How to roast a turkey is hands-down the biggest question cooks struggle with when it comes to holiday cooking. Whether you need a quick refresher or you're cooking a turkey for the first time, we can guide you step-by-step. So if you'd really like to roast a turkey like a chef just follow these basic principles:
Think Like A Chef
Chefs know organization in key for efficient cooking. They make sure everything in its place before they begin to cook. That means gathering all of the ingredients and tools necessary for the task. Be sure to read your recipe in advance of the special dinner so you know what you'll need to do ahead of time for the turkey (such as thawing or brining the bird).
Thaw Your Bird
Needless to say, you don't want to put a frozen turkey in the oven. If you've bought a frozen turkey make sure you thaw it ahead of time. Depending on the size of the turkey, it can take several days to thaw in the refrigerator. For example, an 18-pound bird will need at least four days to thaw. To be on the safe side, just follow these tips:
To Brine or Not to Brine
While some experts debate whether brining is essential, others believe there's no better way to obtain a juicy bird. Typically, brining involves soaking the bird in a salty solution overnight. But here's a quicker way to do it:
If you'd rather skip brining, the folks at Serious Eats suggest salting the bird overnight instead. Both methods will produce a delectable turkey. Of course, you can always skip brining and salting all together. It's all up to you.
Prepare The Bird
Take your bird out of the refrigerator two hours before roasting. It's important the turkey gets the chill off before going in the oven. Remove the innards (which you would have already done if you brined the bird). Whether or not you brined the turkey, rinse it thoroughly under cold water inside and out. Pat dry with paper towels. Use this time to prepare the ingredients you'll need for seasoning the bird, the gravy and so forth.
If you already brined the turkey you won't need to add any more salt. You may flavor it with rubs but make sure they do not contain additional sodium. If you didn't brine your bird you'll want to take a close look at your recipe. Does it call for stuffing? Are you wrapping the breast in bacon? Rubbing it with butter?
Typically, you'll want to season your bird inside and out with salt and pepper. Chef Gordon Ramsay recommends blending softened butter with herbs and then tucking the mix under the skin and rubbing it all over the bird. The butter will add moisture and help the turkey brown.
If you are not stuffing the bird, it's a good idea to add aromatics to the cavity. Cut and onion in half and slide it into the bird along with herbs and half a lemon. Interested in wrapping your turkey in bacon? Add the bacon halfway through the cooking process so it won't burn.
Should You Stuff and Truss?
Most experts agree that the turkey will cook faster if its unstuffed and untrussed. However, that doesn't mean you shouldn't do either. Here are three excellent stuffing recipes you can use. If you'd like to truss your bird for a more elegant look, just follow these steps (the video is for trussing chicken but it's the same process for a turkey):
Zone in On The Cooking Time
You'll want to slide your turkey into a hot oven so make sure you preheat it according to your recipe. Size matters when it comes to cooking times. On average, an unstuffed turkey will cook at a rate of 13 minutes per pound. That means an 18-pound turkey will take almost for hours to cook. For stuffed birds, add a half hour to every pound. Here's a handy chart to help you figure out cooking times.
Chef Tip: If you find your turkey is browning too quickly loosely cover it with foil.
Don't Hesitate to Baste
Basting adds flavor and moisture to your turkey. Be sure to take the turkey out of the oven and close the door so you won't let the heat escape. There are countless gadgets for this task so use what you find works best for you. You should baste your turkey every 40 to 50 minutes.
Check the Temperature
How can you tell if a turkey is done? Well, you'll want to start checking the temperature two hours into the process to gauge how quick its cooking. A turkey will be ready to consume when its internal temperature is 165F. A digital thermometer is the most accurate way to tell if a turkey is ready to be taken out of the oven. Pop-up timers? You can just forget them! Follow these tips and you'll be in the clear:
Rest is Best
Although it's tempting to slice into the turkey once it's done you are better off letting it rest for at least a half hour. During that time the juices will redistribute and won't escape when you carve into your bird.
Carve It Right
After going through the trouble of beautifully roasting a bird it'd be a pity not to serve it right. Carving a turkey is just like carving a chicken. This is all you need to know:
Questions or comments? Let us know how we can help you solve your turkey troubles.