How to Cook a Turkey Dinner 101

Cathy S. Judd  |  10/26/2016 6:50:23 PM

Thanksgiving will be here before you know it! If this will be your first time to prepare the Thanksgiving meal for your family, I am sharing tips so you don’t make mistakes I did on my first Thanksgiving meal for my family. I want to take you step-by-step through the preparation of the turkey so you will have a successful and safe meal.

Let’s begin at the grocery store selecting your turkey. You will want to select a turkey labeled “Grade A”. Turkeys with a tear in the skin or broken wing tip are a lower grade. If the turkey is labeled “young turkey” this is your clue to tenderness. You have a choice to select a fresh or frozen turkey. If there is a significant price difference between frozen or fresh, choose the frozen. Frozen turkey gives you more flexibility in purchasing, as well as using. The fresh turkey must be cooked a day or two after purchase. Make sure there is no tears in the turkey wrapping. When selecting a frozen turkey, make sure it is solidly frozen with no frost under the wrapping.

Now the question is, what size turkey should I buy? The rule is to purchase one pound per person. If you have big eaters, lots of children or want to have leftover turkey, this amount will vary. There are tools on the butterball web site that will help you calculate this size.

So, you made it home with your frozen turkey. Planning ahead is the key in preparing a frozen turkey. It will take a couple of days to thaw in the refrigerator. NEVER THAW A TURKEY AT ROOM TEMPERATURE. The outside will defrost before the inside and this is a perfect place for bacteria to grow and spread. Allow one day of thawing for every 4 pounds of turkey. Place the turkey in the refrigerator in a larger pan so the drippings will not get on the other foods. Another method of thawing is in cold water. Make sure the turkey is in a leak proof package. Fill a clean sink or large pan with cold water, enough to cover the turkey. Place the turkey in the water. Check the water often to make sure it stays cold. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed.

Now it’s the big day and you are ready to cook your turkey. If this is your first time to cook a turkey, don’t forget to remove the neck and giblets inside the turkey. The giblets can be cooked in a pan of water and used in stuffing or gravy. When the turkey was thawed the recommendation was to wash it inside and out with cold water. Today the USDA does not recommend rinsing the turkey. If bacteria are on the turkey it can be spread to counter tops, areas around the sink, other food, utensils and other surfaces. Rinsing or soaking the turkey does not destroy bacteria. Only cooking the turkey will destroy bacteria that might be present.

Season turkey inside and out with salt and pepper. You can stuff the turkey with rosemary and sage, or some of your favorite herbs. If you are stuffing the turkey, mix the stuffing just before you’re ready to use it. Stuff the turkey just before you put it in the oven. Spoon the stuffing loosely into the turkey. When the turkey is done, insert a meat thermometer into the center of the stuffing until the thermometer registers 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Better yet, cook the stuffing separately in a baking dish. Moisture and heat is all you need for bacteria to grown.

To prevent a food borne illness use food safety tips while preparing your thanksgiving meal, keep everything clean. Wash hands, utensils, sink, cutting boards, counter tops, or anything that has contacted raw turkey with hot soapy water.

Now it’s time to put the bird in the oven. Set the oven temperature no lower than 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Place turkey breast side up on flat wire rack in shallow roasting pan, 2 to 2 ½ inches deep. Baste with vegetable oil or spray. You can loosen the skin on the breast, with a rubber spatula, open up the skin, and under the skin of the turkey place herb butter mixture. This will keep the turkey moist. To prevent over browning, cover the turkey with a loose tent of aluminum foil. Keep it on the turkey the first 1 to 3 hours, remove it, and let the turkey skin brown. Never cook the turkey only part way, thinking you will finish cooking the next day.

How do you know the turkey is done? Many turkeys today have a pop up value to let you know it is done, which are not accurate. The best way to check for doneness is to use a meat thermometer. The temperature must reach 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh without touching the bone; if it reaches 180 degrees, the turkey is done. Let the cooked turkey stand 14 to 20 minutes before carving. This makes it easy to carve.

The key to a happy, stressful Thanksgiving meal is to be prepared. Plan ahead, know the menu, and you may be able to prepare a few dishes ahead of time. For more information on preparing your Thanksgiving meal call our office at 318-251-5134.

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