Cooking a turkey for the holidays can be stressful. Most of us only cook turkey once a year and it takes a lot longer than the smaller chickens we’re used to. Not to mention the pressure to cook it perfectly – you only have one chance to get it right and you’re serving it to a crowd! Fortunately, we’ve developed a simple, almost foolproof guide on how to cook the perfect turkey. It works with any turkey – large, small, salted, unsalted, organic, free-range, etc. – and results in a bird with beautiful looking crispy skin and tender, juicy meat. All you have to do is pay attention to a few details to get it done.
How to thaw a Thanksgiving turkey
Before you learn how to cook the perfect turkey, you need to know how to thaw one. In general, we recommend buying a frozen turkey. We can barely tell the difference between fresh and frozen when it comes to taste, and the latter is also significantly cheaper. Also, the term “fresh” only means that the bird has never been frozen. It could be several days old by the time you see it in the grocery store.
In the refrigerator, a frozen turkey takes about 24 hours per four pounds. So it takes about four days to thaw a 16 pound turkey. The process goes a little faster in cold water: 30 minutes per pound, so thawing 16-pound turkeys only takes eight hours. The downside is that the USDA recommends changing the water every 30 minutes to ensure the turkey stays at safe temperatures.
There is a third option here. In a video on FacebookAlton Brown shared that you can salt and thaw a turkey at the same time. Start with a completely frozen turkey and remove it from the bag. Drop it into a container with your wet saline solution (more on that in a moment). Combined with the salt, the frozen turkey will keep the water temperature low enough to safely thaw the bird out of the refrigerator. So just put a lid on the container and let it sit for two days.
It is best to use a probe thermometer when thawing outside the refrigerator. You’ll want to make sure the water temperature never exceeds 40 ° F and add ice as needed to keep the temperatures safe.
How to fry a Thanksgiving turkey
The first is the first: you don’t have to salt your Thanksgiving turkey. Our method of cooking the perfect turkey works with pickled and un-pickled turkey. However, roasting the turkey is an easy way to add flavor and extra moisture. This not only makes it taste better, but can also protect the lean white meat from drying out during cooking.
A moist brine is the classic brine made from water and salt. You can add other ingredients like sugar, cider, spices, and flavorful vegetables, but these additions will only flavor the outside of the turkey. That is why we only keep things simple with a salt-water-salt solution. You can always add extra ingredients if you want, or you can add flavor with a dry rub after the turkey brines.
If your bird is still frozen or you have space in the fridge, try this super easy recipe for moist brine:
- Dissolve 1-1 / 2 cups of kosher salt (or 1 cup of table salt) in 6 liters of water. They shouldn’t need heat. Just keep stirring until everything is incorporated.
- Take the turkey out of the package. Save the neck and offal for making broth or sauce.
- Place the turkey in a large oven bag in a stock pot. Pour the salt water over the turkey.
- Add additional cold water as needed until the turkey is completely submerged. Weigh the turkey with a bowl if necessary.
- Leave the turkey brine in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours.
- Take the turkey out of the saline (you don’t need to rinse it if you haven’t exceeded 24 hours) and pat it dry with paper towels.
- For a crisper skin, leave the turkey uncovered in the refrigerator for another 24 hours.
A dry brine contains no water and therefore does not take up as much space in the refrigerator. When you rub the turkey with salt, the natural juices are drawn out of the meat, creating a more aromatic, turkey-flavored salt solution.
If your bird is completely thawed and you don’t have room for a soup pot in the fridge, try our simple recipe for dry brine:
- Take the turkey out of the package. Save the neck and offal for making broth or sauce.
- Place the turkey on a large baking sheet that is lined with a rack to hold it up.
- You need one tablespoon of kosher salt for every two pounds of turkey. For a 16 pound bird, that’s half a cup (8 tablespoons) of salt. You can also mix the salt with other spices like thyme, rosemary, black pepper, or ground chillies if you want.
- Sprinkle the salt over the meat and rub it inside and out. You may not need all of the salt – it should be well covered but not baked up.
- Leave the turkey brine uncovered in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours.
- Pat the turkey dry with paper towels. The dry saline solution does not need to be washed off.
How to Season a Thanksgiving Turkey
There are so many different ways to flavor a Thanksgiving turkey. If you used a saline solution, there is no need to add extra salt. So be careful not to use store-bought rubs that contain salt. Try to combine 2 teaspoons of dried thyme with 2 teaspoons of dried rosemary, 1 teaspoon of dried sage, 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder and 1/4 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper for a good all-purpose massage. You can also add chili powder or smoky ground peppers to the mixture for a little flavor.
FAQs about Thanksgiving in Turkey
Before we dive into how to cook the perfect turkey, let’s answer a few common questions. Use the comments if we missed anything important in this section.
Should You Cook Stuffing In A Turkey?
We recommend cooking your turkey unfilled. The filling can be unsafe to eat if it doesn’t reach a safe temperature of 165 ° F, and the turkey can overcook and dry out if it does. Instead, cook your filling on the side and use homemade turkey broth to make it taste like the original.
How Much Turkey Do I Need?
In general, when serving a smaller bird, aim for around a pound of uncooked turkey per person. Bigger turkeys have bigger bones too, so you need closer to 1 1/2 pounds per person. If you want to make sure you have leftovers, aim high.
Do you need to cook a turkey right after frying?
Roasting usually takes 12 to 24 hours, but you don’t have to cook the turkey right away. Thawed turkey can be kept in the refrigerator for up to four days after thawing. You can leave the turkey uncovered in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. After that, you should cover it lightly with plastic wrap so that it doesn’t dry out too much.
If you’ve bought a fresh turkey, look for the date on the label and make sure to cook it before that date goes by.
How long do I cook turkey?
In a 325 ° F oven, a whole turkey typically takes 14 to 16 minutes per pound, depending on its weight. A 16-pound turkey takes between 3-1 / 2 and 4-1 / 2 hours at these times. You can speed things up by starting the turkey in a hotter oven to crisp the skin. You can find out how to do this in the recipe below.
When cooking turkey breast, allow a total of one to two hours. Turkey legs and wings take roughly the same amount of time (1-1 / 2 to 2-1 / 2 hours) depending on their size.
How do I know when the turkey is done cooking?
The best way to know when the turkey is ready is to use a probe thermometer. You can monitor the temperature without opening the oven door so you know – no guesswork – when the turkey is ready. Examine it in the thickest part of the thigh or chest and wiggle it slightly to make sure it doesn’t touch the bone.
When the thigh hits 170 ° F (or the chest hits 160 ° F), the bird is done. The temperature continues to rise 5 ° F while the turkey rests.
Do I really need to rest?
Yes you really do. You see, meat releases a ton of juices when cooked. If you cut into the bird right away, these juices will be released on the cutting board, making the turkey taste a little drier than it should. Instead, give at least 30 minutes to allow these juices to redistribute in the meat. You can let the bird rest for up to an hour and it will still be warm enough to be served for dinner. If you rest for more than 30 minutes, you can tent the turkey with a piece of aluminum foil.
How to cook the perfect turkey
The most important thing about roasting a turkey is that it’s not too different from cooking chicken. It’s much bigger so it takes longer to cook, but the same general principles apply. So try not to over-emphasize it!
You also have the option to cook the turkey a day in advance as well. Cook the turkey according to the instructions below and let it cool for about 30 minutes. Then carve the turkey and store covered in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, let the turkey come to room temperature for about 30 minutes while the oven preheats. Spoon the turkey drops or some broth over the turkey to keep it moist as it reheats. In the aluminum foil-covered skillet, heat the turkey in a 350 ° F oven until it reaches 165 ° F.
How to Cook the Perfect Turkey
Turkey will be the star of your Thanksgiving dinner this year with this simple, almost foolproof turkey recipe.
- 1 whole turkey thawed when frozen
- olive oil or melted coconut oil for grating the turkey
- rub dry or spices to taste (optional)
- chopped onions, celery, carrots, garlic cloves, lemon or orange wedges (Optional)
- 2 cups low sodium chicken broth or turkey broth or water
Preheat the oven to 450 ° F.
Take the turkey out of the refrigerator while the oven is preheating. If you haven’t pickled the turkey, remove it from the packaging and save the neck and giblets for making sauce and broth.
Place the turkey breast breast up on a roasting pan in a frying pan. Tuck the wings behind the turkey and tie the legs together to allow the turkey to cook more evenly.
Rub the turkey skin all over with olive oil or melted coconut oil. Season the turkey with dry spices to taste (don’t add extra salt if you used a brine solution). Fill the turkey cavity with lemon or orange wedges, a couple of cloves of garlic, or a quartered onion if desired.
Examine the deepest part of the turkey thigh or animal with a probe thermometer and wiggle it slightly to make sure it doesn’t hit the bone.
Place the onion, carrots, and celery under the turkey at the bottom of the frying pan, along with water or broth, if used.
Push the turkey into the oven with your legs backwards. The oven is generally warmer in general and gives the dark meat the warmth it needs to reach its higher temperatures.
Turn the heat up to 325 ° F. Roast 3 to 4 hours, depending on the weight of the turkey, until the probe thermometer reads 170 ° F in the thigh or 160 ° F in the breast meat.
Resist the urge to open the oven while the turkey is roasting. There’s no tinkering, and opening the oven releases the heat and adds cooking time.
Save the turkey roast for making gravy and let the turkey sit for at least 30 minutes before carving it.
Portion: 6thOunces, cooked | Calories: 479kcal | Carbohydrates: 1G | Protein: 71G | Fat: 20thG | Saturated fatty acids: 5G | Cholesterol: 232mg | Sodium: 378mg | Potassium: 772mg | Sugar: 1G | Vitamin A: 180IU | Calcium: 38mg | Iron: 3mg
SmartPoints (Freestyle): 9
What to serve with turkey
Don’t forget the side dishes and the sauce! Here are some of our favorites.
Follow us on Facebook or subscribe to our newsletter for more recipes, menus and training ideas.