How to Cook the Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey
11.11.2019 Meat Tip Monday
When all the leaves have changed colors, football season is in full swing, and the smell of pumpkin spice is in the air, that’s when we know it’s finally turkey time! Thanksgiving is only three short weeks away and we know the big question that’s on your mind: How do I cook the perfect turkey to impress my family and friends? Fortunately, we have the answer! So, cross this one off your long to-do list and learn our five simple rules to cook a juicy, delicious, and beautiful Thanksgiving turkey.
1. Don’t Stuff the Turkey
We know you want that classic Thanksgiving turkey look of the dressing effortlessly spilling out of the turkey, but we strongly suggest you cook them separately. Due to the shape of the turkey’s cavity, the stuffing may not cook evenly except for the small portion that spills out of the turkey. More importantly, by the time the dressing is fully cooked inside, the outside of the turkey may be overcooked and dry. Avoid the disaster of dry turkey by filling the turkey’s cavity with stuffing (cooked separately, of course) before you bring the turkey to the table. Who will know?
2. Season the Turkey Inside, Outside, and Under the Skin
In this case, more is more – Generously season the turkey inside, outside, under the skin, and everywhere possible with your choice of herbs and spices. After all, a teaspoon of just salt and pepper on the outside of a 20 lb. turkey is simply not going to do it. We recommend rubbing salt and pepper inside the turkey along with your chosen herbs and spices. You can also place seasoned butter or olive oil underneath the skin of the turkey breast and around the thighs. To do so, push a thin silicone spatchula under the skin to separate it from the meat or simply use your fingers. This tactic not only flavors the turkey, but also helps the meat retain its moisture. Lastly, rub the outside of the turkey with butter or oil as well as season the skin with salt and pepper. This triple application of flavor on the inside, outside, and under the skin of the turkey will eliminate any chance of a bland-tasting bird.
3. Keep the Turkey’s Wings Tucked, Legs Tied, and Breasts Covered
A properly prepped turkey with its wings tucked, legs tied, and breasts covered not only ensures a successful roasting but also an attractive Thanksgiving centerpiece. These three steps are quick, easy, and make a big difference. To tuck the wings, pull the wing tips forward and tuck them under the breasts. This prevent the wings from burning as well as keeps the turkey sitting nice and straight. After generously seasoning your bird, tie its legs together with string or dental floss (opt for plain instead of minty fresh). This second step allows it to evenly cook and get that signature Thanksgiving turkey look. The final step is to loosely cover the turkey breasts with tin foil, which will help the meat stay moist and and skin from overbrowning. Remove the tin foil for the last hour of roasting to lightly brown the turkey breast.
4. Cook the Turkey Low & Slow
Before the turkey’s journey in the oven, let it sit out for an hour to acquire room temperature. Meanwhile, chop two carrots, two ribs of celery, and an onion into large chunks. Place the cut vegetables at the bottom of your roasting pan and then place the turkey, breast-side up, on top. Add about an inch of water or stock to the roasting pan to keep the oven moist and the turkey juicy. This aromatic liquid can be used to baste the turkey while it cooks and the pan drippings will contribute to a flavorful gravy.
Cook the turkey at 325°F for approximately 15-20 minutes per pound. We suggest using a meat thermometer to ensure your turkey is fully cooked. Remove the turkey when the thermometer reads 165°F in the thickest section of the thigh meat. Below is the USDA’s approximate time guide for cooking turkeys at 325°F:
- 8 to 12 pounds: 2 3/4 to 3 hours
- 12 to 14 pounds: 3 to 3 3/4 hours
- 14 to 18 pounds: 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours
- 18 to 20 pounds: 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours
- 20 to 24 pounds: 4 1/2 to 5 hours
5. Let the Turkey Rest
A rested turkey is a juicy turkey. Before you cut into the most delicious Thanksgiving turkey you’ve ever had, you must let the turkey rest for at least 20 minutes. When you remove the turkey from the oven, cover it loosely with tin foil while it rests and you finish the gravy or delegate with a glass of wine. Don’t worry about the turkey getting cold, a 20 lb. turkey will stay warm in its tin foil blanket for 40+ minutes. It’s crucial to not rush this resting period as this is when the turkey’s juices redistribute, which is the secret to moist, tender meat. Once at least 40 minutes have passed, you can carve the turkey and give thanks with family and friends!