Cooking The Perfect Turkey

Preparing and serving a centerpiece turkey can create anxiety for even the most seasoned cook. Each year, turkey hotlines receive thousands of calls from desperate cooks looking for answers on everything from cooking to carving. Whole Foods put together the following cooking tips and recipes to help guide your once-a-year turkey preparations and ensure success.


Choosing the Turkey

We believe that fresh, natural turkeys provide the best flavor for your holiday meal. Working with the highest quality ingredients makes it easier for any cook to produce a great meal. When ordering your whole turkey, allow at least 1 pound per person, plus 1/2 pound per person for leftovers. (Remember to take into account the size of your fridge and oven!) For turkey breast, plan on 3/4 pound per person. If it is a boneless breast, allow 1/2 pound per person.

Turkey Tool Kit

Depending on your method of preparation, here are a few things you may want to have on hand:

  • Heavy duty roasting pan with rack to keep turkey from resting on bottom of pan.
  • Trussing string for tying together the turkey legs for a nicer presentation.
  • Foil for covering turkey while it cooks to keep it moist and tender.
  • Basting brush to baste turkey with melted butter.
  • Bulb baster for basting with pan juices.
  • Fat separator for a leaner gravy.
  • Fine sieve for straining the pan juices.
  • Wire whisk for making lump-free gravy.
  • Good quality carving set.
  • Meat thermometer, preferably instant read variety.
  • Apron to keep your holiday clothes fresh.

Safe Turkey Handling

While prepping turkey, wash your hands, knives, cutting board, and counter thoroughly and often with hot water and soap. Take care that raw turkey or its juices do not come into contact with other foods. Make sure you use your meat thermometer to check for the proper internal temperature. This is the only way to ensure the bird is cooked adequately and safely.

To Stuff or Not To Stuff?

Stuffing is a matter of preference. We recommend cooking the stuffing and turkey separately. If you do stuff, we advise baking the stuffing and turkey separately and then placing cooked stuffing in the turkey cavity during the final 30 minutes of roasting time. Here are some additional stuffing tips:

  • Estimate about one cup of stuffing per pound of turkey.
  • Stuffing your bird increases the cooking time, add about 5 to 7 minutes per pound.
  • If you stuff your turkey, make sure you check the temperature of the stuffing and not just the bird before serving. The stuffing must register at least 160°F before it is safe to eat.
  • Never stuff the bird ahead of time. Stuff it just before putting in the oven.
  • If brining your turkey, we do not recommend stuffing it since the stuffing will absorb too much salt.
  • If not stuffing, you can place some fresh herbs along with roughly chopped celery, onion and carrots in the cavity for added flavor.

All About Brining

Brining your turkey helps produce a moist, flavorful bird with minimal effort. The brine works to infuse the meat with flavor, and helps the bird retain moisture. Brining is simply submerging the turkey in a large pan filled with a salt-water solution for several hours, in the refrigerator. You can brine for four hours or overnight. Brining only works well for small and medium birds. The really large 20+ pound birds are too heavy to make this practical. The basic brine ratio: 1 gallon water to 1 cup table salt.

Remove the neck and giblets from the cavity. Soak the turkey in the above solution, mixing as much as you need to fully submerge it. Place the container in the refrigerator for approximately 4 hours. If you prefer to brine overnight, reduce the salt to 1/2 cup salt per gallon of water. If using Kosher salt, you will need to double the quantity used since it is less dense than table salt. Brining may produce saltier pan gravy than you prefer, so when making gravy from brined drippings, be sure to use low-sodium broth.

General Turkey Cooking Tips

  • Always remove the giblets before seasoning and roasting your turkey.
  • Our fresh, natural birds have not been frozen, but you may find them coated with a thin layer of ice. This is to ensure the freshest, best-tasting bird. The ice glaze keeps the turkey colder without affecting taste and texture.
  • Refrigerate a fresh turkey immediately. Frozen turkeys should be defrosted in the refrigerator for two days prior to cooking (larger turkeys may require more time). Do not thaw at room temperature.
  • Remove a turkey from the refrigerator about one hour before placing it in the oven.
  • Brush the bird generously with melted butter before roasting to assist in browning and adding flavor.
  • Baste only at the beginning of the roasting process. Basting later may make the skin soft instead of crispy.
  • Cook your turkey on a rack with white wine or chicken broth in the bottom of the pan.
  • Roast the bird with the breast side down for the first hour.
  • Use a meat thermometer for best results. When done, all parts of the turkey should be 165°F.
  • Save the drippings for gravy!
  • Allow bird to rest (covered) after cooking for about 30 minutes. This redistributes the juices and makes for smooth carving.

Turkey Roasting Chart

All turkey roasting charts are basic approximations. Actual cooking time varies depending on a number of factors, including oven accuracy, temperature of the bird when it is placed in the oven, whether or not your bird is stuffed, oven temperature, the height and thickness of the roasting pan, and how frequently you open the oven door.

Also, since our natural birds are fresh, lean and contain no additives, your turkey may cook faster than a conventional turkey. Begin to check for doneness approximately 30 minutes before the end of suggested cooking time. Use a meat thermometer — there really is no substitute for determining when your turkey is done. If you are cooking a stuffed turkey, add an additional 5-7 minutes per pound.

Check the temperature of the stuffing as well as the turkey to determine when it is fully cooked — 160°F for the stuffing. When done, all parts of the turkey should register 165°F.

Weight Total Roasting Time
8-12 pounds 2 to 3.5 hours
12-16 pounds 3 to 4 hours
16-20 pounds 4 to 5 hours
20-25 pounds 5 to 6 hours
25-30 pounds 6+ hours

~ by pennymaxwell on November 23, 2008.

One Response to “Cooking The Perfect Turkey”

  1. Here ia another tip for the perfect Thanksgiving Turkey–
    Big Bob Gibson BBQ 704) 289-5102 $36 It turns out beautiful and delicious every time. 😉

    We are actually considering taking care of the bird ourselves this year…although I still believe Big Bobs is the way to go!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: