How to Roast the Perfect Turkey This Holiday Season

Do your roasted turkeys turn out dry, overbrowned, undercooked, or chewy? Not knowing how to cook a perfect bird isn’t your fault. Because, the directions that are listed on the wrapper are vague.

Contrary to popular belief, roasting the perfect turkey isn’t that hard. Just by using the following steps, you can place a plate of delicious, mouthwatering turkey on your holiday table this year. All it takes is a little time and know-how.

Of course, the first place to start is by buying the turkey. You can either buy a fresh bird or a frozen one. I prefer a frozen bird because I like to purchase mine a couple weeks in advance. Then, about three days before Thanksgiving or Christmas, I place the bird in my refrigerator to thaw out.

The rule of thumb is to plan on one pound of turkey per person. This may sound like a lot of meat per person, but keep in mind that the total weight of a turkey includes bones, giblets, etc. For my dinner table of six people, I usually buy a twelve pounder. This allows my family to eat their fill. It also leaves us leftover turkey which we love to eat in sandwiches, casseroles, and the like.

Here’s a valuable hint I’d like to pass on to you: If you’re planning on feeding twelve people this holiday season, for example, you’ll want to choose a twenty-four pound bird. However, it’s not easy to find a roasting pan large enough to accommodate such a large turkey. And, a large turkey will take longer to thaw out. The answer to this dilemma? Buy two- twelve pounders instead. They’ll be easier to handle, plus, you’ll have two more drumsticks for family and guests who love this part of the bird.

The next step is to place your turkey in the refrigerator to thaw. As I said, a twelve pound turkey takes about three days to thaw. So, you’ll need to place it in the refrigerator- breast side up- with the wrapper still on it, three days before your holiday meal. For a larger or smaller bird, plan on one day of thawing for every four pounds that it weighs.

When the special day arrives, you’ll need to unwrap the turkey and remove the giblets, neck, et cetera, from the chest cavity. Rinse the turkey inside and out with cold tap water. Then, blot it dry with paper towels. Lightly sprinkle the skin with salt and black pepper. Next, move the grate in your oven to the lowest position. Preheat your oven to the temperature that’s listed on the turkey wrapper. Usually, the recommended temperature is 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

You can stuff the turkey before you roast it if you choose. This is easily done by preparing your stuffing, then packing it loosely inside the chest cavity of the bird. If you pack it too tight, the heat can’t properly circulate, and the stuffing can come out of the oven still raw.

Personally, I like to make my stuffing on the side. This way, I’m not limited by the size of the turkey. There are many people at my holiday table who love stuffing, so I make plenty outside-of-the-bird to go around.

The next step in preparing the perfect turkey is to tuck its legs into the skin. Fold the first joints of the wings underneath the bird’s shoulders. Brush the entire turkey with either melted butter or oil. This will help to seal in its natural juices and prevent it from drying out.

Place the turkey in a roasting pan that’s two or three inches deep. Make sure the breast side is up. Pour a cup of cold tap water or chicken broth into the bottom of the pan, place the lid on the pan, and carefully slide your bird into the oven. A lid on the roasting pan will help to keep the bird from drying out. It will also help the turkey cook a bit quicker. However, if your bird needs to be a little browner, remove the lid for the last hour of roasting.

Depending on the size of your turkey(s), it will take approximately this long for it/them to cook:

Unstuffed Turkey
8 – 12 pounds…2- 3/4 to 3 hours
12 – 14 pounds…3 to 3-3/4 hours
14 – 18 pounds…3-3/4 to 4-1/4 hours
18 – 20 pounds…4-1/4 to 4-1/2 hours
20 – 24 pounds…4-1/2 to 5 hours

Stuffed Turkey
8 – 12 pounds…3 to 3-1/2 hours
12 – 14 pounds…3-1/2 to 4 hours
14 -18 pounds…4 to 4-1/4 hours
18 – 20 pounds…4-1/4 to 4-3/4 hours
20 – 24 pounds.4-3/4 to 5-1/4 hours

You’ll need to check on your turkey periodically and baste it with its juices.

Now, many turkeys have a little red plastic pop-up thermometer inserted in their bodies. Sometimes these little cook’s helpers are accurate, but sometimes, they aren’t. You’re best bet, in order to ensure that you’re turkey will be roasted perfectly, is to use a meat thermometer. You’ll need to stick a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey’s thigh. Make sure it doesn’t touch the bone, or the reading won’t be accurate. You’ll know when your bird is pretty well done when the temperature reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit. The thigh and the drumsticks should feel soft when touched. The meat should also produce clear juices when it’s pricked with a fork. If not, place your turkey back into the oven for an additional fifteen minutes; recheck after that. If it’s still not done, bake it an additional fifteen minutes at a time until it checks out.

Finally, when your perfect turkey is done, remove it from the oven and set it on a countertop.
Allow it to set undisturbed for fifteen to twenty minutes before you begin to carve it. Enjoy!

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