Learn some basics about buying, cooking and preparing your Thanksgiving turkey.
The holidays are just around the corner. Are you ready? Have you written the menu, decided which dishes to serve, shopped for recipe ingredients and the turkey? Do you have traditional dishes that you prepare every year or do you like to try new recipes and surprise your family and guests? My holiday menu consists of a bit of both. There are certain recipes that I have been making every year for what seems like a lifetime and my family looks forward to getting these traditional recipes. These three are always on our table:
However you prepare and serve your meal, there are some basic turkey tips on how to select, thaw and cook the bird. I hope you find something here that can help you along the way.
⭐First of all should one buy a fresh or frozen turkey?
Usually, fresh birds cost more than frozen and there is not much difference in taste. I think it would depend on how fresh it is. How you cook it also makes a big difference. If you can get one that was recently slaughtered, that’s what I call fresh. Turkeys marked “frozen” are immediately frozen at 0°F immediately after processing. They are as tasty as the fresh ones. Personally, I think frozen turkeys are not as dry as fresh ones. You should never buy a fresh bird that is more than three days old. Frozen turkeys are often marked down or sold just before Thanksgiving and Christmas and keep almost indefinitely, but dry out with age. When choosing my turkey, I allow 1 pound of turkey per person, either fresh or frozen.
🚫Never thaw a turkey at room temperature!
According to the USDA, you should allow 24 hours of thawing time for every 4 to 5 lbs. of turkey and thaw in the refrigerator. Here are some defrost times to guide you:
- 4 to 12 pounds — 1 to 3 days
- 12 to 16 pounds — 3 to 4 days
- 16 to 20 pounds — 4 to 5 days
- 20 to 24 pounds — 5 to 6 days
You can defrost a turkey in the microwave. Microwaves vary and you should follow the instruction booklet on this method. If you are using the microwave, you should cook your bird as soon as it is thawed because the microwave may have started the cooking process for you.
You can use the cold water defrosting method, but for me that’s the last thing I want to do because you have to change the water every 30 minutes. Your turkey should be in an airtight plastic bag to prevent water absorption and, like defrosting in the microwave, you should cook it as soon as it thaws.
⭐Here are some defrost times for the cold water defrost method:
- 4 to 12 pounds — 2 to 6 hours
- 12 to 16 pounds — 6 to 8 hours
- 16 to 20 pounds — 8 to 10 hours
- 20 to 24 pounds — 10 to 12 hours
If you forget to thaw the turkey, you can cook it frozen but it takes much longer to cook this way. It will take 4 to 5 hours for a 12 to 14 pound turkey that is frozen to cook and reach an internal temperature of 165-185 degrees.
There are several methods of cooking your turkey. The USDA recommends cooking the filling or dressing separately for optimal safety and even cooking. I never stuff my turkey, but I do make the dressing from cornmeal in a crockpot. If you want to stuff the bird, there is a safe way to do it by using a food thermometer.
🍽️How I Cook My Thanksgiving Turkey
I generously brush the outside of my turkey with butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Next, I separate the skin from the breast and place pats of butter under the skin, in the neck cavity and inside the bird. Place the turkey on a roasting rack so that air circulates underneath and around. Cover loosely with foil and remove for the last 45 minutes to brown the bird. I basted the turkey several times while cooking with melted butter and the juices from the bottom of the pan.
I cook my turkey 20 minutes per pound at 350 degrees until it reaches an internal temperature of 180 degrees, taken with a food thermometer on the inside of the thigh. Overcooking will dry out the bird. Always let your turkey stand for 20 minutes after removing from the oven before carving to allow the juices to set. (I usually cook my turkey in one of those electric roasters that have a roasting rack on the bottom. I also put a little water in the bottom of the pan. I love my electric roaster and use it year-round to cook meats because I can plug it into laundry room above the dryer and use my oven for other things during the holidays.
Don’t forget this recipe for Giblet Gravy!
I hope this helps you in some way on your vacation. We wish everyone happy and healthy holidays.
For many years we had a non-traditional Thanksgiving. We serve different dishes and everyone loved it. You don’t have to go the traditional route.
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