Turkey FAQ: A Thanksgiving Cheat Sheet
It’s the day before the Big Day and you may have some questions about how to tackle the 14-pound bird that’s currently brining or curing or defrosting or simply waiting in your refrigerator. I’ve pulled together all the essential turkey info into one handy turkey faq.
WHAT SIZE TURKEY SHOULD I BUY?
1 1/4 pound per person gets you enough meat for the meal, with leftovers.
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE TO THAW IN THE REFRIGERATOR?
Estimate 24 hours for every 5 pounds, so 2 days for a 10-pounder, 3 days for a 15-pounder, etc.
HELP! IT’S WEDNESDAY, I JUST BOUGHT MY BIRD, AND IT’S STILL FROZEN!
Leave the turkey in its wrapper and put in a large container (a lobster pot is good). Fill the container with cold tap water and let it sit for 30 minutes. Dump out the water and refill. Let it sit another 30 minutes. Repeat until the turkey is thawed, then roast immediately or transfer to the refrigerator. It’ll still take about 30 minutes per pound (or 6 hours for a 12-pound bird), but it’s faster than the refrigerator method and, most importantly, it’s safe.
CAN I BRINE OR DRY CURE MY TURKEY WHILE IT DEFROSTS IN THE REFRIGERATOR?
Yes. Isn’t that great? You’re multi-multitasting. Just use a lighter brine solution (about 1/2 cup kosher salt per gallon of water, plus sugar and spices). If you’re dry curing, use the standard recipe.
HOW COLD DOES MY TURKEY NEED TO STAY WHILE BRINING?
CAN I BRINE OR CURE A KOSHER OR BUTTERBALL-STYLE SUPERMARKET FROZEN TURKEY?
No need. These come pre-brined. So if you want to be able to put your own flavor stamp on your meal, get a “natural,” or untreated bird and do it yourself.
WHAT’S THE BASIC FORMULA FOR A BRINE?
That depends on how long you want to brine. If you plan to do it for 2 days, use the weaker solution above. If you plan to brine for 24 hours or less, bump it up to 1 cup kosher salt per gallon of water. Then add an equal amount of sugar.
For flavorings, choose from the following menu, depending on your taste:
Lemons, apples, oranges, onion, garlic, shallots, peppercorns, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice berries, juniper berries, mustard seeds, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, rosemary, sage, thyme, savory, parsley, oregano.
You can also replace half the water with sweet cider, hard cider, vegetable stock, turkey stock, chicken stock, beer, white wine, red wine.
WHAT ABOUT THE FORMULA FOR DRY CURING?
Use about 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt for ever pound of turkey. Then add spices to your taste. Or use our recipe.
SHOULD I TRUSS?
No. Well, okay, if you really like the look of a trussed turkey, you’re welcome to tuck the wing tips under the breast and tie the legs together. But the legs will cook faster if you just leave them alone, and that helps ensure that the breast meat won’t get overcooked while you’re waiting for the legs to catch up.
HOW DO I GET CRISPY SKIN?
At least 6 hours before roasting, let the bird sit, uncovered, in your refrigerator. This dries the skin, which causes it to crisp up in the oven.
WHAT ABOUT STUFFING THE BIRD?
I don’t. In order for stuffing to be safe to consume, it must reach 165˚. But stuffing a bird slows down the cooking, which increases the chances the breast will dry out. I cook mine in a casserole dish.
BUT I LOVE THE WAY THE STUFFING TASTES WHEN IT COOKS IN THE TURKEY!
I sympathize, but there is a middle path, courtesy of Melissa Clark of the New York Times: Most turkeys come with a flap of skin from the neck. Normally, you cut it off and discard it, but you can use it to flavor your dressing. Just chop up the skin and scatter it over the dressing before you put the dish in the oven. As it cooks, the fat and juices will drip into the stuffing, giving it delicious flavor. And when it comes out, you’ll have turkey cracklings to enjoy.
WHAT ABOUT BASTING?
Don’t bother. It doesn’t add flavor and it makes the skin flabby.
WHAT TEMPERATURE SHOULD I USE?
I like a high-heat method, so I cook my bird at 425˚ for 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours, depending on size. But some cooks swear by a low-and-slow approach, starting at 450˚ but then dropping the temperature to 325˚ after 30 minutes. In that case, you can estimate 12 to 15 minutes per pound, including that initial 30 minute blast of yeat. What really matters the most is that you pay close attention to the temperature of the meat, and take the bird out as soon as it’s ready.
WHEN IS IT READY?
When an instant-read thermometer inserted into the breast (all the way to the bone) reaches 160˚. You can also measure the thigh, inserted to the thickest part but not touching the bone—it should read 165˚.
DO I REALLY NEED TO LET THE TURKEY REST AFTER IT COMES OUT OF THE OVEN?
YES. This is essential for juicy meat. Let the turkey sit, tented with foil, for at least 20 minutes, preferably 30.