The centerpiece of thanksgiving dinner in America and Canada is a big bird called turkey. It is the favorite bird, the main attraction at the dinner table that is why a lot of people want a perfectly cooked bird on Thanksgiving Day. However, it takes a bit of practice and know-how to make a juicy and great tasting thanksgiving turkey. In this post, you will learn how to cook a thanksgiving turkey easily and stress free, so you can enjoy the rest of the holiday smiling and not exhausted that you cannot even eat properly anymore. You will also learn not just how to cook a thanksgiving turkey but also learn a few tips to get a juicy and flavorful meat.
A lot of people have their own way of cooking thanksgiving turkey, and most of the time their opinions on how to cook the best turkey is strong maybe because they have learned the trick from their mother. In case your mom is not around to teach you the basic of cooking turkey for Thanksgiving Day, do not worry because believe it or not, turkey is surprisingly easy to prep and cook. In fact, the key to a perfectly cooked bird in my opinion is to have fun and not intimidated with the big bird. Sad to say, a lot of people get intimidated by the different method of cooking turkey, so much that they end up with a dry and tasteless meat.
Before I discuss the different tips and tricks of cooking thanksgiving turkey, let me teach you first the basic steps in preparing and cooking turkey. The steps are pretty straightforward, completely no-frills way, so you get the idea first. You see, once you get the idea, you can add flavoring, spices that suits your own taste. Consider my thanksgiving turkey recipe as a template, wherein you are free to play with it, anyway you like. My objective is simply to give you a surefire way to get a roasted turkey on your dinner table with less stress as much as possible.
By the way, this method of cooking turkey are great for brined or not, small or big bird, free range turkey or otherwise.
How to Cook A Thanksgiving Turkey
Cooking thanksgiving turkey is easy when you follow the steps below:
Turkey Cooking Instructions:
Prepare Thanksgiving Turkey
- The first thing to do is thaw the turkey completely before you cook it, especially when you bought a frozen bird.
- Hours before cooking time get the bird out of the fridge. Make sure the turkey thawed completely. Prep it by removing the giblets.
- Wash the inside and out of the turkey thoroughly then pat dry with paper towels.
- Brush the bird skin with oil or butter, and add pieces and other flavoring like sage, pepper and many more.
- Place the turkey on the roasting pan. Then insert the thermometer to the meat. Make sure you insert it on the thickest part of the bird, which is the thigh. The thermometer must point towards the body and must not touch the bone.
- Next, check the chart to estimate the cooking time for your bird.
- Place the bird inside the oven. Bake in a preheated oven (350 degrees F or 175 degrees C)
- Let the bird bake until the skin is golden in color, about 2 hours (the time depends on the size of your bird. Cover the turkey with a foil tent.
- Remove the foil when you only have 45 minutes of baking to brown the skin evenly.
- When the thigh temperatures arrive at 165 degrees F or 75 degrees, your turkey is done.
- Remove the turkey from the oven and let it rest for at least 30 minutes to an hour before you transfer the turkey to a cutting board. Resting will give the meat an opportunity to firm and the juices to get re-absorbed, making the bird also easier to carve and the meat more delicious.
- Carve the bird by removing the wings, then thighs before moving to the breast part. Once you have the breast separated, slice it into serving sizes and serve.
Turkey Cooking Tips
Cooking a perfect roast turkey is not impossible to achieve even if you are a beginner or first timer, more so if you have a few tips and tricks under your sleeve to use as your guide. But of course, buying a turkey for beginners can be tricky because of the numerous option but you should not concerned yourself with the many terms, whether you are buying free range, organic and prebasted, this should not be a problem. All turkey can be excellent, when you prep and cook it right. Below are some of the tips and tricks that you can use to cook a perfectly roasted turkey.
For juicy and moist thanksgiving turkey, you can do the following:
- Rub butter on and underneath the skin for a richer flavor and even browning.
- You can also place a garlic clove or lemons (halved) inside the turkey cavity for additional flavoring.
- Basting based on a personal experience helps keep the turkey better tasting and even make the skin a bit crispy. You can use butter mixed with herbs, spices and flavoring for basting.
- Baste turkey every 45 minutes using a spoon or turkey baster. Keep in mind, when basting, close the oven immediate to preserve the heat.
- Basting is optional, and only if you want an even browning and better tasting bird.
- Dry turkey is a common problem, and one trick I have learned from the mom of a friend is to use a generous amount of mayo on the turkey. Lathering the turkey with mayonnaise according to her as well as adding pepper, sage, and salt on top will result in a tasty and moist meat. Just don’t forget to cover the bird, cook it uncovered only on the last hour of cooking time.
- Also bear in mind that whatever spices and herb you use, using a generous amount of seasoning at everywhere possible part like under the skin, inside the turkey and outside especially for a giant or 20 pound turkey can definitely make the turkey flavorful. Sprinkling pepper and salt over the bird is not going to help you achieve your goal.
- When seasoning, use your fingers when rubbing the butter all over the bird.
To check the bird doneness:
- Check the thermometer, when the internal temperature gets to 165 degrees F or 75 degrees, your turkey is done.
- Guessing your turkey doneness will result in a burn or undercook meat. So, never guess and do not use the skin color as your guide. The only reliable test is the temperature of the bird meat, when the internal temperature reaches the right degrees, then your turkey is done.
- Stuffed turkeys are great for thanksgiving but require the extra work on your part as you need to check the dressing temperature too. The stuffing temperature should be the same as the meat, which is 165 degrees F.
- In case you don’t have a thermometer, the rule of thumb for turkey roasting is 13 minutes per lb. Hence, a 16 lb bird should be done in 3 ½ hours. You can use the rule of thumb as your cooking time guide, but please do check your turkey from time to time. There are other factors like brining, that will cook the bird faster
- If any part of the meat is under the desired temperature, just put the bird back to the oven. Leave for 20 minutes, but cover the meat with a foil to prevent overcooking.
- You can also check the doneness of the meat by looking at the juice. If the juices run clear from the thigh when stab, (deep in the thigh) then the turkey is done. This is based on my personal experience and according to friends who have cooked turkey many times over.
- A lot of people swear that baking the bird breast up will result in a perfectly cooked and great looking bird, well, this is correct. But if you are concerned with taste, it is best to bake the bird breast down. In case you don’t know, cooking it breast down makes the turkey more flavorful and moist.
- Some people I know also cook the turkey breast side down first then after 2 hours, cook the bird breast side up until it is done. This method is good but too much work if you ask me.
- For carving, only use a sharp knife and serve the turkey on a warmed serving platter.
For Stuffed Turkey:
When cooking stuffed turkey, it is best to cook the dressing after you remove the turkey from the oven. You see, cooking the dressing stuffed inside your bird is a bad idea. There is a high probability that your stuffing will not cook properly due to the cavity shape. Plus! when you cooked the stuffing to the safe temperature, there is a chance that some parts of the bird will dry or get overcooked. Come to think of it! The safe way to cook a stuffed turkey is to spoon the dressing into the cavity before you serve the turkey or stuffed the dressing you have cooked separately on the last hour of baking.
Take note, it is also not wise to overstuff the turkey cavity, so leave a little room for expansion, and tie the drumstick with a string to keep the stuffing from spilling over.
Cooking Time for Turkey:
If you don’t like a dry out turkey, better use this chart to determine the cooking time for turkey.
Weight of Turkey Unstuffed Stuffed
10 – 18 lbs 3 – 3 ½ hours 3 ¾ – 4 ½ hours
18 – 22 lbs 3 – ½ – 4 hours 4 ½ – 5 hours
22 – 24 lbs 4 – 4 ½ hours 5 – 5 ½ hours
24 – 29 lbs 4 ½ – 5 hours 5 ½ – 6 ¼ hours
Oven Roasted Turkey
Cooking a thanksgiving turkey should be fun because there are ways to keep the flavour intact and prevent the bird from drying. Keep in mind that turkey is a special kind of meat, simply because it is tasty when you cook it right and it is low in fat, unlike other meat.
In case you have eaten a tasteless and dry meat before, it may be because the cook did not do a thorough job of cooking the turkey. But of course, the mistake may also be because the bird is too big and they have no prior experience in cooking a bird of that size. There are a lot of things that could go wrong with your turkey, but as said awhile ago, do not get intimidated. When you follow the basic rules, you can cook a beautiful, delicious, and moist turkey every time you want.
By the way, roasting is the simplest way to cook a turkey as the temperature remains constant and it is easy to baste in an oven as well as check the internal temperature of the bird. Furthermore, deep-frying and grilling a turkey are only for the adventurous, but this method offer a whole new experience and can free up the oven for your other thanksgiving dishes.
One more thing, when you remove the turkey from the oven, you can use the drippings from the roasting pan for your gravy sauce. The turkey drippings can give your gravy extra kick. Do not worry also if you remove the turkey cover 30 minutes before dinner time, usually a 20 pound turkey stays hot for 40 minutes.
Thanksgiving turkeys are the star of the night, your little centerpiece. So, make the most out of your work, enjoy looking at your bird, then have some wine. You deserve it for doing a good job on your turkey.
I hope you enjoy my tutorial on how to make a turkey that is not dry and tasteless. Good luck on your turkey!