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How to Cook a Turkey 101-from Thawing to Carving

how to cook a turkeyEven the best cooks need a little reminder when it comes time to roast a turkey. Whether you’ve done it before or it’s your first time, here’s a quick run-down on the basics, and some links to great tutorials if you need extra help.

Thawing: The best way to thaw a frozen turkey is in the refrigerator, but a large bird will take 2-3 days to thaw. If you’re in a rush, thaw the bird, wrapped in its original packaging, in cold water, changing the water often. It should take about 30 minutes per pound.

Brining: Only do this with turkeys that haven’t been salted or brined before purchase. If you want to brine your bird, immerse it in brine in a large brining bag or pot and refrigerate for 12-24 hours. Need brine recipes? Try this apple-rosemary brine below), or check out these brining recipes from Alton Brown, Ina Garten and other Food Network chefs. When you’re ready to roast, remove your turkey from its brine, toss it out (the brine, not the turkey), and pat the skin of the turkey dry with a paper towel to ensure it crisps up in the oven.

Basic Apple-Rosemary Turkey Brine

4 L chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups apple cider or juice
1 cup sea salt
1 onion, quartered
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh rosemary
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage
a few sprigs of fresh thyme

In a large pot, bring all the ingredients to a simmer; stir to dissolve the salt completely. Cool completely, then refrigerate until cold. Remove the innards from your turkey and rinse its cavity; put the turkey breast side down in the pot of brine and add enough water to bring the brine level up to just cover the turkey (you shouldn’t need more than another 4 L of water). Refrigerate for an hour per pound, or up to 24 hours.

When you’re ready to roast your turkey, pull it out of the brine, drain it well and pat dry with paper towels in the roasting pan. Cook as you normally would, expecting to take about 30 minutes off the cooking time as the excess moisture will help conduct heat as it cooks.

Roasting: Whether you’ve brined your turkey or not, you’ll need to pat it dry with paper towels (while you’re at it ensure you’ve removed the giblets and neck) and remove the lumps of fat from the tail area of the bird. Stuff it if you like (go for a classic bread and sage stuffing, or try a gluten-free stuffing recipe), or if you’re leaving it unstuffed, tuck a handful of fresh herbs, a head of garlic, and/or a halved fresh lemon into the cavity. Place it in a rack on a roasting pan and rub/brush the skin all over with soft butter or canola or olive oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper or follow the directions in your recipe. Visit the Turkey Farmers of Canada for a whole-bird cooking chart and calculator – so you know how big a bird to buy, and how long to cook it!

Carving: Place your roasted turkey on a platter, tent it loosely with foil and let it stand for 20-30 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute throughout the meat; cutting into it immediately will cause them to gush out, making your turkey dry. Here’s a great video on how to carve your turkey.

For a full-on turkey tutorial – everything you ever wanted to know about cooking a turkey, and then some: check out Alton Brown’s Super-Tasty, No-Fuss, Time-Tested, Totally Foolproof Bird – his famous brined turkey made its debut on the “Romancing the Bird” episode of Good Eats in 1999 and is still the most popular Thanksgiving recipe on FoodNetwork.com, earning more comments than any other recipe on the site!

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