You can grill, barbecue, smoke, deep-fry, or air-fry a turkey but on Thanksgiving Day, you’ll most likely roast one in an oven even if the other techniques produce delicious results too. If you’re a newcomer to cooking turkey or you’re a little rusty, take a look at the tips below on how to do it right:
Pick the right size bird
To avoid underestimating (or overestimating) how big a turkey to buy, count how many meat eaters will be at your table. Estimates from turkey pros vary, but if you’re looking forward to having leftovers, figure on making one and a half pounds of meat per person.
Defrost several days ahead
Put the frozen unwrapped turkey on a tray in the fridge to thaw. According to Butterball, the poultry manufacturer with the 800-BUTTERBALL “Turkey Talk-Line™”, you should allow one day for every four pounds of turkey. A 20-pound turkey, for example, would need five days to defrost.
Clean inside and out
It’s not the most glamourous job but cleaning the defrosted turkey must be done. First remove the giblets, then use paper towels to dry the skin and cavity. Clean your hands thoroughly when you’re done.
Brine the bird
Similar to marinating, brining will keep the bird moist until you’re ready to cook it. Pour enough brine in a large pot to submerge the entire defrosted turkey. (Brine is a basic solution of water and salt, to which you can add herbs, citrus juices, or chicken broth.) Refrigerate overnight. Rinse well before roasting.
Keep the stuffing out of the turkey
To save family and friends from getting food poisoning from bacteria in under-cooked turkey juices moistening the stuffing, cook the stuffing separately in the oven or on the stovetop rather than inside the turkey.
Prepare the turkey
Preheat your oven to 350° F. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels. Then put your turkey, breast side up, on a wire roasting rack (or on balls of aluminum foil) in a shallow roasting pan so the bird isn’t sitting on the bottom of the pan. Turn the wings back to hold the neck skin in place. Insert an oven-safe meat thermometer in the thigh.
Choose the correct cooking time
Butterball experts say a turkey’s weight determines how long to cook it. For an unstuffed 10–18-pound turkey, roast three to three and a half hours; for an 18-22 pounder, cook three and a half to four hours.
Once you’ve placed the turkey in the oven, it’s time to wait. When it’s about two-thirds of the way done, loosely cover the breasts with aluminum foil to prevent dryness from overcooking. You’ll know the turkey is done when the meat thermometer reaches 165° F.
Get out a platter
Transfer your turkey to a platter, and make sure you let it stand for 15 minutes before carving. This would be a good time to make the gravy! Once you’ve accomplished all of that, be prepared to eat and enjoy the rest of the day with your loved ones, grateful to be together.