Cooking a turkey is tradition on Thanksgiving, but cooking the perfect turkey takes some skill.
Below is everything that you need to know for making an unforgettable Thanksgiving meal.
Buying & Thawing a Turkey
You will need 1.5 lbs. of turkey for each guest. Maybe a bit more if you like to have leftovers.
Most turkeys are going to be frozen when you buy them. There are two ways to thaw a frozen turkey.
- Place your frozen turkey on a tray and refrigerate 1 day for every 4 pounds of turkey.
- Completely submerge turkey in cold water. You can do this in your kitchen sink or a cooler. Replace cold water every 30 minutes. Allow 30 minutes of soaking per pound of turkey.
I would recommend buying a pasture raised turkey from your local farmer. Doing this enables you to know how and where your food was raised. It also supports a local farm. You can check out our Midwest Prime Pasture Raised Turkeys HERE!
Roasting a turkey
- Rinse your turkey and pat it dry.
- Season the cavity with salt and pepper and add a couple pieces of celery, onion, and carrot for flavor. Or you can stuff with stuffing if desired.
- Tie the legs with kitchen string. See here for tutorial.
- Place the turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a roasting pan. For easy clean up use a disposable foil pan.
- Brush with melted butter or olive oil.
- Cover loosely with foil.
- Roast the turkey approximately 15 minutes for every pound at 325°.
- Baste your turkey with the drippings every half hour.
- Check for doneness with a meat thermometer in the thigh. The turkey should be 180° when done.
- Let the turkey stand for 15-30 minutes before carving.
Grilling a turkey
Grilling your turkey gives it a great smoky flavor with crispy skin.
- Rinse turkey and pat dry.
- Marinate or inject turkey if you would like and let sit on tray in refrigerator for 8 hours.
- Place your charcoal in a ring around a drip pan.
- Place your turkey directly on the grill rack, breast side up, over the drip pan. You can also place the turkey in a roasting pan and place on the grill rack. This would take the place of the drip pan. If you use this method, you will be able to baste the turkey with the drippings that collect in the pan.
- Cover and grill at medium heat for 3-4 hours (12 lb. turkey) or until thermometer reads 180°. Test for doneness with a meat thermometer in the thigh section.
- Let sit for 15-30 minutes before carving.
To reduce heat, spread the coals out and close the air vents.
To increase the heat, move the coals closer together and open the air vents.
When are your coals ready? Hold your palm near the grill rack.
2 seconds = high heat
3 seconds = medium-high heat
4 seconds = medium heat
5 seconds = low heat
Frying a turkey
This method produces a juicy turkey with a crispy skin on the outside. You will need the proper equipment to pull this off. You will need a large pot, frying basket to fit in the pot, burner stand, thermometer, propane, peanut oil. You can find everything you need here.
This method of cooking can be dangerous. Please make sure you follow the directions that come with your turkey fryer. Never leave your turkey fryer unattended. Do not fry a stuffed turkey.
- Rinse and make sure to completely dry the turkey as water will make the oil bubble.
- Season and/or inject with recipe of your choice. Place turkey in refrigerator for 8 hours.
- Prepare your fryer and oil according to manufacturer directions.
- Fry turkey 3-4 minutes per pound or until thermometer reads 180°.
- Remove turkey from oil and place on a tray. Cover with foil and let rest for 15-30 minutes before carving.
You can use an oil-less propane turkey fryer for a quick cook. This fryer uses infrared technology and can cook up to a 16 pound turkey in 8-10 minute per pound. This method is much easier to clean up after due to there being no oil. It’s also a much safer method.
Tips for cooking a perfect turkey
Keep your turkey moist.
Brine your turkey before cooking to keep it moist. Here is a great recipe. Don’t want to hassle with the traditional brine? You can also dry brine before cooking by salting your turkey and letting it rest before cooking.
You also need to let your turkey rest after cooking. If you carve your turkey immediately after pulling it out of the oven, all of the juices run out. Let is rest for 15-30 minutes to let all of those juices soak into the meat.
Make your turkey have crispy skin.
Separate the skin from the breast and legs with your hand to get an extra crispy skin. You can also rub butter in between the layers!
How to Carve a Turkey
- Rest your turkey for 15 to 30 minutes. This gives your turkey some time cool down a bit so it’s easier to handle. This also helps your turkey stay nice and juicy.
- Place your turkey breast side up on a large cutting board. Preferably one with a groove around the edge to catch the juices.
- With a sharp knife, find the joint and remove the legs and thighs. Seperate the leg and thigh from each other. Keep the legs intact. Remove the dark meat from the thigh bones.
- Remove the wings and cut them in half.
- Find the breast bone in the center and cut all the way down each side, keeping as much of the breast intact as possible. Cut the breast meat in nice large slices.
- Lay it all out on a platter, separating the white meat from the dark.
- Save your turkey carcass to make broth. Here is a recipe for bone broth. It will also work great if you substitute turkey for the chicken.