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How to Cook a Turkey

It’s Thanksgiving this weekend in Canada, and plenty of turkeys are being stuffed, prepped and slid into ovens right about now. This was the bird we ate for dinner last night; as I tweeted it coming out of the oven, people asked how we did it that way – how do you get the skin brown? How long do you cook it for? Here are some turkey cooking tips.

THE BIRD: To begin, start with a good-quality turkey. We’re partial to Winter’s turkeys, free range and raised without antibiotics or hormones close by in Dalemead, Alberta. Of course the turkey you choose will depend on where you live.

THAWING: if you start with a frozen turkey, it can be thawed in the fridge, but that takes awhile – by the time the middle is thawed, the outside has been thawed for days. I prefer thawing mine in the sink, or in a big bucket or pot full of water. The Winters suggest allowing 1 hour per pound of turkey if you do it this way.

PREPPING: I don’t bother trussing my turkey, but it is important to ensure you pat the skin dry with paper towels if you want it to brown and crisp nicely. Stuff it loosely if you like, using your favourite stuffing recipe. Never pack it in, or stuff it in advance – do this right before you roast it. Alternatively, the stuffing can be prepared separately and placed in a covered casserole dish to cook during the last hour of the turkey roasting time.

Place turkey breast side up on a rack in roasting pan. Drizzle with oil or rub with soft butter, and rub all over the outside of the bird with your fingers. Season with salt and pepper or your favourite herbs and spices. If you like, insert an oven-safe thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, being careful to not touch the bone.

TURKEY ROASTING TIMES: Cover the turkey loosely with foil or the roaster lid. Roast in a preheated 325° to 350° F (160° – 180° C) oven. The Winters suggest the general rule of thumb for cooking a stuffed turkey at 325° F is 15 minutes per pound (30 minutes per kilogram). Begin checking for doneness about one hour before the end of the recommended roasting time. And remember that fresh turkeys tend to cook faster. We remove the foil halfway through to ensure the skin crisps and browns nicely.

They also have some basting advice: If you choose to baste your turkey, limit the number of times you open and close your oven (once an hour is sufficient). To brown skin further, remove foil or roaster lid approximately 1 hour before done.

WHEN IT’S DONE: A meat thermometer in the inner thigh reads 180° F (82° C) for a stuffed turkey or 170° F (77° C) for an unstuffed turkey. Remember that when cooked to perfection the turkey meat and juices may have a slight pink tinge – the temperature of the meat is the most important sign of doneness.

It’s important to let your bird rest before carving. When the turkey is done, remove it from the oven, cover it with foil and let it stand for 20-25 minutes before carving. This will help retain its natural juices, keeping the meat tender and juicy.

Happy Thanksgiving, Canada!

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