Turkey is the traditional meat that is served during Thanksgiving. It is also widely used for other holidays, such as Christmas and Easter. It's reasonable to buy, and serves a large amount of people.
What type and size turkey to buy:
Buying a turkey can be very confusing, especially the first time. The first step is to determine how many people will be eating turkey. Next determine just how many leftovers is desired. After answering those two questions, its easier to figure out how much turkey to buy.
For hardly any leftovers, buy 1lb to 1 1/4lbs of turkey per person.
For moderate amount of leftovers, buy 1 to 1 1/2 lbs of turkey per person.
For a large amount of leftovers, buy 1 1/2 to 2lbs of turkey per person.
Reduce the amounts slightly if buying a turkey breast. Turkey breast have more meat and less bone, making it more useable per pound.
You can buy a hen turkey, female or a tom turkey, male. The hen turkeys are smaller in size, the meat is generally more tender and in many peoples' opinion, taste better. Tom turkeys are larger in size verses the hens. However, a smaller tom turkey will be younger, thus making it more tender than a larger one. Many people will buy two smaller turkeys, because it taste better and the meat will stay moister. Another reason people will buy two smaller birds is due to freezer/refrigerator space. So keep that in mind when shopping.
Thawing the turkey:
Be sure to thaw your turkey in the refrigerator. Sitting a turkey out to thaw is a big no, no, even if so and so mother does it. Thawing food at room temperature invites bacteria to invade and contaminated. The last thing anyone wants on a holiday is a house full of sick guess.
It usually takes about 3 to 4 days for a turkey to thaw for baking or frying. As a general formula and rule, allow about 5 hours per lb of turkey. So if the turkey weights 15lbs, allow about 75 hours for thawing. That equals about 3 hours over 3 days. It is important to remember to thaw the turkey. Write a huge not on the refrigerator, or write it on a planner. Have a relative call to remind about it.
In an emergency, like forgetting to sit it out or buying a frozen turkey last minute, a cold water method can be used. This takes much less time to thaw, but should only be used in a pinch. Completely submerge the turkey in cold water, and change the water every 30 minutes. It will take about 25 to 30 minutes per pound of turkey.
Avoid defrosting a turkey in the oven or microwave, and NEVER place a frozen turkey in a deep fryer. This is what causes all those mishap fires. As the turkey thaws, the water enters the grease.
Cooking the turkey:
Wash the turkey off. Then place it breast side up in a greased roasting pan. The roasting pan should be large enough and sturdy enough to accommodate the bird. Insert the oven safe thermometer if available. Be extra sure to remove the bag from the inside of the bird if it came with one. This usually contains other parts of the turkey. Many people throw this away, while others use it to make gravy.
Coat the skin of the turkey with butter. There are different ways to baste a turkey, but most people will baste the turkey with it's own juices once or twice an hour, while it's cooking. Some people now use self basting bags, which eliminates the need to open the oven every 30 minutes, helping the turkey cook faster.
A unique way to cook a turkey, is by placing a butter soaked cheesecloth over the turkey breast. Dip a cheese cloth into melted butter, double layer and place it on the breast of the turkey. Other people will brine a turkey, which involves a soak in kosher salt.
Cover the turkey up before placing in the oven, if not using a roasting bag. If using a roasting bag, please remember not put the pan in the bag. The bag should sit inside the roasting pan. A turkey can also obtain a golden brown look by cooking it inside a brown bag. Again, the bag should rest inside a cooking pan, don't need a fire on Thanksgiving day.
The USDA recommends baking a turkey at 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Any bought turkey should come with baking times, this will be the times that the USDA recommend. These times are usually accurate but of course, everyone's oven is different.
Just this chart as a general guide for an unstuffed birds. Turkeys that are stuffed, will take some longer for cooking.
8 to 11lbs turkey at 325 degrees F. 3 hours
12 to 14lbs turkey at 325 degrees F. 3 1/2 to 3 3/4 hours
15 to 18lbs turkey at 325 degrees F. 4 to 4 3/4 hours
19 to 24lbs turkey at 325 degrees F. 4 3/4 to 5 hours
When is the turkey done?
Begin checking the temperature of the turkey once the turkey likes 1 hour or less of cooking time. This can avoid over cooking or undercooking the meat. Do not rely on the plastic pop out thermometers. Either use an oven safe one from the beginning, or manually check with a thermometer at intervals, once the turkey almost done baking.
When it's done the temperatures should be at least 170 degrees F. in the center of the breast. If the bird is stuffed, check the stuffing. The middle point of the stuffing should be at least 165 degrees. Don't carve the turkey immediately. For moister meat, allow the turkey to stew in it's juices for about 1/2 an hour before carving.
How to store turkey leftovers:
To insure that the meat does not become contaminated, store leftover meat in the refrigerator as soon as the meal is over. The sooner the meat is put away, the less bacteria that will have time to gather on the meat. Not just because of the time it is left out, but contamination has a great deal to do with food temperatures. Store it in airtight containers or zip lock bags. Thanksgiving leftovers should not be consumed by anyone after 3 days of the cooking day. Only reheat what will be used that day. Avoid constant heating and cooling of leftovers.