There are so many options available when choosing a turkey that one could easily become confused. Do you want to get a frozen or fresh turkey? Is a tom or a hen better for dinner? Will you stuff the turkey or cook the dressing separately? These questions can be confounding when faced with the task of cooking your holiday dinner.
Fresh or Frozen Turkey?
When given the option between fresh and frozen turkey, take the fresh bird. The reason is simple: turkeys need to age for at least three days at a temperature between 35 to 38 degrees for the meat to tenderize. Turkeys that are sold frozen are not given the chance to age in this way and so they are dry and nearly flavorless when cooked.
If frozen is your only option, in order to counteract the dryness of the frozen turkey, use brine. Brining adds liquid, salt, and seasoning to your turkey. In order to brine your frozen turkey, you will first need to thaw it.
The best way to thaw a turkey is to place it in your refrigerator in a container, like a roasting pan, until it is fully thawed. You should leave the turkey in the plastic wrap that it came in. It will take 24 hours for every five pounds of turkey. This means that a 20-25 pound turkey will need to thaw for 5 days. Once the turkey is fully thawed, mix together your brine and let the turkey soak in it for at least 6 hours.
Related: Save time. Discover how to cook your turkey overnight while you sleep!
Tom or Hen
If you are buying your turkey directly from the farmer, you sometimes get a choice of gender. Tom turkeys are larger birds than hen turkeys. This is because toms have larger bone structure and this means that any tom under 21 pounds will be mostly bone. Because of the physical makeup of tom turkeys, they offer more dark meat than white. Unless you are feeding a huge group of people who mostly like dark meat, a tom might not be the way to go.
On the other hand, if you are looking for a more tender and juicy turkey, you want to look for a hen. Because hens offer more meat at lower weights, a 16-pound hen will easily feed 12 people. Also, bear in mind that more people like white turkey meat and a hen will have more breast meat.
How to Cook a Perfect Turkey
There are several different ways in which to cook a turkey. Grilling, rotisserie, and deep-frying are gaining in popularity, but roasting seems to be the most effective. What roasting offers is a deeply browned and crispy skin, a fantastic aroma throughout the house, and free time to get the side dishes and dressing prepared.
Related: No oven space? No problem! Learn how to cook your turkey in a roaster.
12 Basic Steps
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
- Remove the thawed or fresh turkey from the bag and remove the giblets from the cavity.
- Rinse the turkey under cool water and pat dry.
- Place the rack into your roasting pan.
- Tuck the wings behind the bird.
- Take a large piece of foil and fit it to the breast of the turkey, then set aside.
- Using two smaller pieces of foil, fit them to the tops of the drumsticks, then set aside.
- Save the foil in a safe place for later use. We fit the foil to the turkey before it goes into the oven because it is easier to mold the foil to the bird before the bird is hot.
- Brush the turkey with vegetable oil and place it in the preheated oven.
- Once the turkey is about 2/3 done, place the foil on the breast and drumsticks.
- Test the turkey with a meat or instant read thermometer placed deep into the thigh. It should read 180 degrees.
- Let the turkey rest for 15 minutes before carving.
How Long Should You Cook Your Turkey
The above directions tell you to place the foil on the turkey when it is 2/3 done. But how long is that? The following times are a good guideline on how long it will take to completely cook your turkey.
- Up to 7 pounds - 2 to 2 ½ hours
- 7 to 9 pounds - 2 ½ to 3 hours
- 9 to 18 pounds - 3 to 3 ½ hours
- 18 to 22 pounds - 3 ½ to 4 hours
- 22 to 24 pounds - 4 to 4 ½ hours
- 24 to 30 pounds - 4 1/2 to 5 hours
These times are for unstuffed turkey. For a better turkey, you should always cook the dressing separate from the turkey.
Related: Need less turkey with less hands-on time? Try these turkey breast slow cooker recipes.
- For a moister breast, consider stuffing herbs and butter between the skin and meat on the breast of the turkey.
- Save the giblets, cook them fully, and then use them in your stuffing for a richer flavor.
- While resting the turkey, cover it loosely with foil.
- Make the gravy for the turkey using the drippings from the pan. Do this while the turkey rests.
- More people like white meat than dark meat and white meat is easier to carve than dark meat, so when shopping for a turkey look for big breasts.
- About 1 to 1 1/2-pounds of turkey per person is recommended.