Thanksgiving Prep for a Picture-Perfect Turkey
November 12, 2018
A beautifully-roasted turkey, carved at the head of the table is the centerpiece of a traditional Thanksgiving. But my goodness, think about the amount of stress that goes into cooking a Thanksgiving turkey! If you want to cook your best turkey yet, use these Thanksgiving prep tips from start to finish.
3 Ways to Thaw a Turkey
The first step in Thanksgiving prep is getting your turkey to thaw. There are three ways to thaw a turkey — one option for those who plan ahead and two options for those who need to thaw a turkey (practically) overnight!
Thawing A Turkey in the Fridge
This method is for those who have lots of time and is considered the safest method to thaw a turkey. The constant temperature maintained in your refrigerator allows the turkey to thaw consistently.
In your refrigerator, allow one day for every 4-5 lbs. of meat. For a 20 lb. turkey, you should allow four or five days for thawing. Once your turkey is thawed, it is still safe to remain in the fridge for another day or two before cooking.
If you’re looking for way to thaw a turkey in less time, try one of the following methods.
Thawing a Turkey At Room Temperature
You can thaw your turkey at room temperature with a little help from cold water. Leave your turkey in its wrapping and submerge in cold water (in the sink or large, clean cooler). You’ll need to change the water and rotate your turkey every 30 minutes.
When you thaw your turkey in cold water, you’ll need to set aside 30 minutes for every pound of meat. For a 20 lb. turkey, it will take 10 hours. You may be tempted to use warm or hot water to speed up the process, but cold water is the safest method because it won’t cause your turkey to get too warm.
Once your turkey is thawed, it needs to be cooked immediately.
How to Thaw A Turkey Fast
When all else fails, you can use your microwave to thaw a turkey. Your first step is to check your microwave manual for limitations on turkey size and recommendations on minutes per pound and power level. A general recommendation is 6 minutes per pound, so a 20 lb. turkey would take 2 hours.
To get started, remove the wrappings from your turkey and put it in a microwave safe dish — no aluminum pans! Rotate and flip your turkey periodically and watch to ensure your turkey is not actually cooking in the microwave. Using this method, your turkey should be cooked immediately after thawing.
If your thawing process goes awry, your holiday won’t be ruined. You can cook a frozen turkey, but it will take some time. A completely frozen turkey will need to cook at least 50% longer than a thawed bird.
How Long To Cook A Turkey
Your next Thanksgiving prep step is determining how long to cook your turkey, so your guests aren’t waiting for hours! The cooking times below are based on roasting a turkey in a 325°F oven.
More important than the recommended cooking time is the internal temperature of the bird. Your turkey is ready to eat when it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F. You should check the temperature in three places:
- Thickest part of the breast
- Innermost part of wing
- Innermost part of thigh
If your bird is stuffed, remember to test your stuffing as well. It should also be at 165°F.
Also schedule 15-20 minutes of rest time before carving and serving your turkey.
Ways to Cook a Turkey Without An Oven
If oven space is limited in your home, there are ways you can cook a turkey without an oven. Perhaps you’ll try one of the alternative cooking methods this season.
Deep Fry a Turkey — The most important tip for deep frying a turkey is to make sure your turkey is completely thawed or you use a fresh turkey. Deep frying takes about 3 – 4 minutes per pound.
Grill a Turkey — A 10 – 16 lb. turkey will take two to three hours to grill. It is not recommended that you grill a stuffed turkey.
Smoke a Turkey — Using an electric smoker, an 8 – 18 lb. turkey will take 8 – 12 hours to cook. It is very important that your turkey reaches 140°F in the first four hours.
Butterball offers even more how-to information on cooking a turkey without an oven.