Turkey 101 for the Poultry Challenged or tips for cooking the big gobbler if you’ve never done it before – including carving

 

These how to cook a turkey instructions are for the Turkey Novice and a refresher for the Turkey Expert, as if you need to be refreshed, but you never know.

Whenever I go home to Vancouver for Christmas you can find me in the kitchen making the Big Feast.

Whenever I go home to Vancouver for Christmas you can find me in the kitchen preparing the Big Feast.

Christmas dinner is a  feast, complete with many fancy side dishes, gravy, cranberry sauce, and the star of the event: the big gobbler. Home cooks right across Canada sidle up to the kitchen counter and whip up a truly amazing dinner.

But for many people it’s a time to panic. Turkey rookies can go into a complete tail spin at the mere mention of “preheat oven to 325ºF (160ºC)”.

Roasting a turkey is a very personal experience. There as many methods out there as opinions on who should be our next great leader. I waiting to see if the new guy pans out…..

Cooks all over Canada start planning their menus in November. Chefs debate what the perfect temperature to roast is. And some professional cooks will argue that deep fat frying is the way to go. But before you can compete with the pros you need to know the basics. So for all you Turkey Virgins follow these steps for your inaugural turkey success.

 

First things first

 

  • Buy a meat thermometer. The only safe effective way to tell if a turkey is cooked is by internal temperature.
What can I say, i have a lot of meat thermometers!

What can I say? I have a lot of meat thermometers! (there are more in the drawer!)

  • Decide on how many people you’re serving and then allow 1.5 pounds per person. Sound like a lot? Well you need to factor in that a turkey has bones in it and then there is the dreaded shrinkage, plus you want leftovers.
  • 1.5 pounds is the magic number.

 

Fresh vs. frozen debate

They both are great choices depending on your needs.

Some people swear by fresh, but I love the convenience of buying a frozen bird. I get to pick it up before the Thanksgiving rush and then store it in my freezer until I need to start the thawing process.

  •  For a frozen bird: Place the frozen turkey on a dish to catch any liquid and allow one day for every four pounds of turkey.
  • Here’s where not goofing around in math class will finally come in handy. A sixteen pound turkey will take four days in the fridge.
  • Don’t even think about thawing it on the counter, and yes I know our parents used that lovely method but it is one of the best ways to spend most of the day after Thanksgiving in the ER.
  • You can’t smell if food is contaminated but your gastrointestinal tract can figure it really quickly out.
  • To overstate: Thaw the turkey in the fridge.
  • Okay, you forgot to take the turkey out of the freezer and its 8:00 am on Thanksgiving morning. Don’t panic. Submerge the frozen bird in cold not hot water. Keep changing the water every 30 minutes. It should take about 30 minutes per pound so that sixteen pound bird should be thawed in 8 hours.
  • As long as you don’t stuff it you’ll be eating some time around 9:00 pm. Just another really good reason why you should write yourself a note to take that sixteen pound frozen bird out of the freezer four days before you need it.

Fresh turkeys are usually bought a couple of days before Thanksgiving. But I totally hate grocery shopping with the frenzied, hence my attraction to the frozen bird.

I really love the turkeys that you cook from frozen. No need to thaw. The turkeys are brined before they’re stuffed and then flash frozen. For the turkey challenged these frozen birds are really the easiest to cook. All you do is remove the wrapper, place the frozen turkey on a rack in a shallow roasting pan, rub on some canola oil and put it into the oven. You test for doneness exactly the same way as a standard turkey and it comes out moist and juicy every time. For ease and convenience it’s my bird of choice.

Or you can even call the hotline and speak to a home economist 1-800-Butterball they are manning the phones. Trust me they have heard it all and can solve any of your turkey dilemmas. My peeps know everything you ever wanted to know about turkeys!

 

Wash those hands

 

Wash those hands

To overstate, again: Wash those hands

Whenever you are handling food you need to make sure that your hands are clean.

  •  Wash your hands with soap and water before and after turkey prep
  • Wash anything that came into contact with the raw turkey in hot soapy water
  • Wipe counters and taps with paper towels and  hot soapy water and a disinfectant
  • Use paper towels not a cloth for all clean up when using raw protein

 

To stuff or not to stuff?

 Health Canada says no. Stuffing is the ideal breeding ground for bacteria. They recommend that the stuffing is cooked separately either in an oven friendly dish or on the stove top. They also say that if you swear by your family recipe, skip any raw ingredients, stuff loosely, cook till you reach an internal temperature of 165ºF (75ºC) and then remove the stuffing from the bird, you might be alright to go.

 

How long to cook? These are guidelines:

5-6 lbs / 2-4 kg             3-3 ½ hours, stuffed           2 ¼ – 2 ¾ hours, unstuffed

8-11 lbs. / 4-5 kg          3 ½ – 4 hours, stuffed          2 ¾ – 3 ¼ hours, unstuffed

11-18 lbs. / 5-8 kg        4- 4 ½ hours, stuffed          3 ¼ – 3 ¾ hours, unstuffed

18-22 lbs. / 8-10 kg      4 ½ – 5 hours, stuffed         3 ¾ – 4 ¼ hours, unstuffed

22-24 lbs. / 10-11 kg    5 ¼ – 5 ¾ hours, stuffed     4 ¼ – 4 ¾ hours, unstuffed

 

Getting it into the Oven – the checklist

  •  Wash the sink out and rinse well.
  • Wash your hands
  • Lower the rack in your oven to the lower third
  • Preheat oven to 325ºF (160ºC)
  • Get out the paper towels
  • Get out a shallow roasting pan with a rack and set beside the sink . A shallow roasting works best. You want to roast the turkey, not steam it. For the best ever gravy wash and then cut leeks and parsnips in half and place in the bottom of the roasting pan. Place the wire rack over top.

 

for the best gravy, ever, leeks and parsnips are my secret ingredients

For the best gravy, ever, leeks and parsnips are my secret ingredients

  • Get out the salt and pepper
  • Have the stuffing ready, if you are going to stuff the bird
  • Get out a knife or scissors
  • Get out a plastic bag for garbage and have it handy
  • Wash your hands
  • Get the turkey out of the fridge
  • Place in sink
  • Remove the wrapper and carefully discard the wrapper into the plastic bag that you have handy
  • Remove the bags of “goodies” from the large inner cavity and the neck from the smaller neck cavity. Either discard or make a stock out of them. For the stock people you will need a medium saucepan some water, onion or leeks, carrot, and celery. For the non stock people discard the goodies into the plastic bag. Stock people simmer the giblets for at least 4 hours, strain and use for gravy or soup stock.

 

Veggies with the giblets, which are buried under the all those veggies, before and after simmering for 4 hours.

Veggies with the giblets, which are buried under the all those veggies, before and after simmering for 4 hours.

 

  • Meanwhile back at the sink: Tip the turkey so if there is any blood it runs into the sink and down the drain
  • Wipe the inside of the turkey with paper towels, discard
  • Place the turkey, breast side up on the rack
  • Wash hands
  • Stuff it if you’re going to
  • Wash hands
  • Sprinkle the outside of the turkey with salt and pepper, if desired, and give the outside skin a rub with some canola oil.

 

With out a doubt, the easiest turkey to cook for the rookie turkey cook is a cook from Frozen.

With out a doubt the easiest turkey to cook for the Rookie Turkey Cook ,is a Cook from Frozen.

 

  • Wash your hands
  • Place turkey in oven
  • Congratulate yourself – you got the bird into the oven
  • Set timer for two-thirds of the required cooking time and have a drink or a nap, whatever works for you
  • When the timer goes off at the two-thirds mark, wash your hands and take the bird out of the oven and take its temperature. Insert the meat thermometer into the centre of the stuffing. If the legs are getting over cooked cover them with foil.

 

Taking the turkey's internal temperature about half way through the cooking process and cooking the legs if they are getting over cooked.

Take the turkey’s internal temperature about two-thirds of the way through the cooking process and then cover the legs with foil if they are getting over cooked.

  • Basting every hour is a waste of time – it cools down the oven and the bird which translates into a longer cooking time and it only tenderizes to 1/8-inch. I baste only in the last hour.
  • If the turkey is starting to get too brown place a piece of foil loosely over the darkened places
  • Wash your hands
  • Place the turkey back into the oven

 

Is it done?

  •  It’s all about internal temperatures. Don’t be wiggling the legs or cutting into the turkey. You really need that thermometer I keep bringing up.
  • Wash your hands and take the turkey out of the oven
  • Insert the thermometer into the centre of the stuffing. It should read 165ºF (74ºC) in the stuffing or 180ºF (83ºC) at the deep thigh.
Food safety rule: always take the temperature to see if the turkey is done.

Food safety rule: always take the temperature to see if the turkey is done.

  • If it’s hit those temperatures it’s done.
  • Remove the turkey from the roasting pan and set it on a carving platter or leave it in the pan.
  • Its time for “Turkey Time Out”.

 

Believe it or not, there is a turkey under all of that stuff!

Believe it or not, there is a turkey under all of that stuff! We cooked this one at the cottage and we got a little carried away with keeping it warm during Turkey Time Out.

 

    • Cover the turkey loosely with foil and then cover with a tea towel and let sit for 15 minutes. This will allow the juices to redistribute ensuring that your turkey is juicy.
    • Wash your hands
    • Remove foil, remove stuffing.
Spoon out stuffing into a bowl (this just happens to be Marion Kane, Food Sleuth's, antique bowl....i accidently never gave it backv to her, lucky for me she officially gave it to me a couple of years ago.

Spoon out stuffing into a bowl. This just happens to be Marion Kane,the Food Sleuth’s, antique bowl….I accidentally never gave it back to her after a dem we did together, lucky for me she officially gave it to me a couple of years ago.

 

  • Carve the turkey. There are many ways to carve a turkey this is the way I was taught.
  • Tip #1 – Use a sharp carving knife.
  • Tip #2 – Place the turkey on a carving board or a large cutting board.
Top Left: Remove thigh and leg Top right: Remove wing Bottom Left: Cut in and up along the rib cage  Bottom Right: Slice downward

Top Left and Right and Bottom Left:
Remove thigh and leg
Bottom Right:
Remove wing

 

Top left: Remove the leg and thigh. Top right: Remove wing Bottom Left: cut in and up along the rib cage. Bottom Right: Slic down to make perfect slices.

Top left:
Cut in and up along the rib cage.
Top right:
Start slicing at the bottom of the breast
Bottom Left: continue slicing
Bottom Right: Perfect slices.

  •  Place cut turkey on a platter
  • Wash your hands
  • Serve to applause

 

Side Dishes

  • If you’re having a large crowd delegate the rest of the dinner. Get your friend to bring some nibbles, your Aunt Bernice to bring her world famous sweet potatoes, and your sister to bring dessert.
  • Christmas is supposed to be about family, friends and being grateful for what we have not a sentence to kitchen hell.
  • Don’t be the Christmas martyr this year, ask for help.

 

For any turkey related questions go to www.butterball.ca

Or you can even call the Turkey Hotline and speak to a home economist 1-800-Butterball they know a thing or two about turkey!

For side dish recipes click here.

 (A version of this first appeared at Yahoo! Canada back in the days when I wrote for them!)

Posted in Christmas Tagged with: , , ,
3 comments on “Turkey 101 for the Poultry Challenged or tips for cooking the big gobbler if you’ve never done it before – including carving
  1. Ellen says:

    Great turkey tips with a dash of humour! Thanks.

  2. Heather says:

    You mention great gravy in this article. Something about leeks and parsnips? Please expound! 🙂

  3. Mairlyn says:

    Hi Heather,
    I make a very unconventional gravy….I remove the parsnips and the leeks and put them into my Vita Mix and pulverize them. Meanwhile I add flour to the fat in the roasting pan, stirring well and browned, and then slowly blend in any vegetable water, stock or potato water I have saved, then add the leeks and parsnip puree and cook until think. Its really good.
    Peace, love and fibre,
    Mairlyn

1 Pings/Trackbacks for "Turkey 101 for the Poultry Challenged or tips for cooking the big gobbler if you’ve never done it before – including carving"
  1. […] more, really thorough turkey tips, see this post by Marilyn Smith. I hope you feel confident enough to cook a turkey now. If I can do it, so can […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*