Wednesday 27 November 2013

Turkey 101

 Turkey 101

Ahhhh . . . turkey, that holiday centrepiece that is so beloved by many . . .   a family tradition for Thanksgiving (if you are a North American) and Christmas (if you are a Brit).  An annual favourite and not all that hard to cook, but so often done wrong.  

Today I shall attempt to put to bed some of the mysteries which surround the cooking of this fabulous bird and hopefully help to make yours this year to be the best turkey ever!

I like to purchase a top quality bird for my holiday feasts, be it Thanksgiving or Christmas.  This is the one time of the year I will splurge and get a higher cost bird, and it goes without saying that I always choose free range and fresh if I can get it.  

I may eat turkey minced, or in bits the rest of the year . . . but it is only this once a year that I cook the whole bird, so it is a real treat for us! (Christmas for us.)

A lot of people swear by Brining . . . and others by dry brining.  I have tried both . . . and to be honest, I want my  turkey to taste like a turkey.    Dry brining with salt preserves the integrity of the bird . . . and in all honesty it doesn't end up being really salty, but every wet brined bird I have ever cooked ended up tasting like the brine.  Not my cup of tea.

Turkey 101

I always remove all of the wrapping from my bird and let it sit in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours unwrapped to help dry the skin out well.  That makes it a lot easier to rub any butter on and helps for nicely browned skin.  

I also take it out at least an hour before cooking, which brings it to room temperature.  A cold bird put into a hot oven is a bit of a shocking experience and tightens up the tissue . . . we don't want a tough bird.  Moist and succulent is the order of the day.

If you are not buying fresh you will be buying a frozen one and so proper planning has to go into the thawing of the bird so that you are not caught out on the day with a still frozen bird and a multitude of hungry people arriving at any moment!

Always, always thaw your turkey in the refrigerator.  I know the temptation is there to want to leave it out on the countertop overnight and hasten the event, but the simple truth is as soon as the meat thaws and warms, bacteria begins to grow at room temperature.  

With something as large as a turkey, this means that by the time the centre has thawed, the outside already has bacteria growing and multiplying.  Sure . . . there is a possibility that it may not make you sick, but why take the chance?

Turkey 101

Refrigerator Thawing 
When thawing a turkey in the refrigerator:

Plan ahead: allow approximately 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds in a refrigerator set at 40 °F or below.  Place the turkey in a container to prevent the juices from dripping on other foods. I always thaw mine out on the bottom shelf.

Refrigerator Thawing Times

Whole turkey:

 4 to 12 pounds (1.8 Kilos to 5.4 Kilos) ……  1 to 3 days

12 to 16 pounds (5.4 Kilos to 7.2 Kilos)  …… 3 to 4 days

16 to 20 pounds (7.2 Kilos to 9.7 Kilos) …… 4 to 5 days

20 to 24 pounds  (9.7 Kilos to 10.8 Kilos)  …… 5 to 6 days  
A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days before cooking.  

 What size pan will you need for your turkey?
 Roast it on a rack – either a metal one or a rack of vegetables like whole carrots and celery in an open pan. If you use a foil pan, double it for extra strength with a heavy turkey. I often use the enamel Grill pan and rack that came with my stove.  It is large and shallow, allowing for even browning.

Turkey Minimum Pan Size:
Up to 12 pounds 14” x 10” x 2 ¾”
Up to 16 pounds 15 ¾” x 12” x 3”
Up to 20 pounds 16” x 13” x 3” high

Roasting rack

This is the rack I use.  The Eddingtons V shaped roasting rack. It helps to keep the turkey elevated so that it doesn't stew in it's own juices and the air from the oven can circulate easily around the bird.  You can pick one up at Tesco Direct for £4.50, which is a really decent price. It's made of steel and is non stick.

To ensure a nicely moist turkey, I  like to rub a lot of butter into the flesh beneath the skin, and on top of the skin.  Now you can add seasonings and herbs to it, like I have done here today, which also adds extra flavour.  

Sometimes I just slip a few sprigs of thyme, some salt, pepper and sage in with the butter, which works well also.  A bit of broth in the roasting tin and a few aromatic veggies and Bob's your Uncle.  Put that tasty bird over top of it all on a rack and start roasting!

Turkey 101

I like to start mine off at a high temperature to assist in the browning, but after that I reduce the temperature to as low as it is safe to go and slow roast, basting it every 15 to 20 minutes with broth and more butter, or the pan juices.  (I know . . . but it's Thanksgiving/Christmas!)  If it starts to get too dark, I will tent it with some foil.

A meat thermometer or an instant-read thermometer will help you have a moist, perfectly-done turkey.  The breast should register 75*C/165*F in the thickest part, away from the bone. If you use an instant-read thermometer, start checking 30 minutes to 1 hour ahead of time.  If you think your turkey is browning too fast, tent loosely with foil.

Meat thermometer

This is the meat thermometer I use.  It's very easy to use, you just stick it into a meaty area of the bird, taking care not to touch any bone.   I would recommend the Eddington's Meat Thermometer.  It is made with high quality Cromargan stainless steel, and I have found it to give precise and reliable readings.   

It is clear and easy to read.  with a very functional design, and a temperature range of  O*C to 120*C.  You can find one of these at For House and Home for the price of £10.99.

Pop up timer

These work really well also. Eddingtons Pop Up Timers for cooking turkey. They help to take the guess work out of cooking your turkey and are very easy to use.  

Simply insert a pop up timer into the centre of the breast, once the turkey has reached the correct temperature the stem will pop up letting you know your turkey is ready.  You can buy them at Captain Cooks for £2.99.

It's really important that once your bird is done you set it aside, keep it warm and allow it to rest, so that all of those tasty juices will be absorbed back into the bird.  If you start to carve it right away, you're going to lose all of that moistness.  

It will run out all over your cutting board.  Be patient.  Wait.  You'll be rewarded with an incredibly tasty and moist bird.  Let it rest, loosely covered with foil, for at least 30 minutes before carving.

Turkey lifters

One of the most difficult things to do is to lift the turkey out of the roasting tin onto a platter.  They are heavy and awkward and somewhat cumbersome.  I have some really handy Turkey Lifters which make the job a whole lot easier.  

You just slide them into to the bottom of the turkey at both ends, where the holes won't show and life the turkey out with ease.  This particular set from Eddingtons is durable  and easy to use and comes in a set of two.  You can purchase them at The Cooks Kitchen for £5.76, a reduction from £6.25.

Turkey 101

*Herb Roasted Turkey*
Serves 12 to 14
Printable Recipe

This really is a moist and flavourful way to cook a turkey. The smell alone, when it is roasting, lures everyone into the kitchen. You can hardly wait for it to be done so you can tuck in to it. I have done this with turkey crowns as well with lots of success. I hope you will try it and like it as much as we do. This recipe was a grand prize winner in a Taste of Home turkey recipe contest.

14 pound turkey
(I like to use a free range bird, myself)
1 TBS salt
1 tsp pepper
18 sprigs of fresh thyme, divided
4 medium onions, sliced
4 celery ribs, sliced
2 medium carrots, sliced
3 bay leaves
1 TBS peppercorns
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 tsp minced fresh sage
1 tsp minced fresh thyme
1 tsp finely chopped chives

Turkey 101

Pre-heat the oven to 160*C/325*F.  Get out a large roaster.  Remove any giblets etc. from your turkey and rinse it well.  Pat it dry with some paper towelling.

Rub the surface of your turkey with salt and pepper and sprinkle inside the cavity with some salt and pepper as well. Place 12 sprigs of thyme in the cavity.  

Place the onions, celery, carrots, bay leaves, peppercorns and the remaining thyme sprigs in the bottom of the roasting pan.  Place the turkey, breast side up, on top of the vegetables. 

Turkey 101

 Drizzle the butter all over the turkey and then, sprinkle with the minced herbs.  Cover loosely with foil.  Bake for 2 1/2 hours.  Remove the foil and bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours longer, basting every 20 minutes.

  The turkey is done when the juices run clear when you prick the turkey with a fork, and when the drumsticks are loose when lightly twisted.  Remove from the oven to a heated platter and lightly cover with foil.  Allow to stand for 20 minutes before carving.  

Turkey 101

For gravy, skim off any fat from the pan drippings.  Add a couple of cups of stock to the pan and vegetables and bring to the boil to deglaze and loosen up any tasty bits from the bottom.  Strain this into a saucepan. 

 Put some cold water into a jar along with a few TBS of flour.  Shake it really well and then strain it into the saucepan, whisking it in very carefully.  

Bring to a simmer over moderate heat, whisking the whole time and cook until bubbling and thick.  Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.  Place in a gravy boat for serving at the table.

Serve the turkey sliced and pass the gravy boat around!


  1. Useful info. And your turkey looks amazing.

  2. we're going it backwards having ham. But TY will be using for Christmas. Yours shores looks good yum.oooxxx

  3. Cooking a 7.4 lb turkey breast with your instructions Marie.


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