Thanksgiving day is coming soon. If you are looking for how to cook a turkey, this one should be a good guide for you.
A typical turkey is anywhere from 12 to 24 pounds. A 12-pound turkey will generally cook in around 2-3 hours. A 20-pound bird can take 3-4 hours, whereas a 24-pound may take 4-5 hours at 325 degrees Fahrenheit (163 degrees Celsius). If you are cooking an unstuffed turkey, this time does not increase by much more than 15 minutes per pound - for example, for a 16-18 pound unstuffed turkey, it might be done within 5 hours or so of cooking time.
Ordinarily, meats need to reach an internal temperature of 165 F to be considered cooked properly. However, since the meat needs to continue heating after being removed from a further heat source, there is no exact number for a turkey to be considered a safe internal temperature. A good estimate would be to cook it to 175 F. However, if you are cooking a larger bird, this may need to be increased slightly, at least 10 degrees Fahrenheit (6 degrees Celsius), until the thickest part reads 170 degrees Fahrenheit.
You should note that as you remove your turkey from the heat source, the inside will continue heating, so you will have to take care not to overcook it. It is recommended that you use a probe thermometer and wait until it hits 180-185 F before taking it out of the oven, which will prevent overcooking.
How Much Turkey to Buy
How much turkey to buy when contemplating how long to cook a turkey depends on the person cooking, how many people are being served, and your plans for leftovers. For example, if you plan to use the turkey within a few days after it's cooked, you can cook about one pound of turkey per person. If you plan on stretching it over two or three meals for one or two people, then consider buying only half a pound of meat per serving. The size of the bird will also determine how much roasted turkey to buy at once. A small bird should be fine to roast for six and ten people, while a larger bird might stretch that number to 12 or 14 servings. On average, most turkeys weigh around 20 pounds.
How to Thaw Turkey
There are two ways you can go about this process when planning how long to cook a turkey: in the refrigerator and cold water. Let's say it takes 24 hours for a 12-pound turkey to thaw under refrigeration. Then there are another 8 hours or so that it will take for even a partially thawed turkey to cook fully. That means if your dinner guests are coming at 4 pm, you need to get going around 1 am with a frozen bird. In addition, you need about one day of lead time to get the bird into the refrigerator or at least onto a plate on the dining room table.
When cooking a big holiday meal like Thanksgiving dinner, timing is everything. That's why knowing how to defrost turkey on your own quickly is crucial. The best way is to use cold water because it defrosts the meat quickly. Using this method, you can thaw the turkey in as little as three hours.
How to Thaw a Frozen Turkey Using Cold Water
Place the wrapped frozen turkey into a sink filled with cold tap water. Let it sit for 30 minutes, then drain and refill with fresh cold water. Repeat this process two or three more times until the bird has completely defrosted. Be sure to check the water level each time you refill it to ensure that there's enough room for the turkey to submerge fully. The total time takes only around 3 hours if your tap water is cold (if your tap water is hot, it will take longer). Do not put the turkey in warm or hot water because you risk cooking the bird, especially if it's still frozen inside.
How Long to Cook a Stuffed Turkey
Before cooking the turkey, it's important to prepare the stuffing according to whatever recipe you choose. Some cooks may wish to cook their stuff inside the bird, while others want it cooked outside on a separate pan. Once your kitchen is ready, and everything is prepped correctly, place your stuffed turkey in an oven preheated to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook for 20 minutes per pound of turkey plus 30 more minutes, if necessary. Generally speaking, most recipes call for about four ounces of stuffing per person. If you're cooking additional items such as vegetables or casseroles at the same time as your bird, then increase the overall cooking time by at least 30 minutes to ensure that it is well cooked.
How to Cook a Turkey
When contemplating how long to cook a turkey, talking about the actual cooking process is not something to miss out on. Cooking a turkey is not like baking cookies or roasting vegetables. It's an enormous hunk of meat; it can easily go from finely seasoned and sauced to dry without you realizing it. The result will also vary greatly depending on your equipment: whether you have a gas or electric stovetop (or even better, a grill), how big your oven is, what size pan you use, and where the thermometer probe is placed inside the bird (denser parts cook more slowly). The best way to cook a turkey is in the following simple steps.
A brined turkey cooks more evenly because water molecules are smaller than the meat's muscle fibers. They penetrate the muscle fibers faster and deeper, ensuring the meat is moist throughout.
Take your turkey out of the refrigerator and remove it from its packaging. It'll be sitting in a pool of cold, murky liquid. Pat the outside dry with paper towels (or let it air-dry).
If using stuffing, get it ready so you can pop it inside the bird while you're seasoning it. Brine potatoes or any other vegetable you want to roast along with your turkey. Toss any fresh herbs into the cavity if desired (thyme, sage, or rosemary are classics). You can use butter or oil veggies for roasting and start chopping vegetables for mirepoix (the base of most soups and stews).
If you want to sear the outside of the turkey first, preheat an oven-safe pan over high heat. Add a few tablespoons of oil or butter, then place your bird breast-side down into the pan. Then, Cook for 30 seconds, just long enough to crisp up that side. Turn it over with tongs or a fork and stick an instant-read thermometer between the joint where the thigh meets the body so you can monitor its temperature throughout cooking time.
After that, you can cover it with aluminum foil. Covering the bird will trap in juices, so it cooks faster, which is great if you're making a 12-pounder but can be problematic for bigger birds. If you want to avoid basting, cooking without the foil retains moisture, which results in juicy meat and crispy skin.
If you are basting the turkey, remove the foil halfway through cooking time. Brush or spoon melted butter over its top and sides, then return to oven uncovered until finished; this protects against scorching while allowing caramelization on the surface of the meat. You could also use melted oil or vegetable oil seasoned with salt, pepper, paprika, and a little powdered garlic.
Don't try to slice into a hot turkey. Let the bird rest for at least 20 minutes before carving, allowing its interior juices to redistribute throughout the meat. This will result in juicier slices. Cover loosely with aluminum foil while it rests if you want it to stay warm longer. Ensure that any juices that accumulate don't reabsorb into the meat, or else your gravy may be too salty. The turkey temperature at this point should read 165 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh away from the bone (without touching a bone).
6. Carve turkey and serve
Finally, and only after you've rested your bird, start carving and serving. With brined turkeys especially, you'll want to let carved pieces sit for a few minutes before serving so they can reabsorb their juices (just like steaks).
How to Know When Turkey Is Done
There are several ways to know whether your turkey is done. Some of these ways include:
• A general rule: when the thickest part of the breast reaches 170°F and the thickest part of one thigh is 180°F, it's done.
• Using a probe thermometer, insert it into the deepest part of the breast or thigh (without touching any bone), let it sit for 5 seconds, and check the reading.
• If cooking in an oven with a window that you can see through, watch for clear juices to run from where you pierced it with a knife; opaque, pinkish juices mean it needs more time.
• If cooking outdoors on a grill without a window, use tongs to pick up an edge of skin near where you pierced it with a knife. If the skin pulls back and away from the edge of the meat easily, it's done.
• Another way: cut into one thigh with a paring knife to determine if the meat is cooked through without puncturing the breast.
• It's best to let a 12-pound bird rest for 30 minutes before carving, as this allows time for the juices to redistribute throughout. For added moisture, you can tent foil over it during resting time.
How to Carve Turkey
This is a step-by-step guide to carving and serving your turkey dinner.
1. Remove the leg from the turkey by cutting through the skin connecting the leg to the tail with a sharp knife, and cutting through the joint where the hip was.
2. Separating thigh and drumstick slice along one side of the breastbone (a continuation of the backbone), all way down to the end of the breast. Turn the bird around; repeat on the opposite side of the breastbone.
3. Holding firmly onto drumstick with one hand, make several blade-thin slices through the flesh between meat and bone; discard skin or save for making stock.
4. Holding leg at an angle, make several thin slices through flesh, again cutting along the length of the breastbone.
5. Angle leg to find the joint where the thigh meets back; cut through joint and remove the leg from turkey. Repeat with another leg.
6. To separate the breast from the back, place the bird on its side on a cutting board, using a drumstick as a handle for stability. As you slice down along one side of the backbone with a sharp knife (beneath blade), press firmly down towards the work surface with your free hand to create enough leverage between meat and bone to severe connective tissue; repeat on the opposite side of the backbone.
7. Turn turkey around; hold the breast up with one hand (the lower half is usually more stable than the upper half), make several thin slices in the skin along the bottom side of the breast.
8. Again, holding breast up with one hand, make several thin slices in meat alongside the rib cage. Slice each half of breast crosswise into 1/4" thick medallions; discard bones and skin or use for stock. If desired, re-assemble on a platter or arrange on a separate serving platter if cooking other meats that require carving at the table.
Contemplating how to cook a turkey requires an understanding of what exactly is going on in the oven and a bit of patience. Starting with a cold oven is wrong for two reasons: it will take longer to heat up than if you were using a preheated oven, and the actual cooking time becomes longer since starting at a high temperature can cause the outside layers of meat to overcook before the inside has reached ideal temperatures. It is always ideal for planning for 30 minutes per pound, giving yourself an extra hour or two for good measure.