Tips to keep in mind when preparing the turkey
For most people, cooking a turkey is once-a-year thing. That's why so many things can, and do, go wrong. Imagine the results if you played golf just once annually or practiced the piano one out of every 365 days. Probably not so good.
One of the most important steps is to buy the right size turkey. Plan on 1-½ pounds per person, which will account for the bones and leave you plenty of leftovers.
The following tips will help you succeed on the turkey-portion cooking of Thanksgiving dinner.
1. Thaw the turkey. No matter the cooking method, the turkey must be fully thawed. This should be done in the refrigerator. It will take about 24 hours per 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. That means a 20-pound frozen turkey needs to be in the fridge by Sunday. If you wake up next Thursday morning and the bird is still frozen, place it in a clean sink of cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes, and plan for about 30 minutes per pound.
2. What's inside comes out. Remove the bags of organs, plus the neck, before you cook the bird. You can add the cooked, sliced innards to your gravy or boil it up and add to pet food. You'll have to pick the meat from the neck bone.
3. Don't stuff it. For a novice cook, it's best not to stuff the bird. It's difficult enough to get the white meat and dark meat done at the same time, and the stuffing adds another element. Plus, you risk cross-contamination from handling the raw turkey. Bake stuffing in a casserole.
4. Get a meat thermometer. You can consult many sources about roasting times for turkey and, most often, you'll find the experts say 15 to 20 minutes per pound. A more accurate gauge is the temperature. The white meat should register 160 to 165, but the dark meat is better at about 175 degrees. For a smaller group, buy a turkey breast and then you only need worry about one temperature.
5. Let it rest. Do not rush the turkey to the table as soon as it's out of the oven. It should rest, lightly tented with foil, for at least 20 minutes or even longer. This allows the juices to settle into the bird. If you carve it right away, the juices will run out and you'll have dry meat. The turkey will continue to cook for a while, even after it's removed from the oven. A bigger bird can sit up to an hour and still be hot inside.