November and December are the most festive times of the year, filled with family, friends, and feasting.
While you may love celebrating the holidays of the season with your friends and family, sometimes cooking for all your favorite holiday feasts can be exhausting. Cooking turkey can be a challenge even for the seasoned kitchen veteran. For the rookie, it can be positively overwhelming.
As much as you may love the savory flavor of freshly cooked turkey at the holidays, you may not be eager to try your hand at making it in your own kitchen for the first time. You probably have many questions.
What temperature should turkey be cooked to? What if your bird is frozen when you purchase it? How do you season it? Should you cook the stuffing inside the bird?
All of these are important questions. Don’t worry, we’ll answer all of them right here. If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to cook a turkey, or you’re tired of doing it the same way year after year, read on.
Follow along for some cooking tips, troubleshooting, and a few simple ways to make your holiday cooking easier. This year, your turkey will be the centerpiece of the season.
How to Thaw Your Turkey Safely
If you’re like most Americans, you probably buy your turkey from the supermarket. As the season approaches, these turkeys will be sold frozen or partially thawed. This is a great way for the meat to stay fresh, but it’s not easy or quick to thaw a 15-pound turkey.
If you’ve never done it before, you might not know how to start, or how long it will take. Thawing a whole, frozen turkey is a process, and we’re here to teach you the safest way to do it.
You want to avoid leaving your bird in the temperature danger zone for too long. This is the window between 40- and 140-degrees Fahrenheit where disease-causing bacteria growth is at its fastest. So, how do you thaw your turkey while minimizing your risk of foodborne illness?
While it is possible to cook a frozen turkey before it’s thawed, if you want to stuff or dress the bird, you’ll need to thaw it first. The tried and true method for thawing a frozen turkey is to use the refrigerator. Your bird should spend one day in the fridge
for every four pounds of weight.
Once your turkey is defrosted, you can remove the giblet packet and pat the bird dry. You don’t have to rinse it since any bacteria on the outside will be killed during cooking.
Best Turkey Cooking Methods to Try
Now that your turkey is thawed out, you’ll need to consider
cooking methods. Traditionally, turkeys are roasted for holiday dinners, but
these days, other methods have gained popularity. As a general rule, you’ll
want to cook your turkey to an internal temperature between 165- and
1. Traditional Roasting
The traditional cooking method, roasting the turkey in the
oven, is still popular with most home cooks. Luckily, you’ll find lots of
recipes online for easy roast turkey. Though each recipe has its own unique
twist to the art of the roast turkey, the basic recipe is the same.
The key to a good oven-roasted turkey is retaining moisture
in the meat. The oven can easily dry out meat if you’re not careful. To keep
your turkey moist, you can use a brine, dry rub, or baste the meat periodically
while it’s in the oven.
You might remember eating turkey with stuffing cooked inside
the bird’s cavity, but you probably shouldn’t do this. When you cook the bird
without stuffing, it’ll cook more evenly, and the meat won’t be as dry.
Instead, stuff your turkey with aromatics and vegetables.
Many roast turkey recipes will ask you to start the oven at
a high temperature, like 450 degrees Fahrenheit, and then turn it down partway
through the cooking process. Others will ask you to slowly roast the bird at a
lower temperature, like 325
degrees. Both will result in a delicious roasted turkey dinner you’ll be proud
to have on your table.
2. Smoked Turkey
An increasingly popular way to cook a turkey is to use a
smoker. This method will probably not work for the amateur cook, but for the
experience barbeque pit cook, making a smoked turkey should be an interesting
A smoked turkey cooks so slowly at so low a temperature that
it’s hard to overcook it. You’ll want to put aromatics inside the cavity of the
bird and dry the surface well if you want good, even cooking. You need the
temperature of your smoker to be between 225- and 250-degrees Fahrenheit.
While it’s better to use an actual smoker, you can use a
regular barbeque grill set on an extremely low temperature to smoke your
turkey. For flavor, apple,
hickory, or mesquite wood chips will yield the best results.
The smoked turkey produces some of the best leftovers. If
you want the tastiest turkey sandwiches, you can’t go wrong with smoked turkey.
3. Deep-fried Turkey
Despite the bad reputation deep-fried turkey has gotten, it’s
a deliciously different way to enjoy your holiday meal. As long as you’re
safety conscious and careful, you should be able to produce a tender and juicy
Because oven-roasted turkey can be dry, deep-fried turkey is
an incredibly moist alternative. Deep-frying will achieve the ideal combination
of crispy skin and juicy meat. You’ll also find deep-frying can be dummy-proof
since it’s difficult to overcook a turkey this way. Once your oil is at 350
degrees, you’re ready to put the turkey in the pot.
By now, you’ve probably heard a few stories about unwise
home chefs setting their kitchens ablaze while trying to deep fry their holiday
turkey. You can avoid this fate by following a few safety protocols.
First, set up your fryer outdoors, away from buildings,
plants, or other flammable items. Additionally, make sure you keep a fire
extinguisher or two handy, just in case. Beware of oil overflow, which can
happen when the turkey is too large for your frying vessel.
Check your bird for ice inside and out and dry your turkey
thoroughly before putting it in the oil. Adding water of any kind to hot oil
can cause dangerous splatter and oil overflow.
Also, while it may take less time to deep-fry a turkey than
to roast it, cleanup will be a bigger problem. You’ll need to consider how to
dispose of or store your used cooking oil.
Nevertheless, a deep-fried turkey on your next holiday menu
can be delicious and spectacular for you and your guests. If you’re a seasoned
cook with plenty of outdoor space, you should give it a try.
How to Cool and Carve Your Turkey
Once your turkey has reached the right internal temperature,
and all the juices are clear, you need to let the meat rest. If you’re roasting
your turkey, you’ll want to take the bird out when it’s reached 5 degrees below
the desired internal temperature. The meat will keep cooking after you’ve taken
it out of the oven. Removing it early will prevent it from drying out.
Even if you’re smoking or deep-frying your turkey, rest time
is critical. When cooking meat, you need to let it rest for at least 20 minutes
before slicing into it. This rest time allows the juices in the meat to settle.
If you don’t allow for rest time, you’ll lose all your juices on the cutting
board when you carve your turkey and the meat will be dry.
Some experts recommend covering the turkey with foil during
cooling. This is intended to help keep the meat from spending too much time in
that danger zone we discussed earlier. However, others say it’s unnecessary to
cover the bird with foil because this traps steam and causes the nice crispy
skin to get soggy.
Once the meat has rested, it’s time to carve the turkey. You
can find lots of carving tips online, but they all boil down to these simple
- 1Remove the Legs: Begin by removing the legs at the hip joint. Since you’ve cooked your turkey tender, you’ll be able to pop the hip joint free and carve neatly around it.
- 2Separate the Drumstick: Use your knife to separate the drumstick from the thigh at the knee joint. You can then slice the dark meat from the thigh bone.
- 3Remove the Breast: You can remove each side of the turkey breast by cutting
horizontally above the wing, and then vertically along each side of the
sternum. This should allow you to remove each half of the breast in one piece.
Then, you slice it.
- 4Remove the Wings: The last step is to remove the wings by turning the turkey over and cutting between the wing joint and the rib cage.
Learning to carve your turkey the right way is an important
step in presenting an impressive main dish for your holiday meal. Now that
you’ve learned how to cook a turkey, you’ll be able to put on a holiday feast
that will wow your family and friends