how long to cook a turkey and other tips for the perfect bird

how long to cook a turkey and other tips for the perfect bird

Turkey Cooking Tips
There is such a large assortment of recipes and turkey cooking methods that even experienced cooks can sometimes get overwhelmed. For the novice however, cooking a grand Christmas or holiday turkey can seem downright frightful. But not to worry, there are some tips and tricks available to ensure that holiday turkey is perfect for the family.

The way to ensure the bird has the proper amount of flavor and moisture is to season and rub the bird. This can be done with a butter rub, a flavor injector or a dry herb rub. The most common method is the butter rub, which is simple.

With some butter and preferred seasonings, rub the butter and season mixture around the turkey, inside the skin directly on the meat as well to flavor the breast. This method helps to protect the meat from overcooking and will help to keep the moisture inside the bird while cooking. Another method is the flavor injector, which is a large hypodermic needle sold at kitchen stores. With this tool, a mixture of butter or olive oil, herbs and spices are injected directly into the best and legs before cooking.

The final method, the dry herb rub, doesn’t help moisture but bolsters flavor, and that is the dry herb rub. A mix of dry herbs such as rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper is generously rubbed all over the turkey before cooking. This method will also give the bird a nice texture as some of the herbs will not be absorbed and will stay on the skin. The best and most commonly used method is actually a variation of some or all of these techniques. Butter rubbing the bird and then dry rubbing is one way, or injecting the bird and butter rubbing is another.

If choosing not to stuff the turkey, add some aromatics inside the bird such as a quartered onion, celery and herbs. This will add flavor to the bird while shortening the overall cooking time. If stuffing the turkey, be sure not to overstuff as stuffing expands inside the cavity. The temperature of the oven greatly depends on the recipe that is being used and the desired outcome. Low and slow cooking the bird is typically done at 325 degrees for hours and basting every half hour.

Fast cooking is done by blasting the bird at a high temperature at the beginning or end of the cooking cycle to give it color. The basic rule of thumb though is not to cook the turkey below 325 degrees and to baste every half hour.

Blogger Stephanie J. Stiavetti has laid out the steps on how to cook a turkey…


How to Roast a Turkey to Perfection


    • First things first: thaw your bird completely before putting it in the oven. Thaw it in the fridge for a few days – up to four, depending on the size of your turkey.


    • 400°F is the perfect temperature for cooking a whole bird. You’ll get crispy skin without compromising tenderness.


    • Depending on the size of your bird, it should take anywhere from 3-6 hours to roast at 400°F. I highly recommend a meat thermometer, one that stays in the turkey while it cooks and lets you set an alarm for when it reaches the proper temperature. This keeps you from continually opening the oven door, which will greatly increase your cooking time. Here’s a great time chart for turkey roasting.


    • Basting the bird won’t give you crispier skin. In fact, you’ll get limp, soggy skin and it only marginally affects the flavor.


    • Some argue that rubbing the entire bird with fat, inside and out, doesn’t affect the flavor, but I disagree. It depends on the fat, though – olive oil won’t give you a flavor boost, but butter mixed with a heaping dose of salt and herbs will yield a tasty dish indeed.


    • It doesn’t matter what orientation you roast your turkey in. Breast up, breast down, flipped over halfway through or hanging from the rafters – no position will make the breast more moist.


    • Stuffing some flavored fat (such as butter with salt and herbs) under the skin will help flavor meat, but don’t go overboard. Too much fat will just just make the meat greasy.


    • They (whoever “they” are) say that you’re supposed to cook a whole turkey to 180°F, but I find that 170° yields a perfectly moist bird that’s still cooked completely through. Make sure to measure in the thickest part of the breast.


    • I don’t recommend stuffing your turkey before roasting, and this can lead to all sorts of holiday misery – namely salmonella. If you insist on stuffing the bird, make sure you roast it until the stuffing has an internal temperature of at least 165°F.


    • Let your bird rest for a few minutes after you take it out of the oven. A good 20 minute nap will let everything settle and keep the moisture where it belongs: in the meat.


    • The easiest way to guarantee that pieces of breast will be moist is to let them soak in the bird’s juices for a few minutes after they’ve been cut. This includes the fatty runoff from what you’ve rubbed over the surface or stuffed under the skin.


    • You want the entire thing to roast evenly and have crispy skin all over, so consider elevating it off the surface of the roasting pan. A good-sized roasting rack will do the trick, which allows air to circulate under the bird – crisping it all the way around.


    • Get a decent oven thermometer, one for measuring the turkey and one for measuring your oven’s temperature. ‘Nuff said.


  • Don’t waste the juices in the bottom of the pan! Reduce in a saucepan with a little white wine, add a little cornstarch and you’ve got an amazing gravy.