Best Way to Cook a Turkey This Thanksgiving
A Little History
Historians tend to agree that turkey was probably not on the list of food that was brought to the first Thanksgiving celebration basically because no one wrote about it. It is, however, an all-American bird that is not found anywhere else in the world.
President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863 and the turkey began to show up on tables all over the country. It soon became the iconic bird of the holiday that we know and love today.
Sizing Up Your Turkey
Choosing the size of the turkey you need can intimidate some people – especially if it’s their first time cooking a Thanksgiving meal.
There is a pretty easy way to guess the size of the bird you should get. Basically, for every person at the meal, add 1.5 pounds of turkey. For example, if you have 7 people, you should have a 10.5-pound turkey.
Don’t worry, there will be leftovers!
It is very important that you allow plenty of thawing time. This not only makes sure that it cooks evenly all the way through, but also keeps you from an explosion if you plan on deep frying your bird.
It sounds fun, but it is very dangerous!
Here are some good turkey thawing tips:
- Always thaw in the refrigerator and never on the counter!
- Allow 1 thaw day per 5 pounds of turkey
- Place it in a disposable pan so it doesn’t make a mess in your fridge.
- Once thawed, simply wipe it down with a paper towel. You really don’t need to wash it off in the sink.
It’s not necessary to brine your turkey if you buy it from a reputable name brand. If you are cooking a wild turkey (one that you potentially caught), then placing it in a sink of salt water will help it become juicy and pull out any “wild” taste that it might have.
Cooking Your Turkey
There are two common ways to cook a turkey:
- frying (in oil, or using an air fryer)
It is completely up to you as to how you do it, but each method requires its own equipment and technique. Roasting is probably the easiest and most economical method as it doesn’t require a special fryer to get the job done.
Frying a turkey takes a little more effort and can be more expensive because of the fryer and oil. Air frying is also an option, but it takes a very large fryer to pull it off.
For the sake of keeping things simple, we’ll start by using a simple, tried-and-true roasting method.
Oven-Roasting a Turkey
You don’t need a lot of expensive gadgetry to get a perfect, oven-roasted bird. Here are a few of the main items and ingredients:
- Disposable aluminum roasting pan
- Enough chopped celery, onions, and carrots to cover the bottom of the pan
- Herbs (optional, but rosemary and thyme are good options)
- Meat thermometer
- Butcher’s twine
There are no measurements for these ingredients because we’re going to wing it (get it?). Now, here’s how you use them:
- After you’ve thawed your turkey, reach into the cavity and remove the little bag that contains the giblets and neck - please don’t forget this step. Discard them or save them to make giblet gravy.
- In the cavity, put a mixture of herbs, salt, and pepper. If you have an apple, orange, or lemon, throw in a couple of wedges for good measure.
- Use the butcher’s twine to tie the legs together.
- Chop up your veggies into 1-inch chunks and place them in the bottom of the roasting pan. Make sure you cover the entire bottom of the pan.
- Put your turkey on top of the veggies and tuck the wing tips back underneath it to keep them from burning.
- Melt some butter in the microwave and mix in your herbs if you have them.
- Using your fingers, loosen the skin around the breast of the turkey.
- Use a basting brush (or your fingers) to spread the butter under the skin.
- Completely cover the outside of the turkey in plenty of butter. Don’t be afraid to slather it on!
- Preheat your oven to 325°F
- Place the turkey inside the oven. Let it roast for about 13-15 minutes per pound. This means that a 12-pound turkey would take about 3 – 3.5 hours or so.
- The turkey is considered “done” when the outside skin is golden-brown, and the internal cavity temperature is at least 165°F. When checking the inside temperature, be sure to keep the probe of the meat thermometer away from any bones. This will cause a false reading.
That’s it! The key is to not cook it too quickly. Think low and slow. This will ensure that the turkey doesn’t dry out.
Deep Frying a Turkey
This method is a little quicker, but it requires a little more than just a roasting pan and an oven to get the job done. It is also much more dangerous since it involves submerging the turkey in scalding hot oil. Many retailers sell kits that include the deep fryer and safety gear. However, there are some other things to consider before you deep fry your turkey.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Very large pot (30-quarts or larger)
- 5 gallons of oil
- Dry seasoning of your choice
- Propane tank with hose
- Propane heater
- A poultry hook and rack
- Can of Creek (for you and not the turkey)
- A deep fryer thermometer to monitor the temperature of the oil
- Instant thermometer to check the temperature of the turkey
- Long protective gloves
- Safety glasses
- Fire extinguisher (just in case of fire)
I guess at this point I should say that you should always deep fry a turkey outdoors!
Here are the steps you’ll need to take:
- Put the turkey on the poultry hook and place it in the empty pot.
- Pour oil in the pot until it is about 2 inches over the top of the turkey.
- Remove the turkey from the pot and let the excess oil drain off. You can pat it with paper towels if you want.
- Season up your turkey if you want to. Soon, it will be too late to turn back.
- Begin heating the oil in the pot to 350°F using the propane tank and burner.
- Once the oil is at temperature, lower the turkey very slowly into the oil. Make sure you have all of your protective gear on at this point!
- Let the turkey fry for about 3.5 minutes per pound. Generally, a 12–14-pound turkey will take about 40 to 50 minutes. If you are still unsure, use the instant read thermometer to make sure that the internal temperature is at least 165°F.
- Once your turkey is done frying, throw on your protective gear and place the turkey on a cutting board or pan.
- Let the turkey set for about 20 minutes before carving it up.
That’s all there is to frying a turkey! The biggest thing to remember is safety first. I can promise you this: spending Thanksgiving in the hospital is no fun!
Don’t let cooking a turkey intimidate you. It’s always fulfilling whenever someone at the table comments on how well you did with the turkey.
Always remember to keep plenty of Creek on hand while you’re cooking, and to enjoy after you’ve had that big ol’ meal. Share it with family and enjoy the good times! Creek is all about discovery, and there is no better time to get out with family and friends than during the holidays.
You can find out where to pick up Creek here.