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Turkey Cooking Tips

See also Turkey Safety and How to Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey.

It takes a 12-pound turkey two days to thaw, a 20-pound turkey 3-4 days. It should be thawed in the refrigerator.

Note:  Most recipes call for cooking the turkey breast-side up. This writer uses a technique from a 1952 edition of Meta Given's Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking . It is more trouble, because the turkey must be turned over when it is half-cooked. But, there is a consensus among family cooks that it is more moist and tasty. Tips from Washington Post, 11/18/92, Ronalie Peterson are also included below.

We tried Martha Stewart 's technique of adding vegetables to the gravy and pureeing them with the pan drippings, but found this made the gravy too heavy and the taste a little bitter. Now, I add roughly chopped onion, celery, and carrots to the roasting pan during the last hour or so. This adds flavor to pan drippings for the gravy.

---Cook giblets night before and store in refrigerator. You'll need the  liquid for basting and for making gravy.   If you're not fortunate enough to have good dessert cooks contributing to the potluck, make them a day ahead too.

--Make stuffing ingredients the day before, too.  Dry bread (they can be toasted in a slow oven) and cut into cubes.   Dice all vegetables that will go into the stuffing. Bread cubes that are too dry or too crumbly will turn to mush in the turkey.   Try mixing the dressing in the turkey with remaining baked dressing for a tasty, but fluffier dressing.

---Rub salt in cavity of bird 6-8 hours before stuffing.

----Allow 1/2 cup of dressing per person to stuff in the bird. This is not enough for a crowd of 12-14 people, so make extra and bake for about 45 minutes. It takes 6-8 cups (or about 10 slices of bread to make enough stuffing for a 14-pound turkey, depending on what ingredients go into the turkey. Estimate 1/2 cup of stuffing per pound of turkey.

Make a Turkey Day Timeline.  Here's ours:

6:00a Turkey goes in the oven.
10:00a Turn turkey.  The time depends on the size of the turkey.  It should be turned halfway through cooking.
1:30p Remove turkey and cook leftover dressing (about 45 minutes)
1:45p Heat up all vegetable casseroles, including mashed potatoes in oven
Remove turkey from plate. If you're lucky, you can find someone to carve it while you make the gravy using pan drippings.
2:30p Serve it up and enjoy!

Preparation and Cooking:

---Do not pack dressing too tightly, for it becomes firm and compact during   baking and may burst skin as dressing expands.

---Use enough cheesecloth to cover the turkey four times. Soak cheesecloth in a stick of melted butter.

---Baking temperatures vary between 300 and 325 degrees, depending on label directions or individual cookbook directions. 

---Bake turkey BREAST-SIDE DOWN until cooking time is half done, turn bird on back, rearrange cheesecloth to cover well and baste again. At this point, add roughly chopped onions, carrots, and celery to bottom of pan, to flavor drippings for making gravy. 

---Baste every 30 minutes, using pan drippings supplemented with giblet broth if necessary.

---Cover breast and thighs browning too fast with brown paper or aluminum foil.

---Directions for cooling turkey the turkey vary, too, from at 20 minutes to an hour. This writer likes an hour, because you buy some time for making gravy, reheating pre-cooked dishes, extra stuffing, or rolls (in case you don't have a microwave). Cover it with tin foil and some dish towels to keep warm.

---Gravy has always been the toughest part of the process for this cook. The Post article recommends degreasing pan first, using about 1/2 cup wine, cider, or broth, then removing fat in a fat-separating measuring cup. Dip 2-3 T back into roasting pan, add 2-3 T of flour, and stir over medium heat till mixture begins to turn brown. Then pour "good stuff" back into pan, leaving some fat behind. When boiling, add giblet broth a cup at a time, till gravy thickens to your liking. Gravy can also be made without fat or flour, but it will not be as thick and may take longer to cook.


In addition to feeding 14 people for Christmas dinner, our free-range, 21-pound, $40 turkey provided enough for (dinners are for two):

* a repeat dinner
* 1 turkey and gravy over toast dinner
* 4  Turkey Tetrazzini dinners (2 frozen)
*  8 turkey sandwiches , with, of course, Planter's Pickled Peppers
* a dozen enchiladas
* shepherd's pie

Mole,  Calzones,  or Tarragon Salad are other options for using leftovers.  Other options are Turkey Hash made with vegetables and leftover turkey and gravey, and Turkey a la king, using your favorite recipe.