Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Turkey Talk! The Scoop on Getting Your Bird Ready for the Big Day

Homestyle Turkey the Michigander Way

First step to Respecting the Bird - Don't burn it! What do you need to know about the big bird that’s the star of Thanksgiving? Read on for thawing, cooking, and serving tips and tricks to ensure a picture-perfect, totally delicious turkey when everyone sits down at the table.

If you're a vegetarian - your first step to Respecting the Bird is to not eat it! Check out this post to see more on that topic: Respect the Tofurkey.

Do you prefer a fresh or frozen turkey? There are advantages and disadvantages to both. A fresh bird is more expensive, but will save you time and precious refrigerator space because you’ll likely be buying the bird the day before Thanksgiving. A frozen turkey will need to be thoroughly thawed before roasting. Remember to reserve your turkey at your market or supermarket to ensure you get the size you want.

Plan on 1 1/4 pounds of turkey per person and more if you want leftovers. A 15-pound turkey will feed around 12 persons.

      How long will it take to defrost a turkey?
Allow 24 hours for every five pounds (for example, a 15-pound bird will require three days to defrost thoroughly and be ready to roast). The preferred way of defrosting a turkey is on a tray in the refrigerator. Do not defrost a turkey at room temperature.

An alternate method is to defrost the bird in a cold-water bath. Leave the turkey in its original wrapping, place the bird in the sink or a large bucket, and cover completely with cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes, allowing 30 minutes per pound to thaw (for example, a 15-pound turkey will take approximately 7 1/2 hours to thaw. It’s also possible to use a combination of these methods.

      How do I cook a turkey?
Oven roasting is the most familiar and most popular way to cook a turkey. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) and lower the oven rack so the roasting pan with the turkey will fit. Prepare the turkey for roasting by removing the giblets—usually found in a plastic bag tucked inside the cavity of the bird—and rinsing the bird inside and out with cold water. Pat it dry with paper towels. If you are stuffing the turkey, do this now. Remember to stuff the turkey loosely, allowing about 1/2 to 3/4 cup per pound of turkey. Place the turkey on a roasting rack in a roasting pan and brush the skin with melted butter or oil. Tuck the drumsticks under the folds of the skin or tie them together with cooking twine or a specially designed wire twist. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. Roast the turkey until the skin is a light golden color, then cover the bird loosely with an aluminum foil “tent” to prevent the skin from burning. During the last 45 minutes of cooking, remove the foil to brown the skin. Basting ensures even browning but is not necessary.

      How do I know how long to cook a turkey?
Use this chart to estimate the proper cooking time.

Weight of Bird
Roasting Time (Unstuffed)
Roasting Time (Stuffed)
10 to 18 pounds
3 to 3 1/2 hours
3 3/4 to 4 1/2 hours
15 to 22 pounds
3 1/2 to 4 hours
4 1/2 to 5 hours
22 to 24 pounds
4 to 4 1/2 hours
5 to 5 1/2 hours
24 to 29 pounds
4 1/2 to 5 hours
5 1/2 to 6 hours

      How do I know when the turkey is cooked?
The best way to determine if the turkey is done is by testing the temperature of the meat, not the color of the skin. The turkey is cooked when the thigh meat reaches an internal temperature of 180 degrees F (85 degrees C), and when the breast meat reaches an internal temperature of 170 degrees F (75 degrees C). If the turkey has been stuffed, it is important to check the temperature of the stuffing; it should be 165 degrees F (70 degrees C). When the turkey is done, remove it from the oven and allow it to rest 30 minutes before carving.

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