Let’s Talk Turkey

Cooking, Quick Tips, Tips | November 2, 2016 | By

It’s almost that time of the year again! Cooking the holiday turkey can be a daunting task but with a little bit of preparation, you can do this without losing your sanity. Here are some of our turkey tips to make things a little easier.

Selecting a Turkey

One of the first things you’re going to need to work out is what kind of turkey you need to buy. There are so many different options out there, here are some of the terms you’ll come across when you’re trying to make a decision:

Organic – In the US, an organic turkey is a bird that has been raised under the strict guidelines governed by the USDA. Other countries have similar agricultural bodies that govern the definition of what can be classified as Organic. Because of this, these birds are the most expensive.

Free Range – A free range turkey is one that has been allowed to roam freely.

Natural – A natural turkey is one that doesn’t have any artificial ingredients or additives and has been minimally processed.

What size turkey should you get?

When trying to determine what sized turkey to buy, allow 1 1/2 pounds per person – this will give you a decent meal plus some for leftovers.

Should you get one large or two small?

If you’re feeding a crowd and trying to decide whether you should go with one large turkey or two small, opt for the two smaller. Even though it is less dramatic when you bring them to the table for carving, two smaller turkeys are easier to manage when defrosting and cooking rather than a single large one. Also, they will tend to be moister as the total cooking time is shorter.

Should you get a frozen turkey or fresh turkey

This is a hotly debated topic but one thing to remember is, when a frozen turkey defrosts, it does lose some of it’s moisture in the defrosting process which ultimately means that it’s going to be a slightly drier bird. With that said, if a frozen turkey is your only choice or is just more practical, then frozen it is, and there are methods of keeping the bird moist during the cooking process to reduce the moisture loss.

How do I defrost a turkey?

The most common and safest way to defrost a turkey is keeping the turkey in it’s original wrapper, placing it on a tray or plate large enough to hold the whole bird, and putting it on the lowest shelf in the refrigerator.

The following table provides information about the approximate time it will take for defrosting various sizes of turkey:

In a Refrigerator

– approximately 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds

4 to 12 pounds
(1.8kg to 5.4kg)
1 to 3 days
12 to 16 pounds
(5.4kg to 7.25kg)
3 to 4 days
16 to 20 pounds
(7.25kg to 9kg)
4 to 5 days
20 to 24 pounds
(9kg to 10.8kg)
5 to 6 days

An alternative faster method to defrosting in the refrigerator, is to defrost the turkey in a sink filled with cold water. Keep the turkey in it’s original wrapper. Wrap the turkey in a layer of plastic wrap to prevent water leaking through. Make sure that you use cold water and change the water every 30 minutes.

Here is the approximate times for defrosting a turkey using this method:

In Cold Water

– approximately 30 minutes for every pound

4 to 12 pounds
(1.8kg to 5.4kg)
2 to 6 hours
12 to 16 pounds
(5.4kg to 7.25kg)
6 to 8 hours
16 to 20 pounds
(7.25kg to 9kg)
8 to 10 hours
20 to 24 pounds
(9kg to 10.8kg)
10 to 12 hours

To Stuff or Not to Stuff

There are many arguments for and against stuffing a turkey. Many people say that the bird is more flavorful and moist when it has been stuffed. Where as their opponents will talk about the health concerns that are more prevalent if the bird is stuffed and not prepared or cooked properly. Here are the facts if you choose to stuff:

  • Use a recipe you are comfortable preparing.
  • Make sure that you prepare the stuffing ahead of time, so that all ingredients are chilled before the bird is stuffed.
  • Do not stuff the bird ahead of time as there is the potential for bacteria to grow – stuff the turkey just before you start cooking it.
  • A stuffed turkey will take slightly longer to cook than an unstuffed turkey (see the cooking times before).
  • Make sure that the bird and stuffing is cooked properly. Use a thermometer to check that both the turkey and the stuffing is reading a temperature of 165 degrees F (74 degrees C).

If you decide not to stuff your turkey, an alternative to keep the bird from drying out is to salt and pepper the cavity and then place a halved lemon, a bulb of unpeeled garlic, and your favorite fresh herbs into the cavity.

Before Cooking

Remove the turkey from the refrigerator about 1 to 1 1/2 hours before you start cooking it, so it can reach room temperature. This will ensure the turkey cooks evenly.

Cooking Times

Here are the approximate cooking times when cooking a turkey in a preheated 325 degree F oven:

Total Weight: Unstuffed: Stuffed:
8 to 12 pounds
(3.65kg to 5.4Kg)
2 3/4 to 3 hours 3 to 3 1/2 hours
12 to 14 pounds
(5.4kg to 6.4kg)
3 to 3 3/4 hours 3 1/2 to 4 hours
14 to 18 pounds
(6.4kg to 8.2kg)
3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours 4 to 4 1/4 hours
18 to 20 pounds
(8.3kg to 9kg)
4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours 4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hours
20 to 24 pounds
(9kg to 10.8kg)
4 1/2 to 5 hours 4 3/4 to 5 hours

Resting

After the turkey finishes cooking and is removed from the oven, cover it with aluminum foil and let it rest for 20-30 minutes. This will allow the juices to redistribute and will make the meat moister.