I have been cooking Thanksgiving Dinner for over 10 years now, and I’ve learned a lot along the way. One thing I’ve learned is that it’s good to have a plan. So, helpfully this will help you prepare for the big day.
I’ll start out by making a pretty broad statement, but something I firmly believe. The instructions on the turkey packaging never works out. I typically add 1 day to thaw and another hour of cook time to be safe. Now that I’ve stated that, here’s the rest:
(During these instructions, I’m assuming the turkey weighs 20 pounds.)
My Thanksgiving Turkey Guide
- 20 Pound Turkey
- 3 TB Butter
- 1 T Salt
- 8 Cups Turkey broth or chicken broth
- 1 Onion cut into slices
- 1 Orange cut into slices
- 2 Stalk Celery cut into 1 inch sections
- 4 Sprigs Thyme
- 2 Sprigs Rosemary
- 3 Bay leaves 2 if using dried
- 1 T Salt
- ½ T Black pepper
Brining Ingredients (optional)
- 2 Gallon Water
- 1 Cup Brown sugar
- 1 Cup Salt
- 5 Sprigs Rosemary
- 8 Sprigs Thyme
- 1 Cup Apple Cider
- 3 Cloves Garlic
- 1/3 Cup Flour
- ¾ Cup Milk
Buying the Turkey
- The conventional wisdom is to buy a turkey, which is 1 pound per person. So, if you have 10 people coming, then buy a 10 pound turkey. That said, I typically overdo it because: 1) you never know what people will actually eat and 2) who doesn’t want leftovers. If budget allows, maybe get a turkey a few pounds bigger just to be safe, which could lead to a leftover meal, like hot brown (keep your eye out for the upcoming recipe.)
Thawing your Turkey
- To thaw your frozen turkey, move the turkey from the freezer to fridge. I place the turkey in the roasting pan I’ll use to cook it with. If the wrapping of the turkey was accidentally pierced, then as the turkey thaws, the juices (full of bacteria) will leak all over your fridge. Yep, this actually happened. For a germ freak like me, it almost sent me into shock.
- To thaw your frozen turkey, simply place in the fridge according to the thawing directions on the package. Typically you would thaw in the fridge for a few days prior to cooking. A good rule of thumb is to thaw 2 days for a 5 pound turkey, then add a day for every additional 5 pounds (3 days for 10 pounds, 4 days for 15 pounds, etc.)
Brining (skip to next section if not brining)
- Start brining 12 to 24 hours prior to cooking.
- Unwrap the turkey and set in clean sink. Remove the innards and discard if you don’t plan on using, and remove the neck as well.
- Buy/Use a good brining bag. I get mine from Sur La Table or William Sonoma. They’re sturdy and hold up to the weight of the turkey with brining liquid.
- With brining, the bag will be very heavy, so I always place the bag in the roasting pan that I plan to cook the turkey in (minus the rack.) This helps keep the turkey stable.
- Place turkey in the brining bag. Combine the Brining ingredients in a large pitcher to mix well (I usually work in batches.) Slowly pour the brining solution into the bag (try to aim for the side of the turkey so it doesn’t splash out of the bag.
- Zip to seal completely. Place pan with the turkey in the fridge to brine overnight.
Important Note on Timing
- So, to summarize the last two sections, if you’re cooking a 20 pound turkey on Thursday, you will want it thawed by Wednesday morning (or night) to start the brining. This means you would count back 5 days from there, meaning the turkey is moving from the freezer to the fridge Friday morning.
- I’ve screwed this up before, so I want to drill that in. You do not want to chip away at a semi frozen turkey to get the innards out.
- That said, if this does happen, it’s not the end of the world; you would simply run under cold water to thaw for 30 to 40 minutes.
Thanksgiving Morning - Prep
- Heat oven to 325 degrees.
- Remove turkey to a clean sink and rinse inside and out with cold water. Instead of running the water from the faucet over the turkey, I typically fill a bowl with water slowly pour over the turkey. This cuts down on the water splatter from the faucet, which can spread germs.
- Pat dry with paper towels, inside and out.
- Place on the rack of a roasting pan, breast facing up.
- Mix the stuffing mixture and use it to fill the body of the turkey. Use butcher twine to tie the legs together.
- Semi-melt the butter and rub the entire turkey with the butter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour in 2 to 3 cups broth into the roasting pan. You will gradually add more as the turkey cooks but this is a good starting point.
Thanksgiving Morning - Cook
- Roast according to package. For me, I cook my 20 pound stuffed turkey for about 5 hours. A 10 pound turkey is usually 3 hours.
- After 30 minutes, start basting the turkey. Continue to baste the turkey every 15 to 20 minutes. If the liquid at the bottom of the pan starts to evaporate, add more chicken broth, 1 cup at a time.
- During the cooking, your turkey will turn golden brown, if you notice it becoming too dark, then cover the entire turkey with a piece of foil, this will stop the colorization.
- The turkey will be done when your instant read thermometer reads 165 in the thigh. To do this, turn the turkey so that the bottom is facing you (where the legs are tied). Then find where one of the legs connects to the turkey. The meaty part under that connecting point is where you’re aiming. When you insert, avoid hitting the bone because this won’t give you an accurate reading.
- Once the temp is right, remove the turkey and tent with foil. I usually remove the turkey to a cutting board, so I can drain the drippings to a fat separator in order to start the gravy, then return the turkey to the rack to rest.
- Once the turkey is done resting, about 15 minutes, get ready to carve! The way I carve mine, is that I take off each breast whole. To do this, I find the bone right in the center of the breasts, and slice straight down just to the left or right of the breast bone until I hit the ribs. The second cut, I slice from the side of the turkey until I hit the first cut. I wiggle it slightly, but if the two cuts meet, it should come off with ease. Once the breast is off, you can slice it into 1 inch sections, and plate.
- Untie the legs and bend them enough to see the joint. Press your knife in between the bones and then cut to separate.
- Carving a chicken is like carving a turkey, so if you want to do a dry run prior to trying your first turkey, it’s not a bad idea.
- With the drippings in a fat separator and let sit for a few minutes for things to separate. Over a pot, strain the drippings from the separator (using a fine mesh strainer), stopping once you see the fat reach the bottom.
- Heat over medium and bring to a slow boil.
- Mix the milk and flour until combined. I whisk this to death because I want it super smooth. Pour 1/3 cup of the slurry in to start. The gravy will begin to thicken after a few minutes.
- Continue to add the slurry, a little at a time, until gravy thick. For me gravy thick usually coats the back of my spoon.
- That’s it! Serve your turkey with all the fixin’s you want and I hope you find this helpful. I wish you success!!