My wife tells the same story EVERY YEAR. Her mother’s turkey was so dry…
How dry was it?
It was so dry she and her brother dipped their turkey meat into their glasses of milk and the meat soaked it all up like a sponge!
There’s also the story of that time we roasted the turkey with the giblet packet still inside!
Then there’s two ladies from here at Horror Addicts, Mimielle and Cam, who both told me about Thanksgivings past when they, well, to put it delicately, couldn’t keep their meals down. I suspect this is actually a common occurrence thanks to the turkey and/or stuffing not being cooked completely. Remember, if your turkey is cooked with the stuffing in it, make sure the internal temperature of the stuffing is at least 165°F.
I expect that everyone has a Turkey Day Tale of Terror, but I can imagine none more so than the mothers and grandmothers who had the arduous task of cooking the beast, and all the other trimmings.
Fear not, fiends, for there is hope! Here are some tips and tricks to turn out a terrific turkey day!
Terrific Turkey Tips
Thanksgiving meal preparation can be pretty intense even without deboning and stitching together three birds. If Turkeystein’s Monstrosity is outside your comfort zone, here are some tips to help you make a terrific turkey meal.
How much turkey do I need
Conservative estimates are about a pound of turkey per guest. Average sizes for turkey are 16 to 18 pounds. Obviously they come much larger than that, and your thawing and cooking time will increase as a result. This time of year you will find plenty of sales and offers for free turkeys. I have seen store-brand turkeys selling for $0.79/lb and name-brand for $0.99/lb. Obviously organic, free-range, heritage, and other varieties are more expensive.
Some stores are giving away turkeys if you spend more than $100 on groceries on one visit. An easy task these days, especially when gathering food for a Thanksgiving feast. Just know that the free turkeys are sometimes under 16 pounds and may be older stock. Frozen turkeys can last for more than a year so stores use this an an opportunity to purge their poultry provisions. They will still be good, but maybe not as good as a fresher one.
Thaw that jive turkey
To thaw a frozen turkey safely takes time and room in your refrigerator. Adjust racks if you must, and set your unopened turkey breast-side up in your refrigerator. The turkey will need to thaw at least 24 hours for every 4 pounds of turkey. Yes, that means an average-sized 16 pound turkey will take FOUR DAYS to thaw. Your thawed turkey can stay in your fridge up to two more days before cooking.
Cold water thawing works faster but you have to change the water about every 30 minutes. It’s easier and safer to fridge thaw. For more information about safe thawing, visit the USDA website.
Turkey cooking timetable
According to the USDA, cooking in a regular oven at 325°F, your expected cook times by weight are:
8 to 12 lb — 2 3/4 to 3 hours
12 to 14 lb — 3 to 3 3/4 hours
14 to 18 lb — 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours
18 to 20 lb — 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours
20 to 24 lb — 4 1/2 to 5 hours
8 to 12 lb — 3 to 3 1/2 hours
12 to 14 lb — 3 1/2 to 4 hours
14 to 18 lb — 4 to 4 1/4 hours
18 to 20 lb — 4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hours
20 to 24 lb — 4 3/4 to 5 1/4 hours
Remember these times are guidelines. To ensure that the turkey is safe to eat, the thigh meat should reach 180°F. If your turkey is stuffed, be sure to check the stuffing too and make sure it has reached 165°F.
If you want to use a roaster, grill, or some other method, check out this USDA page for other time scales and suggestions.
Dressing vs. Stuffing
American idioms are a funny thing. For the most part you stuff a turkey with “stuffing” and bake a “dressing” as a side dish. It turns out though that this debate is regional as much as soda vs pop.
“Stuffing” is the “northern” term and “dressing” is the “southern” vernacular. By the same token, “dressing” is usually made with cornbread and “stuffing” is usually made with white, sourdough, or even rye bread. These are not hard and fast rules, just what I have encountered in having family from both sides of the Mason-Dixon line.
Myself I prefer cornbread dressing, especially as it is easier to make it gluten-free. However with the availability of good gluten-free breads, bread stuffing is once again an option for folks like me.
Now I know there’s a temptation to save time and use the instant box. With all the preparation you have to do with the birds, I won’t fault you this. However, delicious stuffing can be made quickly from scratch and it is remarkably better than the box.
Carving with Confidence
When it comes to carving up the bird, there are lots of ways to tackle the tradition. The most important step is to make sure your turkey rests for at least 20 minutes after cooking before you start carving. This allows the juices to soak back into the meat, rather than just spill all over your table, leaving the meat itself dry.
A meat fork to help keep the bird steady is also vital. Finally, you will want a long, sharp knife. You may want to even have it sharpened before the big day. An electric knfie will also serve you well.
Here is a link to some instructions from Buzzfeed that will show you how to carve a turkey perfectly.
With help from these hints, we here at Horror Addicts hope you have a happy Thanksgiving holiday.