Roast Turkey – Need to Know

This information is adapted from Julia Child’s book From Julia Child’s Kitchen. Another good source of turkey basics is the National Turkey Federation.

Buying the turkey (and thawing it if it’s frozen):

Buy your turkey from a meat market or grocer who is serious about providing high-quality food. If possible, buy a fresh (unfrozen), organically-raised turkey with no added brine, water, butter, etc. Read the label, because sometimes turkeys are injected with stuff to plump them up.

Frozen turkeys are okay too, but you must defrost them completely in the refrigerator before cooking (this takes a minimum of 3-4 days to accomplish). If the price on the frozen turkey is really low, it’s probably last year’s bird that’s been stored for a year – don’t buy this. To defrost a frozen turkey, leave it in its wrapper in the refrigerator until it’s fully thawed. Then unwrap it and pull out the package of giblets in the cavity. If they’re still frozen, so is part of the turkey. You can finish thawing at room temperature or in the refrigerator. Don’t leave it at room temperature for more than a couple of hours. An alternative way to thaw the turkey is to put it, still wrapped, in a sinkful of water. It will take at least 12 hours to thaw. (It’s safer to do it in the refrigerator.) Frozen turkeys spoil more rapidly than fresh ones, so you have to be ready to roast it within a day or so of thawing.

Stuffing or not?

An unstuffed turkey is easy to prepare for roasting and can be prepared for roasting the day ahead. The bird will cook faster, the breast will be juicier because it is less likely to overcook, and a handful of aromatic vegetables trussed inside the cavity will flavor the meat nicely. Julia Child likes to do the stuffing separately, but I think the stuffing tastes so much better if it’s been cooked in the bird, so I always stuff. She bakes the stuffing in a covered casserole in a pan of water and bastes it with the roasting juices.

The Steps to Turkey and a Timetable

4 days before roasting:

    1. Thaw the turkey if it is frozen. See above.

The day before roasting:

    2. Make a Turkey Stock from the giblets (if you are using a frozen turkey, it will need to be thawed first). This will take 2-4 hours. Do this the day before you cook the turkey.
    3. Make the stuffing. Prepare the chopped vegetables and herbs and the dry ingredients the day before. This entails making a loaf of coarse-grained non-sweet bread (you can buy this) and a recipe of a coarse-grained, non-sweet Cornbread. (Don’t use a box mix or buy pre-baked cornbread at the grocer – these will be sweet. Making cornbread from scratch is really easy – you can do it.) If you are a bread baker, you’ll have a recipe. If you are not, buy a rustic loaf. I prefer white bread, but a whole grain bread is fine. Be careful that your bread isn’t sweet – most commercial whole grain breads seem to be. Making bread takes 3-4 hours. Making the cornbread takes about an hour or so.

On the day you’re roasting and serving:

    4. Prepare the turkey.
    5. Roast the turkey. See below for a timetable.
    6. Make the gravy while the turkey rests out of the oven.

Roasting Timetable (charts from the National Turkey Federation)

For unstuffed, moderately chilled turkeys roasted at 325 degrees

8-12 lbs: 2-3/4 to 3 hours
12-14 lbs: 3 to 3-3/4 hours
14-18 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 hrs

For stuffed, moderately chilled turkeys roasted at 325 degrees

8-12 lbs: 3 to 3-1/2 hours
12-14 lbs: 3-1/2 to 4 hours
14-18 lbs: 4 to 4-1/2 hours
18-20 lbs: 4-1/4 to 4-3/4 hours
20-24 lbs: 4-3/42 to 5-1/4 hrs

Add a buffer of 20-30 minutes to the times on the timetable plus 20-30 minutes for the turkey to rest out of the oven before carving.

If you have a meat thermometer, you can use it to fine-tune the cooking times. Remove the turkey from the oven when the breast meat registers 170 degrees and/or the thigh meat registers 180 degrees. The turkey is done when the legs can be wiggled in their sockets.

Comments are closed.