How to Prepare and Cook
Perfect Turkey Dinner
Nobody likes a dry turkey
that has been cooked to death. See how to cook that perfect
turkey dinner from start to finish; from thawing, to cooking, how much
you need per person, and how to carve a turkey once it has been cooked
These tips will
make your Thanksgiving a success, so that your
bird will be succulent and
delicious, rather than stringy and dried out.
Make sure that your oven
is big enough for the turkey you want to buy.
It is difficult to cook a turkey properly in a small oven if the bird
is too big!
Turkey Dinner Preparation: How much Turkey do you Need per
First of all, you need to
make sure that you have chosen the right sized bird for your meal. So
how much turkey do you need for each person? Well the rule of thumb is
3/4 to 1 pound of meat per person if your turkey weighs less than 12
pounds. If your turkey weighs more than 12 pounds then you are looking
at 1/2 to 3/4 of a pound of meat, per person.
Use this table as a guide:
needed/ Ready-to-cook turkey, pounds
For 4 to 10
servings, get a 4 to 8 pound bird.
For 10 to 20 servings, get a 8 to 12 pound bird.
For 20 to 30 servings, get a 12 to 16 pound bird.
For 30 to 40 servings, get a 16 to 20 pound bird.
For 40 to 50 servings, get a 20 to 24 pound bird.
For each serving of roasted turkey quarter or half, or braised
drumsticks or thighs cut from large birds, allow 1/2 to 3/4 pounds of
Turkey Dinner Preparation: Thawing a Turkey
Now we have that out of
the way, I also need to talk about thawing your turkey. There is
nothing worse than not taking it out of the freezer in time, and then
trying to cook a frozen bird. The results will be disastrous as your
bird will be as tough as old boots.
The best results when thawing a frozen turkey are when you place the
bird in the fridge at least 3 days before you need it. If you
have a whole bird leave it in its original wrapper and place on a
baking tray at the bottom of the fridge as you don't want the thawed
juices contaminating other foods in your fridge.
If you have turkey pieces, the wrapping can be opened and try and
separate the pieces if possible to allow the air to get to them and to
hurry the thawing process. Again these should be thawed out in the
fridge. This is for health safety reasons, as poultry can spoil very
quickly, especially if you live in a warm climate.
If you have forgotten to take your turkey out in time, you can still
thaw the bird by filling up your sink with water and lowering
the bird into the water. From time to time the water can be
changed when it gets too cold. Never use warm water. Your
turkey will thaw between 2-6 hours like this, depending on the size of
the bird and how often you change the water.
If you buy a commercial stuffed turkey then these should never be
frozen and re-thawed.
Turkey Dinner Preparation: How to Cook a Turkey
There are 2 things that
are important when you cook a turkey:
- 1. Truss your turkey to keep its shape
- 2. Baste it regularly to keep it moist.
first thing you want to make sure of, is that your turkey is thoroughly
thawed before you roast it. I usually keep mine in the fridge for 3 -4
days after dragging it out from the freezer.
After that you want to rinse your bird and clean it up. Make sure that
there are no pin feathes still in the skin.
If so these can be easily removed with tweezers. Secondly, wash the
bird inside and out with some cold water.
Reach inside the cavity and remove any pieces of fat.
you will need to stuff your turkey. Pack it both inside and under the
skin, as I explained, and make sure that you don't overfill the bird as
the stuffing will expand as it cooks.
After that you will need
to truss your turkey to keep it compact, and to give it a better shape.
For this you can use trussing pins and kitchen string, a darning needle
and some kitchen string, or you can use a couple of toothpicks, like I
are using toothpicks, don't forget to remove them, before carving, or
serving the meat to your guests. What you are aiming for is a nice
shape, making sure that the stuffing stays in the cavity.
Tuck the wings under the bird, as these will be the first thing to
burn, if you don't, and tie the legs together with a piece of kitchen
string as this helps to keep the stuffing inside.
Brush the turkey all over with melted butter. Sprinkle with salt and
pepper to taste. I always place 8 or so bacon pieces on top of the
turkey breast, overlapping as I place them. The fat from the bacon
helps keep the breast moist, and it also gives the meat a better
flavor. And besides, the kids like to eat the crispy bacon once cooked,
while the turkey is being served.
to only cook your turkey long enough, according to its weight, and to
baste it every 30 - 45 minutes with the pan juices.
30 minutes before the allotted time, start testing for to see if your
turkey is cooked or not.
Best Cooking Times for Turkeys
Usually, there is a cooking time guide that comes with your bird.
However, if there isn't then here is a cooking guide for both stuffed
and unstuffed birds.
Time for Roasting at 325 degrees F.
|Ready to Cook Weight of Turkey
4 1/2 hours
1/2 - 5 hours
1/2 - 3 1/2 hours
1/2 - 4 1/2 hours
7 1/2 hours
1/2 - 6 hours
1/2 - 9 hours
|Turkey Pieces: Halves, Quarters
or Half Breasts
1/2 - 5 lbs.
3 1/2 hours
1/2 - 4 hours
How to Test that the Turkey is Cooked
A cooking thermometer
placed in a turkey to test when it is done.
You should start testing
to see if your turkey is done, about 30 minutes before the end of the
estimated cooking time. This is really crucial, because it is
this point that you could end up with a juicy turkey or one that tastes
At this stage, insert a meat thermometer into
the thickest part of the breast, and then the thigh, making sure that
wherever you put the thermometer you don't end up touching the bone.
turkey is done when the breast has a temperature of at least 170
degrees F. (77 degrees C.) and the thigh 180 degrees F. (82 degrees C.)
Remove the thermometer if your turkey is still not cooked, and cook a
little longer before trying again.
will find that the breast will be ready before the thighs. To prevent
it from burning or drying out, you can baste it with the juices and
cover it with a bit of tin foil, shiny side up.
A turkey will
continue to cook internally after you have removed it from the oven,
therefore it is a good idea to remove it when the temperature is 2 or 3
degrees below the ideal temperatures you are after. Cover the turkey
with tin foil and allow it to rest for 20 minutes before carving.
Of course, this is assuming that you have a cooking thermometer. Many
of you may not. However, there are a number of safe ways of
testing to see when your turkey is done. First of all, stick a carving
fork of a skewer into the leg of the chicken and in the breast area. If
both areas run clear juice, it is done. If the juices are pink, keep
the turkey in the oven for a little longer.
If the juices run clear, the next step is to gently prise open one of
the legs. If the leg is white all the way through, and not pink at the
joints, or still bloody, then you may safely say that your turkey is
cooked, and you can take it out to rest.
How to Carve a Turkey
Before we launch into the recipe
section, we should look at how to
carve a turkey.
It is a big bird that if cooked right is succulent and
tasty. If not, it is a dry, stringy, tasteless and hulking
On top of that, you need to know which way to cut the cut the
meat so that you don't end up dishing up tough meat, even if it has
been cooked correctly.
You need the following
- 1 pronged carving fork
- 1 electric carving knife / or a very sharp carving knife
- 1 cutting board with a lip so that the juice doesn't go
everywhere. Ideally it will have spikes so as to grip the
meat as you carve.
- 1 large platter ready to receive the carved meat
The first step is to allow the turkey to rest for at least 20
- 30 minutes before you carve it. Although you want it to rest, you
also need it still to be hot. So you have to wrap the whole bird in
aluminum foil to keep the heat in.
the legs, thighs and wings
Now, cut off the easy bits that can actually be bent
back against the joints and then the meat is cut through at the joints.
And these are the wings and the legs. When you take the legs off, make
sure that you don't take the thighs as well. The turkey leg is plenty
big enough to be be given as a single piece, and the thigh another. Cut
through the joint to separate them.
Now scoop out the stuffing in the body cavity and place neatly as you
can on the platter.
the Turkey Breast
One you have the wings, the legs and the thighs off, you are left with
the breast and the rest of the carcass. To get the white meat off the
turkey just cut down from the top, parallel to the
breastbone, slicing one side, and then the other
if you are still short of meat. Cut at a slight diagonal.
Only cut the meat you will need for one
Turkey Dinner Preparation Timetable
For those of you who are uncertain when to start thawing your turkey
etc., we have a timetable telling you how soon you should start
preparing your turkey and what to do to it.
This is a timetable that includes brining time. If you are not brining
your turkey, then you can take your turkey out on Sunday to defrost.
Never have your turkey sitting in your fridge longer than 4 days if you
are not brining it.
your turkey out of the deep freeze and place in the fridge to defrost
turkey to defrost
turkey to defrost
turkey to defrost
your turkey for 12 hours, overnight
dry and place turkey back in fridge for 12 hours
your turkey and enjoy your dinner!
Thanksgiving Turkey Recipes
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