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Never Cooked a Turkey Before? We Can Help

If your turkey still looks like this, dinner is going to be late!
Wikimedia Commons

Is this your first time ever cooking a turkey? If so, we can help you get a decent turkey with little headache. So, first things first. If your turkey still looks like that picture, you've got a lot of work to do today. That's a whole different article!

However, most of us end up with turkeys that come from farms or the grocery, all ready to be put in the oven. If you have a fresh turkey, you can skip this next step. But if your turkey is still frozen, pay attention.

Ideally, you want your turkey to thaw in the refrigerator for a couple days before cooking. But let's say you just got your turkey today. Get that kitchen sink empty; the turkey is likely going to live in it overnight. Put your frozen turkey - still in its package - in the sink with a stopper in the sink. Run COOL water around your turkey until the sink is as full as you can get without spilling over. Let the turkey rest there. It's going to take about 30 minutes of thawing time for every pound that turkey has on it. Drain and put in fresh water about every hour to make it go faster. DO NOT use hot or warm water.

Now your turkey is thawed. First thing you want to know is how many pounds your turkey is. It should say on the tag, or if you have a fresh bird, hopefully it says on the wrapper. You're going to want to cook your bird at 325 degrees at about a half hour for every pound of meat on the bird. More if you decide to stuff your bird. Here's a handy cooking time chart to help you along.

Let's get the turkey ready -First things first, put your hand inside the bird and pull out the giblets. What are giblets, you ask? In most store bought turkeys, they will place the liver, heart, kidneys and neck back into the body cavity. Sometimes they are loose, sometimes they come in a thick paper package. Either way, take them out. You can cook them up for use in the stuffing, or just as a treat for a loving dog or cat.

Now it is time to put the turkey in the roasting pan. Don't have one? That's OK, they have disposable ones at the grocery store, Not our first choice as sustainable living folk, but you can wash it out and use it again.

Some people like to put their turkey in the pan with the legs up; others suggest putting the turkey breast side down to ensure a juicier breast. This is up to you- it cooks just fine either way. Once you have the turkey in the pan, add some water and some seasonings. If you're doing in the bird stuffing, now is the time to add it. Not sure how to make stuffing? here's a great stuffing recipe!

Put some seasonings on your turkey - Sage is considered THE turkey herb, but if you don't like sage, just put on some salt and pepper.

Now it's time to cover the turkey with tin foil, but one piece is just not going to do it. That's easy to fix. Pull off two long pieces of tin foil, long enough to cover the turkey and over the side of the pan. Placing the shiny sides together, fold over the long edge of both pieces twice on just one side. When you open it up, place this over the turkey, shiny side down. The shiny side reflects the heat and helps the bird cook more evenly. Crimp the foil all around the edges of the pan.

You're now ready to stick the turkey in the prewarmed oven. Put it in, set a timer for an hour and go collapse in a chair. You've earned a break. Check your turkey every half hour to an hour; at about 45 minutes to an hour before your end time, take the tin foil off and use the juices in the pan to baste the turkey.

Wait, don't panic. All basting means is you scoop up some of those juices and pour them gently over the whole top side of your bird. This is how it gets that lovely brown crispy skin!

Do this every 10-15 minutes, and during this time check your turkey with a meat thermometer. Don't have one? Get one while you are out picking up the pan - they are in the housewares section of every grocery store. You say your turkey has one of those popper timers in its skin? Don't rely on that at all - they often do not work. Get a meat thermometer- you can use it again and again.

Stick the thermometer into the thick of the meat - mid breast is the best place. If you hit bone, pull it back a bit, because bone gets hotter than the meat faster, and you could get a false reading. You want the bird cooked right, not making your guests sick When the thermometer says the turkey is at an internal temperature between 170 and 180 degrees - closer to 180 is better - your turkey is done. Take it out of the oven and let it rest for up to 10 minutes before moving or carving the bird.

Be sure to take your stuffing all the way out of the turkey BEFORE you start carving it, and NEVER leave it in the bird overnight. This is bad for whoever eats the leftovers.

Take that turkey in the other room, show it off and serve it with pride - you've made your first turkey! Now relax. You've got this down.

Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas!

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