turkey upside down, and return it to the oven and cook until the thigh thermometer registers at least 180, and the stuffing thermometer registers at least 150, whichever is later.
Take your turkey out of the oven and put it on your serving platter, breast side up. Replace the breast halves, and wings. Before serving, remove any pop-up gizmo, or plastic or wire, which the turkey may have to hold the tips of the drumsticks.
The drippings may (should) be used to make gravy. Some turkeys come with a "gravy pack" -- use it with the drippings, just follow the directions on the gravy pack. I usually combine the drippings with gravy that I have made from a packet of instant chicken and a packet of instant turkey gravy mixes, adding enough water so the total liquid is as much each packet recommends added together. As soon as you can, after serving, remove all the stuffing from the turkey. A great trick for gravy: make a chicken in your Showtime Rotisserie oven the weekend before you make turkey, and use the chicken drippings along with the instant gravy mixes, and turkey drippings to make a terrific gravy. Be careful not to get too much of the chicken or turkey fat in your gravy, or it will be greasy.
Here are more detailed instructions for How to Make Gravy.
Remember that it doesn't really matter how well you carve the turkey, just as long as it tastes good. However if you want to brush up on carving method, here is How to Carve a Turkey.
Oh... also, if you are making this turkey for a traditional thanksgiving dinner, then you may also like my pumpkin pie recipe!
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Rendered: Sunday May 19 2013
My opinions are not regulated by any recognized authority - I am neither competent nor authorized to dispense advice of any kind. It is probably best to ignore me.