Thanksgiving is one of the big food holidays for the year, and as it approaches, you may be thinking about what you need to cook for the big meal. Of course, you have to have a turkey, but do you know how to cook it?
If you don’t get the turkey right, the rest of the meal is basically a waste, so this is the one thing you have to get right. Nobody will care too much if the cranberry sauce is too runny or too tart or if the gravy is a little bland.
It’s the turkey that most people come to Thanksgiving dinner for. That’s about the only time of year anyone buys a whole turkey to cook up and serve at once. It’s meant to be a spectacular addition to the meal and the centerpiece for the entire dinner.
So, you want to do things properly. Let me show you how to cook Thanksgiving turkey so that you won’t have any serious turkey-related regrets the day after.
Make your next Thanksgiving one to remember for all the right reasons. Even in times when we can’t have a lot of family over or it’s difficult to travel, you can get the bird right.
Which Pan Should You Cook a Turkey In?
The roasting method is the way to go for cooking the Thanksgiving turkey. When you roast the bird, you don’t have to keep checking it or prodding it to make sure it’s cooking properly and evenly.
You can simply prepare it, put it in the oven, and forget about it until the timer goes off. That great convenience and the hands-off approach means that you can work on all those other dishes you need to make for Thanksgiving dinner.
If you’re going to be roasting the turkey, you need the right kind of pan to cook it in. You can buy a cheap, disposable turkey roasting pan just for the occasion. Even in that purchasing decision, you need to be thinking about how to do it the right way.
The most important factor in buying your roasting pan is to make sure that it’s big enough to accommodate the turkey. I always recommend that people buy their turkey first and the roasting pan after.
A surefire way to get the right pan for the turkey is to buy them both at the same time. Most groceries that sell whole turkeys will also have disposable baking pans on sale nearby. You can just fit your frozen turkey into the pan right there in the store to make sure everything is the right size.
You don’t have to go the disposable pan route, though, if you don’t want to. You can buy baking pan big enough to accommodate your turkey. You want to make sure that it’s a roasting pan with a little depth to it, though.
That’s because when a turkey roasts in the oven, it drips a lot of juices. You want to catch those juices so they don’t end up all over the bottom of your oven, and you want to use them to make gravy probably.
Turkey gravy made from the drippings is probably one of the best things you can serve at Thanksgiving dinner, so make sure your roasting pan is deep enough to fit the turkey and can handle a couple cups of turkey drippings.
Another reason to get a big pan that’s kind of deep is to accommodate any veggies you want to cook with the turkey. A lot of people chopping carrots, celery, onions, and other veggies to stuff in the turkey and garnish around it. A deep, wide roasting pan can fit all of that with plenty of room to spare.
How Do You Prepare a Thanksgiving Turkey
Before you start cooking the turkey, make sure it’s thawed out all the way. A large turkey may actually need more than a day to thaw out completely. It may be able to thaw out by being placed into the fridge overnight.
If you need to thaw out the turkey quickly, you can place it in the roasting pan and fill the pan with room temperature water. Don’t use hot water, even though that would thaw the turkey faster. That would also cook some of the turkey inside and cause the bird to roast unevenly later on.
You don’t need to wash the turkey, and that’s a common mistake people make. They place their turkey in the sink and try to rinse it off. That can cause salmonella poisoning or some other type of contamination throughout your sink and countertops, as well as any dishes you may have in the adjoining sink. It’s simply not necessary to wash the turkey off.
If you want to stuff the turkey, you may need to cut off the neck first. There is probably a giblets bag inside the turkey underneath the neck that you need to remove as well.
Once you’ve taken that out, feel around inside the turkey and see if there’s anything else that needs to be removed, and then you can add your stuffing. You can use the stuffing mix for a very flavorful, traditional turkey. Or you can use chopped vegetables and seasonings. I would recommend a simple combination of carrots, potatoes, onions, salt, pepper, and parsley to fill your turkey with.
What’s the turkey stuffed, you can baste it, using a basting brush and either butter or oil. This helps to make the skin crispy and succulent. It also ensures that the meat is juicy and tender.
This step isn’t completely necessary, but it gives you more of that traditional turkey texture that you expect from the Thanksgiving dinner.
Best Way to Roast a Thanksgiving Turkey
I want to say upfront that it will probably take several hours to cook your turkey. How long it takes depends on the size of the turkey. You may want to choose a slow roasting method to produce a more flavorful and tenderer turkey, but that can add a couple hours to something that’s already several hours long.
Many turkeys are packaged with cooking instructions directly on them. You can follow this for a simple cooking method, but keep in mind that how long you cook the turkey for will depend primarily on the size of the turkey and what temperature you are cooking at.
About halfway through cooking the turkey, you should check on it to see how it’s doing. You may need to make some adjustments to its position, shift some of your stuffing around, or give it another basting if it looks like its drying out. At the halfway point in the turkey’s cooking time is the best time to check for problems before they become serious.
At this point, you should also cover the breast section of the turkey with tin foil. This helps you to avoid overcooking and keeps the turkey soft and succulent. It’s one of those insider secrets that professional turkey cooks know to use.
Now that you know the basics of cooking the turkey, you’re ready to make one yourself. You can buy the bird with confidence knowing that you probably going to do it right and not have any major issues.