Turkey Cooking And Serving Instructions

Tips for cooking and serving a moist, delicious turkey.

Whether its for Thanksgiving Day, or any other occasion that warrants a special dinner, you may have considered cooking a turkey for the festivities. While it may sound like a somewhat overwhelming task, cooking a turkey can be a rewarding culinary experience if done correctly.

The best type of turkey to purchase is one that is already frozen. Make sure that you allow at least one day of refrigerator thawing for every four pounds of turkey. For example, if you are purchasing a 12-pound turkey, you will need 3 days to thaw it before cooking. A turkey should never be allowed to thaw at room temperature since this increases the chances of bacterial contamination. If refrigerator thawing, store the turkey in its original unopened packaging, breast side up on a large dish or tray. This will ensure that its raw juices do not leak on other foods. Another method of thawing is to place the unopened turkey, breast side down in cold water for a period of 30 minutes per pound of meat. Refresh the water every 30 minutes to ensure it stays cool. A thawed turkey can be refrigerated for up to four days before cooking.

Once the turkey has been completely thawed, you can remove the plastic wrapping. Remove any giblets and other parts, such as the neck, that are often stored inside the body. Drain any juices and blot the turkey with paper towels.

Stuffing, traditionally prepared with a turkey, can be cooked either inside the turkey, or in a separate casserole dish. If you wish to stuff the turkey, prepare the stuffing before you place it inside. Properly following the guidelines for handling raw food ingredients will ensure that it is uncontaminated by bacteria. Therefore, make sure to use only cooked ingredients, and pasteurized egg products as opposed to raw eggs in the stuffing recipe. The stuffing is placed inside the turkey just before roasting. Do not stuff a turkey the day or night before cooking. Stuff both the neck and body cavities of a turkey that has been completely thawed. Try not to pack the stuffing too tightly into the turkey. A good rule of thumb to follow is to use ½ to ¾ cup of stuffing per pound of turkey. When you are done stuffing the turkey, re-position the legs back to the tucked position. Remember to wash your hands, kitchen countertops, and utensils with hot soapy water to remove raw juices that they may have come in contact with.

To prepare your turkey for the oven, place it in a sturdy oven-safe pan that can support its weight. Insert the tip of a meat thermometer inside the stuffed cavity of the turkey or in the thigh just above and away from the lower part of the thighbone. It should not be touching the bone, but rather pointing towards the body. Roast at 325 degrees Fahrenheit according to the cooking schedule found on the packaging. Contrary to popular belief, basting during cooking is not necessary, as it will not make the meat any juicier. Also, intermittingly opening the oven door to do so can prolong the roasting time. Instead of basting, brush the skin with some vegetable oil, cooking spray, or shortening before placing it in the oven to prevent the skin from drying out. When it is approximately 30 minutes before the end of its scheduled roasting time, check the turkey for indications that it is done. This is usually indicated when the thigh temperature of an unstuffed turkey reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit, or the center of a stuffed one reads 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, the juices should no longer appear reddish-pink, but clear. Remove the turkey from the oven and let it sit for approximately 15 minutes before carving.

The big moment has finally arrived and its time to start carving your masterpiece. Carving a turkey should not be done in a haphazard way, as it could cause quite a mess, and possibly serious injury to yourself if not done correctly. Start with cutting into the skin that holds the drumstick while holding onto its end. Cut through the skin, into the joint, then remove the entire leg by pulling it out and back. You can use the end of the knife to help separate the leg from the body. To separate the wing from the body, insert the fork into the upper wing to steady it. Horizontally cut above the wing joint through and separate it from the body. Repeat these steps on the other side of the turkey. When carving the meat from the body, use straight even slices starting halfway up the breast. Continue carving in this manner, starting the cut at a higher point each time.

Cooking and serving a turkey should never be looked upon as a stressful or uncertain experience. By following these simple guidelines, you will end up with a moist, delicious turkey every time.

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