Thanksgiving Turkey How-To: Defrosting, Brining, Roasting, Carving and More!

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Getting Ready for Thanksgiving

How Much Food Should You Buy?

How big a turkey do you need?

1 to 1 1/2 pounds of turkey per person (depending on whether you want leftovers). Keep in mind that smaller birds have less meat, so you might want to go with that higher ratio.

How much stuffing should you make?

About 3/4 cup per person or per pound of turkey. Note: Not all of that stuffing will fit in the cavity if you are planning on stuffing the bird. You will have to cook some of it in a casserole separately from the bird.

How much gravy?

About 1/2 cup per person, which allows for leftovers.

You will need about 1 1/2 tablespoons of fat and 1 1/2 tablespoons of flour per cup of stock.

How much cranberry sauce?

About 1/3 cup per person.

What Equipment Will You Need

If you are cooking the traditional turkey dinner, you will need:

A large heavy roasting pan with handles.
A large V-rack to put inside the roasting pan.
A meat thermometer (a small instant-read thermometer will do).
Aluminum foil to cover the turkey if it gets too dark during roasting as well as to keep it warm while it is resting.
A fat separator.
A bulb baster.
Kitchen twine.
A good carving or chef's knife.
A carving fork.
A large metal spatula (I move the turkey from the roasting pan to the platter by sticking a carving fork in the cavity and putting a large spatula under the other end of the turkey, which makes it easy to lift)
Whisk for making gravy (preferably a flat whisk that can get into the corners)
Food mill, ricer or potato masher for making mashed potatoes.

Info on Brining Your Turkey

What Is the Basic Formula for Brining a Turkey?

Two cups kosher salt for 2 gallons of water. You can add sugar (up to 2 cups) and various spices, as well. Heat the water with the salt, sugar and spices, if using, stirring until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Let the brine cool and then pour it over the turkey in a large pot or in a heavy plastic bag. Let brine overnight or up to 12 hours, refrigerated. Drain, rinse well and dry well before roasting.

The benefit of brining? A moist, flavorful turkey.

The downside of brining? You need a large space in the fridge to put the turkey in the bag of liquid and the process is somewhat messy. The drippings will be too salty to use for gravy.

Don't brine a kosher turkey; it already has been salted.

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How to Defrost a Turkey

It's best to thaw your turkey in a refrigerator that's 40 degrees or cooler. A good rule of thumb is to allow 24 hours of thawing time for every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey.

If you've run out of time, you can defrost the turkey in a sink filled with cold water. Thaw the turkey breast side down, in its unopened wrapper, in enough cold water to cover it completely. Change the water frequently to keep the turkey chilled. Estimate a minimum thawing time of 30 minutes per pound for a whole turkey.

How to Roast a Turkey

If the turkey is frozen, thaw in the refrigerator or a sink of cold water (see procedure above).

The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture also offers these tips for how to safely roast a turkey

Should the Turkey Be Rinsed?

Raw poultry shouldn't be rinsed, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The reason is that when you rinse, you risk contaminating the sink and everything around it with salmonella bacteria.

But, if you'd rather rinse off the juices, you can. You just must clean the sink, countertop -- everything else that has come into contact with the raw turkey -- with soap and hot water, and then follow that with a little bleach.

To Stuff or Not to Stuff?

It's safer not to stuff the turkey. The internal temperature of turkey and stuffing both should reach at least 165 degrees. If you let the stuffing get to that temperature inside the turkey, the bird temperature probably already will be up to 175 degrees, which means the meat will be overcooked and dry.

Some people really prefer the taste of stuffing that has been cooked inside the turkey. If you're one of them, just scoop the stuffing out, cover it and bake it until it has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

Tip: Do not purchase prestuffed turkeys. You should stuff the bird right before it's cooked, and stuffing ingredients mostly should be precooked.

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What Is the Turkey Roasting Procedure?

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Arrange an oven shelf in the lower third of the oven. Remove the neck and giblets from the body cavity of the turkey, reserving them for turkey broth (see turkey broth recipe). Drain the juices and pat the bird dry inside and out.

If stuffing, stuff right before roasting (see basic stuffing recipe) and return legs to tucked position.

Arrange the turkey breast side up in a rack (preferably a v-rack), set in a heavy large roasting pan. Melt a stick of butter and brush the turkey all over with one third of the butter. Season with salt and pepper and cover the whole turkey loosely with foil. Pour two cups of chicken broth into the bottom of the roasting pan and roast the turkey in the lower third of the oven for one hour. Uncover and baste with another third of the butter. Recover the turkey and roast until approximately half way through the total cooking time. Uncover the turkey, baste with the remaining butter and roast, uncovered, until a thermometer when inserted in the thickest part of the leg thigh joint reaches 165 degrees F.

Transfer the turkey to a platter, leaving the drippings in the pan for the gravy (see gravy recipe) and cover the turkey loosely with foil. Let the turkey rest for at least 20 minutes, preferably 30 minutes before carving.

How Can You Tell When the Turkey Is Done?

The turkey must be cooked to a temperature of 165 degrees. Read the temperature of the turkey by inserting a thermometer into the leg/thigh joint. The temperature will rise to 175 degrees with resting time.

Here's a guide, by weight, of turkey cooking times (at 325 degrees):

Eight to 12 lbs: 2 ¾ to 3 hours (unstuffed); 3 to 3 ½ hours (stuffed).

Twelve to 14 lbs: 3 to 3 ¾ hours (unstuffed); 3 ½ to 4 hours (stuffed).

Fourteen to 18 lbs: 3 ¾ to 4 ¼ hours (unstuffed); 4 to 4 ¼ hours (stuffed).

Eighteen to 20 lbs: 4 ¼ to 4 ½ hours (unstuffed); 4 ¼ to 4 ¾ hours (stuffed).

Twenty to 24 lbs: 4 ½ to 5 hours (stuffed); 4 ¾ hours to 5 ¼ hours (stuffed).

Here's a guide, by weight, of turkey cooking times in a convection oven (at 325 degrees):

Six to 10 lbs: 1 ½ to 2 hours (unstuffed); 1 ¾ to 2 ½ hours (stuffed).

Ten to 18 lbs: 2 to 2 ½ hours (unstuffed); 2 ½ to 3 ¼ hours (stuffed).

Eighteen to 22 lbs: 2 ½ to 3 hours (unstuffed); 3 ¼ to 3 ¾ (stuffed).

Twenty-two to 24 lbs: 3 to 3 ½ hours (unstuffed); 3 ¾ to 4 ¼ hours (stuffed).

How Soon Can You Carve the Turkey After Taking It Out of the Oven?

Turkey should rest for 20 to 30 minutes. If you loosely cover the turkey with foil, it will remain hot for up to one hour.

Resting allows the turkey to finish cooking. If you carve the turkey right after it's cooked without allowing it to rest, the juices will run out and the bird will be dry.

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