Cooking a Turkey 101
If you’ve never prepared a turkey before, or you did and it didn’t turn out so well, it can be a daunting task. You have people coming over – people to feed, please, and entertain, and you can’t mess this up! But where do you start? How do you even cook a turkey?
Always thaw in the fridge! If you’re serving other people, it’s the considerate thing to do. Depending on how big the bird is, put it in the fridge a day or two before go time.
Your next concern with a turkey is the flavor. Don’t worry over poultry seasoning, or making your own. Some people like to jazz it up, adding sage, nutmeg, basil, thyme, and so on. But keeping it simple with salt, black pepper, and veggies will do the trick. Slice up a whole onion, two ribs of celery, and a whole carrot. These are the defaults, and they turn out a delicious turkey.
And don’t forget to remove the neck and giblet bag before preparing the turkey for cooking.
Cooking the Bird
Many people have fallen in love with the simplicity of the crockpot, while some of us swear by an oven-roasted turkey. Done right, either cooking method will result in a moist, flavorful turkey.
Slow-cooking the Bird
Throw it in the crockpot. This method of cooking is easier than the oven. There’s no need to bother worrying over the perfect cook time and temperature. Simply put the turkey in the crockpot on low the night before dinner. Throw in the seasonings, vegetables, and a half or whole stick of butter. Turn the crockpot to warm when you wake up in the morning, then put it back on low an hour or two before serving dinner to ensure there’s a hot meal.
One thing to note is that food experts warn against this method of cooking whole birds. It is recommended that whole turkeys are cooked at 325 degrees Fahrenheit minimum. The low cooking temperature of a crockpot can create the perfect breeding ground for bacteria within the cavity of a turkey or chicken.
There are more steps with this method, but the work pays off. Put the turkey, breast-side up, in a shallow roasting pan. Brush the turkey with butter and your desired seasonings. Place veggies in the cavity and around the bird in the roasting pan. Add ½ cup of water to the pan, and loosely cover the turkey with aluminum foil.
A good temperature is 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook time depends on the weight of the bird. Cook for roughly 70 minutes per four pounds of bird. An eight-pound turkey should be cooked for at least two hours; a 12-pound turkey should cook for at least three hours, and so on. Always use a meat thermometer to ensure the internal temperature of the bird has reached 165 degrees.
So Which Way Is Best?
Open the oven and pop that birdy in! Yes, there’s less prep time before putting the bird in the crockpot, and it’s easy to set it and forget it. But think about afterward, when the cooking’s done and there’s a bird to carve. A roasting pan allows for easy cutting and carving, whereas a huge crockpot can get in the way, or will require the bird to be transferred to another dish for carving.
Choosing a Good Roasting Pan
If you plan on making a large turkey, or turkey for future meals, a good roasting pan is not a cheap one. A quality roasting pan is able to support a large bird. Frankly, some flimsy aluminum dish will not cut it. You need something sturdy and reinforced.
My favorite is this roasting pan by Cuisinart. This stainless steel pan is perfect. It is well-reinforced with an aluminum core for quick, even heating, and it is able to handle a large turkey without buckling or warping. The handles make it easy for lifting out of the oven, and it’s a great price for a sturdy pan, especially if you host dinners or parties regularly.
An alternative is this nonstick pan from Chicago Metallic. This pan isn’t pricy at all, and you still get something sturdy to support a bird. I’m personally turned off by the nonstick coating of Teflon, though that may be an attraction for some. It’s not necessary considering the turkey is cooked with water and butter.
Hopefully, cooking a turkey no longer seems to be the daunting task you thought it was. Now you have clear-cut guidelines, so when it comes down to cooking the turkey, it should be a cinch.