How to Cook a Turkey?

How to Cook a Turkey

Cooking a Turkey Begins With Thawing

If you want to be able to thaw your turkey using the preferred method (in the refridgerator), you will need to get your turkey as early as five days before you can start cooking it! (See chart)
If you are running behind schedule, you can also use the “cold water” method but be sure you follow these instructions for safety.

  • Thoroughly clean your sink with anti-bacterial soap and rinse well.
  • If the turkey’s bag is torn, seal it in another air tight bag.
  • Thaw the turkey for 30 minutes per pound in cold water.
  • Replace the water every 30 minutes to keep it cold.
  • Cook the turkey immediately after thawing.
  • Turkey Thaw Times Chart

    Turkey Weight
    (Pounds)

    Refrigerator
    (Days)

    Cold Water
    (Hours)

    8-12

    1-2

    4-6

    12-16

    2-3

    6-8

    16-20

    3-4

    8-10

    20-24

    4-5

    10-12


    Preparing to Cook a Turkey

    1. Remove the wrapper from the bird.
    2. Empty the body and neck cavities of the neck and giblets.
    3. Rinsing the turkey is not necessary. If you decide to do so, however ensure that the sink is cleaned first with an anti-bacterial soap and rinse well. Water splashing off the sink can contaminate the bird.


    Cooking Methods

    Roasting a Turkey

    1. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (163 degrees Celsius).
    2. Place the turkey with the breast up in a pan that is 2 to 3 inches deep.
    3. Insert a cooking thermometer into the deepest part of the thigh.
    4. Stuff the turkey now (immediately before cooking), if desired.
    5. Brush the bird with oil to keep the skin from drying out.
    6. Determine approximate cooking time using the chart below. Actual time is determined by the thermometer to ensure all bacteria are destroyed.

    Roasting Times Chart

    Turkey Weight
    (Pounds)

    Unstuffed
    (Hours)

    Stuffed
    (Hours)

    8-12

    2¾ – 3

    3 – 3½

    12-14

    3 – 3¾

    3½ – 4

    14-18

    3¾ – 4¼

    4 – 4¼

    18-20

    4¼ – 4½

    4½ – 4¾

    20-24

    4½ – 5

    4¾ – 5¼

    When your turkey is about 70% of the way done the skin should turn a light golden color. When this happens, remove the turkey from the oven, cover it with a tent made from loose aluminum foil (avoid touching the bird with the foil as much as possible), and return to oven. This is the key to keeping an oven-roasted turkey moist until done.

    Final cooking time should be determined by the thermometer. The turkey is safe to eat when the temperature reaches at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees Celsius). You may cook it to a higher temperature if you wish but keep the bird covered with the aluminum foil and be careful you don’t let the turkey get to dried out!

    You can also cook 10 or 15 minutes at the end without the aluminum foil if the skin has not browned to your satisfaction. Again, be careful to not overcook the bird! Once the skin begins to turn color, it can dry out and get too well done in a hurry!


    Deep Fat Fried Turkey

    Turkeys cooked in oil have increased in popularity over the years. Proponents of this cooking method swear that the flavor of a deep fat fried turkey is beyond compare! Many have been disappointed in their experience, however. You can’t simply throw a bird in some hot oil and expect it to come out tasty. There are also safety concerns when cooking with large quantites of scalding hot oil heated by a flame. In addition, you’ll need some items that aren’t normally used during the cooking process.

    You will need the following items

    1. A 40 to 60 quart pot with an internal basket, a burner, and a propane tank. Complete units are available in many stores and online.
    2. A “candy” thermometer to measure the oil temperature. The complete units mentioned above typically include this.
    3. A “meat” thermometer to be used to ensure that the turkey is cooked to a safe temperature on the inside. Do not insert this thermometer into the bird until you have removed it from the oil.
    4. Two to four pot holders. The “mitt” type that covers the entire hand is preferred. They should be readily available at the cooking site. You may need them in a hurry!
    5. A safe, outdoor location where children or pets will not be able to get near the burner and hot oil. Otherwise, an adult should supervise the location constantly! Be aware that a wood deck could catch on fire and a cement patio could be permanently stained by hot oil.
    6. A fire extinquisher should be readily available in case of emergency.

    Cooking Instructions

    1. Do not deep fat fry a turkey that is not totally thawed. Do not remove the bird from the refridgerator until you are completely set-up and the oil has achieved cooking temperature. You should never stuff the bird as the oil must contact the inside of the turkey in order for it to be cooked all the way through.
    2. You can figure out how much oil to use by placing the turkey in its pot and adding water until the turkey is covered and then add two more inches. Remove the turkey and measure how far it is from the top of the pot to the water level. That’s how high you will fill the pot with oil. Try guestimating the amount and you will either get a mess or you will be forced to add oil and return the pot to cooking temperature while the bacteria in the bird is multiplying! Before adding the oil, wipe all of the water out of the pot until dry or it will boil and splash oil all over everything or burn someone.
    3. Heat your oil to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 Celsius). Peanut oil gives the preferred taste according to most diners but any vegetable oil will work. Achieving cooking temperature can take as long as an hour.
    4. Cook a turkey in the oil for 3 minutes per pound. Pat any water off the turkey with a paper towel or two and lower it slowly into the oil. Don’t think you’ve overdone it! The skin will be black and the wings will be burned when done! This is normal. The wings can be removed and prepared by another method if you wish but subtract their weight when determining cooking time if you do so.
    5. The three minutes per pound cooking time is only a guide. Make sure that the temperature of the turkey is at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 Celsius) in the thickest part of the thigh and breast to ensure all bacteria is killed.

    Save That Oil!

    More than likely, the largest expense of your turkey dinner will be the oil. You can reuse it again for up to a month, assuming that it didn’t burn during use. If the oil was smoking, turned a dark color, or smells bad it should be discarded. Otherwise, just strain it through a coffee filter and put it in the refridgerator. As a final check, if the reused oil foams when you reuse it, don’t use it for cooking. If you follow those instructions, there is absolutely no danger in squeezing your money’s worth out of the oil! Of course, reheat the oil to cooking temperatures before adding any food and cook that food until its hot too!


    Smoked Turkey

    Smoking a turkey is yet another method to give the bird a distinctive flavor. If you have used a smoker, the procedure is fairly intuitive but here are a few things to consider:

    1. Cooking times vary dramatically based upon many factors including wind, outdoor temperature, the particular type of smoker, the amount of charcoal used and how often it is replaced, the number of times the lid is removed, the size of the turkey, etc. As a guideline, the temperature at the grate should be approximately 225 degrees Fahrenheit plus or minus 25 degrees (107 Celsius +/-14 degrees). Use a meat thermometer to ensure that the temperature in the thickest part of the thigh and breast has reached 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees celsius) before eating. This can take as little as 4 hours and as long as 12 hours. The bird must reach 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius) within the first four hours to be safe, however. Check it at 3 hours and 45 minutes. If this has not occured, finish cooking in the oven at 3/4 of the cooking times of the roasting chart above!
    2. Do not stuff a smoked turkey! The smoke and heat must be able to reach inside for safe cooking!
    3. Soak wood chips in water for an hour or two. Drain off the excess water for a minute or so before placing in the smoker.
    4. Brush the skin with vegetable oil to keep it from getting dried out.
    5. Add extra charcoal every hour. Replace wood chips when the amount of smoke coming out is minimal. The more smoke, the tastier the turkey!
    6. Check water every time you replace charcoal and/or wood and add more if needed.
    7. Smoking does not fully preserve the meat. Leftovers must still be refridgerated!

    Thank you for visiting our How Cook a Turkey post!