How to Cook a Turkey


Turkey Recipes

Learning how to cook a turkey is easier than it looks, but it does take some careful planning and timing. First of all, remember to allot enough time for thawing if you are using a frozen turkey. A 12- to 14-pound turkey should take 2 to 3 days to thaw in the refrigerator. This is a major step when learning how to cook a turkey.

You also need to determine how you want to prepare the turkey. Grilling and roasting are probably the most common, so we'll discuss both of these techniques in this article.

Let's start with tips on how to properly roast a turkey on the next page.

Want more information? Try these:

  • Cooking: Learn the ins and outs of some basic cooking techniques in this helpful article.
  • Grilling: Grilling isn't just for summertime barbecues anymore. Find out how to cook all your favorites on the grill, all year round.
  • Grilling Recipes: Check out the collection of top-notch grilling recipes at HowStuffWorks.
  • Thanksgiving Recipes: From turkey to stuffing to cranberry sauce, your eyes (and belt loop) will pop when you see all the great ideas on our Thanksgiving Recipes page.

How to Roast a Turkey

Before cooking a turkey, remember to thaw it properly. Do not thaw a turkey at room temperature.
  1. Heat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

  2. Remove giblets and neck; reserve for another use. Rinse turkey; pat dry with paper towels.

  3. Prepare stuffing using your favorite recipe.

  4. Immediately before you are ready to put the turkey in the oven, stuff body and neck cavities loosely with stuffing.

    Use a wooden spoon to insert stuffing into cavities.
    Use a wooden spoon to insert
    stuffing into cavities.


  5. Fold skin over openings and close with skewers. Tie legs together with cotton string or tuck through skin flap, if provided. Tuck wings under turkey.

    For a smoother batter, use a whisk to blend ingredients together.
    Tie legs together and tuck wings under.

  6. Place turkey on meat rack in shallow roasting pan. Insert meat thermometer in thickest part of thigh, not touching bone. Brush turkey with melted butter and season with salt and pepper, if desired.

    Be sure to place thermometer in a position that will be easy to read.
    Be sure to place thermometer in
    a position that will be easy to read.


  7. Place turkey in oven and immediately turn temperature down to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Roast 22 to 24 minutes per pound (18 to 20 minutes per pound for unstuffed turkey), brushing with butter mixture after 1 hour and again after 11/2 hours. Baste with pan juices every hour.

    Basting helps keep turkey moist.
    Basting helps keep turkey moist.

  8. While turkey is roasting, start the gravy. Combine turkey giblets and neck with 4 cups water and 1 can (about 14 ounces) chicken broth in 3-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat; skim off any foam.

  9. Stir your favorite flavorings into turkey broth with giblets -- for example, coarsely chopped onion and carrots, parsley, bay leaf, thyme, and peppercorns. Reduce heat to low. Simmer, uncovered, 11/2 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Cool to room temperature.

  10. Strain broth; set aside. Chop and reserve giblets, if desired.

  11. Total roasting time for the turkey should be 4 to 5 hours. Turkey is done when internal temperature reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit and legs move easily in socket.

  12. Transfer turkey to cutting board; tent with foil. Let stand 15 minutes before carving.

    Tenting the turkey with foil and letting it rest allows the meat to reabsorb juices.
    Tenting the turkey with foil and letting it
    rest allows the meat to reabsorb juices.


  13. Pour off and reserve all juices from roasting pan. To deglaze the pan, pour wine or broth into pan. Place roasting pan over burners and cook over medium-high heat, scraping up browned bits and stirring constantly, 2 to 3 minutes or until the mixture has reduced by about half.

    Reserve the roasting juices from the pan.
    Reserve the roasting juices from the pan.

  14. Spoon off about 1/3 cup fat from pan drippings; discard any remaining fat and reserve the defatted drippings. Place 1/3 cup fat in large saucepan.

    Spoon off the fat and keep the rest of the juices.
    Spoon off the fat and keep
    the rest of the juices.

  15. Add 3 tablespoons flour; cook over medium heat 1 minute, stirring constantly. Slowly stir in turkey broth (adding water, if needed, to make 3 cups), the defatted pan drippings, and the deglazed mixture from the roasting pan.

    Slowly stir in the turkey broth.
    Slowly stir in the turkey broth.

  16. Cook over medium heat 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in chopped giblets, if desired, and heat through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Taking your bird outside to the grill is another cooking option. Learn about grilling a whole turkey on the next page.

Want more information? Try these:

  • Cooking: Learn the ins and outs of some basic cooking techniques in this helpful article.
  • Grilling: Grilling isn't just for summertime barbecues anymore. Find out how to cook all your favorites on the grill, all year round.
  • Grilling Recipes: Check out the collection of top-notch grilling recipes at HowStuffWorks.
  • Thanksgiving Recipes: From turkey to stuffing to cranberry sauce, your eyes (and belt loop) will pop when you see all the great ideas on our Thanksgiving Recipes page.

How to Grill a Whole Turkey

What could be more appealing than the crisp skin and juicy interior of perfectly grilled turkey? Why does it seem so hard to achieve?

Too many people are intimidated by placing a full turkey on the grill. You don't have to be.
Once you experience a grilled turkey, Thanksgiving will never be the same.

Here's some advice on avoiding the pitfalls and getting the best out of a grilled bird:

Whole Fresh or Thawed Frozen Turkey (10 to 12 pounds)
  1. Prepare barbecue grill with rectangular metal or foil drip pan. Bank the charcoal on either side of drip pan for indirect cooking.

    When grilling turkey, bank the charcoal to the side of the drip pan.
    Bank the charcoal to the side of the drip pan.

  2. Remove giblets from turkey cavity; reserve for another use. Rinse turkey with cold running water; pat dry with paper towels.

  3. Add onion, lemon wedges, and sprigs of fresh herbs to cavity, if desired. Pull skin over neck; secure with metal skewer. Tuck wing tips under back; tie legs together with wet kitchen string.

    When grilling turkey, truss turkey to keep it moist during grilling.
    Truss turkey to keep it moist during grilling.

  4. Using fingers or a paper towel, spread softened butter over turkey skin; sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

    When grilling turkey, a paper towel makes it easy to spread softened butter over turkey.
    Spreading softened butter over turkey is easy to do by hand.

  5. Insert meat thermometer into center of thickest part of thigh, not touching bone.

    When grilling turkey, insert the meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh.
    Insert the meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh.

  6. Place turkey, breast-side up, on preheated grill directly over drip pan.

  7. Grill turkey, on covered grill, over medium coals 11 to 14 minutes per pound, adding 4 to 9 briquets to both sides of the fire each hour to maintain medium coals.

  8. Brush turkey with melted butter or basting sauce during last 30 minutes of grilling. Continue to grill, covered, 20 minutes. Brush again with butter and continue to grill, covered, about 10 minutes or until thermometer registers 185 degrees Fahrenheit.

    When grilling turkey,  place the sprigs of soaked fresh tarragon directly on the coals for the last half hour.
    For extra flavor, soak sprigs of fresh tarragon in water. Place the sprigs directly on the coals for the last half hour of grilling.

  9. Transfer turkey to carving board; tent with foil. Let stand 15 minutes before carving. Discard ingredients from cavity.

    After grilling turkey,  let grilled turkey rest on carving board before slicing.
    Let turkey rest on carving board before slicing.

If you're still too intimidated to grill the whole bird, check out the next section for tips on grilling a turkey breast.

Want more information? Try these:

  • Cooking: Learn the ins and outs of some basic cooking techniques in this helpful article.
  • Grilling: Grilling isn't just for summertime barbecues anymore. Find out how to cook all your favorites on the grill, all year round.
  • Grilling Recipes: Check out the collection of top-notch grilling recipes at HowStuffWorks.
  • Thanksgiving Recipes: From turkey to stuffing to cranberry sauce, your eyes (and belt loop) will pop when you see all the great ideas on our Thanksgiving Recipes page.

How to Grill a Turkey Breast

Grilling up a turkey breast is an excellent way to enjoy a turkey dinner without making it a big deal. Here's how.
  1. Prepare barbecue grill with rectangular metal or foil drip pan. Bank the charcoal on either side of drip pan for indirect cooking.

  2. Insert meat thermometer into center of thickest part of turnkey breast, not touching bone.

     

    Make sure the meat thermometer does not touch the bone when inserted.
    Make sure the meat thermometer does not touch the bone when inserted.

  3. Place turkey, bone-side down, on roast rack or directly on preheated grid, directly over drip pan.

  4. Grill turkey, on covered grill, over medium coals 55 minutes, adding 4 to 9 briquets to both sides of the fire after 45 minutes to maintain medium coals.

  5. If using a basting sauce, brush turkey with sauce and continue to grill, covered, 10 minutes. Brush with remaining mixture; continue to grill, covered, about 10 minutes or until thermometer registers 170 degrees Fahrenheit.

  6. Transfer turkey to carving board; tent with foil. Let stand 10 minutes before carving.

     


How to Carve a Turkey

Allow roast turkey a stand time of 10 to 20 minutes before carving. The stand time allows the meat to finish cooking and reabsorb juices. It also makes carving easier.

Unless you are planning on carving at the table, place the turkey on a large cutting board with a well at one end to hold the juice. (Or place cutting board inside a baking sheet, so the juices collect on the baking sheet.) Use a long, sharp carving knife to slice and a long-handled meat fork to steady the turkey.
  1. To remove the leg, hold the drumstick and cut the skin between the thigh and the body of the turkey to the joint. Pull the leg away from the body of the turkey and cut through the joint at the backbone.

    Pull the leg away from the body and cut through the joint.
    Pull the leg away from the body and cut through the joint.

  2. To separate the drumstick from the thigh, place the leg on the cutting board, skin side up. Cut through at the joint.

    Once the leg is removed, you next have to remove the drumstick from the thigh.
    Once the leg is removed, you next have to remove the drumstick
    from the thigh.


  3. At this point, the drumstick may be served as it is or cut into slices. To slice the drumstick, hold the drumstick at an angle, bony side up. Cut down into 1/4-inch slices. Rotate the drumstick as you cut. Remove and discard the large tendons.

    To slice the drumstick, hold it at an agle and cut down vertically.
    To slice the drumstick, hold it at an angle and cut down vertically.

  4. To cut the thigh into slices, turn the thigh skin side down. Cut along the length of the bone, then turn skin side up and cut the meat across the grain.

    To slice the thigh, cut along the length of the bone.
    To slice the thigh, cut along the length of the bone.

  5. To remove the wings, insert meat fork into turkey to hold it steady. Cut down between the wing and the body of the turkey with carving knife. Pull the wing out and cut through the joint.

    Pull the wing away from the body and cut through the joint.
    Pull the wing away from the body and cut through the joint.

  6. To remove the breast meat, insert meat fork into the turkey to hold it steady. At the base of the breast meat, make a horizontal cut across the breast to the bone. Cut the slices with straight, even strokes down to the horizontal cut. At that point, the slice will fall free.

    Cut horizontally across the breastbone.
    Cut horizontally across the breastbone.
With all of your turkey cooking and carving skills, you now have no excuse not to make a turkey dinner with all the trimmings.

Want more information? Try these:

  • Cooking: Learn the ins and outs of some basic cooking techniques in this helpful article.
  • Grilling: Grilling isn't just for summertime barbecues anymore. Find out how to cook all your favorites on the grill, all year round.
  • Grilling Recipes: Check out the collection of top-notch grilling recipes at HowStuffWorks.
  • Thanksgiving Recipes: From turkey to stuffing to cranberry sauce, your eyes (and belt loop) will pop when you see all the great ideas on our Thanksgiving Recipes page.