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How to Cook a Turkey

November 30, 2012 by Andrea Godfreyson, Registered Dietitian

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Cooking a turkey is simple. While there are as many recipes out there as there are turkeys, first time turkey cooks should stick to the basics for a reliably delicious bird. Once you feel comfortable with the steps, you can change things up.

The directions below are for an unstuffed turkey. You can make stuffing in a separate dish in the oven. An unstuffed turkey cooks faster, is more food safe, and the stuffing doesn’t soak up fat from the drippings.

How do I choose a turkey?

You can get a turkey that is fresh or frozen. Both are delicious. Most people choose a frozen turkey as they often have a sweeter flavour, are usually cheaper and can be kept in the freezer for up to one year. Look for turkey that isn’t pre-stuffed.

Choose a turkey with a plump round shape. Make sure there are no rips in the packaging. To choose a size of bird, estimate about 1 pound (450 grams) of turkey per person or 1.5 pounds (675 grams) per person if you want leftovers

What equipment and ingredients do I need?

Equipment

  • Roasting pan 
  • Roasting rack (inserts in the pan) OR 2 yellow onions, 3 carrots and 3 stalks of celery
  • Cutting board
  • Knife 
  • Small bowl
  • Aluminum foil
  • Turkey baster OR large spoon
  • Plate or platter for the turkey
  • Wooden spoon
  • Fine mesh strainer
  • Whisk
  • Gravy boat

Ingredients

  • Turkey 
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 lemons
  • Few sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • Low sodium chicken stock (optional)
  • White flour

How do I handle a turkey safely?

As turkey can be contaminated by bacteria, be food safe when handling your turkey. Read these food safety tips before starting and then refer back to them along the way.

How do I defrost a turkey?

Defrosting a turkey can take a few days. The food safety tips link above outline how to thaw a turkey safely.

How do I prepare a turkey for roasting?

  1. One hour before you want the turkey in the oven, take the thawed turkey out of the fridge. 
  2. Take it out of its packaging and remove anything that is in its cavity (the inside of the turkey). Often there are giblets and the neck. You can keep these to make soup stock or use them in your stuffing. Otherwise, you can throw them away.
  3. Preheat your oven to 450°F (230°C). This might seem hot but when you open the oven to put the turkey in, a lot of heat will escape. 
  4. In the sink, rinse both the outside and inside of the turkey. Then use paper towel to dry it (outside and inside). 
  5. Place the turkey on a rack in a roasting pan. If you don’t have a rack, coarsely chop up 2 onions, 3 carrots and 3 stalks of celery. Place the cut up vegetables in the pan and put the turkey on top, breast side up. 
  6. Pour a small amount of olive oil on the turkey, making sure to get some oil all over. Sprinkle the turkey with salt and pepper and rub these seasonings all over the bird. 
  7. Cut 2 lemons in half and place them in its cavity with a few sprigs of fresh rosemary. You are now ready to roast the turkey. Follow the steps below right away.

How do I roast a turkey?

  1. Cover the turkey with aluminum foil, (to keep the moisture in and not let it brown too quickly) and put it in the oven. Turn the oven down to 325°F. 
  2. Baste your turkey every 30 minutes. Use a turkey baster to suck up the juices from the bottom of the pan and pour them back over the turkey. If you don’t have a baster, you can use a big spoon. Fill the baster at least half full and coat the bird in the drippings, especially the breast. Repeat 3 to 4 times. Try to work quickly so the oven doesn’t lose too much heat. 
  3. After about 2.5 hours (or 2 hours if you have a very small turkey), take the aluminum foil off the turkey so the skin can brown more and become crispy. 
  4. The size of the turkey, your oven, and the number of times you open the oven will affect how long the turkey takes to cook. An unstuffed turkey may take anywhere from 2.5 hours (3 kg turkey) to 5 hours (11 kg turkey) to cook at 325°F. When this time is up, stick a food thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh meat. Don’t let the thermometer touch the bone. Your turkey is done when the thermometer reads 185°F (85°C). Be careful not to overcook it past this temperature as the meat will dry out. You may need to check the turkey more often when it is getting close to being done. When it gets to the correct temperature, stick a small sharp knife into one thigh. The juices should be clear and the meat should easily pull apart. 
  5. Take it out of the oven and transfer it to a platter. Loosely cover the turkey with aluminum foil or clean tea towels. Let it sit (“rest”) for at least 20 minutes before you start carving it. 

How do I carve a turkey?

Pictures work best for this! Here is a step by step guide.

How do I make gravy?

  1. If you used vegetables in the bottom of the roasting pan, throw them away. Tip the roasting pan on its side and, using a spoon, gently skim the fat off the drippings. 
  2. If it’s stove safe, put the roasting pan on medium-high heat and scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon to get all the brown bits off the bottom. (The brown bits give gravy more flavour.) If the roasting pan is not stove safe, pour the drippings into a saucepan.
  3. If you don’t think you have enough drippings for your meal, you can add 2 cups of chicken stock to the drippings. Bring this to a boil. 
  4. In a separate small bowl, put ¼ cup of white flour. Add enough water to make it into a thick liquid. Stir it to get rid of any lumps. 
  5. Slowly pour ½ of this flour mixture into your boiling drippings. Using a whisk, whisk the drippings for a few minutes. The liquid should thicken up. You can add more of the flour mixture until the gravy is the consistency you want. Gently boil the drippings for a least a couple of minutes after you add flour. Add salt and pepper to taste. 
  6. Strain your gravy through a fine mesh strainer into a warm gravy boat (or a measuring cup with a pourable spout) and serve.

Recommended Resources:

Let’s Talk Turkey - Health Canada
Holiday Food Safety - Health Canada

 

 

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