Is it your turn to roast the Thanksgiving turkey this year? Does cooking a big bird for so many people intimidate you?
It’s going to be okay! Here are the answers to the most common turkey questions.
And even if you are not roasting a turkey on Thanksgiving for guests, take advantage of the low turkey prices right now and buy one for your family. This is the best time of year to buy a turkey and you can use the meat for future meals. The leftovers can be stored in the freezer like I suggest below.
This is the most delicious time of year! 🙂
How Much Turkey Per Person Will I Need?
The USDA recommends 1 pound per person for a fresh or frozen turkey. So if you’re serving 10 people, a ten pound bird should be a starting point. If you want leftovers, you’ll want a bigger bird. I have read that the really big turkeys can dry out quicker from the extensive cooking time, so it might be better to buy two 12 pound turkeys than one 24 pound turkey (as an example).
Should I Buy Fresh or Frozen Turkey?
This is really a matter of preference. Fresh turkeys tend to be more expensive and you’ll need to buy it just a few days before you will be cooking it. On the other hand, grocery stores offer heavy discounts on frozen turkeys around Thanksgiving, so you do all of your holiday shopping at their store. If buying frozen, you can buy it weeks ahead of time, but you will need to thaw properly before cooking. See next question for thawing instructions.
I bought a frozen turkey. How should I thaw it?
There are two ways to thaw a frozen turkey.
1. Thaw the turkey in the refrigerator.
Leave the frozen turkey in its packaging and place in a pan. (Trust me on this. A few years ago, I simply put the frozen turkey in the fridge without placing in a pan. When I removed the thawed turkey from the fridge, I had a stream of blood from my fridge to my sink before I realized what had happened. YUCK!)
Place the pan in the refrigerator. It takes about 1 day for every 4 pounds of turkey to thaw in the refrigerator. This online calculator will also tell you how long you need to thaw the turkey in the fridge depending on size of turkey.
2. Thaw the turkey in cold water.
If you forget to get the turkey out of the freezer in time, you can thaw the turkey in cold water. Leave the turkey in its packaging and place breast side down in the kitchen sink and cover completely with cold water. Change the water frequently as it starts to warm. It takes about 30 minutes per pound to thaw this way. Use this online calculator to determine estimated time for thawing.
REMEMBER it is not safe to thaw the turkey at room temperature due to bacterial concerns.
What do I do with the giblets that are inside the turkey?
The giblets or turkey parts, which consist of the heart, gizzards, and liver are usually in a paper bag in the cavity of the turkey along with the neck. You MUST pull the giblets out of the turkey before roasting. The liver should be discarded, but the rest of the giblets can be used to make a gravy or turkey stock. If you mistakenly leave the giblets in the turkey while cooking, you should be fine.
However, if you forget to remove the bag, here is information directly from the USDA:
Some giblets are paper wrapped before being inserted into the poultry body cavity. In this case, there would be no concern if the giblets are accidentally cooked inside the bird to a safe temperature.
If giblets were packed in a plastic bag, and the bag has been altered or melted by the cooking process, do not use the giblets or the poultry because harmful chemicals may have leached into the surrounding meat. If the plastic bag was not altered, the giblets and poultry should be safe to use as long as the meat is fully cooked.
Personally, I discard the giblets except for the neck. I use the neck along with the whole carcass to make a turkey stock. I have heard the giblets offer such flavor to gravy, I think I’ll try Williams Sonoma Giblet Gravy recipe next time I roast a turkey.
Do I need to brine the turkey?
To brine a turkey is to soak it in a salt and water bath in order to add moisture to a drier cut of meat. Personally, I do not brine a turkey. It is way to time consuming, but there is a science behind it and if you’re interested, Serious Eats performed an experiment, and he doesn’t brine either. It is a matter of personal preference.
Is it save to stuff a turkey?
Per the USDA, it is not recommended to stuff a turkey. They recommend that you cook your stuffing outside the bird in a casserole dish. However if you chose to stuff your bird, this is what they recommend:
The ingredients can be prepared ahead of time; however, keep wet and dry ingredients separate. Chill all of the wet ingredients (butter/margarine, cooked celery and onions, broth, etc.). Mix wet and dry ingredients just before filling the turkey cavities. Fill the cavities loosely. Cook the turkey immediately. Use a food thermometer to make sure the center of the stuffing reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F.
How do I roast a turkey? And how long does it take?
The USDA guidelines state that “a whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.” Their website also has a handy Roasting Timetable for approximate times based on weight.
And for a delicious dinner, here’s my recipe for Roasted Turkey with Herbs and Lemon.
How do I carve a turkey?
Below, I am demonstrating how NOT to carve a turkey. Your best bet is to watch Alton Brown show you the right way to carve a turkey.
What should I serve with the turkey?
I’ve put together a list of menu ideas for you here: Thanksgiving Menu Planning Tips & Recipe Ideas
What do I do with all of the turkey leftovers?
Here are 20 of my favorite leftover turkey recipes. And if you’re a little tired of leftover turkey, simply chop the turkey and store in 2 cup portions in the freezer for future use.
How do I make a turkey stock?
I make turkey stock the same way I make chicken stock, either on the stove top or the slow cooker, depending on my time or my mood. Read Two Ways to Make Homemade Chicken/Turkey Stock for my methods.
Did this answer your turkey questions? What are your best turkey tips? Please share your recipes or ideas in the comments.
Taylor Bishop says
Thanks for going over these turkey tips. it’s good to know that you should make sure that the turkey is thawed in cold water, and the water should be changed frequently when it starts to warm. I’m interested to learn how frequently this should be changed, like if should be changed if the turkey reaches a certain temperature or something like that.