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Are you hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year—and feeling a little nervous about cooking the one dish that everyone will be there for? Don’t be! Roasting a turkey is much easier than everyone makes it out to be.
Read on to discover our best tips for how to roast a turkey so you can feel confident about your Thanksgiving table this year—and many more after that!
What You Need to Cook a Turkey
Here are a few common kitchen tools you’ll need to roast a turkey:
- Saucepans and frying pans
- Roasting pan
- Casserole dish
- Kitchen twine
- Aluminum foil
- Baster (optional)
- Meat thermometer
How to Cook a Turkey
Step 1: Thaw the Turkey
If you’ve got a frozen turkey, give it plenty of time to thaw safely in the fridge. The rule of thumb is 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey, so if you have a 10 pound bird, leave it in the fridge for two full days before you start cooking.
Step 2: Prepare Broth (Optional)
Broth, made from the turkey’s innards, is used to prepare the stuffing and the gravy. If you’d like to use store-bought chicken or turkey broth, you can skip the step. However, preparing your broth from scratch is an easy and delicious way to make the most of your turkey.
Once the turkey has thawed, remove the neck and giblets (internal organs) and place them in a medium size pot. Add 1 chopped onion, the ends of a few celery stocks (the parts you would normally discard), and a few sprigs of fresh sage, thyme, and rosemary. Add 4 cups of water, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer for about an hour.
Once the broth is ready, you can use a strainer to remove the solids. You can discard the cooked giblets or chop them up into your gravy later.
Step 3: Prepare Stuffing Cubes (Optional)
Another optional step in cooking a turkey is preparing stuffing cubes. You can purchase them ready-made from the store or make your own. To make your own, simply cut a loaf of bread into ½ inch cubes, toss them in a bit of olive oil and seasonings, and bake them at 250°F for 2 hours, flipping once halfway through. You can do this days or even weeks in advance.
To make the stuffing, start by sautéing chopped onions and celery in butter for about 15 minutes (some people also like to add green peppers or mushrooms). Transfer to a bowl and add stuffing cubes, along with seasonings like salt, pepper, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Stir in a cup of broth and give everything a good mix. Add more broth until you reach the desired moistness.
Step 4: Prepare the Turkey
Before preparing the turkey, let it sit outside the fridge for about an hour to let it come to room temperature. When it’s ready, preheat the oven to 325°F.
Pat the bird dry with a paper towel and place it breast-side up in a large roasting pan. Next, rub it with butter or oil, then a mix of salt, pepper, and spices, making sure to get the mixture inside the cavity and underneath the skin where you can.
Now, here you have a choice. Traditionally the turkey’s cavity is filled with stuffing, but in recent years, more and more people have been moving away from this method, as it leads to longer cooking times and drier turkey meat, and it can be unsafe if the stuffing doesn’t reach a high enough temperature to kill bacteria. The recommendation is to bake the stuffing separately in a casserole dish after the turkey is done roasting, and instead, stuff the turkey with flavor-enhancing ingredients like onions, garlic, celery, apples, or oranges.
If you do choose to fill the turkey’s cavity with stuffing, be sure not to pack it too tightly as it will expand during cooking.
Lastly, tie the turkey’s legs together with kitchen twine and tuck its wing tips toward the breast. Cover the breast area with aluminum foil to make sure it doesn’t overcook.
Step 5: Cook the Turkey
The total cooking time will depend on the size of your turkey. The general rule is 15 minutes per pound if the turkey is unstuffed, and a bit longer if it’s stuffed. When you think it’s ready, use a thermometer to check that the inside of the thigh has reached 180°F. If you’ve filled the cavity with stuffing, make sure it has reached 165°F.
Once the turkey is ready, remove it from the oven, baste it with the drippings, and let it sit for about 30 minutes before you start carving. Some recipes suggest that you baste it regularly throughout the cooking process, but this makes a negligible difference in the flavor and texture of the turkey and instead leads to a longer cooking time and sometimes even drier meat.
Step 6: Make Gravy
Use the drippings from the turkey along with some broth to make delicious gravy. Simply combine them in a small saucepan and stir in some flour. Bring to a boil, stirring continuously, and cook for a few minutes until the gravy has thickened.
You’re Ready to Host Thanksgiving!
Use these tips for roasting a turkey to make sure your Thanksgiving dinner is a hit every time! Now, whip up those side dishes, and you’re all set. Happy Thanksgiving!
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