Even a novice can cook a moist, delicious turkey. Here’s how to cook the perfect turkey, in 5 simple steps to include how to brine and baste your turkey. Your turkey will be so good, you will want to cook it all year!
Growing up, I would listen to the adults talk about how difficult it was to cook a turkey. They described it as labor intensive and stressful. The end result of their stressful, labor-intensive turkey didn’t always go well either.
Quite frankly, I always thought the turkey was a plain, boring, dry meat that I would prefer not to eat other than for tradition sake. When it became my turn to break into the Thanksgiving Rite of Passage, I was terrified.
After doing a little research and experimenting, I discovered that cooking that bird is quite easy; even for a novice. My turkey always turns out beautifully brown, moist, and full of flavor. I had no idea what I was missing out on.
How to cook the perfect turkey
Tip 1 – COMPLETELY THAW
You can buy a fresh turkey and alleviate some of the stress, but odds are you are going to buy a frozen turkey. You must give yourself adequate time for thawing out your turkey.
If you cook a half-frozen turkey in the oven, you will have a nightmare in the kitchen. TRUST ME!! It will not cook evenly and the frozen part probably will not cook to a done temperature at all.
Thawing your turkey out is probably the most crucial part of cooking your turkey. Here are some thawing tips!
- It takes 24 hours for every 4 lbs of turkey to fully defrost it. Therefore, you cannot buy a 20 lb turkey the night before to cook the next morning for your Thanksgiving meal! There will not be enough defrosting time!
- Buy a smaller turkey if you do not have days to thaw it.
- You can not thaw out your turkey at room temperature. You will need to thaw it out in the refrigerator.
- You can also “cold water thaw” it. Butter Ball says: Thaw breast side down, in an unopened wrapper, with enough cold water to cover your turkey completely. Change water every 30 minutes to keep the turkey chilled. Estimate a minimum thawing time of 30 minutes per lb.
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Tip 2 – BRINE
A few years ago, I came across a magazine called Cuisine at Home. This magazine is BRILLIANT for giving fantastic tips, how to’s, and recipes. I love, love, love this magazine. I have learned so many cooking techniques from it.
In particular, my favorite Issue No. 36 December 2002 has fabulous recipes and instructions for cooking a turkey breast. I have used this issue so much, the articles are colored in food stains, and the pages have become wilted from use. From this magazine, I found this wonderful brine recipe.
Why brine? It enhances the flavor of your turkey and most importantly, it keeps that bird moist!!! If you brine your turkey, you almost can’t mess it up…. I did say ALMOST. Brine your bird for at least 2 hours. I often brine my bird overnight.
What to use to brine?
Brine your turkey in a stainless steel pot, bucket, or a brining bag such as Brining Bag, 3 Pack, Extra Large Brine Bag BPA Free Heavy Duty Gusseted Resealable 24″ x 20″ Bag for Turkey (30 Pound Max), Wild Game, Ham, Deer, Roast, Jerky, Fish, Marinade, Made in USA.
You will need to be able to fit your container in the refrigerator! You do not want to use a cooler because it will not regulate the correct temperature to keep it from spoilage.
Discard the brine. You do not use the brine in your cooking. It is just to tenderize and flavor the turkey.
Five Tips to Cooking a Perfect, Juicy Turkey- Easy Turkey Brine
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 cups hot water
- 2 cups apple juice
- 4 cups ice
- Dissolve salt and brown sugar in hot water.
- Stir in apple juice and ice.
- Submerge turkey in brine for 2 or more hours in the refrigerator.
**This recipe is for an 8lb turkey. Adjust and double to the size of turkey.
Nutrition- Nutrition info is based on estimation only.
Tip 3 – Use A Meat Thermometer!
How long do you cook a turkey?
You are dealing with a BIG bird and estimating cooking time based on the SIZE of the bird. Key word is ESTIMATING. Your bird may cook slower or faster than planned.
- It takes about 15 minutes per pound at 325 degrees to cook the turkey…. However, this is truly an estimate.
- The only way to know it is exactly the temperature you want is to use a thermometer. If you use a thermometer, you can stop cooking it the minute it reaches perfection.
- Use a leave-in oven-safe thermometer. This prevents you from repeatedly poking the turkey skin and letting out that beautiful juice.
What temperature to cook a turkey?
People will argue about what temperature you want to cook the turkey. I have seen everything between 165 degrees to 185 degrees. We don’t take chances in our house. I have a convection oven and I cook it until it reaches 180.
My bird has always been fully cooked and fully juicy. You can cook it to the temperature you are comfortable with. Keep in mind it will cook a little more as it rests.
This Famili MT004 Digital Electronic Kitchen Food Cooking Meat Thermometer for BBQ Oven Grill Smoker with Timer Alarm and Large LCD Display has very good reviews on Amazon. I haven’t personally used it, so I can’t be 100% sure, but based on the reviews, it looks like it would be good.
I have a convection oven that comes with a thermometer that attaches to the oven that I use. If you have a convection oven, use the thermometer it comes with.
Tip 4 – Baste
Do you see that pretty brown color of my turkey? All of my turkeys look this way. Do you know why? I lovingly baste them. I slather them up in an AMAZING butter and maple syrup recipe I found in that same issue of Cuisine at Home.
I start basting my turkey about the last hour of cooking every 15 minutes. It makes that skin a beautiful color and it makes my turkey taste WICKED GOOD!
For the Baste:
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 1/4 cup of melted butter
Mix butter and syrup together. Baste the turkey the last hour every 15 minutes.
Should you cover you it when cooking?
I only cover the turkey if it starts cooking too fast. If the turkey is very large, it will take longer to cook in the oven. Then the skin and/or breast may begin cooking too soon before the inside of the turkey is ready.
In this case, I would cover the actual turkey breast area or any spots that is cooking too quickly (not the pan, you don’t want to steam it) with foil.
A smaller turkey most of the time doesn’t have this problem. If it isn’t browning too fast before the last hour, you won’t need the foil. The foil is the backup. The meat thermometer will let you know if only part of the turkey is cooking too fast.
Tip 5 -rest
Resist any temptation to carve the turkey the minute it comes out of the oven. You have to give it time to rest.
Resting allows the juice in the meat to redistribute evenly. If you carve it too soon, you will lose some of that lovely juice. It also allows the meat to firm back up a bit, allowing it to be easier for carving.
Ideally you should rest your turkey about 30 minutes. I would not do anything less than 20 minutes.
Use that time to set the table, fill the drink cups, or any other last minute things you need to do before serving Thanksgiving dinner.
Follow these tips. Allow yourself plenty of time to cook the turkey. And save plenty of room in your belly to eat it, because you will want seconds and thirds!! Enjoy!!
Serve your perfect turkey with these tasty Thanksgiving side dishes!
- Granny Moore’s Dressing
- Cranberry Apple Casserole
- Southern Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecans
- Southern Crockpot Green Beans and Potatoes
- Southern Collard Greens
- How to Cook Field Peas
- Tomato Grits Casserole
- Hash Brown Casserole
- Seven Layer Salad
- Ambrosia Salad
- Salted Caramel and Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars
When you make your turkey, please let me know how it turned out in the comment section! I want to hear all about it!! My other readers do too!