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Cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving no longer has to be done in the same old traditional way. For those cooking one for the first time, it might be interesting to take a walk on the culinary wild side and try something a little different. Recipes abound on the Internet for those who need help making a traditional bird, as well as for those who want to try deep-frying it for a change.
The first step in preparing a turkey for any recipe is thawing it ahead of time. If a fresh bird is purchased, this step can be skipped. The general rule of thumb is to allow 24 hours of defrosting in the refrigerator for every 5 pounds (2.25 kg) of meat. To defrost in cold water, allow 30 minutes for every 1 pound (0.45 kilograms). Just be sure to change the water every 30 minutes.
Remove the neck and giblets, which include the gizzard, liver and heart, from the body cavity. These can be used later to make gravy. If it will be cooked with stuffing, this is a good time to stuff the bird, just before roasting. Stuff the turkey loosely — it’s not a good idea to pack it in. The stuffing should be able to cook through easily. A general rule is to cook the bird until the center of the stuffing reaches 165° Fahrenheit (74° Celsius).
If your preferred method of cooking the turkey is roasting, choose a shallow roasting pan. Preheat a conventional oven to 325°F (163°C). Place the meat in the pan with the breast side facing up. The tips of the wings may be placed under the shoulders.
At this time, any seasonings can be used. This is where cooks get creative, and poultry can be seasoned in a variety of ways depending on the region or cultural preferences. Some southern recipes use spicy chilies for seasoning, while other areas brine their birds beforehand.
There are special roasting bags available with built in thermometers that pop up when the turkey has reached the correct temperature. The bag helps to seal in juices and saves the cook from frequent bastings. Another method is to make a tent out of tin foil and cover the bird for the first couple of hours in the oven. Regular bastings are necessary with this method, usually every 30 minutes. Use a meat thermometer to make sure that the temperature reaches 165°F (74°C) when placed into the thickest area of the thigh. The thermometer shouldn’t touch the bone, as this will affect the reading.
A smaller, unstuffed turkey, about 8 to 12 pounds (4 to 5.5 kg), requires approximately two to three and a quarter hours in the oven, and a larger bird that’s about 20 to 24 pounds (9 to 11 kg) will need closer to five hours of roasting. A stuffed turkey weighing about 8 to 12 pounds (4 to 5.5 kg) will need approximately three and a half hours, while a larger stuffed bird, about 20 to 24 pounds (9 to 11 kg), will need a little over five hours. Roasting charts are available in most general cookbooks, as well as on the Internet. Some brands have ‘round the clock hotlines for cooking questions.
Although deep-fried turkey sounds like fun, there is more equipment and danger involved than with roasting. Special fryers are available, but a 40 to 60 quart (38 to 57 liter) pot and a burner powered by a propane gas tank should do the trick. A basket is also necessary to lower and raise the bird. A fire extinguisher is also a good idea, due to deep-frying’s notorious reputation for all those pesky Thanksgiving Day oil fires.
Smaller turkeys work best and will need about 5 gallons (19 liters) of cooking oil. Marinate the bird and cover it with breading and season. The oil should be preheated to 350°F (177°C). This can be determined with a candy thermometer. The turkey should be fried for about three minutes for every pound, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 180°F (82°C).
When deep-frying, make sure that the fryer is placed outdoors, away from buildings, trees or other flammable objects. Keep children and pets away, and use appropriate safety precautions. Deep-fry aficionados swear by the unrivaled juiciness of this way of cooking.
For grilling fanatics, grilled turkey is another option. In this method, the meat is cooked over indirect heat. Put the bird in a tray or on a part of the grill that is not directly heated. Allow 12 to 15 minutes for every pound (0.45 kg) of meat. Just be sure to baste often to avoid drying it out. With any cooking method, allow the turkey to cool for approximately 20 minutes before carving.