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Tips for the Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey
Food and Recipes

Tips for the Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey

Good Morning everyone!  Thanksgiving is right around the corner and I’m getting excited to spend time with my family.  Unfortunately, for I believe the 10th year in a row, my husband is working on Thanksgiving so we won’t be spending it together.  His schedule just always seems to fall where he works Thanksgiving and has Christmas Day off, but this year he actually winds up working both holidays so it’s not as great.  Oh well, we always have lots of food so he will still get to enjoy the leftovers and his work usually has a potluck meal for the officers as well (he is a correctional officer).

I love to plan ahead for making all of the food for Thanksgiving since I don’t have him free to help me and I often make dishes ahead of time so they can just be heated up for the main meal as it saves time and work on a day that you just want to spend quality time with your family.  But the one thing you definitely can’t make ahead is the turkey.

Tips for the Perfect Thanksgiving TurkeyTips for the Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey

I am very blessed to have a mother who taught me from a young age to cook and bake (and yes, there is a difference!) so I actually enjoy cooking large meals like this.  I still remember being scared to death the first year I cooked a turkey myself and I think I called my mom at least 10 times over the 24 hours asking questions to make sure I got it right.  Thankfully, that first turkey turned out wonderful and I’ve been excited about making the turkey each Thanksgiving since.  We usually trade off which home we will gather to celebrate Thanksgiving between our house, my parents’ house, and my sister’s house and this year it is at my parent’s house.

Even though I’m not cooking the turkey this year since we aren’t meeting at my house (it’s too difficult to transport a cooked turkey so my mom will be making it this year) I wanted to write up a list of the best tips for cooking the perfect Thanksgiving turkey and share them with you all.  It really isn’t that hard if you know the right steps to take, and you will love how wonderful your turkey turns out!

Steps to Follow:

Buying the Right Size Turkey-

When you’re shopping for a turkey for Thanksgiving there are a couple of things you should know.  The first is choosing the right size turkey for your meal.  They say you should plan to serve 1 to 1 ½ pounds of turkey for each person so using this formula you can determine the size you will need (for example: to feed 10 people, you would need a minimum of 10 to 15 pounds).  You will usually want to purchase a turkey larger than this, however, because a turkey is not all meat so you have to factor in the weight of the bones.  Plus, you always want those wonderful leftovers.  When I am cooking a turkey for our entire family, which would be 10 people, I usually purchase one that is at least 20 pounds and we have plenty to go around for a few days.  Another great option is to buy just a turkey breast as it is all meat and can cost a little less at times.  You could also purchase 2 smaller turkeys as these can fit better in the freezer, the refrigerator, and the oven.

Buying the Right Kind of Turkey-

The second thing you want to keep in mind is what type of turkey will work best for your meal.   There are several variations you can consider: fresh, frozen, organic, kosher, free-range are just a few.  It can be overwhelming, but don’t get discouraged – just try to keep it simple.  I always buy a frozen turkey and try to look for organic or free-range but you can also buy a fresh turkey, especially if you don’t have room in your freezer for a frozen turkey.

Defrosting your Turkey-

If you purchase a fresh turkey, you get to skip this step, but you have to wait until the last minute to purchase your turkey.  I always worry about finding the right size turkey if I wait until the last minute or that the price will be exorbitant so I usually buy a frozen turkey, but this means that I will have to defrost it.  If defrosting in the refrigerator you should give yourself a day for every 4 pounds so a 20 pound turkey would need 5 days in the refrigerator.  If you are planning on defrosting your turkey in cold water it will take you 30 minutes for each pound so a 20 pound turkey would need 10 hours in cold water.

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To Brine, or Not to Brine-

I have never brined my turkey when cooking it for Thanksgiving and it always turns out wonderful, but I have several friends who swear by this method.  If you want to brine your turkey, you will need to do this the night before cooking it so you will need to factor the time into your plans.  If you’re interested in trying to bring your turkey, check out tips for brining your turkey from the master – Martha Stewart.

Tips for the Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey

Preparing the Turkey-

On the big day, the first thing you will want to do is remove the neck and bag of giblets from inside the turkey.  Let the turkey sit at room temperature for an hour before you begin to cook it so the internal temperature of the turkey matches the exterior and it will cook more evenly.  Rub the skin all over with either oil or butter to moisten the turkey.  You can even put a few pats of butter under the skin if you like.  Tip: I use spray butter so it’s less messy and easier to coat the entire turkey.  To season your turkey, mix together 1-2 teaspoons each of salt, pepper, thyme, rosemary, sage, and garlic powder and rub the seasoning mix all over the turkey after you’ve coated it with oil or butter.

Tips for the Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey

Stuffing on the Side or the Inside-

I have never cooked my stuffing inside the turkey, but that is just because it can be so messy.  I also tend to save some time and energy on this step by making stove top stuffing because my husband really enjoys it.  If you really want to cook your stuffing inside the turkey, you will want to check out Butterball’s tips for cooking perfect stuffing.

Cooking the Turkey-

Some people say you should start off cooking the turkey with the breast facing down so all of the juices collect in the breast and then an hour into cooking, turn the turkey over.  I have never done this, but that is because I can be somewhat of a klutz and am afraid I would drop the whole thing while trying to turn it back over and my turkey has always been moist and tasty so this would be a personal preference.  After placing the turkey in your roasting pan, you will want to cover the pan with aluminum foil creating a tent so there is space between the turkey and the foil on top to allow for heat and air to circulate.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and place the roasting pan in the oven.  Here is a guide for how long to cook your turkey:

Weight                                           Cook Time (with stuffing)                            Cook Time (without stuffing)

Under 7 pounds                               2 ¼ to 2 ¾ hours                                                2 to 2 ½ hours

7 to 10 pounds                                  2 ¾ to 3 ½ hours                                                2 ½ to 3 hours

10 to 18 pounds                                3 ¾ to 4 ½ hours                                                3 to 3 ½ hours

18 to 22 pounds                                4 ½ to 5 hours                                                     3 ½ to 4 hours

22 to 24 pounds                                5 to 5 ½ hours                                                     4 to 4 ½ hours

24 to 30 pounds                                5 ½ to 6 ¼ hours                                                4 ½ to 5 hours

If you are interested in deep frying your turkey, you will have to be very careful as it can be dangerous.  I’ve never tried to deep fry a turkey so I’ll refer you to Food Network’s guide to deep frying a turkey.

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While it’s Cooking-

There are some tips you should follow while your turkey is cooking.  First, leave the oven door closed as much as possible.  The more you open the door to take a quick peek, the more you reduce the temperature in the oven which can make your turkey undercooked.  Next, you may want to baste your turkey while it’s cooking.  If you want to baste your turkey, remove the pan from the oven and shut the oven door so the temperature is not reduced in the oven.  You can either baste the turkey using the juices in the bottom of the roasting pan, or reapply oil or butter to the turkey.  This is where that spray butter comes in handy so you don’t burn your hands trying to coat a hot turkey!  Return the turkey to the oven and let cook.  Finally, remove the foil for the last 30 minutes to an hour of your cooking time so your turkey gets golden brown and crisp.


Tips for the Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey

Final Steps-

You will want to make sure your turkey has cooked all the way so use a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh to ensure it reaches 165 degrees.  When your turkey is fully cooked, you want to let it rest at room temperature for at least 15 to 25 minutes before carving your turkey.  Carving can be a real art and some people excel at it.  My father has taught me to carve a turkey before but I’m not as skilled as he is at it, so this is always his job on Thanksgiving regardless of who cooked the turkey.  For the best way to carve your turkey, check out Real Simple’s instructions and video.

In case you have questions or problems while cooking your turkey, here are a few great resources you can use:

Shady Brook Farms and Honeysuckle:

800-810-6325 – pre-recorded messages and help, but no live person


800-BUTTERBALL (800-288-8372) – live professionals to offer assistance

Now you are ready to rock your Thanksgiving with a delicious turkey!  I’d love to hear your tips and tricks that you use so please comment below to share them with all of us.  And don’t forget to share this post on your social media sites so your friends and family can enjoy these tips!

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