Turkey is the centerpiece of the holiday feast, but it’s certainly not something we cook every day, so there’s bound to be some questions around it.
- How do you know how large of a turkey to buy to feed your guests?
- Should it be fresh, frozen or free range?
- How long should it cook?
- Should you baste the turkey?
- How the heck do you carve a turkey?
Of course, there’s always the Butterball Turkey Talk-line, which answers over 100,000 questions every November and December. The telephone hotline has been a tradition since 1981, but this year, they are getting an upgrade - Butterball will accept questions via text messages and through Twitter.
Here, we’ve tackled your top turkey questions.
What size turkey do I need?
The larger the bird, the more meat it will yield per pound. Here are some general rules (with allowances for leftovers!):
- A 12-pound turkey should feed about six people.
- For a turkey that's 14-20 pounds, calculate 1.5 pounds per person. So a 15-pound turkey will feed about 10 people.
- For a turkey that's 20-30 pounds, calculate 1.25 pounds per person. So a 25-pound turkey will feed about 20 people.
What kind of turkey should I buy?
Fresh, frozen, free-range… there are several choices when it comes to buying the bird.
Turkey meat freezes beautifully, and the price is usually better for frozen, so don’t feel as though you are doing your guests an injustice by getting a frozen bird. You will need to plan ahead to allow time for it to defrost.
Fresh turkeys are readily available. You may need to order a fresh bird a week or more in advance, to be picked up a day or two before Thanksgiving, particularly if you choose to order an organic or free-range turkey.
Free-range turkeys tend to have more intense flavor and are leaner. Organic turkey meat does not contain any antibiotics, hormones, preservatives, salt or other additives.
General rule: Allow about 24 hours per five pounds of turkey for defrosting in the refrigerator. That means that if you are buying a frozen turkey, plan to buy it at least three days before Thanksgiving.
How do I safely defrost a turkey?
This is where people can make the biggest errors, either by not allowing enough time for proper defrosting or by defrosting in an unsafe manner. Although it takes a long time, defrosting in the refrigerator for the whole defrosting time is the safest. Make sure to give yourself ample time.
A second way to defrost is to keep the turkey under a continuous flow of cold running water until defrosted. Generally, this method is used only in an emergency situation or to assist in finishing the defrosting if your bird is still a bit frozen after using the refrigerator method. For best results, don’t count on this method to defrost your entire bird in a really short period of time. Additionally, there is more opportunity for bacteria to develop with this method.
Tip: Check your turkey Wednesday night to see if it needs some time under cold water as described above. Waiting until Thanksgiving morning to check on it often leads to turkeys going in the oven partially frozen, which results in undercooked meat near the bones.
How long will the turkey take to cook?
Use the following timetable to estimate how long it will take your turkey to cook. Remember, these are approximations; always use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature.
- 8 to 12 pounds: 2 ¾ to 3 hours
- 12 to 14 pounds: 3 to 3 ¾ hours
- 14 to 18 pounds: 3 ¾ to 4 ¼ hours
- 18 to 20 pounds: 4 ¼ to 4 ½ hours
- 20 to 24 pounds: 4 ½ to 5 hours
If you’re roasting your turkey in a convection oven, it may be done sooner, so be sure to use your meat thermometer to check the doneness roughly an hour before the times above.
Planning ahead will help you avoid any Turkey Day mishaps, so be sure to determine your guest list and find a turkey sooner rather than later.
Need help? Contact Simple Fare Catering.