Hosting your first Thanksgiving for family and friends can be an intimidating experience for just about anyone. After all, nearly everyone knows how a “good” turkey should taste; however, don’t let this stop you! Keep in mind everyone at one point or another was a first time host. Let’s go over a few turkey thumb rules to get you started:
What size turkey to purchase:
As a rule of thumb, allow 1.5 pounds for every person attending.
Frozen Turkey Thawing Time:
You’ll need 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. For example, a 20 pound turkey will take 4 to 5 days to thaw in your refrigerator.
Turkey Thaw Time
4-12 pounds 1-3 days
12-16 pounds 3-4 days
16-20 pounds 4-5 days
20-24 pounds 5-6 days
Forgot to get the turkey out earlier to thaw? Don’t Panic!
You can still thaw a turkey in cold water. A 20 pound turkey will take approximately 10 hours to thaw when placed in a cold water bath. Fill a container large enough to cover the entire bird and cover completely with cold water. Change water every 30 minutes
Cold Water Turkey Thaw Time – about 30 minutes per pound
4-12 pounds 2-6 hours
12-16 pounds 6-8 hours
16-20 pounds 8-10 hours
20-24 pounds 10-12 hours
Fresh or Frozen?
Believe it or not – it’s simply a matter of personal preference. In fact, most chefs and cooking experts will tell you that neither type of bird is better than the other except in one category: taste. Since fresh turkeys tend to be fed a different diet than birds that get frozen, there is a difference in the taste of the meat. The best way to describe fresh turkey is that is that it is a bit “gamey”. So if your guests are accustomed to frozen turkey, it’s best to stick with frozen!
Turkey Brine. What the heck is it?
A brine is simply a liquid in which to soak the turkey before cooking it. This does three things: adds flavor to the turkey, makes the bird juicer after it is fully cooked, and, lastly, helps to continue to thaw the bird completely. Brines vary greatly, but, one in particular I find very pleasant is Food Network’s Alton Brown’s recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/good-eats-roast-turkey-recipe/index.html
Just be careful not to over brine the turkey or it will become too salty. (This applies to any brine that contains salt.)
Turkey Cooking Time
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and, place the turkey in a large roasting pan and put the pan and turkey into the oven. Assuming you are roasting the turkey in the oven use the following guidelines for cooking time:
10 to 18 pound turkey – 3 to 3.5 hours (unstuffed) or 3.75 to 4.5 hours (stuffed)
18 to 22 pounds – 3-1/2 to 4 hours (unstuffed) or 4-1/2 to 5 hours (stuffed)
22 to 24 pounds – 4 to 4-1/2 hours (unstuffed) or 5 to 5-1/2 hours (stuffed)
24 to 29 pounds – 4-1/2 to 5 hours (unstuffed) or 5-1/2 to 6-1/4 hours
Bake until the skin is a light golden color (*basting helps brown the turkey), and then cover loosely with a foil tent. During the last 45 minutes of baking, remove the foil tent to brown the skin.
*Basting is simply taking the liquid from the bottom of the roasting pan and brushing it on the bird as it continues to cook.
Other cooking tips:
- The turkey is done when the thigh meat reaches an internal temperature of 180 degrees F. To get an accurate reading, be sure that your thermometer is not touching the bone.
- If your turkey has been stuffed, it is important to check the temperature of the dressing; it should be 165 degrees F (75 degrees C).
- When the turkey is done, remove from the oven and allow to stand for 20-30 minutes before carving. This allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, and makes for easier carving.
Cooking a turkey isn’t hard. It just takes patience. If in doubt, have a dry run, and, cook a turkey now, and, then you can adjust seasonings and timing to serve a perfect bird for your first Thanksgiving!
When all else fails…
When all else fails or you simply see the task as too daunting, then order a pre-cooked turkey from a neighborhood market. Some good Manhattan stores that offer pre-cooked turkeys (or even complete Thanksgiving meals) include:
- Butterfield Market (offering delivery or pick up at their 92nd Street location): http://butterfieldmarket.com/media/catering/Holiday-Menus/Thanksgiving_Menus_with_Ingredient_List.pdf
- Zabars (offering delivery or pick up at the store located at 2245 Broadway): http://demandware.edgesuite.net/aabg_prd/on/demandware.static/Sites-Zabars-Site/Sites-Zabars-Library/default/v1320095398136/content/PDF/ThanksgivingMenu2011.pdf
You may also check with local supermarkets such as Whole Foods for pre-cooked turkeys or complete Thanksgiving day dinners.