Turkey Preparation


Choose a turkey which allows enough for about 1 pound per person.  To thaw a turkey, allow 3-4 hours per pound.  Thaw the turkey under refrigeration.  Reserve neck and giblets for giblet gravy, discarding the liver.  Prepare your gravy while the turkey cooks, which will take a few hours.

Allow 20 minutes per pound for 8-12 pound birds, 15 minutes per pound for 12-16 pound birds or see the chart below.

Season turkey by rubbing with olive oil and/or rendered salt pork and a teaspoon of soy sauce.  Sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper, onion and garlic powder.

Most turkeys are too large for the internal temperature of the bird to reach sufficient temperatures quickly enough to kill bacteria present in stuffing which has been refrigerated.  For this reason, you should plan to prepare the stuffing separately.

NOTE: You can improve the flavor of your turkey dramatically if you have an injector gadget available.  This item looks like a large hypodermic needle which you can fill with butter and/or rendered salt pork to inject into the turkey meat.  This additional step prevents the turkey from becoming dry without the need for additional basting, providing the proper cooking times and temperatures are observed.  Follow the directions included with the injector.

Alternatively, you can achieve good results by slicing wide strips of salt pork or slab bacon, and laying the strips across the turkey breast.  Other methods of preventing the white meat from drying out are to wrap the bird with several layers of cheesecloth, and continuously basting it with melted butter and/or drippings.  Another method is to start the roasting with the bird upside down, turning it over for the last hour and finishing off at a higher temperature.

Slow, steady cooking works best, keeping in mind that the lower the temperature, the longer the cooking.  Good results can be had by roasting at 300 degrees Fahrenheit, but you can also achieve excellent results at 325 F. The rule of thumb is to select a lower temperature if you allow sufficient time in advance.  Once the temperature of the bird reaches 135-140 degrees Fahrenheit, you can increase the oven temperature to 400 F for a brief time for browning.  At this point the turkey will finish cooking rapidly so if you add this browning step it's important to pay close attention and constantly monitor the bird's internal temperature.

A perfectly cooked bird requires the use of a thermometer, preferably, an instant-read thermometer.  If you rely on the pop-up timer, the white meat will be overcooked and dry.  For perfect white meat, which cooks at a lower temperature than does the dark meat portion of the bird, a compromise must be reached.  You should determine which portion is preferred and plan to favor either the white meat or dark meat, temperature-wise.  The best temperature to remove the turkey for perfectly cooked white meat is 155-160 degrees breast temperature.  Be certain that the thermometer does not touch bone or the results will be inaccurate. 

Allow the turkey to sit an additional 20 minutes with the oven door open and it will be done to a perfect 160-165 degrees.  For perfectly cooked dark meat, add an additional 10 degrees, but you will be slightly sacrificing the quality of the white meat.  At 180 degrees, the white meat will be overcooked.

The following chart is for whole turkey cooked at an oven temperature of 325 degrees.  Allow slightly longer times for turkeys which are cooked in a slower oven, and conversely less time for a higher temperature oven.  If you have a convection oven, cut time by as much as 1/3 or consult manufacturer's instructions.

Whole Turkey Oven Temperature Cooking Time (hours) Temp when cooked
4-8 pounds 325 degrees F 2  - 3 hours 160 - 170
8-12 pounds 325 degrees F 3  - 4 hours 160 - 170
12 - 16 pounds 325 degrees F 4  - 5 hours 160 - 170
16 - 20 pounds 325 degrees F 5  - 6 hours 160 - 170
20 - 24 pounds 325 degrees F 6  - 7 hours 160 - 170

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