Yakityak's Roast Turkey Tips
- Total cooking time for a turkey = 20 minutes/pound
- If using a frozen turkey, it needs to be totally defrosted prior to cooking or it A) messes up the cooking time and B) may pose a public health hazard as it may not get up to high enough temperature to kill the salmonella.
- Place stuffed turkey on a turkey rack in a roasting pan and cook covered with tinfoil for 1 hour at 325 F.
- Remove the tinfoil and baste religiously every 15 minutes. Yes. I know. It's a total pain. However, if you skimp on the basting then the turkey will not only dry out, the top will overcook because you are depending on the frequent opening and closing of the oven door to get the correct temperature (not nec. at 325) for the bird. On the plus side - this really is surefire if you follow the directions.
- I always season the exterior of my turkey generously. I use garlic powder, onion powder, paprika and pepper. Since it's kosher turkey, it doesn't need salt, generally, but if your butcher is really good about soaking and rinsing turkeys you might want to use a touch of garlic salt in addition to garlic powder.
- If you've never cooked a turkey before, I should warn you that the top will darken considerably. That's okay. It should. It's not a bad thing and it doesn't mean it's burnt. Black and cracked means it's burnt. Very dark brown and crisp is fine, especially if you've been good about basting.
- You can lace up the cavity with the stuffing in it using those fancy lacing pins you buy in the grocery... or you can just use a sewing needle and thread, shoelace fashion. I advise using brightly colored thread so you can see it easily afterwards.
- Turkey needs to be cooked at a slightly lower temp than chicken. This is because what matters is the internal temperature - it needs to get high enough to kill bacteria. But if you start at too high a temp, the outside burns before the inside cooks sufficiently. On the flip side, if you cook at too low a temp, the interior never cooks sufficiently either. You cook a turkey for so much longer than you do a chicken precisely for this reason -- you can get the internal temp of a chicken up high enough at a higher temperature in a shorter period of time because the volume is so much less.
- You can use a regular old roasting pan - the type you use to cook chicken or brisket - as long as it's wide enough to accomodate a turkey. If it isn't big enough, the gravy leaks all over your oven making a mess... and you don't have anything to baste with. They're a few inches deep and oh I'm guessing about 18" wide.... 24" long? Depends on the size of the turkey. If you don't already own one, you can buy a disposable tinfoil one in the grocery. Just be very careful moving it - use at least two mitts and support from underneath (you may need 2 people) - because they bend and can spill scalding hot gravy on you (speaking from woeful firsthand experience).
- A turkey rack is an inexpensive contraption that makes all the difference in the world. It's sort of this X-shaped rack... or rather V-shaped with little prongs that allow you to adjust the slope of the angle of the V, sort of like a lawn chair. The smaller the bird, the more acute the angle. Its purpose is to elevate the bird slightly above the roasting pan so that it doesn't sit directly in the juices. This serves two purposes - it keeps the bottom of the bird from getting even more oily than it already is, and it allows the air to circulate better around the turkey in the oven which permits more even cooking. The bane of turkey cooking is uneven heating and a rack really helps in that department. You should be able to find a turkey rack in the grocery store for well under $10.
- I baste using a turkey baster. This is another inexpensive kitchen gadget that just makes life easier that you can get in most grocery stores. It looks like a giant eyedropper. The bulb pops off for easy cleaning. It makes basting much faster. You just suck up the juice from the pan and squirt it over the breast of the bird. Initially there won't be much juice to use and you'll think I'm nuts to make you baste - but remember the whole business about the open door adjusting the temperature and increasing air circulation in the oven and just keep doing it. :-) It can be tricky to get the bulb to seal on the tube so that you get good suction. I have three tips for that. 1) squash that bulb onto the end so that it's harder to move... higher up and it's loose, lower down and there's not much of the bulb left to squish in (you'll see what I mean). 2) You can put a little water around the edge of the bulb to help it form a seal. And 3) once you've sucked up the gravy in the tube tilt it so that it's parallel to the ground so that it doesn't leak out again. It takes a few tries to get the hang of it, but don't worry... you get plenty of opportunity to practice. :-D And sure, gravy washes up into the bulb. But I pull it apart, rinse it and throw it in the dishwasher when I'm done for the night, so who cares.
- Glass cooks things differently than metal. I think that they have different properties - like glass retains the heat and metal reflects heat. So I think I'd choose a tinfoil disposable over a glass dish, if only because the results are more predictable. Again, with a shorter cooking time (like for a chicken) these things aren't likely to matter, but for a turkey you cook for a long time, it certainly can. I've even heard that dark roasting pans cook differently than light ones... but I really couldn't verify that because I have had other variables at play that were far more important (in my old apartment I used a disposable pan, but it was not a convection oven - now I use a 'typical' roasting pan but the oven is convection).
- You can use an oven safe food thermometer (another inexpensive kitchen gadget you can buy in the grocery store) to make sure you're not going to give everyone food poisoning. When you think the turkey's done, you can use the thermometer to test the temperature and make sure. You can stick the thermometer into the innermost part of the thigh. That needs to be 180 F. You should also try and check the center of the stuffing (feed the thermometer into the cavity where you sewed it shut, straight in), which needs to hit 165 F. That last one is key - you HAVE to wait for the stuffing to hit 165.
- Just so you know, my recipe is based on a stuffed turkey. If the body cavity is empty, cooking time may vary from what I've told you... and it may not cook in a similar pattern (i.e. it might be dryer or whatever). I think that some of the reasons people have such a tough time dealing with turkeys are: A) they bump up the oven temp hoping to speed up the cooking and wind up burning it before the center is cooked, and B) they don't realize that simple variables like stuffed vs. not stuffed, covered vs. not covered, baste every 15 min vs. 30 min can make a significant difference in the whole way the bird cooks and C) when you cook ANYTHING for 5 hours, being off by a "little bit" gets magnified w/re: temperature and basting intervals.
- Cooking a turkey is a lot more like baking a cake than other kinds of cooking - in that "cooking by feel" can get you into some trouble. If you sort of have that idea planted in your head beforehand, you don't wind up with nearly as many surprises at the end.
Other folk's turkey tips
- I have a confession to make, I never baste, and my turkey comes out great every time.Ê Everytime you open that oven door you let out heat and increase cooking time. - Chana
- An option for the bottom of the roasting pan is to use celery and onions to form a raised bed for ol' Tom to set on. Then your drippings will be flavored for gravey and/or you can use the veggies and drippings for a soup base. - Debi
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