How to Cook a Turkey

Our guide on how to cook a turkey will help you to overcome your fear of messing up that big old bird. From removing the giblets to what to do with the carcass, it’s all here. Remember, we’re rooting for you.

A simple roast turkey on a rack set over a roasting pan in the oven.
: SCPhotog

by Barbara Kafka | from Roasting: A Simple Art | William Morrow, 1995

There are certain things to think of to ensure success before beginning to roast a turkey.

Remove the giblets

Remove the giblet bag from the interior of the bird. Remove the wing tips and put everything except the liver in a pot and make gravy or stock. Use the liver in the dressing/stuffing or store in the freezer, covered with milk.

To stuff or not to stuff the turkey

Thanksgiving table with a Roast turkey with stuffing and vegetables on a platter
: Jim Stott

Consider whether the bird should be stuffed or the stuffing served as a dressing baked separately. If stuffing, think in terms of twelve cups of stuffing for a fifteen-pound bird, which will allow the big cavity to be stuffed and some more stuffing to be crammed under the skin flap at the neck. I seldom stuff because there are real food safety questions about the bird and its stuffing sitting out at room temperature.

Preparing the oven before roasting

Roasting: A Simple Art
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The oven must be very clean before roasting or cooking may cause unpleasant smoke. In any case, there will be some smoke if you roast at high temperatures such as this Simple Roast Turkey recipe, so turn on the fan or open a window. Don’t put the oven rack too high or the skin on the breast will overcook. For a twenty-pound turkey, the rack should be in the lowest position. Always put the turkey in legs first—dark meat takes longer to cook and the rear of the oven is the hottest area.

Tenting the turkey

If the top skin seems to be getting too dark, slip a doubled piece of aluminum foil on top of it. Don’t move the turkey. Use an oven mitt to protect hands and forearms. Remove the foil with the same oven mitt ten minutes before the turkey comes out.

Removing the turkey

A person using potholders to remove a turkey.
: adogslifephoto

Large turkeys are most easily removed from the pan by holding them with two pot holders, which will need to be washed. After the meal, get out a large stockpot to boil up the carcass and leftover bones for turkey soup and stock variations.

Originally published on April 12, 2005.

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