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What You Need to Know About Cooking Thanksgiving Turkey

What You Need to Know About Cooking Thanksgiving Turkey

With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, cooks across the country are finalizing their menus and preparing for the marathon meal. The pinnacle of the Thanksgiving meal is, of course, the turkey — and we want to make sure that you are fully equipped and prepared to cook it just right. Don’t get wrapped up in Turkey Day chaos. Take a deep breath, relax, and follow some of these easy tips to cook a fantastic turkey.

The first step is to brine your fresh (not frozen) turkey. This involves soaking the turkey in a salty solution long enough for the salt to infiltrate the flesh, resulting in a juicer and tastier turkey. You can buy ready-made brining solutions or make your own. First, remove the innards (you can save these to make a broth for the stuffing: put into a saucepan, cover with water, add salt, and simmer for about an hour). Place the turkey (breast side down) into the brine solution, making sure the cavity gets filled. Place in a brining bag, seal tightly, and place in the refrigerator overnight.

Remember to handle raw turkey with caution. Be sure to always use separate cutting boards and utensils and avoid contact with other foods. Wash your hands with soap and warm water before touching anything else.

An hour before roasting, take the turkey out of the refrigerator and place in the roasting pan to dry and take the chill off the meat. This helps the turkey cook faster and promotes even browning and crisping.

Since stuffing your turkey adds cooking time, we opt to stuff with aromatics instead. Stuff the inside of the turkey with half an onion (peeled and quartered), lemon halves, a few smashed garlic cloves, and herbs like parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Rub the skin with melted butter or olive oil and sprinkle with black pepper (omit salt because it has been brined). Truss your turkey by tying the legs together with kitchen string and tucking the wing tips under.

Roast the turkey at 500 degrees for 30 minutes. Then cover the breast area with aluminum foil, reduce heat to 350 degrees, add 2 cups of water or broth to the roasting pan, and cook until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. The rule of thumb is about 13 minutes per pound. Baste frequently, to promote even browning, but be sure to keep the oven door shut in between basting so the heat doesn’t escape.

When the turkey has reached the desired temperature, remove from the oven, and tilt the bird so the inside liquids run out into the pan. Lift the whole turkey and transfer to a clean cutting board. Tent the turkey with foil and let it rest for 30 minutes before carving. Reserve the drippings for the gravy.

For the gravy, transfer the drippings to a saucepan and ladle off any excess fat. In a separate bowl, whisk together cornstarch and water (just enough so the cornstarch is absorbed), and stir into drippings. Stir constantly until the mixture thickens. Season the gravy with salt, pepper, and herbs to taste.

So, there you have it — one moist, juicy, and tender turkey. Follow these simple tips to cook one delicious turkey.

Emily Jacobs is the Recipe editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @EmilyRecipes.

For more turkey talk, head over to The Daily Meal's Guide to Thanksgiving

The rule of thumb is to thaw in the fridge and allow 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. That means it will take about 1 to 3 days if it’s a 4- to 12-pound turkey or up to 5 days for an 18-pound turkey or larger.

See the USDA’s Food Safety site for more information, including info on how to thaw it in cold water, which is a much faster process.

Thanksgiving Chicken Should Be Your New Main Course

Evoke the classic holiday flavor (and scent!) without tackling an entire turkey.

Related To:

Thanksgiving Chicken Over Roasted Vegetables

Let’s talk turkey — Thanksgiving turkey, that is. Though it’s considered the centerpiece of a Thanksgiving meal, cooking an entire turkey is often more trouble than it’s really worth, especially if you’re only feeding a few people. That’s why we’re presenting our new star of the show this year: Thanksgiving Chicken Over Roasted Vegetables.

We know what you’re thinking — chicken on Thanksgiving?! But hear us out! Nestled on a bed of Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, onion and cubed bread, this recipe acts as a main course and side dish all in one. And did we mention that it’s a one-pan wonder? You’ll love cutting down on both oven space and pans to wash — after all, no one is ever thankful for more dishes to clean!

Making the chicken is super easy, too. First, rub the whole thing with a mixture of sage, rosemary and thyme, which will taste and smell just like the seasonings on a traditional turkey. Next, toss the veggies with the rest of the herbs and a bit of melted butter, then scatter them along the bottom of a roasting pan. Finally, layer a roasting rack on top of the veggies, place the chicken and brush with melted butter, then roast! In just over two hours, you’ll have a beautiful dish for four that fills your kitchen with the cozy aroma of the holidays — and there’s no need to baste, stuff or spend hours checking on it.

Ready to gobble up? Check out our recipe for Thanksgiving Chicken Over Roasted Vegetables and prepare to feast on a tender, juicy bird that’s just as flavorful as a traditional turkey, but with only a fraction of the time and effort. Whether you’re cooking for a small gathering or just don’t really love turkey, you’ll be super thankful to have this dish as your Thanksgiving main course.

Plan for the long thaw

According to the USDA, the safest way to thaw turkey is in the refrigerator. This is also our Test Kitchen&rsquos preferred method because it&rsquos the most hands-off and results in an evenly defrosted bird that&rsquos ready to roast. So, how long does it take to thaw a frozen turkey in the refrigerator? You want to allow 1 day in the fridge for every 4 pounds of turkey, so refrigerate a 12-pound bird for 3 days, a 20-pound bird for 5 days, and so on.

10 of 14

Stuffing Secrets

An essential part of how to prepare a turkey is the stuffing, of course! Stuffings require three elements:

1. Starch: bread, rice, or potatoes

2. Liquid: broth, wine, or liquor

3. Additions: herbs, fruits, meats, seafood, and/or veggies

Create your own:

You'll have to do a little math: Each pound of uncooked turkey requires 3/4 cup stuffing. And for every 1 cup starch, add about 2 tablespoons liquid.

Safe stuffing:

Always mix stuffing ingredients just before stuffing and roasting the bird&mdashdo not stuff in advance.

8 Best Tofurky Recipes to Serve Instead of Turkey This Thanksgiving

When planning your Thanksgiving menu, one thing tends to be top of mind: the turkey. If you and your whole family eat meat, then the plan is simple: pick a recipe and make it. But if you or your loved ones are vegan or vegetarian, then each year you need to decide what to make instead.

The most popular alternative is tofurkey&mdashthe tofu-based substitute seasoned to resemble a boneless turkey breast. And while you technically can just roast and serve it as-is, do you really want to? We say no! There are numerous ways to dress up a standard tofurkey so it's far more festive and tasty. Check out the following best tofurky recipes: although they're all pretty easy, each has a delicious spin on the dish&mdashlike caramelized onions or mushroom stuffing.

If you can't think of what to pair with this meatless main dish, you can still accompany these tofurky recipes with all of your favorite Thanksgiving sides, which are all vegan-friendly, of course. Whether you prefer cranberry sauce and sweet potato casserole or salads packed with vegetables and the most delicious stuffings, you can easily serve any side with these tofurky ideas. What's more, we think meat eaters and vegetarians alike will definitely enjoy these dishes. After you and your family are done eating, treat yourself to traditional Thanksgiving desserts like apple and pumpkin pies and watch a classic Thanksgiving movie. Whatever you choose, these tofurky recipes prove you don't need meat to have a delicious Thanksgiving dinner.

Want to keep things simple and classic? This roasted tofurky recipe features kitchen staples like oregano, rosemary, and thyme.

Get the tutorial at I Love Vegan.


Stuffing isn't the only way to make your tofurky flavorful. We suggest you also get creative with the seasoning too!

Get the recipe at Meet the Shannons.

A tofurky that looks as good as this one deserves an equally tasty topper. This recipe is finished with caramelized onions and dried cherries.

Get the recipe at Florida Coastal Cooking.

Skip the premade roast and make this protein-packed version instead. It's full of spinach, mushrooms, brown rice, and lentils.

Get the recipe at Full of Plants.

Channel your inner Julia Child with this dish, since it was inspired by her! Topped with lemons and herbs de Provence, the recipe is delightfully seasoned and will appeal to any French food lovers.

Get the recipe at Meet the Shannons.

Of course, tofurky isn't exempt from being used in a comfort food dish. Dice it up and add it into a hearty pot pie for those cold fall days.

Get the recipe at Go Dairy Free.

This dish incorporates one of our favorite kitchen appliances: the slow cooker. It also uses tasty maple syrup for the perfect sweet and savory Thanksgiving gravy.

Get the recipe at Healthy Slow Cooking.

If you feel like creating something a little more challenging and elevated, try this tofurky roulade. Each layer is filled with delicious mushrooms and spices.

10 Tips for Cooking the Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey

Armed with our top 10 turkey tips, you'll come out looking like a pro on Thanksgiving Day. Whether you're hosting your first Thanksgiving dinner or your fiftieth, these indispensable tips will help you turn out a terrific turkey.

Related To:

HOW TO ROAST A TURKEY Laura Wallis The Simplest Roast Turkey Food Network Kitchens Whole Turkey, Salt, Pepper, Onions, Lemons, Herbs

Photo by: Matt Armendariz ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Matt Armendariz, 2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

1. Choose the right type of turkey for you.
Heritage? Organic? Fresh? Frozen? There are lots of choices out there. A heritage turkey is right for you if you want to try an old-fashioned breed of turkey, often leggier and leaner and more flavorful, and don't mind paying a little extra for it. If organics are important, you may already have your eye on a turkey raised according to organic standards, and fed organic feed. If you'd prefer a traditional fresh or frozen bird, pick the healthiest-looking one in the weight range you need, and make sure it looks well fed for its size. And, remember, fresh may not necessarily be better than frozen frozen turkeys are snap-frozen just after butchering.

2. Figure on 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of turkey per person.
To buy the right size turkey for your party, simply tally up the turkey-eating guests. Add a few pounds on for bones and you've got your turkey weight. For example, 8 people will require a 12 to 14-pound turkey.

3. Cook the turkey on a rack of vegetables.
Create a natural roasting rack for your turkey by layering carrots, onions and celery on the bottom of the roasting pan. Lifting the turkey off the base of the pan helps to increase hot air circulation around the whole bird so that it will get crispy all over. And the vegetables add great flavor to the gravy.

4. Brining keeps it moist.
Brining is an easy, sure-fire way to a moist and flavorful turkey. A typical brining solution contains water, salt, sugar and a variety of spices and aromatics. Just be sure to follow a trusted recipe so you get the right proportion of each.

5. Keep the stuffing on the side.
Chances are the Thanksgivings of your childhood featured a stuffing cooked right in the cavity of the turkey. Go ahead and use your family recipe, but we suggest you cook the stuffing in a separate pan. Cooking the stuffing in the turkey can provide fertile ground for the growth of harmful bacteria. In addition, a stuffed turkey will take longer to cook, which could result in drier white meat. Instead, loosely fill the turkey with aromatics such as onions and herbs, and cook the stuffing separately.

6. To tie or not to tie.
To help ensure that poultry cooks evenly, many professional cooks like to truss their birds, which is just a fancy term for tying them up. While it's not a necessary step in cooking a terrific turkey, it can be fun to show off your culinary skills at home. Simply tuck the wings of the turkey under the body and tie the legs together with kitchen string to create a tight package.

7. Rub the turkey with butter or oil.
Before putting it in the oven, make sure the skin of the turkey is as dry as possible, and then rub it all over with butter or oil. For even moister meat, place pats of butter under the skin.

8. Skip the basting.
Basting means more oven door opening, resulting in temperature fluctuations that can dry out your bird. Instead, keep your turkey moist by brining it or by rubbing it all over with butter or oil.

9. Invest in a good meat thermometer.
Check for doneness by inserting an instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of the turkey around the thigh, avoiding the bone. At 165 degrees F, it's done. The turkey will continue to cook as it rests, so the temperature should rise another 10 degrees or so out of the oven.

10. Give it a rest.
To lock in juices, tent your turkey with foil and let it rest for at least 15 to 20 minutes before carving. Be sure you don't cover the turkey too tightly as you don't want the bird to steam under the foil.

Browse our best turkey recipes to find the perfect bird for your Thanksgiving feast.

How do I know when the turkey is fully cooked?

Always use a meat thermometer to determine when the turkey is fully cooked. Make sure that the probe of the thermometer is long enough to reach deep into the turkey. The turkey should reach 170F in the breast and stuffing (if using) and 180F in the thigh. Bill Nolan, a long-time chef and supervisor at the Talk-Line, recommends using a digital thermometer with wifi connectivity, such as Meather, so you can monitor your turkey from the distance.

How to Prepare a Turkey for Roasting

Follow our Test Kitchen experts' step-by-step guide to a perfectly roasted bird.

Dry turkey is a holiday host's worst nightmare: No matter how much gravy you pour over it, it's never as satisfying as a succulent, expertly roasted Thanksgiving turkey &mdash and no one wants that for their big Thanksgiving dinner. That's why our Test Kitchen pros have cooked up countless turkeys (even intentionally drying some out for the sake of research!) to find exactly how to prepare a turkey perfectly. After safely defrosting your turkey, follow their simple step-by-step recipe below, plus some tips and tricks to keep in mind.

Here's a tip to get you started: Stop stuffing that bird! The Test Kitchen prefers stuffing recipes baked outside of the bird, in a deep casserole dish, as the safest (and tastiest!) option. Not only does this ensure that the stuffing avoids contact with raw turkey, but the final product is a deliciously moist, crisp-topped creation that your guests won't be able to get enough of!

  1. Place the onion and ground cloves in a small pan. Tear the bay leaves in half and add to the pan with the milk and butter. Season generously with pepper. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and allow to simmer gently for 20 minutes, until the onion has softened. Remove from heat and leave to infuse for 1 hour or chill overnight.
  2. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Roughly tear the bread into even-sized pieces, then stir into the milk with a wooden spoon. Add the nutmeg and season. Return to the heat and simmer for a further 3-4 minutes. Stir in the cream and serve warm. A knob of butter on the top will stop a skin from forming.

Will said:

Wow, your pearl onions walnut combo kathy sounds just incredible, I for-sure am going to try that.

Susan said:

Horror story? Just this: finding the blade from the grinder in the bowl of stuffing. Giving thanks that I was the one who got it.

Gaurav said:

Do I need to use cesar salt for a raosting a “self-basting” Turkey? yes, it’s going to be the first time..hopefully.

Peter said:

Question about bread stuffing. How far in advance can you make it to be safe?

Kathy Maister said:

Thanks Jon for the bread sauce recipe. It even sounds English! Here in the USA I don’t think I’ve ever seen the term “knob of butter” used. I love it!

Susan, your story is really (really) scary!

Gaurav, it is not necessary to use seasoned salt. Just regular salt and pepper is fine for seasoning a turkey.

Peter, your stuffing should be just fine made the day before Thanksgiving.

Good Luck to everyone making their first turkey dinner!

Kathy Maister said:

News Flash! Temperature Change!

“The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service announced a change in the “Single Minimum Internal Temperature Established for Cooked Poultry”. The new cooking recommendation is as follows:

“A whole turkey (and turkey parts) 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.”

This new cooking temperature is a change from previous 180°F for a whole turkey and 170°F for turkey breast. The single minimum internal temperature change to 165°F was recommended by the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods (NACMCF) in a press release in 2006.”

Wooden trays said:

it’s going to be the first time..hopefully.

Gaurav said:

I bought a frozen turkey breast

7 lb. I’m planing to brine it before roasting. On the brine bag it says brine for 20-24 hours. I checked on a website where they’re advising brining for

Kathy Maister said:

Guarav, follow the instructions on the brine bag. The more you keep comparing recipes the more confusing it may get! Call the Turkey Hot Line if you get stuck!

Lisa Freeman said:

Hi Gaurav! I’m so thrilled you mentioned brining! I’m bringing my 14 pound turkey, too. I’ve done this for the last three years and it comes out way juicier than not brining in my opinion.

Definitely leave it in there for 24 full hours. That’s what everyone recommends, especially the king of brining–Alton Brown on the Food Network. I don’t recommend less than that! It is not going to hurt your turkey despite what that website you read says. Just make sure that you’ve got plenty of ice in there, and check the temp often.

Can’t wait to hear how your first brining experience goes! You’ll definitely have a juicier bird!

Gaurav said:

I’m so excited…everbody on here is so helpful…The bird is otu getting thawed

Melissa said:

I am a first-time thanksgiving chef this year and I AM VERY NERVOUS ABOUT THE TURKEY. I am cooking 2 Turkey breast in my electric roaster. I have heard several different things but i want to run it by some other people. My plan is to just carve the turkey in the kitchen and serve it on a platter. Everyone always says ” cook it breast up,” but my mom says that she cooks hers breast down in a slow cooker because the breast meat will be more juicy.

Also, does any one have a simple Baked dressing recipe?

Gaurav said:

mroe questions…I am going to brine the bird. Do I still need to rub/sprinkle the turkey with kosher/seasonal salt before roasting (as indicated in the video above)?

Lisa Freeman said:

Yes! Seasoning your bird is a different issue than brining. Some people mistakenly believe that because the bird is sitting in salt-water that it takes on a heavily salty taste, and this is completely untrue. The ratio to salt in the water is not terribly high, so it does not impact your bird with a salty taste.

You should season your bird as indicated in Kathy’s video after you’re done with the brining. I’ve already popped mine in the brine in a 5 gallon bucket I bought at Home Depot for a few dollars. Of course, you want to make sure your container is new and clean and used only for a foodie purpose such as this. Don’t try to use a bucket that was used to store something else or you’ll risk contaminating your bird. Gaurav, you mentioned you turkey was 7 pounds, so that might be small enough to fit in a large pot you already have in your kitchen.

They key is to give the bird plenty of room and not try to cram it into whatever container you are using to brine it in.



Going2Oahu said:

Mahalo for these coking tips. I have cooked my turkey imu-style for the last 10 years but we have some company this year that wants a “traditional bird”.

Kathy Maister said:

Thanks Lisa! You are clearly THE turkey expert!

Gaurav and Melissa-Good Luck! I have no doubt your Thanksgiving turkeys witll be fantastic! (I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for you!)

Lisa Freeman said:

Hi Melissa! I hope I’m not too late to help you out! I make the following apple and sausage baked stuffing (or dressing, as you refer to it). I buy the pork sausage in the supermarket in a big brick. I personally skip the walnuts, but you don’t have to if you like them. You could also check out this apple and raisin stuffing that’s right on the Pepperidge Farm website. If you’re in a pinch at this stage, just purchase your favorite brand of stuffing mix and buy the ingredients they suggest right on the bag and just follow them exactly.

I always cook my turkiey breast up. For one, I think it squishes the turkey breast and deforms it if it goes face down, plus the breast is the largest part and needs lots of exposure to the heat. But there are plenty of opinion of up or down as you mom has already suggested.

If you’re just cooking breasts (and you’re not telling us how large or small they are), your biggest concern is going to be dryness, as you don’t have the rest of the bird to pull moistness from–the breast always tend to be the dryest part of the bird.

What I do with a full bird, is that I cook it at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes to get the breast browned, and then I lower the temp to 350 and take aluminum foil and make a cover just for the breast (we call it the “breast plate of armor” at my house). Then we wait for the breast to hit 165 degrees on our thermometer.

You could do a variation of the same thing, except you would cover your whole pan with foil to seal in the moisture and prevent dried breasts.

But, you could also listen to your mom if her recipe is full-proof. I’ve never put a bird in a slow cooker, so I can’t attest if that actually works. But, it does sound like it works for her.

Let us know how your bird breasts turn out.

Gaurav goel said:

Turkey came out great….juicy and delicious. Thanks all, esp. Lisa and Kathy for their helpful comments. I hope other’s had a good lazy thanksgiving too.

Lisa Freeman said:

Cool Gaurav! Glad to hear your bird came out great with the brining! Ours was fab too, and the leftovers the next day were still terrifically moist even after reheating.

Well, I’m sure we’ll all be chatting about our December holiday meal ideas shortly! I’m already planning a seafood feast.

Looking forward to hearing what others will be doing.

Kathy Maister said:

To Gaurav and everyone else who tried cooking their very first turkey…CONGRATULATIONS!

For many new cooks this is a huge first step in learning to cook and I am so very happy for all you!

Thanks for tuning to for help!

Melissa said:

My 1st Thanksgiving went GREAT!! I ended up cooking the (2) Turkey breast in the electric roaster with the breast down. It was perfect. Very Moist. I decided to go with a traditional bread dressing. I was worried for a minute but it turned out great.

It was quite a task because I have to be careful when I cook due to the fact that my husband is a severe diabetic so I always plan my meals around his diet, including Thanksgiving. the only thing he couldn’t eat waas the dressing but he really enjoyed everything else.

Jon (Sacker) said:

I just had to add this! I know that Thanksgiving is over, but here in the UK we eat our turkeys at Christmas (after all we don’t have Thanksgiving!).

Anyway our Food Standards Agency (a bit like the USDA) has warned very strongly against washing your turkey. Anyway here’s the story.

Ellaella said:

Terrific post, Kathy. I wish I’d had a guide like this for my first (or second or third) Thanksgiving dinner and it’s a good refresher course for us all.

One thing I didn’t think of as a beginner is that the weight on the turkey’s label includes the neck and giblets, so my turkeys were always done sooner than I expected, which only added to the stress. Since then I deduct their weight and plan accordingly.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and everyone at Start Cooking!

Kathy Maister said:

I never thought about that but you are totally right! Thanks for the great tip!

Kaz said:

Which way do you put a pan in the oven?? The length of the pan front to back or side to side?

WillB said:

Excellent post. It has been so long since I have cooked a turkey I had forgotten most of the things you put here. You rock!

Nyckee Hien said:

I am freaking out. This is my first year cooking a turkey and I have 15 people telling me 15 different things. I have a 13.71 lb turkey that is going to be brined in a savory turkey brine. I will be cooking in an electirc roaster with a turkey bag. I have no clue when to baste or how long to cook or even what to season this thing with. I am getting more and more confused. Can someone help me out or at least point me in the right direction? said:

Hi Nyckee,
(Take a deep breath…)
Here is a link on how to cook a turkey in an electric roaster.
Epicurious has a great video on How to Brine a Turkey.
Brining a turkey makes it juicy, tender and tasty. I’m sure yours will be wonderful!
Good Luck!

Elysia said:

I always stuff my turkey with celery, carrot and onion, just to help flavor the bird. Those are then thrown away and I serve dressing that I baked in a Casserole dish. I know people who have gotten food poisoning because the stuffing inside of the bird wasn’t full cooked. said:

Hi Elsia, Yes adding the vegetables to the turkey cavity certainly does add to the flavor of the bird. I sometimes even put in a cut up orange or lemon.

Seth said:

I would still like to see a photo by photo guide to deep fried turkey.

David said:

Those side dishes look great too (soup, salad, and deserts), which only goes to remind me, that it is a total experience, and not just getting the meat right.

Watch the video: فارسی کلام - تو کجا من کجا. الحاج اویس رضاقادری کی آواز میں خوبصورت کلام (January 2022).