April 14, 2024

How To Cook A Perfect Turkey

From brining to cook times, basting and internal temperatures, these tips are everything you need for a perfect holiday bird.

Christmas is approaching, which means in the near future, your brain could be occupied by all things turkey. With the help of the Butterball Talk-Line, we’ve compiled the most common turkey cooking questions that are asked, and answered them to get you confident and ready to tackle your holiday meal.

Here’s everything you need to know to be cooking turkey perfectly, every time.

How much turkey should I buy?

Andrea Balitewicz, a Talk-Line consultant, recommends buying 680 g (1.5 lb) of turkey per person for generous servings and leftovers. So if you’re serving 8 people, you’ll need about 5.5 kg (12 lb) of turkey. For smaller portions, 454 g (1 lb) per person should be sufficient (3.6 kg or 8 lb).

Also consider roasting two smaller turkeys rather than one large one, as larger turkeys tend to dry out during the longer roasting time. Whether you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas dinner or another big get-together, you want to lock moisture into the meat.

Depending on the size of the turkey, you should start thawing a frozen turkey one week before your holiday meal.

The easiest way to thaw a turkey is on the bottom shelf of a refrigerator. Place turkey, still in its wrapping, breast-side up on a tray with sides to collect any moisture. It takes about 24 hours to thaw every 1.8 kg (4 lb) of turkey. Once thawed, the turkey can be refrigerated for an additional four days before roasting.

If you’re short on time, thawing the turkey in cold tap water will complete the job in hours, not days. Place the turkey breast side-up, and still wrapped in its packaging, in a large basin such as your kitchen sink or a picnic cooler. Cover the turkey completely with cold tap water. You must change the cold water every 30 minutes.

At first, the turkey acts like a giant ice cube and makes the water too cold for thawing to happen. As thawing begins, the water must be changed to keep it cold and the turkey food safe. It will take about 30 minutes for every 454 g (1 lb) of turkey to defrost in a cold-water bath.

Should I wash my turkey before cooking it?

Health Canada doesn’t recommend rinsing poultry before cooking because any bacteria present can spread wherever water splashes and multiply very quickly. In addition, always wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling raw poultry, use a separate cutting board to prep it, and always wipe down kitchen surfaces after working with raw poultry.

Do I need to brine my turkey?

In the Chatelaine Test Kitchen, we generally purchase fresh, unseasoned turkey since we’re usually testing our recipes in the turkey off-season. Brining is a technique used to infuse flavour into the turkey using either a salt-water solution or rubbed with a salt mixture.

Turkey that you purchase at your grocery store may come pre-infused with salt and herbs. We don’t recommend brining a pre-infused turkey as it may lead to an over-salted and over-seasoned turkey.

Do I need a turkey roasting rack?

Placing your turkey on a rack inside your pan allows air to circulate around the bird, and prevents it from sitting in a pool of juice as it roasts. If you don’t have a rack, you can use vegetables such as whole carrots and celery. In a pinch, you can also scrunch two long pieces of foil into long snakes, then coil them into a ring.

Looking for a new roasting rack? Here’s a highly rated favourite:

Cuisinart Multiclad Pro 16-Inch Stainless Steel Roasting Rack, $150

Does stuffing a turkey dry it out?

Stuffing a turkey for roasting will increase the roasting time (as both the stuffing and the turkey have to reach a minimum temperature of 170F). The extra time needed for the internal stuffing to reach a safe temperature may overcook and dry out the turkey meat.

Should I baste my turkey?

Some recipes call for basting a turkey while it cooks; this technique of pouring drippings over the turkey keeps the meat juicy. Even if your recipe doesn’t call for basting, you can do so every 30 minutes during roasting. Frequently opening the oven door may bring down the heat, so tack on a few extra minutes of roasting if your turkey isn’t at 170F after the recommended cooking time.

This Oxo brand baster is angled to make basting in between wings and legs a bit easier, and comes with a cleaning brush. Let the juices run over the entire body of the bird.

Oxo Good Grips Angled Turkey Baster, $18

An angled turkey baster and a baster cleaning brush, which will help you when cooking turkey perfectly.

Should turkey be covered when it’s cooking?

There are many different ways to roast a turkey. Here are two methods which require covering at different points of the roasting process.

The first method is to cover the turkey and pan tightly with foil during the first half of the roasting process. This will create a “steaming” environment and keep the meat juicy during cooking. Removing the foil during the second half of the roasting process will allow the skin to turn golden brown. Your recipe may also require you to turn down the temperature when the turkey is uncovered.

The second method, which Butterball has coined their “Open Pan” method, is to roast the turkey in an open roasting pan until the skin is golden brown. After two-thirds of the cooking time, fold a letter-sized piece of foil in half and place it over the breast like a little tent.

The foil reflects some the oven’s heat and slows down the cooking in the white meat area. This helps the meat stay moist and juicy.

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’s thickest part and stuffing (if stuffed) 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 Meater, so you can monitor your turkey from the distance. (If you don’t need the connectivity, Thermopro makes a great digital thermometer at a much more affordable price tag.)

Meater Original Smart Meat Thermometer, $120

A stainless steel rod-shaped thermometer and an iphone demonstrating the app it connects to, which will help you when cooking turkey perfectly.

Thermopro Digital Meat Thermometer, $13

A digital prob thermometer with an orange handle, which will help you when cooking turkey perfectly.

How do I keep a turkey moist after cooking?

It’s important to not overcook the turkey. Roast it to the recommended 170F, then remove the turkey from from the oven and allow it to rest for at least 20 minutes. Its internal temperature will continue to rise to around 180F, and the meat will reabsorb its juice.

How do you keep turkey skin crisp?

A turkey’s skin can only get crisp in a dry heat environment (such as uncovered roasting in the oven). However, even the crispiest of skins will soften the longer your cooked bird rests on the counter. Either remove crispy skin as soon as the turkey comes out of the oven, or roast softened skin again separately: Remove from turkey and trim off any excess fat.

Arrange flat on a baking sheet. Bake in the bottom third of oven at 450F until crisp, 4 to 6 min. Set aside to cool, then break into smaller pieces.

Are there different recipes for cooking turkey?

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