I remember when my Grandma used to cook turkey for the entire family. She’d get up at 5 am to prep the big old bird and have it in the oven by 6 am. It would cook almost all day on low heat, and the perfect turkey would be ready in time to eat dinner with 30 extended family members.
Times have definitely changed, and they’ve changed for the better. Although I don’t cook for that many people, cooking the perfect turkey isn’t as difficult as it used to be. Instead of cooking all day, the average turkey only needs 3 or 4 hours in a good oven (I’ll recommend a couple of these at the end). You don’t to be an expert chef to cook one either – I cook a medium sized turkey for my family of 6 every Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, so it’s a meal that anyone can prepare.
For best results, all you have to do is follow these step-by-step instructions on how to cook a turkey:
Step one: Thaw your turkey
After you go to the store and pick out a big, beautiful turkey, your first step will be to thaw it out. Health Canada recommends you always defrost the turkey in either ice-cold water, your refrigerator, or in your microwave if you have a larger sized type. Anything that drips out of the turkey could be contaminated, so disinfect any surface that’s been touched by drippings.
Step Two: Clean the turkey
Once your turkey is defrosted, it’s time to clean it and remove the innards. Any turkey you buy at a grocery store should have the neck and giblets inside one or two packages. They’ll be tucked inside the turkey, so remember when cleaning to reach inside and pull them out. You may have to lift the flap on one end of the turkey to fish out anything that could be hiding.
Once you’ve removed the neck and giblets, put your turkey in your sink and give it a good rinse with ice-cold water. This removes anything left over and gives you a sparkling clean bird to bake.
Step three: Add some extra flavour to your turkey
On its own, turkey is very similar to chicken. You can eat it without any extra flavouring, but it will taste better if you jazz it up a bit. You can choose a turkey at the store that’s already pre-basted for ease of cooking. These “butterballs” have butter injected in the skin, but if you want to season the turkey on your own, you can try a number of seasonings:
- Use an injecting needle to inject water and butter in your turkey skin. This makes the meat moist, and if you like a touch of sweet, you can also add some honey
- Massage your turkey with herb butter and sprinkle some rosemary on it before baking
- Brine your turkey by soaking the turkey in a brine solution. Brine involves immersing your turkey in salt water and spices like peppercorns, mustard seeds, coriander, and onions. Some people will also add wine. You’ll need a large stock pot to immerse your turkey overnight, and if it won’t fit into your fridge, place your pot in a large cooler with ice packed around it.
Step Four: To Stuff or not to Stuff
I have always made stuffing before prepping my turkey so I can stuff it once it’s clean and ready to bake. This will increase the baking time of your turkey, so if you’re in a hurry, you may not want to stuff your own bird. But if you love stuffing the way my family loves stuffing ….
Adding it to the turkey before cooking is the way to obtain moist, delicious stuffing.
I prepare a large bowl of stuffing, put half in the turkey for cooking, then place the other half in a slow cooker and let it cook on low all day. If you’re cooking extra stuffing in the crockpot, always add extra moisture in the form of water, butter, or whatever your recipe calls for, and mix it frequently throughout the day. This will ensure your slow cooker stuffing cooks through.
Step Five: Bake up your perfect turkey
When Grandma was baking her turkey for 30 back in the 70’s and 80’s, she definitely didn’t have an oven like the ovens we have now. The latest wall ovens and ranges cook or bake food more efficiently and for less time so you won’t have to get up at 6 am to ensure your dinner is on the table by 5.
Place your turkey in a roasting pan and set your oven for the recommended amount of hours. Here’s a handy chart for turkey cooking times. Note I always cook turkey at 325 degrees.
There are also a number of other ways to cook your turkey including the Char-Broil infrared oil-less turkey fryer. It will quickly and safely fry your turkey with propane fuel. You could also put your turkey on a rotisserie with the Char-Broil Big Easy Smoker Roaster & Grill. It will hold up to a 25-pound turkey.
No matter what type of cooking method you choose, make sure you have a good kitchen thermometer to ensure your turkey is cooked all the way through. The iDevices Kitchen Thermometer is my favourite kitchen thermometer. You insert probes into your turkey and it will send you a message via Bluetooth when it hits the desired temperature.
You’re ready to serve your turkey
Your turkey is finally baked to perfection and you’re ready to put it on the table. Take your turkey out of your oven and let it rest for a few minutes while you set the table and finish your final prep work on other dishes.
For a perfectly beautiful table, be sure you check out Shelagh’s post on creating a beautiful table setting for a special occasion.
Some people like to serve their turkey whole and slice it right at the table. You can also slice it up and serve it in pieces. No matter what method you choose, you’ll need a large serving platter and a good set of knives to carve it. And before you get busy with your knives, check out this YouTube video on how to properly carve a turkey.
It might seem like a lot of steps, but once you’ve cooked a few turkeys you’ll see that it’s an easy process. For Thanksgiving, Christmas, or just for a Sunday night dinner, everyone will appreciate the effort you went through to serve the perfect turkey.