Ok you have the big bird ready to go. First off get the bag of fun innards out of the inside of the bird. It is stuffed in there somewhere so look for it. I cannot tell you how many people first attempts at cooking a Thanksgiving bird left it in. I admit I did it my first time cooking Thanksgiving. Oh yea and the lovely neck bone that is another fun one that is in there too. Maybe you have attempted it before with decent results but nothing over the top. Well if you want to truly infuse the turkey meat with flavor you cannot just stuff the bird with lemons and things you need to get it under the skin of that bird! First of course you rinse and pat dry the turkey inside and out then your ready. Choose some fresh ingredients like lemon zest, (use a micro plane for best results) salt and pepper add thyme, rosemary and sage chop it all up then blend with some oil (or butter) to make it a nice paste. Using your hand go underneath the skin and loosen it from the meat, try not to make any holes in the skin. Even pull it up around the thigh and leg. Now get that nice paste up in there. I know it is so gross, I sometimes need to have an out of body experience when doing the bird. After you have it all under the skin save some to rub in the cavity of the bird and any more rub into the skin. If none left just oil and salt and pepper on the skin is enough. Throw the rest of the lemon and some onion roughly chopped with whatever veg on hand you have to help the flavor. Just bend back wings and I do not truss I just cover the wings and legs later with foil if needed if they brown too much near the end. I bake it at 350 and keep rotating the bird when I baste it this is the best way to roast that bird so it evenly gets heated and browned. Start with the bird with the breast side down. Why you ask? Well you want to roast it upside down at first to get all those juices in the breast meat nice so it will be nice and moist and flavorful. Also use a rack to put the bird on, line the rack with some layers of aluminum foil with some holes punched into it and sprayed with cooking spray. This will help insure that the rack does not make the breast meat look like it has grid lines in it from cooking, not pretty! We want this turkey just as good as it can look and taste. I cook that bird upside down for 30 minutes. Then baste and turn the whole pan around so the side that was in the back of the oven will now be in the front. this does a good job to help insure more even heating, also dark meat takes longer to cook to the right internal temperature so having it upside down helps it cook . Cook another 30 minutes with it turned around and baste once more. Do this twice so each side gets a little back and forth action and basting. Now flip that birdie breast side up baste and cook 30 min basting every 15 min. Now once again you want to turn the tray around so the back of the oven side is now in the front and continue to baste every 15 min and cook until the desired color is achieved and internal temperature is reached. Take out of the oven and let her rest 20 min to make sure the juices stay nice inside the meat. Thigh should read 170 deep inside it and breast 165, this is a must be step to make sure it is properly cooked.
As a side note I do not stuff my turkey with bread stuffing, I find it risky and the thought makes my stomach upset and just typing and thinking of it I want to hurl.
To brine or not to brine that is the question. I have never brined a turkey. Though some say it helps with flavor and moistness. I have not needed to brine yet but if you want go for it. I love Alton Brown from the food network and he does it, so if I buy a bird fresh someday that needs it I will head his advice cause he is AWESOME! If you buy a kosher bird you wont have to brine it, also some frozen birds are already infused with a salt solution so that way you can avoid that brining step altogether. BONUS!!!
Good luck and have a Happy Thanksgiving!
Momma says: Eat and blissfully go chill on the tryptophan filled belly of yours.
The following is guidelines by the USDA on how to safely cook a turkey and timing
Let’s Talk Turkey—A Consumer Guide to Safely Roasting a Turkey
Fresh or Frozen?
Allow 1 pound of turkey per person.
Buy your turkey only 1 to 2 days before you plan to cook it.
Keep it stored in the refrigerator until you’re ready to cook it. Place it on a tray or in a pan to catch any juices that may leak.
Do not buy fresh pre-stuffed turkeys. If not handled properly, any harmful bacteria that may be in the stuffing can multiply very quickly.
Allow 1 pound of turkey per person.
Keep frozen until you’re ready to thaw it.
Turkeys can be kept frozen in the freezer indefinitely; however, cook within 1 year for best quality.
See “Thawing Your Turkey” for thawing instructions.
Frozen Pre-Stuffed Turkeys
USDA recommends only buying frozen pre-stuffed turkeys that display the USDA or State mark of inspection on the packaging. These turkeys are safe because they have been processed under controlled conditions.
DO NOT THAW before cooking. Cook from the frozen state. Follow package directions for proper handling and cooking.
Allow 1¼ pounds of turkey per person.
Thawing Your Turkey
There are three ways to thaw your turkey safely — in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave oven.
In the Refrigerator (40 °F or below)
Allow approximately 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds
4 to 12 pounds 1 to 3 days
12 to 16 pounds 3 to 4 days
16 to 20 pounds 4 to 5 days
20 to 24 pounds 5 to 6 days
Keep the turkey in its original wrapper. Place it on a tray or in a pan to catch any juices that may leak. A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. If necessary, a turkey that has been properly thawed in the refrigerator may be refrozen.
In Cold Water
Allow approximately 30 minutes per pound
4 to 12 pounds 2 to 6 hours
12 to 16 pounds 6 to 8 hours
16 to 20 pounds 8 to 10 hours
20 to 24 pounds 10 to 12 hours
Wrap your turkey securely, making sure the water is not able to leak through the wrapping. Submerge your wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed. Do not refreeze.
In the Microwave Oven
Check your owner’s manual for the size turkey that will fit in your microwave oven, the minutes per pound, and power level to use for thawing.
Remove all outside wrapping.
Place on a microwave-safe dish to catch any juices that may leak.
Cook your turkey immediately. Do not refreeze or refrigerate your turkey after thawing in the microwave oven.
REMINDER: Remove the giblets from the turkey cavities after thawing. Cook separately.
Roasting Your Turkey
Set your oven temperature no lower than 325 °F.
Place your turkey or turkey breast on a rack in a shallow roasting pan.
For optimum safety, stuffing a turkey is not recommended. For more even cooking, it is recommended you cook your stuffing outside the bird in a casserole. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the stuffing. The stuffing must reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F.
If you choose to stuff your turkey, 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.
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. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook turkey to higher temperatures.
If your turkey has a “pop-up” temperature indicator, it is recommended that you also check the internal temperature of the turkey in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast with a food thermometer. The minimum internal temperature should reach 165 °F for safety.
For quality, let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before carving to allow juices to set. The turkey will carve more easily.
Remove all stuffing from the turkey cavities.
Timetables for Turkey Roasting
(325 °F oven temperature)
Use the timetables below to determine how long to cook your turkey. These times are approximate. Always use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of your turkey and stuffing.
4 to 8 pounds (breast) 1½ to 3¼ hours
8 to 12 pounds 2¾ to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds 3 to 3¾ hours
14 to 18 pounds 3¾ to 4¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds 4¼ to 4½ hours
20 to 24 pounds 4½ to 5 hours
4 to 6 pounds (breast) Not usually applicable
6 to 8 pounds (breast) 2½ to 3½ hours
8 to 12 pounds 3 to 3½ hours
12 to 14 pounds 3½ to 4 hours
14 to 18 pounds 4 to 4¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds 4¼ to 4¾ hours
20 to 24 pounds 4¾ to 5¼ hours
It is safe to cook a turkey from the frozen state. The cooking time will take at least 50 percent longer than recommended for a fully thawed turkey. Remember to remove the giblet packages during the cooking time. Remove carefully with tongs or a fork.
REMEMBER! Always wash hands, utensils, the sink, and anything else that comes in contact with raw turkey and its juices with soap and water.
For information on other methods for cooking a turkey, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline
1-888-MPHotline 1-888-MPHotline ( 1-888-674-6854 1-888-674-6854 )
TTY: 1-800-256-7072 1-800-256-7072
Storing Your Leftovers
Discard any turkey, stuffing, and gravy left out at room temperature longer than 2 hours; 1 hour in temperatures above 90 °F.
Divide leftovers into smaller portions. Refrigerate or freeze in covered shallow containers for quicker cooling.
Use refrigerated turkey and stuffing within 3 to 4 days. Use gravy within 1 to 2 days.
If freezing leftovers, use within 2 to 6 months for best quality.
Reheating Your Turkey
Cooked turkey may be eaten cold or reheated.
In the Oven
Set the oven temperature no lower than 325 °F.
Reheat turkey to an internal temperature of 165 °F. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature.
To keep the turkey moist, add a little broth or water and cover.
In the Microwave Oven
Cover your food and rotate it for even heating. Allow standing time.
Check the internal temperature of your food with a food thermometer to make sure it reaches 165 °F.
Consult your microwave oven owner’s manual for recommended times and power levels.
For more information about food safety (in English and Spanish), call:
USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline
( 1-888-674-6854 1-888-674-6854 )
TTY: 1-800-256-7072 1-800-256-7072
10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday
Or “Ask Karen,” FSIS’ Web-based automated response system – available 24/7 at www.fsis.usda.gov.