What’s with the turkey anxiety? People stress about cooking the bird when the holidays are supposed to be about friends and family. We’re here to tell you not to worry. Here are the four things you need to know to cook a delicious Thanksgiving turkey.
1. There’s no need to brine the bird—even though it will taste better.
No doubt about it, a salt solution that works its way into the meat’s fibers makes for a more tender, juicier bird. But don’t DIY it, buy it.
- Look for a kosher turkey since it has already been salted. It’ll be a bit pricier, but better every time.
Failing that, most supermarket turkeys are also prebrined. Look at the label. If it says the bird “may contain up to ten percent of a solution containing. . . ,” then the bird has been injected with a salt solution so it stays perfect through the roast.
Omit the salt from any marinades, rubs, or spice mixtures that are intended for kosher or “solution-containing” turkeys.
2. Only flavor the outside of the bird.
Sure, people love to shove herbs between the skin and the meat, but don’t. The skin protects the meat during roasting. When you make a pocket in there, you separate the skin from the meat, creating a flabby space that will let some of the retained juices run out. Here’s how to infuse flavor:
- If you’re going to eat the roasted skin, season it to your heart’s content with herbs and spices before the turkey hits the oven.
If you’re going to skip the skin, add extra herbs to any pan gravy for a tasty treat on every plate.
3. Roast parts.
If you’re like us and have only four or five at your table this holiday, consider roasting a turkey breast, rather than a whole bird. It’s quicker, often less expensive, and will leave you with fewer refrigerator-crowding leftovers.
And it isn’t just the breast that can be served up. Other turkey parts can work, too: Serve a braise of turkey thighs or roasted turkey drumsticks, or even a platter of barbecued turkey wings. No, you won’t have that Norman Rockwell moment with the carved bird, but your meal will be simpler and less stressful.
4. Finally, don’t thaw the bird.
Now we’ve got your attention. Turkeys can be roasted right out of the freezer. Here’s how:
Step 1: Peel off all the wrapping and place the bird in a roasting pan in a 325°F oven.
Step 2: After 2 hours, use long kitchen tongs to remove the giblet package and neck in the inner cavity. If those bits are still frozen and stuck in place, try again every 20 minutes until you get them out.
Step 3: At this point, generously pepper the outside of the bird (and salt if it’s not a kosher or “solution-containing” turkey). Then keep roasting the bird until an instant-read meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh and breast without touching bone registers 165°F, tenting the turkey with foil if it begins to brown too deeply.
Roasting a frozen bird takes about 50 percent longer than roasting a thawed bird. Here’s a handy chart for how long it takes beyond that 2-hour mark:
- For an 8- to 12-pound turkey, 1½ to 2 more hours
- For a 12- to 14-pound turkey, 2 to 3¼ more hours
- For a 14- to 18-pound turkey, 3¼ to 3¾ more hours
- For a 18- to 20-pound turkey, 3¾ to 4¼ more hours
- Or for a 20- to 24-pound turkey, 4¼ to 5 more hours
And after the holidays, here are some recipes to help you work through those leftovers: