Turkey Basic Training

Photo credit: Flickr/thirteensparrows

Photo credit: Flickr/thirteensparrows

Whether this is your first time cooking a turkey or your 29th, here's a little cheat sheet to make sure you've got all your bases covered -- before, during and after the bird is done, with food safety in mind. Happy cooking, turkey lovers!

Essential tools: Roasting pan and rack big enough to accommodate the turkey, instant read thermometer; sharp knife.

Second-tier but helpful tools: Extra cutting board just for the turkey, a ladle or silicone brush for basting. Backyard/farmers market-style baster: A few rosemary sprigs tied with twine. 

Frozen Bird? Make sure it's thawed in time. Estimate 24 hours/1 day of thaw time for every five pounds of bird. P.S. Thaw in the fridge. Not in a cooler on the back porch. IN THE FRIDGE.  If you buy a frozen bird the night before Thanksgiving, and it weighs more than five pounds, you're the one who's a turkey. 

Prepping the bird: Rinse the turkey inside and out under cold water. Pat dry with towels.  Season inside and out with salt and pepper. A good rule of thumb: One teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper for every 1.5 pounds

Stuffing in the bird or out? Cook's choice, but if you do, the stuffing must be as cold as the bird. Food safety first, always.

Cooking temps and times: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cook the turkey at that temperature for the first 30 minutes. Reduce to 325 or 350 degrees. Estimate 12 to 15 minutes per pound.  P.S. Do the math if you want a firm sit-down time.  But math alone will not give you the most accurate reading. Stick an instant read thermometer in the deep (inner) part of the leg; 165 to 170 degrees with clear juices is a done bird. 

A note on the drippings: If you want to take advantage of the drippings for gravy, make sure you keep the bottom of the pan hydrated. Add just enough water or stock to cover the surface of the pan, and add more as you need throughout cooking.

Turkey chillax/cool down: Remember, that thing has been in the oven for a few hours. It is HOT STUFF.  Cover with foil and let it sit for about 30 minutes before you even think of carving (which can take at least 15 minutes). So that 45-minute window is great for heating, rewarming, and any other last-minute tasks. 

One last thing: Have fun. Thanksgiving is after all, about giving thanks with the people you love.