Turkey 101: how to make your turkey the best ever

Kay Blakely
DeCA Home Economist

If you’re the appointed turkey cook this Thanksgiving and are stressing because you’ve never done it before, take comfort in knowing this: roasting the turkey is the easiest part of the entire traditional feast. So arm yourself with the following basic guidelines and tips, and you’ll be “good to go.”

***image1***How much do you need? Plan on cooking one-half to three-quarters a pound per person for a regular bone-in turkey, and about one-third a pound per person for a boneless breast or turkey roast. Allow for a bit more if you want plenty of leftovers.

How long does it take to thaw? Short answer – a long time. Place the frozen turkey on a tray in the refrigerator and allow five hours per pound to complete the thawing process. Depending on size, this can take from two to five days. To speed things up a bit, remove the giblet packet and neck from inside the turkey and thaw them separately. Be sure to check both the body and neck cavities for these; sometimes they are stored in two packets.

 If time is short, use the cold water method for thawing, but do so carefully. Spoilage bacteria can multiply rapidly at temperatures above 40 degrees. With the turkey in its original wrapper, place in a large container and cover completely with cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes and allow an hour per pound for total thawing time.

 How to roast? Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Remove giblet packets from inside the turkey, then rinse inside and out with cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Rub the body and neck cavities generously with salt, and insert a medium onion (cut into quarters) and two or three celery sticks with leaves. Sprinkle the skin with salt, then brush all over with melted butter or oil. Place the turkey breast-side-up in a shallow roasting pan and roast on the lowest oven rack until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh registers 175 to 180 degrees, and in the breast 160 to 165 degrees. Refer to your turkey’s original wrapper for approximate total roasting times, which can range from 2.75 to three hours for a small turkey to 4.5 to five hours for a large one.

 Remove the turkey from the oven, tent loosely with aluminum foil and let it rest for 15 to 20 minutes before carving.

For more turkey preparation tips, visit Kay’s Kitchen online at www.commissaries.com under the “shopping” link.