Thanksgiving is known for many things like going around the table saying what you are thankful for and the increasing anticipation of Black Friday the following day. But most of all, it is known for the dinner everyone enjoys that day. Thanksgiving dinner is a long and anxiously awaited meal. People (like myself) genuinely wait around all year for it! The meal, however, is only ever as good as the Thanksgiving turkey. The turkey is the centerpiece of the whole meal, so it essential that it is cooked to perfection. If you need help cooking the perfect Thanksgiving turkey and are looking for some helpful how-to’s and tips then this article is your saving grace. Here you will find out how to make the perfect Thanksgiving turkey that everyone will want a second heaping helping of!
1. Pick The Perfect Weight
Cooking the perfect Thanksgiving turkey begins by choosing the right type of turkey for you and your guests. It is important to check the weight of your turkey to ensure that you have enough servings of turkey to feed each of your guests. A general rule to follow is 1 pound for every guest, however, if you think that your guests may want to go in for seconds, you may want to choose a bigger turkey that allows for 1.5 pounds of turkey per guest.
2. Choose Your Preferred Style
The Thanksgiving turkey you choose is entirely up to your taste and preference. There are many different turkey styles to choose from such as fresh, frozen, hard-chilled, organic, kosher, self-basting, free-range, premium, natural, and heritage breeds. A turkey is categorized as “fresh” if it has never been chilled to a temperature below 26°F, meanwhile a turkey categorized as “frozen” has been brought to a temperature below 0°F. It should be noted that turkey producers agree that freezing the meat negatively affects the taste and texture of it, so keep that in mind. Turkeys that have been chilled below 26°F but above 0°F are labeled “hard-chilled.” An “organic” turkey is one that has been raised on 100% organic feed, are free of antibiotics, and are given access to roam the outdoors. A turkey labeled “kosher” has been processed under rabbinical supervision. Like organic turkeys, they are free of antibiotics, fed organic feed, and are allowed to roam the outdoors, but in addition to all of that, they are also soaked in a salt brine. So, if you decide to go with a kosher turkey, remember to skip the brining process since it has already been administered. Turkey’s that are labeled “self-basting” are injected with a solution of fat, broth, spices, flavor enhancers, and other ingredients, so that it is guaranteed that it will be flavorful. A “free-range” turkey is simply a turkey that has had access to the outdoors. Premium brand turkeys often come with no animal by-products, no antibiotics, and are raised without a cage. This means that these turkeys tend to grow more slowly than factory-raised birds, therefore allowing the meat of the bird to develop a richer flavor and denser texture. A “natural” turkey is one that has been minimally processed and contains no artificial ingredients or colors. Lastly, “heritage breed” turkeys are turkeys that have been edged out of the market. Good examples of these would be Bourbon Red and Jersey Buff breeds. Typically, heritage breeds are known to have darker, more flavorful meat and have less breast meat.
3. Thawing Time
Allow your turkey to thaw! Do not just pop your turkey straight into the oven after it has been in the freezer the night before. This is will make for a complete disaster! Your turkey will not be able to absorb the flavors as well nor will it be able to be cooked as easily (or evenly). You should thaw your turkey according to this rule: 1 day in the fridge for every 5 pounds of turkey weight. You do not want to skip this step and risk your Thanksgiving turkey coming out dry and bland!
4. Do Not Baste
Basting causes you to have to open and close your oven-door about a thousand times, which makes it so that your turkey becomes dry. Why does this occur? Well, it is because the constant opening and closing of your oven door cause temperature fluctuations. You want your turkey to be cooked at a constant temperature to ensure its moistness. The brine and rub you create and slather on to your turkey should be enough to ensure its juiciness so that you can eliminate the need to baste altogether.
5. Brining Is Helpful
If you decide on a turkey that isn’t kosher, then brining is the best route to ensure that your turkey will turn out delicious. To make a brine, begin by combining 1/2 cup Morton’s salt, 1/4 cup sugar, and 2 quarts cool water in a pot. Put the pot over high heat and stir until its contents are completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and once it is cool, add in 2 quarts of water and let it chill in the refrigerator. Then, remove the neck, giblets, and tail of the turkey and put them aside for later use in the turkey gravy/broth. Pat the turkey off and take two doubled up turkey-sized oven bags and roll down the edges to help them stay open so that you can place the turkey (breast side down) inside of the inner bag. Pour the brine over the turkey and then gather up and tie the inner bag followed by the outer bag. Refrigerate the brined turkey for 12-18 hours to let the flavors fully soak. You can add herbs, spices, honey, or even maple syrup to your brine. It truly is a concoction you can adjust according to your palette. You can even opt-out some of the water with fluids such as apple cider or coffee. The more sugary substances you add to your brine, however, the faster your turkey will brown once you put it in the oven, so be careful!
6. All About That Rub
Rubbing your turkey all over with butter and herbs helps brown the turkey more evenly, and it helps make the turkey more flavorful too. If you want to ensure that the skin of the turkey becomes crispy then you should add kosher salt to the rub too. Do not add salt, however, if you already brined your turkey!
7. Keep The Stuffing Away
Some people like to cook their stuffing inside of the turkey’s cavity, however, I urge you to cook your stuffing on a separate casserole tray instead. This is because the turkey will become overcooked by the time the stuffing reaches a temperature that is safe to eat.
8. Thermometer Check Is Key
If you want to be sure that your turkey is cooked to perfection, it is best that you invest in a good thermometer. You would not want to serve an undercooked or burnt turkey on Thanksgiving, as that would surely put a damper on Thanksgiving dinner. Invest in a good thermometer to ensure that the inside of the turkey has reached a temperature of 165-170°F. Looks can be deceiving and just because the outside of the turkey appears to be a golden brown, it doesn’t mean the inside of the turkey is cooked to perfection just yet.
9. Don’t Forget To Give It A Rest
Letting your turkey rest instead of immediately serving it will allow the juices inside of your turkey to settle. This will make the texture of your turkey more tender and the contents of your turkey more flavorful.
10. How To Cook A Perfect Turkey: Step-By-Step
If you are on the hunt for a delicious and easy recipe that will create the perfect Thanksgiving turkey then try following this one! Remove your thawed turkey from its package. Chop off the neck and the giblets from your turkey and put them aside for use in the turkey gravy. Pat your turkey dry, season the outer cavity with salt and pepper, and stuff the cavity with lemon, apple, onion, and herbs. Set your turkey (wings tucked) on top of a bed of chopped veggies inside of a disposable roasting pan. Lift the skin above the breast of the turkey and apply a couple tablespoons of herb butter underneath it. Using twine, tie the turkey legs together and then apply the rest of the herb butter to the rest of the turkey (feel free to apply it literally everywhere the eye can see). Cook the turkey at 325°F until golden brown and then place some tin foil over the breast meat of the turkey to keep it from burning. After that, all you need to do is cook until the internal temperature of the turkey reaches 165-170°F. Let it rest for at least 20 minutes and serve!
This guide on how to prepare the perfect Thanksgiving turkey will help you create the most memorable Thanksgiving dinner yet. Let us know your guests’ reactions and what tip was most helpful for you down in the comments below!
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Hello! My name is Sara Bowers and I am a Senior at Azusa Pacific University where I am double majoring in Allied Health and Honors Humanities and minoring in Psychology. As a young girl, I loved to write and English became my favorite subject very quickly. The sciences also intrigued me and I was often told to choose one path, but I did not want to sacrifice either of my passions. It turns out I didn't have to and thanks to the many novels read in my Humanities courses and the writing prompts I tackled alongside them, my love of writing was further affirmed and I grew more confident that I made the correct decision in pursuing both paths. I have a heart for helping people by any means necessary, so if that means helping someone with a physical ailment, informing someone of the best places to eat, or giving tips to calm anxiety, I am all for it. So, there you have it - that's me! Thank you for taking the time out of your day to get to know me a little bit! I hope you stop by and check out more of my articles in the future!