So you’ve decided to cook a turkey for the holidays, have you? NBD. It’s only the centrepiece of your entire meal—what could possibly go wrong?
We get it. The idea of roasting an entire bird that will either signify the success or failure of a dinner party is daunting, which is probably why we always have so many questions about how to properly cook the bird in the first place. It’s not like we do it every other week.
Thankfully, with a little planning and know-how, cooking a turkey is one of the most satisfying—and delicious—things about a group meal. Read on for answers to all of your juicy turkey-themed questions.
Get the recipe for Tuscan Turkey Roulade
1. How to cook a turkey, and for how long?
We swear one of the best ways to cook a turkey—for beginners, novices and experts alike—is the old fashioned way: roasting. How long you cook your turkey depends on how much it weighs and whether it’s stuffed.
A good rule of thumb is to roast a raw (not frozen), unstuffed turkey at 325°F for 20 minutes per pound. Remove the neck and giblets, rub it down with your chosen spice rub, put it in a roasting pan, and cover it or tent it with foil—shiny side down. Baste the bird with melted butter or pan drippings every half an hour, and remove the tent for the last 60 minutes. Then, let the bird rest for at least 20 minutes before carving.
If you’re cooking a stuffed turkey, you can follow almost all of the same steps, but you’ll have to cook it longer. Need more info? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Turkey Cooking Times.
2. How do you brine a turkey?
If you’ve craving super juicy, flavourful turkey, brining can be your best friend. Brining basically means you let your bird sit in a salty water bath for 12-24 hours before you roast it, which allows meat to retain more moisture through the cooking process. But you can dry-brine a turkey as well.
If you’re wet-brining, you’ll need an extra-large container to hold all of your liquid. If you’re dry-brining you’ll have to get down and dirty with your bird, ensuring that you massage all of that salty, flavourful goodness evenly into the meat.
3. What temperature should you cook turkey?
Although 20 minutes per pound is a good rule of thumb, how long a turkey actually takes to cook varies according to how often you’ve opened the oven door, whether the bird was completely thawed when you popped it in, how well your individual oven heats up and how evenly it cooks. That’s why it’s always important to check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer. A bird is good to go when a thermometer inserted into the inner thigh of an unstuffed turkey reads 170° F, or 180° F for a stuffed bird. Be sure to check the stuffing itself too—that should reach 165 °F.
4. How to defrost a turkey quickly?
Most turkeys need a few days to fully defrost—about 24 hours per five pounds is widely considered the golden rule. Here’s the good news: If you forgot to transfer your turkey from freezer to fridge in time, you can still thaw your bird in a cold-water bath. Pop it in a clean sink, tub or container with enough cold water to immerse it completely, and then refill it every half-an-hour to help prevent any foodborne illness. At that rate, a 15-pound turkey should be ready to go in about 7.5 hours.
Get the recipe for Lemon-Sage Butter Roasted Turkey
5. How to carve a turkey?
Ever notice how no one ever jumps up at the chance to carve a turkey? It seems like such an overwhelming task, but once your turkey is roasted to golden perfection, you’re going to need someone to volunteer as tribute. Or, you can learn how to do it yourself!
Basically, remove the legs and thighs first, followed by the drumsticks. Carry on to remove the wishbone and then the breasts, followed by the wings. Slice the thigh meat and breast meat, then voila! Put it on a platter for all to enjoy. Easy peasy, turkey breezy. Or, something like that.
6. How to make ground turkey?
If you’re tired of regular old chuck, ground turkey can be a delicious alternative. When experimenting with new recipes remember to ensure you always cook ground turkey to an internal temperature of 165°F in order to prevent foodborne illness. Other than that, ground turkey is your playground. You can use it for comfort foods like meatloaf and chili, or get even more creative with stuffed peppers, meatballs and burgers. Basically you can use it any way you’d use regular ground beef.
Get the recipe for Valerie Bertinelli’s Ohio Turkey Chili
7. Why is turkey the healthiest meat?
We’ve all heard about the health benefits of eating turkey—it’s a lean, low-fat meat that’s full of protein and helps promote muscle growth. But like most health foods, there are some stipulations. Dark meat, although still full of vitamins, is higher in fat than white meat. And, like chicken, it’s best to avoid the fatty skin if you’re looking to keep the calories in check.
8. Which holidays do you eat turkey?
As far as we’re concerned, any holiday is a good excuse to roast up a turkey, but typically in Canada we flock to the bird come Thanksgiving and Christmas. That’s probably because fall and winter are great times to indulge in plenty of turkey leftovers. From Turkey White Bean Chilli and frittata, to sliders and panini, there are myriad ways to use up those bird-tastic extras.
Get the recipe for Ree Drummond’s Leftover Thanksgiving Panini
9. How long do turkey leftovers last?
If you need a bit of a break from new recipes after making such a big feast, no one would blame you. But if you do eventually want to give your leftovers new life, you’ll want to wrap them up and pop them in the fridge within two hours, and then use them within three-to-four days.
10. What are the easiest turkey recipes for beginners?
If you’re hesitant to cook a turkey, we definitely recommend starting with the basics. There are many, many ways to switch up roasted turkey when you consider the various spice mixes, brining techniques, stuffing options and even basting methods out there (we personally love layering the bird with bacon slices before popping it in the oven!).
Pick a recipe that you feel comfortable with, and experiment from there. And remember, practice makes perfect…ly delicious turkey.