How to cook a Thanksgiving turkey: your most pressing questions answered
So you’re in charge of the Thanksgiving turkey. No pressure; it’s only the centerpiece of one of the most important meals of the year! In all seriousness, you can relax: Selecting and roasting a Thanksgiving turkey is not nearly as complicated as it sounds…as long as you have a plan. Here are some common questions to make sure you’re ready to keep the whole family happy — from feeding frenzy to food coma.
What size turkey do I need?
Turkeys are sold by total weight, and the size you buy depends on how many you need to serve. The rule of thumb is 1.5 pounds of meat per person, and it may not hurt to bump up the total by 2 to 4 pounds, though.
How do you thaw the turkey?
Here’s where you need to pay attention, or else you might slice into a raw, still-icy center, even if the turkey looks done on the outside. Smaller turkeys (around eight pounds) need two days to thaw in the refrigerator, and the largest turkeys (20 pounds) need five full days. In other words, allow one day for every four pounds. NOTE: It is never safe to thaw meat and poultry at room temperature. That sets up an ideal environment for dangerous microorganisms to grow and spread, which means a food-borne illness could spoil the feast.
How long do I need to cook the turkey?
Cooking time depends on size and stuffing. For an unstuffed bird, the rule of thumb is 15-20 minutes per pound at 325 degrees. For a stuffed bird, though, add another 15 minutes to the total cooking time. In either case, just remember to retrieve the neck and giblets, which will be packaged up in the large cavity. Then use a food thermometer to make sure it is finished roasting. Stick the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. When it has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, check the thickest part of the breast to make sure that has also reached that temperature as well.
How do I keep the turkey moist?
Some are still big believers in basting every half hour, but all that seems to do is allow heat to escape from your oven. Simply roast the turkey breast-side down for the first hour and don’t over-cook it. When you take it out, allow it to rest for 20 minutes so the juices can redistribute.
Much like personal finance, roasting a turkey isn’t difficult — but taking time to plan and understand your numbers will boost your chances of success.