Source: Cooking Turkey-101 – Five Simple Rules for Perfect Turkey Every Time
Expert Cooks say “Don’t Stuff the Turkey” Grand Mother said “Stuff your bird with quartered green apples and onions to add flavor and keep your bird moist!” If you want that classic look, simply spoon the dressing (cooked separately) into the cavity when you bring the turkey to the table. Who’ll know? Grin … No matter if you stuff or don’t stuff, don’t forget to remove the giblets from the birds body cavity before cooking.
Season the Turkey Inside, Outside, and Under the Skin. No matter what herbs and spices you decide to use, the best way to get tasty turkey is to generously season it everywhere possible. Generously rub salt and pepper inside the cavity, along with whatever other herbs and spices you’re using. You can also push seasoned butter or olive oil under the skin of the breast, and around the thighs. You can use your fingers, or push a thin silicon spatula under the skin to separate it from the meat. This not only flavors the turkey, but also helps keep it moist and juicy. Lastly, rub the outside skin of the turkey with butter or oil, and season with salt and pepper. This triple application of flavor will mean an end to bland birds.
A properly prepped turkey will go a long way to ensure a successful roasting. Pull the wing tips forward and tuck them under the breasts so they don’t burn. This also keeps the turkey sitting nice and straight. After seasoning, tie the legs together with kitchen string. This important step will ensure even cooking, and a beautifully shaped turkey. Loosely cover the breasts with a piece of foil. This will help keep the turkey moist, and prevent the breasts from getting too brown. Remove the foil for the last hour of roasting to brown the skin.
Not Overcook your bird. Low and Slow in a Moist, Aromatic Oven. Cut two carrots, two ribs of celery, and an onion into large chunks. Place on the bottom of your roasting pan. Place the turkey, breast side up on top of the vegetables. Add about a half inch of liquid, water or stock, to the roasting pan. This will keep the oven moist, and the turkey juicy. This aromatic liquid can be used to baste the turkey while it cooks (there is a debate whether basting does anything, but it’s part of the tradition). Also, the pan drippings will be even more flavorful if you’re planning to make gravy.
Roast at 325 degrees for about 15-20 minutes per pound. Be sure to use a meat thermometer to get a perfect cooked bird. Remove the turkey when it reads 165 degrees in the thickest part of the thigh meat. Here is an approximate turkey cooking time guide for roasting at 325 degrees from the USDA:
8 to 12 lbs: 2 3/4 to 3 hrs
12 to 14 lbs: 3 to 3 3/4 hrs
14 to 18 lbs: 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hrs
18 to 20 lbs: 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hrs
20 to 24 lbs: 4 1/2 to 5 hrs
Let it Rest! A Rested Turkey is a Delicious Turkey. You must let the turkey rest for AT LEAST 20 minutes. When you remove your bird from the oven, cover it very loosely with foil, and go about getting your side dishes to the table. Don’t worry, it won’t get cold. A covered 20-pound turkey will stay hot for over 40 minutes. Letting it rest allows the juices in the turkey to redistribute, which is the secret to moist, tender meat.
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