Food & dining

How to cook a perfect Thanksgiving turkey

KEITH BEDFORD/GLOBE STAFF

Recipe for roast turkey

The day before, rub the skin of the bird with oil and sprinkle it inside and out with salt and pepper. Refrigerate it overnight without covering it (this helps crisp the skin). You’ll need a meat thermometer and a pan large enough to hold the bird with space around it. A rack is nice, but not essential. Set the bird on a bed of carrots and onions and roast according to the accompanying chart. Let the turkey sit at room temperature for 45 minutes before roasting, and for 30 minutes after roasting.

1whole turkey (10 to 25 pounds)
Salt and pepper, to taste
2onions, quartered
2lemons, quartered
2tablespoons vegetable oil, or more if needed
1bunch fresh rosemary, chopped
1bunch fresh thyme, chopped
1bunch fresh oregano, chopped
2carrots, quartered
2cups water

1. Set the oven at 325 degrees. Remove the giblets from both the neck and vent ends of the bird. Wipe the bird inside and out with paper towels but do not wash it. Sprinkle the inside with salt and pepper and tuck a handful of onion and lemon pieces into the cavity.

2. Using your hands, rub the bird with oil and sprinkle it all over with salt, pepper, and half the herbs, pressing them into the skin. Set the remaining onions, lemons, and carrots in the roasting pan. Add the turkey, breast side up. With kitchen twine, tie the legs to the bird. Add water to the pan.

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3. While the turkey roasts, baste it occasionally with the juices in the pan. Turn the roasting pan from back to front once during roasting. If your bird is on the small side, you can roast it breast side down for the first hour, then turn it breast-side up to finish cooking. Or roast it breast up the entire time, covering it loosely with a foil tent once it starts to brown. Roast (see turkey roasting times chart below) until a meat thermometer inserted into three places in the bird registers 165 degrees (see Page G4). If the turkey reaches the correct temperature sooner than you expected (this happens often), remove it from the oven and set it in a warm place. If it isn’t brown enough, turn the oven up to 400 degrees for the last 20 minutes.

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4. Lift the bird from the pan and transfer it to a cutting board. Let the turkey rest in a warm place for at least 30 minutes before carving.

MORE: Our favorite Thanksgiving side dishes (and desserts)

Turkey roasting times

Let the turkey sit on the counter for 45 minutes before roasting. Roast
the bird in a 325-degree oven (see recipe, above). A bird is cooked when a meat thermometer inserted into the turkey in three places, including in the thickest part of the thigh and the stuffing, registers 165 degrees. After roasting, let the turkey rest in a warm place for at least 30 minutes. If your guests are late, remove the stuffing and transfer it to a buttered dish.
Reheat the stuffing. Do not reheat the turkey. Times are approximate.


UNSTUFFED

8-12 pounds, 2¾ to 3 hours

12-14 pounds, 3 to 3¾ hours

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14-18 pounds, 3¾ to 4¼ hours

18-22 pounds, 4¼ to 4½ hours

STUFFED

8-12 pounds, 3 to 3½ hours

12-14 pounds, 3½ to 4 hours

14-18 pounds, 4 to 4¼ hours

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18-22 pounds, 4¼ to 5 hours

SOURCE: USDA

MORE: 10 steps to carving a turkey

GRAVY

Pan juices from roasting turkey
2cups boiling water
3cups chicken or turkey stock
½cup white or red wine, sherry, or port
2tablespoons cornstarch, potato starch, or arrowroot mixed with ¼ cup cold water, or more if needed
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Carefully set the roasting pan over 1 or 2 burners over medium heat. Scrape the bottom to dislodge sediment. Add the boiling water and chicken or turkey stock and cook, stirring, until the mixture comes to a boil. Let the mixture simmer, skimming the surface often, for 5 minutes.

2. Set a strainer over a saucepan. Tip the mixture into the strainer and discard the vegetables. Skim any fat from the top of the liquid.

3. Add the wine, sherry, or port and return to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes, skimming the surface often.

4. Stir the starch mixture until it is smooth. Pour the mixture into the gravy and cook, stirring, until it returns to a boil. Taste for seasoning; add more salt and pepper, if you like. If you prefer a thicker gravy, mix 2 teaspoons more starch with 2 tablespoons more cold water and whisk it into the gravy. Return to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 5 minutes more. Pour the gravy into a gravy boat or bowl.

SHERYL JULIAN

MORE: You should bring a pie to Thanksgiving

Turkey safety tips

Thaw a frozen turkey in a refrigerator set at 40 degrees or below, allowing about 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds. Thawed and fresh turkeys can be held in the refrigerator up to two days before cooking.

If your frozen turkey hasn’t completely thawed, leave it in its plastic bag and soak it submerged in water in a clean kitchen sink. Change the water every 30 minutes. Once completely thawed, cook immediately. Clean sink thoroughly.

Do not wash the turkey before cooking to avoid spreading bacteria to other food, utensils, and kitchen surfaces. Cooking properly will kill bacteria. Carefully wipe out any liquid from cavity with paper towels.

To test meat thermometer accuracy fill a large glass with crushed ice, add water to the top of the ice, and place the probe at least two inches into the water (not on the ice or glass). After about 30 seconds, it should register 32 degrees.

When you think the bird is cooked, use the thermometer to check the turkey for doneness. Measure the temperature in three places: in the innermost portions of the thigh and wing, and in the thickest part of the breast. It should read at least 165 degrees in all three places.

No matter what the turkey flesh registers, if the bird is stuffed, you have to make sure the center of the stuffing also reaches 165 degrees.

Don’t leave the Thanksgiving feast on the kitchen counter or buffet all afternoon. Put leftover cooked meat and accompaniments separately in shallow containers and refrigerate within 2 hours.

Store leftovers for up to four days. Reheat leftovers until they also register 165 degrees.

VALERIE RYAN

SOURCE: FOODSAFETY.GOV

More coverage:

Holiday cooking tips from former Globe Food Editor Sheryl Julian

Make the most of Thanksgiving’s leftovers

Recipe for pumpkin cheesecake with gingersnap crust

Recipe for Sicilian sweet-and-sour pumpkin

Heather Ciras can be reached at heather.ciras@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @heatherciras.