Okay, you guys. It’s turkey time. Time to take that bird that you might have bought by now and if not are planning on buying very soon, do some stuff to it, then stick it in the oven, then do some more stuff to it. And then eat it. Those are the steps that need to happen, but other than that, you may not know how to cook a turkey.
So, if you’re preparing your own dinner this Thanksgiving, don’t fret. We’re here to help you so that you can learn how to cook a turkey, and prove that you’re a fully functional adult to all who may doubt you, and your abilities to cook an edible bird on the most important eating day of the year. No pressure.
We’ve drafted up a step-by-step, foolproof “How to cook a turkey” guide for people like you, who have limited cooking experience and basic turkey knowledge (e.g. you could identify a turkey if presented with one), to get that thing from point A (a vague notion in your mind) to point Z (in your tum.)
If you’re frightened of the idea of cooking a turkey, just watch this video of a turkey twerking. Turn your foe into friend. That’s the real step one.
Okay, that was weird. Let’s just get back to cooking it.
BostInno’s Step-by-Step Guide to Cooking Your First Turkey This Thanksgiving
1. Obtain a turkey.
It’s too late to order a fancy, organic, free range bird from a local farm. Let that idea go. Considering there’s a Butterball shortage this year (or is there?), I suggest you get up, head to your grocery store of choice right now, and buy a frozen turkey. Don’t wait until the day before Thanksgiving, or there won’t be any turkeys left.
Remember, a frozen turkey takes several days to thaw. Since Thanksgiving is only on Thursday, this is important. Let the turkey thaw one day for every four pounds the turkey weighs. (12 pounds = 3 days, 16 pounds = 4 days, and so on.)
Don’t let this happen to you:
If you want a fresh turkey, by the transitive property (?), don’t get one too soon before Thanksgiving. Or else you’ll poison everyone.
Got a turkey? Okay, moving on.
2. Get the rest of the supplies. (Or make sure you already own them.)
You don’t want to be wrist-deep in turkey giblets when you realize you don’t even own a roasting pan. So, here are the supplies you’ll need to cook your turkey (plus what they would look like if you purchased them at Target) and also the ingredients needed to make sure it doesn’t taste bland.
That’s about it, assuming you have some knives and basic devices used to pour liquid. You can also get this carving set if you like to have the finest of tools.
To season and flavor the turkey, you’ll need:
- Seasonings of your choice. Suggestions: thyme, rosemary, parsley, sage.
- Chicken stock.
- Optional: lemon, apple, onion, carrots for added aroma.
Got all those things? Nice. It’s turkey preppin’ time.
3. Prep your turkey.
This part is important because it’s not just about heating up the bird. This is what will take your turkey from zero to hero.
Take turkey out of the fridge on Thanksgiving day. (It’s thawed right? If it’s not thawed just leave now and go to Legal Sea Foods.) Remove turkey from packaging, over the sink, otherwise turkey juice will spill everywhere.
Remove one of your cooking racks from the oven, leaving the lowest rack in there, and preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
Now, reach in that turkey and remove the plastic bag inside that holds the turkey’s tiny turkey organs. And its neck. Try not to look at the neck. If you want to sift through this junk to make giblet gravy, be my guest, or you can immediately throw it away while going ew ew ew ew ew.
Set turkey on cutting board and dry thoroughly, inside and out, with paper towels. You want that turkey to be dry. Keep drying it. Don’t forget to dry inside the butt.
Once it’s dry, rub it all over with salt and pepper. Massage it. Oh yeah. Don’t forget to sprinkle some salt inside the butt.
Take that butter – make sure it’s soft – and rub it under the turkey’s skin, between the meat and the skin. Enter from the neck and pull the skin away from meat, being careful not to rip the skin. Once it’s all buttered, shove those aromatic fruits, veggies and herbs of your choosing in the cavity. Now take the bird breast side up and set it on the roasting pan, and brush the outside with melted butter. You and the turkey, by now, should be really good friends.
Take a second to think: Is your turkey adequately buttered and seasoned inside, outside, and under the skin? If the answer’s yes, your turkey’s bound to be moist and flavorful instead of meh.
Before you put the pan in the oven, make sure it’s seated nice and cozy on the pan, to make sure it cooks properly and looks like it does in the picturebooks. Here’s how:
- Pull the wing tips forward and tuck them under the breast, so they don’t burn, and so it sits right.
- Tie the legs together with the dental floss. Make sure it’s the plain kind, not the minty kind, ya turkey.
- Loosely cover the turkey with tin foil (called “tenting” in the cooking world) so the skin doesn’t burn. You’ll remove this in the last hour to then brown the skin.
The turkey (pre-tin foiled) should look something like this, if you’re confused (image courtesy of punkwife.com):
Last step of prep: Pour two cups of chicken stock and one cup of water into the bottom of the pan so any drippings don’t burn at the bottom. You can also add more of those fruits and vegetables (apples, celery, onion, carrots, etc.) to the bottom of the pan for added flavor.
Now you’re ready to roast.
4. Cook your turkey.
The oven is preheated, the turkey is prepped. Now, roast the turkey in the oven at 450 for 45 minutes. After that, turn the heat down to 375 degrees and cook for about 2.5 hours, if your turkey is 16 pounds. Adjust cooking time accordingly for the size of the bird; big turkeys will need to cook longer.
Now you wait for a bit.
Don’t forget to remove the foil for the last hour to get nice, crispy turkey skin. You can also use a baster to baste the turkey using the juices on the bottom while it cooks, but if you don’t own a baster or feel like doing that, that’s OK, too.
When the turkey seems to be done, check the temperature with that handy meat thermometer. Stick it in the turkey where the thigh meets the body, and if it reads 165 degrees, you’ve done it! Take it out.
Let the turkey rest for 20 minutes before doing anything else. Cover it with foil again so it doesn’t catch a cold. This will allow the juices to settle and distribute, ensuring a juicy bird.
Now that it’s rested, take anything, like the lemon, onion or apple that you put in the cavity, out of the cavity. Lift the whole thing and let the juices run out onto the pan, using a wooden spoon if you need to.
Place the turkey on your cutting board. It’s time to carve. To be perfectly honest I don’t know how to carve a turkey, but this Whole Foods man does, and he made a YouTube video about it:
Done? Okay! Assuming you didn’t really screw that up, knock the whole thing off the counter, or injure yourself, you’re set. If you want to make turkey gravy, so you can also slurp the bird juices while you eat the bird meat, save that stuff at the bottom of the roasting pan.
The rest, my friends, is up to you. Happy Thanksgiving!