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Preparing the Perfect Thanksgiving Bird

You just brought home a turkey and you’re ready to begin preparing your holiday feast, what’s next?

First, if your turkey is frozen, you’re going to need to thaw it ours before roasting. This can take up to 4 days in the fridge depending on the size of the bird, so plan accordingly. If your turkey is fresh, you can skip this step and take a look at our roasting guide.

After your turkey is thawed, it’s ready for the oven. Unfortunately, there is no exact time for roasting a turkey, it’s part feel part measurement. You can use our handy roasting chart to approximate how long your turkey will take and keep an eye on it and use an instant-read meat thermometer to make sure your turkey is cooked to perfection.

Learn all of the tips and tricks using Turkey 101 guide below and prepare your turkey like a pro!

How to Thaw a Turkey:

If you’ve brought home a frozen bird, it’s important to know how and how long it will take to thaw it out, before going for the oven.

Turkeys should be thawed using one of these three methods:

Refrigerator

  • This is the most fool-proof method, in reference to food safety and maintaining food quality. The key is to plan ahead and allow 24 hours for every 5 lbs. of bird weight. Utilize a drip pan under the thawing food so that the drippings do not contaminate other food. The refrigerator temperature must be 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. The thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days prior to roasting, and if necessary a turkey that has been thawed properly in the refrigerator may be refrozen.

Cold Water

  • A quicker method than using the refrigerator is thawing the bird in cold water. Keep the turkey in the original wrapping. The cold water must be changed every 30 minutes. Allow 30 minutes per pound using this method. Roast the turkey immediately after thawing – do not refreeze or refrigerate after thawing in cold water.

Microwave

  •  This method is not very high on our list, but with the reality of the usage of the microwave today and the outlook that most people struggle with the planning of food preparations, it is included in our list. Remove the wrapping and place on a microwave-safe dish to catch any juices, then follow the manufacturer’s directions regarding your microwave and turkey size. Roast the turkey immediately after thawing – do not refreeze or refrigerate after thawing in the microwave.

*Reminder: Don’t forget to remove the giblets from the turkey cavities after thawing. Cook these separately.

*Note: The times above are for a thawed or fresh turkeys. To cook a frozen turkey, plan to double the recommended times above.

How to Roast a Turkey:

Roasting a turkey is not tricky, all it takes is some simple math. If you’re roasting your bird unstuffed it will need to cook for approximately 15-20 minutes per pound. For a stuffed bird, simply add an additional 15-30 minutes. It’s that easy!

Weight as Purchased

  • 8 to 12 lbs. – 2 3/4 to 3 hours
  • 12 to 14 lbs. – 3 to 3/34 hours
  • 14 to 18 lbs – 3 3/4  to 4 1/4 hours
  • 18 – 20 lbs. – 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours
  • 20 – 24 lbs. – 4 1/2 to 5 hours

Method

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove the turkey wrapping, and wash the turkey by running cold, wet paper towels along the body. Pull out the neck and giblets. Drain the juices and blot the cavity with paper towels. Rub the outside of the turkey with a brush loaded with olive oil, then rub with salt and pepper.

Place the turkey breast-side-up on a flat rack in an open roasting pan about two inches deep. Use your roasting pan’s lid or cover with aluminum foil to prevent over-browning. Roast according to the timetables below, and remove the lid or foil during the last 45 minutes of cooking to allow the bird to brown. To verify that the turkey is done, use a food thermometer to check that the internal temperature of the turkey and stuffing reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Tent the turkey with foil and let rest for 25 minutes prior to carving to allow the juices to set.

You can use the following timetables to determine the approximate time it will take to roast your fully thawed or fresh turkey. Always use a meat thermometer to check that the internal temperature of the turkey and stuffing reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

*Note: The times above are for a thawed or fresh turkeys. To cook a frozen turkey, plan to double the recommended times above.

Temperature

While many turkeys come with a plastic pop-up thermometer, popups have a compound in the tip that melts at a determined temp and releases a spring that pops the stem up. Although they can be accurate pop-ups can also stick, they read only one part of the turkey and they are usually set too high, resulting in overcooking and dry turkey.

Instant Read Thermometer

A digital, instant-read thermometer is a low-cost, must-have for every kitchen. When inserted into the thickest part of the meat (without touching any bone), the temperature should register within a few seconds. Instant-read thermometers are not meant to be left in the meat during cooking.

A well-performing instant-read meat thermometer will cost about $10.00 – $20.00, but it is well worth the investment.

Continuous Read Digital Thermometer 

If you wish to invest a bit more, continuous-read digital thermometers are another great option. Designed to be left in the meat during the entire duration of cooking, they often include a probe that is placed in the meat and a long cord connected to the thermometer unit, which can be placed on a countertop near the stove.

How to Carve a Turkey:

In many families, one person is often designated “Turkey Carver” which means the rest of us can sit back and enjoy while someone else takes care of the slicing and carving!

If your holiday gathering doesn’t include an assigned carver, check out this video. Chef Billy Parisi takes you through steps to perfectly carving your Thanksgiving turkey. Click here to view our Turkey Carving Tutorial with Chef Billy.

By Heinen's Grocery Store
In 1929, Joe Heinen opened the doors of a small butcher shop on the east side of Cleveland, Ohio, aiming to establish himself as the city’s purveyor of quality meats. As customers came into Heinen’s new shop for their meat purchases, they began asking him to carry groceries as well. Joe added homemade peanut butter, pickles and donuts and by 1933, business had grown enough to include a line of produce and canned goods. Heinen’s Grocery Store was born.

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