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Cooking a turkey

Turkeyss are large poultry birds traditionally eaten at Christmas in Britain, and Thanksgiving in the United States. This article is a how to page that gives instructions on how to select, cook and serve a whole turkey.

Table of contents
1 How to buy a turkey
2 How to cook a turkey
3 How to carve a turkey
4 Serving suggestions
5 External link

How to buy a turkey

Fresh turkeys are considered the best but are very expensive compared with frozen. Often, during holiday seasons, a fresh turkey needs to be ordered in advance from a butcher or meat counter at a supermarket. Frozen turkeys can be bought well ahead of time from a supermarket. If a turkey is frozen it must be properly defrosted inside a refrigerator or cooler before cooking.

What size bird?

There are a number of factors that are generally taken into account when choosing a size. The most important being the number of guests, with about 1 pound per person normally being plenty. Other things worth considering are:

Defrosting safely

A frozen turkey is a veritable meat glacier. It is quite possible for it to be warm enough for
bacteria to grow on its surface and even in the meat and still have a frozen center. Also a turkey with a frozen center will not cook properly, and this increases the risk of food poisoning. For this reason, it is essential to thoroughly defrost the turkey correctly.

The best method

The bird should be placed in a tray in the bottom of a refrigerator, and left for at least 5 hours per pound. A typical turkey will take around three days to defrost. Some home cooks report that 5 hours per pound is far too optimistic for a large turkey.

A quick method

In the event that a turkey is purchased at the last minute and needs to be defrosted very quickly, the bird can be unwrapped, and placed in a bowl of cold water. The water needs to changed every half hour or so to keep the temperature above freezing. On no account should warm water be used. It is dangerous and will encourage bacteria to grow on the skin of the turkey.

How to cook a turkey

Preparing a turkey

There are many of recipes for stuffing: chestnut, sage and onion (flavored bread), and sausage are the most traditional. It is the conventional "wisdom" of the modern day that the body cavity should not be stuffed, as it will prolong cooking time a great deal, "dry out the bird", and lead to cats and dogs living together.

Contrary to this opinion, it is possible to stuff a turkey without prolonging cooking time, drying out the bird, or causing widespread moral turpitude. The stuffing must be fully cooked, piping hot, and quite moist. Likewise, one must not pack the bird's cavity tight with stuffing. Instead, it should be loosely spooned in. One can stuff both the "main cavity" of the bird and the volume between the skin and the breast to some extent, although the latter will impart stuffing flavor to the breast meat, and some diners may object.

Uncooked stuffing (especially sausagemeat) presents a health risk. Some people like to place herbs or an orange in the body cavity to provide flavor.

Turkeys have a large breast which can become dry if overcooked. There are several ways to prevent this.

One method is to make a 'tent' out of aluminum foil. The breast should be covered in butter and the bird should be completely wrapped in the foil that is sealed loosely at the top to include an air space. This allows the bird to brown yet steams it in its own juices. Alternatively, one can cook the bird at a high temperature for a short time (30 minutes) and then only cover the breast and body with foil, leaving the dark meat uncovered, reduce heat, and continue roasting.

Another method is to brine or marinate the turkey overnight. Salt is absorbed from the solution by the bird's muscle fibers; because salt is hydrophilic, it causes the muscle to absorb more water.

Some people like to lay streaky bacon (that's just "bacon" in the United States) over the breast to keep it moist and add flavor.

Roasting a turkey

The oven should be set to medium (gas mark 4 180C/350F). The cooking time depends on the size of the bird. Approximate times are given in the table below.

Weight of TurkeyAproximate cooking time
10-12 lbs (4.5 - 5.5kg)3 hours
12- 14lbs (5.5 - 6.5kg)3.5 hours
14-16 lbs (6.5 - 7.5kg)4 hours
16 -18 lbs (7.5- 8kg)4 hours and 15mins
18-20 lbs (8- 9kg)4.5 hours
20 -22 lbs (9- 10kg)4hours and 45mins
22-24 lbs (10 -11kg)5 hours

The above times are only approximate. The best way to tell if a turkey is cooked is to test it.

Deep-frying a turkey

Deep-fried turkey originated in the American South as an alternative to the traditional method of preparing a Thanksgiving turkey. The bird is submerged into hot oil (often peanut oil) for 30 to 45 minutes (depending on the weight of the bird). Some fans of this method claim it results in a juicier turkey and leftovers are juicy instead of dry, which leftovers from a roasted turkey tend to be.

How to carve a turkey

A turkey, like all meat should not be carved as soon as it is cooked, but should be left for abou 1/2 an hour to an hour to rest. This impoves the texture, and allows the turkey to be handled without burning the fingers.

The breast is the easiest part to carve, and is probably the best to eat when freshly cooked. There are two methods of carving the breast.

Serving suggestions

For Christmas in Britain, turkey is traditionally served with
cranberry jelly, bread sauce and winter vegetables including roast potatoes brussel sprouts, and parsnips. Sometimes sausagemeat that has been wrapped in bacon is also served.

For Thanksgiving in the United States, turkey is traditionally served with cranberry sauce and gravy. Other items vary, but common complimentary dishes include mashed potatoes, dinner rolls, various vegetables such as corn, squash, sweet potatoes, and various types of pies for dessert (such as pumpkin, apple and pecan).

See also: Thanksgiving dinner, turducken.

External link