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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Turkey Buying, Prepping and Roasting

I am thankful for Florida winter weather.

Let's Talk Turkey!

I thought it best to talk turkey now so that everyone has enough time to get the bird ready for the feast.

Because I have been cooking turkeys for over 40 years and no one has become ill or died from my cooking, I will share what I have learned over the years.

Fresh or Frozen?  

A frozen bird is fresher than a fresh bird.  It is true.  The frozen bird is flash-frozen right after killing - thus keeping the freshness intact.  A fresh bird is killed, packed in ice and put on a truck to be shipped all over the place.  That bird could be in transit for four days and then it sits in the grocery store for a couple of more days before it is purchased.  That doesn't seem "fresh" to me.

Defrosting the Turkey

The nitty gritty of defrosting a turkey of decent size and larger is that it takes a lot of time. If you start the defrosting the day before Thansgiving you may not be eating until four days after Thanksgiving.  Defrosters beware!!

A rule of thumb that I have used is that it takes 24 hours to defrost 5 lbs if you use the refrigerator.  I'm certain that it depends on the temp of the refrigerator which, I have read, must be colder than 40 degrees F.  Here is a little chart for the thawing times so you can plan ahead.

Turkey WeightThawing Time
Up to 12 lbs 1-3 days
12 to 16 lbs 3-4 days
16 to 20 lbs 4-5 days
20 to 24 lbs 5-6 days

Prepping the Turkey

The turkey must be cleaned inside and out to prevent any bacteria forming.  I thoroughly clean the sink and then put a clean kitchen towel on the bottom.  I spray the sucker inside and out, front and back with warm water.  This is the time to be sure that you have removed the bag of giblets from the inside.  Also, if the inside of the turkey is still very cold and hard or the bag of giblets is frozen - the turkey is not defrosted.  It is not ready to cook.

If you are going to cook the giblets be sure to remove them from the bag and wash them thoroughly.

Next, I pat the outside of the turkey dry.  It makes for a better skin.

It is best to use a shallow roasting pan because with a deep pan the cooking method changes from roasting to steaming.  I have only used a throw away aluminum roasting pan once - and that was with a chicken.  I don't find them to be sturdy and the gravy just doesn't come out the same.  If you do choose to use one, be very, very careful when lifting it.  I would slide it off the oven rack onto a cutting board.  That gives it the support it needs to be carried to the counter.

Two more things before the bird goes into the oven - preparing the outside of the bird and stuffing the bird.

I prepare the skin the same way my grandmother and mother did.  I smear the sucker with butter/margarine, salt and pepper it and then use a shaker to put flour all over it.  The skin is always crispy and delicious.  My good friend puts mayonnaise all over it and another good friend uses oil.  It is all personal choice.

My family is a stuffing-loving family.  We all like the stuffing that is cooked inside the turkey but we will not turn away from the stuffing cooked in a casserole dish.  So, stuff the cavities of the bird but do not overload it.  It expands during cooking so it needs some room.

I don't do any fancy trussing.  I simply tuck the wings and legs under the skin and breast of the bird.  I have never had a problem.

Roasting the Turkey

It is ready to go into the oven!!  Hooray!  The chart below indicates the proper cooking temp and times for roasting both stuffed and unstuffed turkeys.

Roasting times are for a preheated 325 degrees F. oven.
Approximate Roasting Times for Stuffed Turkey

Turkey Weight


6 to 8 pounds
3 to 3-1/2 hours
8 to 12 pounds
3-1/2 to 4-1/2 hours
12 to 16 pounds
4-1/2 to 5-1/2 hours
16 to 20 pounds
5-1/2 to 6 hours
20 to 24 pounds
6 to 6-1/2 hours
Approximate Roasting Times for Unstuffed Turkey

Turkey Weight


6 to 8 pounds
2-1/2 to 3 hours
8 to 12 pounds
3 to 4 hours
12 to 16 pounds
4 to 5 hours
16 to 20 pounds
5 to 5-1/2 hours
20 to 24 pounds
5-1/2 to 6 hours
All ovens differ in their temps so use this chart as approximate times.
If you are roasting a turkey that has a pop-up thermometer - don't trust it.  Use a meat thermometer to be sure that the temp is correct.
When I first put the turkey in the oven I have the temp set at 400 degrees.  I baste the turkey with butter melted in boiling water a couple of times until the skin is brown the way I like it.  Then I turn the temp back to 325 and put an aluminum tent over the bird to keep it from browning any more. 
After the initial basting, I baste every 30 minutes or so with the pan juices. 
That's it.  It is a go!  Now all you have to do is get the side dishes prepared.  That is much more work than doing the turkey.
I hope this post has helped you - especially first time turkey roasters.  I would be glad to answer any questions.  Send me an email at
Take it easy and keep it simple.

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