Thanksgiving is now 8 days away! I’m so excited for it to arrive. I love cooking for my family and I am ready to have my husband off of work for 4 whole days. When you think of Thanksgiving, we all have different memories but most of us picture a Turkey some where in the background. For those of you who may be making the Turkey for the first time this year or those of you who just want to brush up on some Turkey knowledge, I am going to break down everything you need to know about the famous Thanksgiving mascot.
So, before you go to the store…let’s talk about the different kinds of Turkey.
There are actually more kinds of Turkey than you would expect. When I first started my Turkey journey I just thought there were maybe like 2 kinds tops, but no. You actually have quite a few options. Which is a good thing. So many different families have different lifestyles, allergies, expectations, etc…So let’s take a look at the options you have as far as Turkeys go.
Fresh or Frozen:
I put both of these together because no matter what Turkey you get, you’ll be looking at which of these you prefer. It is kind of self explanatory but it is something to consider.
Fresh Turkey is obviously not Frozen and is already thawed. I suggest buying a Fresh turkey just a couple of days before Thanksgiving so it doesn’t sit too long.
A Frozen Turkey is just that, Frozen. It will last up to 1 year in your freezer. So if you are buying your turkey any more than 1-2 days before Thanksgiving, I suggest getting a Frozen one. Just be sure to give it plenty of time to thaw. Thawing Time is 1 day per 4 pounds.
Young Turkey: This is probably the most common turkey you will see at the store.These turkeys range from 4-7 months old. The meat is very tender and typically the preference of most families. I am serving a young turkey this year.
Organic Turkey: Organic Turkeys are only fed Organic Food. So if your family is organic conscious this would be the way to go. Be warned though, Organic Turkeys do tend to cost quite a bit more than your average turkey. But if Organic is your preference, then I imagine it is worth it. On The Chew yesterday Michael Symon said Organic Turkeys tend to have more white meat than dark and that is the reason he buys organic. So that may also be something to keep in mind.
Free Range: Free Range Turkeys are just like anything else free range. They spend at least half of their life (the USDA says 51% of their lives) roaming outdoors, instead of a tight enclosure. Free Range Turkeys aren’t always Organic, so be sure to check the label and make sure it is if you want a Free Range AND Organic Turkey. They too also tend to cost a bit more than the average turkey.
Kosher: Kosher Turkeys are Turkeys that have been dealt with in accordance to Jewish Law. Kosher Turkeys are already pre-seasoned so if you wanted an unseasoned turkey to season yourself, you may want to skip over buying a Kosher turkey. Even though I have heard they are amazingly delicious.
Natural: Natural Turkeys have not been seasoned and have no color added to them. This doesn’t mean they don’t have other additives though so check the ingredient list.
Basting and Brining
When it comes to Basting and Brining, it always comes down to your own preference. Some people don’t baste or brine, some people do one or the other, some people do both. It all comes down to what your family likes. For those of you interested in basting and brining, let’s take a look at what both mean and different ways to do them.
Brining is to soak your turkey in a solution before cooking it, in order to add moisture and flavor to your Turkey. Every basic wet brine contains water, salt, and sugar, and then you can add whatever seasonings you like. There a million recipes online for great brines. I recently saw Mario Batali create a coffee based Brine, yum! You can get really creative when it comes to your brine and they are really customizable.
When it comes to how long to brine your Turkey, I would follow the instructions that are suggested by the brine recipe you choose. It all comes down to the strength of the brine. It is usually better to under brine than over brine if you ever feel weary about what a recipe suggests, but typically the recipe creator knows the perfect amount of time because they have personally tested it themselves.
When brining, get something large enough to hold your turkey and enough brine that covers every inch of your turkey. That may be a pot or even a plastic tote. Whatever you use, just make sure your turkey is fully covered in the brine.
Try your best to fit it in your fridge to soak. If you can’t, you can use ice and a cooler or if it is cold enough outside and you have a safe place to put it, and a way to cover it, you could even do that. Just make sure your solution stays at, at least 40 degrees.
Recently dry brining has become popular. With a dry brine, you just have a mixture of salt and whatever spices you like, and for a period of over 2-3 days, you massage the seasoning under and around the skin. There are plenty of recipes for this online too.
When Dry Brining, be sure and have a bag to keep your turkey in. The turkey will be sitting in the fridge during the process and the bag keeps your turkey from any cross contamination with the surfaces in your fridge and keeps your spices from going everything.
Basting is the art of taking the juices from the turkey or your own basting solution, and pouring it over the turkey as it cooks.
As your turkey cooks, it creates its own juices and the juices drop to the bottom of your pan (see my last Blog post on the important of not letting your turkey touch the bottom of your pan). If you baste, you can take a turkey baster, a cooking brush, or a spoon and drizzle the liquid all over your turkey. Some people go ahead and make their own baste solution (you can find recipes online) instead of using the juices that the turkey produces. If you seasoned your turkey (by brining or just by adding seasoning) a whole separate recipe for basting isn’t necessary since you don’t want to over salt your turkey.
The standard rule is to Baste every 30 minutes. It isn’t a fancy process and it shouldn’t take too long to avoid too much heat escaping your oven. If you can remove the turkey from your oven while basting I suggest that so you can keep your oven door shut as much as possible to retain heat. If it is too hard of a job (some turkeys can get pretty heavy), then feel free just to pull your rack out a bit, but make it as quick as possible.
I already went over Brining as a seasoning option and some Turkeys already come seasoned themselves. So this isn’t always needed. You don’t always have to heavily season your turkey. My turkey is coming just seasoned with some butter and salt on the outside so I am taking an extra step and seasoning the inside of my turkey as well.
Like Brines, there are a ton of recipes out there that you can follow to season your turkey and you can even really make up your own. You can buy seasonings at the store or you can use fresh herbs and veggies inside and under your turkey. For mine, I am placing some Onions and Celery with a little garlic on the inside of my turkey as it cooks.
How ever you want to season it, go for it. Each family has their own favorite flavors. Just make sure to not over do it so your turkey doesn’t come out too salty. Always take a look at the ingredient list of your turkey to see what has already been added.
Some people cook their stuffing in their turkey. Some don’t. Like everything else, it all comes down to what your family prefers. If you want to cook your Turkey with Stuffing inside, here’s the 101 version on how to do so!
- Find a good Stuffing Recipe and prepare it. There are tons of yummy recipes online that you can use. Make sure your stuffing is using all cooked ingredients.
- Fill the Neck Cavity with your Stuffing.
- Fill the Body Cavity with your Stuffing.
- Tuck the Turkey Legs back in place.
- Cook Turkey as instructed.
- Scoop out Stuffing into a separate serving dish before serving.
You want to be sure your stuffing reaches 165 degrees and be sure not to over stuff so everything can cook nice and even.
Ways to Cook Your Turkey
The most common way to cook your turkey is Roasting, but there are a few other ways to cook it. Let’s take a look!
The most common way to cook the Turkey. This is how I plan on cooking mine. You of course Roast your Turkey in an oven. Last week I wrote about getting a roasting pan and I find them very important. It makes the roasting process SO much easier. When cooking a turkey you don’t want it to touch the bottom of your pan so it doesn’t stew in it’s juices and can roast all over. I also saw on The Chew that if you don’t have a roasting pan you can put veggies on the bottom of your pan and sit your turkey on them instead. How ever you do it, don’t put your turkey straight on the bottom :) Ok, now, on to roasting!
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Let your turkey sit out while it is preheating. The key to roasting is a longer cook over a medium temperature.
- Take out all of the giblets and neck.
- Rinse your turkey off and pat it dry with paper towels.
- Place your turkey on to your roasting rack breast side up (or down for the first hour but be sure and skip step 6)
- Rub your turkey inside and out with your fat of choice, either oil or butter or a mix of both. This allows it to get a nice brown color while roasting.
- When the turkey is 2/3 of the way done, cover the breast and the top of the drumsticks loosely with foil so it doesn’t over cook.
I got this Cooking Time Chart right off of Butterball’s website.
Your Turkey is finished when it is 165 degrees in the thicket part of the Turkey.
When your Turkey is done, take it out of the oven and let it rest for 15-20 minutes to let the yummy juices settle before cutting into it.
When I first heard about slow cooking a turkey I was doubtful. It sounded too easy to be good. But it really is a genius idea and so many people like to go that route because of the simplicity. I love Slow Cooker meals, they are so stress free and on a stress filled day of cooking, I can see why this is a nice choice. For this you will want a smaller turkey, around 10-12 pounds is best.
- First you will want to prep your turkey. Removing the Giblets, Washing it Off, Seasoning it, Rubbing it down with butter, Stuffing with veggies or stuffing.
- Place stock at the bottom of your pot (chicken will work just fine but you can use your favorite). About 1-1.5 cups will do the trick. You don’t want it sticking to the bottom.
- Place Herbs around the turkey for flavor (optional).
- Cook on High for 2 Hours then Cook on low for 4-6 hours.
- Remove, let rest, and then carve per usual.
I like that this is an easy, sit it aside and leave it turkey. This can come in handy for extra busy cooks!
Mmm. Fried Turkey tastes SO good. I think everyone should have a friend turkey at least once in their life. If you are wanting to make that time this year (or every year), this is all you have to do!
- Remove all giblets and packaging from the Turkey.
- Rinse Turkey and Pat dry.
- Add in your oil. Make sure it is below the maximum fill line or enough to cover your turkey.
- Preheat to 400 degrees.
- Season your turkey.
- SLOWLY lower your turkey down into the oil.
- When the turkey is finished (see guidelines below) SLOWLY remove it and place on paper towels to drain the extra grease.
- Let it rest 20 minutes before carving.
As usual, your turkey is done when it has reached 165 degrees in the thicket part of your turkey. The cooking time is suggested to be about 3-4 minutes per pound.
MAKE SURE YOUR TURKEY IS COMPLETELY THAWED. This is VERY important. So many people deal with Turkey Frying fires due to skipping this step. If you aren’t sure, keep thawing by letting it sit longer or rinsing it under cool water until it is finished thawing.
Make sure you have a fryer large enough to comfortably fit your turkey. You can purchase extra large fryers for extra large turkeys or divide the legs and thighs and fry them separately.
More often than not, you are going to have some leftovers. It’s important to store them correctly so you aren’t eating bad turkey.
- Store it by itself in a separate container
- Store in your fridge
- Leftovers are good from the fridge for 3-4 days
- Frozen turkey is good up to 3-4 months.
There we have it! The 101 on cooking a Turkey. There are so many ways to season, prep, cook, and eat Turkey, always go with what feels right and tastes the best to you and your family. We all have different taste buds! :) Enjoy!
Do you have any questions regarding your Turkey? Any Tips? Comment below! I would love to hear from you!