I get it. There’s a lot going on when it comes to preparing your Thanksgiving meal and a whole turkey isn’t something that most people cook more than a few times a year. See below for my answer to some of the most common turkey prep questions that may come to mind as you ponder “how do you cook a turkey?”
1. Question: To Stuff or Not to Stuff?
Answer: In most modern kitchens, the answer to this debate is not to stuff. Why? Because in order to reach the safe temperature of 165°F in the center of the stuffed bird, you’ll get a completely overcooked turkey. Now, my mother-in-law will argue with me on this one until the cows come home. Her turkey is stuffed in every nook and cranny and it’s still delicious … albeit a little overcooked.
2. Question: Low Heat versus High Heat
Answer: This is a classic debate topic where both sides believe their cooking method gives the best results. High heat helps save time and adds a nice color to the outside of the bird. On the contrary, low heat slows moisture loss but takes a long time to finish. So, I like a two-fold answer to this popular cooking question: use both types! Start with high heat until you get things started then lower the heat to finish cooking the bird with more control.
3. Question: How do you Season the Turkey?
Answer: One word: BUTTER. It not only adds flavor but an amazing amount of moisture-rich fat. I like to brush the outside of the skin with melted butter, salt, and pepper. If you choose to add herbs, halved onions, or lemon, do so in the inside cavity.
4. Question: How do I Know How Big of a Turkey to Get?
Answer: A good rule of thumb is 1 to 1.5 lbs per person, depending on the amount of leftovers you’d like.
5. How Long do I Cook Said Turkey?
Answer: Ultimately, your turkey is done when the meat thermometer reads 165°F. Stick the meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. But here is a quick guide for how long to cook your unstuffed turkey based on its weight. But note that ovens all differ, so please don’t be afraid to pull out that meat thermometer more than once to make sure it isn’t under-cooked or over-cooked.
Approximate Roasting Times*
12–17 lbs = 3¼ to 4½ hours
18–21 lbs = 4¼ to 5¼ hours
22–24 lbs = 5¼ to 6¼ hours
*Times above are for a 350°F oven with an unstuffed turkey. To ensure that turkey is fully cooked to 165°F, insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the inner thigh.