What Size Turkey?
If you’re planning on cooking a whole bird, a good rule of thumb is one pound per person. Remember to take into account the size of your fridge and oven. This year, your group may be smaller than a traditional year of sharing a large Thanksgiving feast so this may be the year to consider trying something new.
Turkey for two?
Another good option, especially if you are cooking for a smaller group, is to just cook portions of the bird. You miss out on the photo op, but it does make good sense and you don’t miss out on any of the flavor. You could braise just the thighs, which taste even better if you make them a day ahead of time, so you could enjoy Thanksgiving instead of spending all day cooking. Or you could brine, roast, and glaze just the turkey breast. The final result is full of flavor and only spends an hour in the oven.
To Brine or Not to Brine
If you plan to roast a whole bird, there are many schools of thought for the “proper” technique. The pros to brining are a flavorful and succulent bird. Soaking a turkey in a salt solution infuses the sodium throughout the turkey (along with extra water). The primary con is practical: since the turkey needs to be submerged in liquid for a period of time, you’ll need a container significantly larger than the turkey, like a large cooler. Another popular method is just to put a mixture of herbs and either olive oil or butter under the skin and all over the bird to add flavor to the meat and give it moisture while it cooks.
How Not to Overcook Your Turkey this Thanksgiving
People often complain about turkey being dry. No matter how you prepared the turkey, dryness is largely due to the fact that most people are overcooking their bird, unbeknownst to them.
For an 8 – 12 pound turkey, roasting it in a 350*F oven for 2.5 to 3.5 hours should deliver perfect doneness. Ideally, you should remove your turkey when your thermometer reads about 150-155 degrees when inserted into the thickest part of the breast. The temperature will continue to climb to about 160-165 degrees after removing it from the oven, which will put you at the ideal spot for succulent meat. Resting the bird is also key. Let the turkey sit outside the oven for at least 15 – 20 minutes before carving to ensure moisture retention.
Of course, rubbing herbed butter under the skin before roasting will help with moister texture, but the temperature trick is ultimately the most important part of cooking the perfect turkey.
- Refrigerate a fresh turkey immediately.
- Remove the turkey from the fridge about an hour before placing it in the oven.
- Don’t stuff the bird. Cook both Thanksgiving staples separately. This is not only good for food safety, it reduces baking time, too.
- Cover the turkey with aluminum foil while it cooks to help keep it moist and tender.
- Use a meat thermometer. The breast temperature should be about 165*F, but if you pull the bird out of the oven around 155*, the temperature will continue to rise while the bird is resting and the meat will stay succulent.