Cooking a turkey, large or small, is a lot easier than you might think. The key is to start with a turkey that’s been prepped correctly, then take measures to make sure it doesn’t dry out while cooking.
Pick out a turkey.
A turkey is an item that’s worth splurging on if you can. Turkeys that have been frozen for a long time, have been sitting out in the display for awhile, or have been treated with preservatives won’t taste as good or cook as well as fresh, untreated turkeys. Keep these pointers in mind when you’re picking one out:
Try to get a fresh turkey from a butcher, rather than from the meat display at the grocery store. Butcher shops tend to have meat that is more fresh.
Look for a turkey that has not been injected with salt. This gives the turkey meat an artificial taste.
Pick a turkey large enough for the number of people you’re feeding. A small 12-14 pound turkey will feed about 10 people, a medium 15 – 17 pound turkey will feed up to 16, and a large 18-21 pound turkey can feed 20 or more people.
Thaw the turkey, if necessary. If you happen to choose a frozen turkey for your Thanksgiving, it’s very important to take it out of the freezer ahead of time to allow the turkey to fully defrost and thaw prior to cooking. It should be thawed in its original wrapping in a deep tray at the bottom of the refrigerator. The wrapping open to allow it to set to room temperature a few hours prior to preparation.
Empty the turkey’s cavity.
Remove giblets from the inside cavity. They often come in a little bag that is easily discarded (although some people like to save them for soup and other recipes). You may also find a neck in the cavity; either save it or discard it.
Rinse the turkey under running water. Afterward, pat dry with a clean dish rag or paper towels. It’s important for the turkey to be dry before you put it in the oven; if it’s wet, the turkey will steam, and it’s skin won’t get brown and crispy.
Stuff the turkey.
Prepare the stuffing of your choice – or dressing, as it’s called in the southern areas of the United States – and spoon it into the turkey’s empty cavity. Fill the cavity completely, then fold the loose flap of skin over the cavity to keep it contained. Some cooks believe that stuffing a turkey draws moisture from the meat as it cooks, causing the turkey to dry out. There’s no need to stuff your turkey if you’d prefer not to.
Brine the turkey if desired. Brining is the very simple and inexpensive process of rubbing the bird in a salt solution infused with aromatic herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables. The salting process encourages very deep, cellular moisture penetration, which basically means less drying out during roasting, resulting in a moister bird.
Chefs differ with regard to whether brining a turkey is really necessary.
If you love the taste of salty turkey meat, you might want to give it a try; if you’d prefer to avoid eating a lot of salt, your turkey will still come out tasting delicious. If you bought a Kosher turkey, definitely skip the brining step. Kosher turkeys are treated with salt in the processing facility, so there’s no need to brine them twice.
Cover a roasting pan with aluminum foil.
Use two sheets of heavy duty aluminum foil. One sheet should go length-wise and the next sheet the other way. Make sure the sheets are large enough to fully wrap over and around the whole entire turkey to form a loose sealed tent to cook in. This keeps in moisture, and doesn’t allow the turkey to burn or dry out.
Weigh the turkey to determine how long cooking time will be. The average cooking time is 20 minutes per pound of the whole turkey, including the stuffing.
Season the turkey if desired.
Everyone likes their turkey meat to taste a certain way. Here are a few ideas for seasoning the turkey:
If you didn’t brine your turkey, you may want to sprinkle the skin with salt and pepper. This step is unnecessary if your turkey has been brined. Rub the turkey with butter or olive oil for a richer taste and dark brown skin. Rub ground herbs and spices, such as sage or rosemary, over the turkey. Place garlic cloves in the turkey’s cavity
Baste the turkey every 30 minutes.
Open the oven, carefully unfold the foil, and use a turkey baster or a spoon to pour the turkey’s juices from the bottom of the roasting pan over the skin of the turkey.
Crisp the skin. During the last 30 minutes of cooking, remove the foil over the breast and thighs. The skin will become brown and crispy.
Check to see if the turkey is done. When you’re estimated cooking time is finished (depending on the weight of your turkey), use a meat thermometer to check if the turkey is ready to come out. Place the thermometer in the inside thigh. The turkey is done when the temperature reaches 165 degrees.