There is little doubt that one of the most important parts of a
Thanksgiving dinner is the turkey...at least in most households. And I
always have to think of Christmas Vacation and the delicious turkey
they have there when it comes to carving it up.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 45
million turkeys are cooked and eaten in the U.S. at Thanksgiving—that's
one sixth of all turkeys sold in the U.S. each year. American per
capita consumption of turkeys has soared from 8.3 pounds in 1975 to
18.5 pounds in 2006. That's a lot of tryptophan!
When selecting your bird, you'll need to consider how many people
you'll be feeding. With a whole turkey, you should generally estimate
about 1 pound of bird per person coming to dinner. So if you've got 12
adults coming, you'll want a turkey about 12 pounds. Fairly simple,
right? If you're getting your turkey from a free range farm, you
probably have ordered it already...but it may not be too late to get
If you go with a frozen bird, don't forget to begin thawing it in
your fridge several days in advance. An 8-12 pound turkey will take 2-3
days to thaw. My mom always started the thawing on Thanksgiving morning
or the night before, using a sink full of cold water (30 minutes per
pound). BUT if you have cats, beware. They may outsmart you. One year,
our cat decided she wanted to start Thanksgiving dinner early and
carefully balanced herself on the bird while it floated. Then she ate
through the plastic and helped herself to fresh turkey until we
Once the turkey is thawed, you will want to rinse it off (don't use
soap - yes, I do know someone who did this and it was not me!) and
check for any feathers that may have been missed before, especially
around the wings and legs. Use the neck, giblets, heart, etc from the
body cavity (usually all nicely packaged in a little bag in American
birds) to make broth. Put everything in a small pot and cover with
water. Add spices (i.e. bay leaves, pepper, garlic); bring to a boil
and simmer until tender and meat falls off neck.
Last year, I tried something new: brining a turkey. It's a simple
process, where you let the bird soak for 24-48 hours in a bath of
spices. It will leave your turkey so moist and tender, it may end up
completely falling off the bone when you go to carve it. The breasts
literally just lifted off the bird in complete pieces. We had a 15
pound turkey so putting it in a pot was not really an option;
especially since it needed to go back into the fridge. But it turned
out that our electric cooler was just the right size! We only had 24
hours to brine the turkey but it was plenty. Don't be scared to play
with the ingredients a bit either.
- 2 gallons water
- 1 1/2 cups canning salt
- 3 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- In a cooler, mix together the water, salt, garlic, pepper,
Worcestershire sauce and brown sugar. Ice it down (or plug in the
cooler if you're using an electric one like we did) and soak turkey for
2 days before smoking or roasting.
When you're ready to start cooking your turkey, there are several
options. Some people like to stuff the bird with stuffing/dressing. I
prefer that the dressing goes in a casserole dish in the oven where it
can get a bit crispy.
- 1 one large onion, peeled and quartered
- 1 apple
- A couple peeled garlic cloves
- A few tablespoons pepper corns (you can use lemon & pepper and garlic powder as well)
- Olive or vegetable oil
- Garlic powder
- Stuff ingredients into the body cavity. Tie or "truss" the legs
together with string (if it did not come with a wire or plastic tie.)
Put a couple pieces of onion/apple in the neck cavity as well.
- Take the wings and fold them behind the neck (like you would put
your arms behind your head!) Tuck the neck flap under the body.
- Place a cake cooling rack in bottom of roaster so the juices drip
down underneath. (You'll use them for your gravy and broth later.) Use
olive oil or vegetable oil to slather your bird for it's "tan" in the
oven. Use your hands but be certain to sanitize your hands, sink,
tools, etc. afterward to prevent salmonella bacteria growth. Sprinkle
with garlic powder
- Place turkey in the roaster or large deep pan in oven without top
or foil until the bird begins to brown. Oven should be at 325°F
(160°C). Baste the bird with the drippings as it begins to brown.
8-12 lbs - 3-4 hours
12-16 lbs – 4-5 hours
16-20 lbs – 5-6 hours
- When it’s looking almost cooked, place a foil “tent” over it to prevent burning the top of breast and legs.
- When done, remove from roaster pan onto a platter and allow to
cool. If you use a meat thermometer, it should register 185°F in the
muscle or the legs should wiggle freely like they are about to drop
off! Do not poke it with a fork!
- Put 1 cup of drippings from turkey into a Dutch oven. Add two cups of broth from turkey giblets. Bring to a boil.
- In a separate glass, put about 1 cup room temperature water and add 2 Tbls flour. Blend with a fork.
- Slowly add ½ half mixture to Dutch oven mixture, stirring with a
whisk constantly until thickened. Add more of flour mixture if it does
not thicken. Season to taste (salt, pepper, etc.) You can add the
pieces of turkey neck cut into small pieces or diced boiled eggs.
Use the onions, etc. from body cavity, to season turkey noodle soup.
Put the whole leftover carcass (bones) into a large pot. Add the
drippings and leftover giblet broth. Boil all the turkey from the
bones. Cool and pick out the bones.
Add cut up carrots, celery, peas, potatoes, etc. Cook until tender.
Season to taste. Add noodles and you have a totally different meal from
Looking for more Thanksgiving recipes and tips? Visit The Thanksgiving Countdown
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