Getting a perfect turkey is an elusive goal for many hosts and hostesses. Everyone wants a golden, crisp-skinned baked bird that is juicy and succulent inside. Every cook dreams of slicing into a bird that’s dripping with juices and flavor. Many fail because the do not adequately prepare to bake their turkey in the oven the way the professionals do.
Preparing the Turkey
The first step in baking your turkey in the oven is to defrost the bird, if frozen. This process usually takes several days, depending on the size of your bird.
8-12 pound bird: One to two days
12-16 pound bird: Two to three days
16-20 pound bird: Three to four days
20-24 pound bird: Four to five days
Place your turkey, still in its wrapping, in a large roasting pan and allow to sit until completely thawed. This is the safest way to thaw your turkey and avoid bacteria from infecting your turkey.
Brining the Turkey
Brining is the process of infusing your turkey with a salt-water solution in order to lock in its natural flavor and moisture. Many cooks who complain of dry, gritty and flavorless turkeys skip this step. Brining infuses salt deep into the flesh of the turkey, making it juicier and more flavorful.
Using two gallons of water and two cups of kosher salt, prepare a saltwater mixture in a glass container. Remove your thawed turkey from its packaging, and remove any innards from the turkey’s cavity. Next, submerge your turkey in its salt bath. Let stand in the refrigerator for 6 hours. Remove from refrigerator, thoroughly rinsing the turkey and returning it to the roasting pan.
Seasoning the Turkey
Seasoning is an important step in baking your turkey in the oven. The right seasonings give your turkey a delicious flavor. Gather salt (or a seasoning blend), pepper, meat tenderizer, sage, fresh thyme and rosemary to start the seasoning process. Also, include chicken broth or white wine, two fresh carrots, garlic cloves, a fresh, chopped onion and two stalks of celery.
Generously rub your turkey with the spices, making sure to thoroughly coat the underside of the bird, the space between the wing and the breast and the legs. Add some of your spices to the inside of the turkey as well. Place chopped onion on both the inside and outside of the turkey. Slice four garlic cloves and make slits in the skin of the turkey. Place the cloves inside the skin for maximum flavor. Stuff the carrot and celery stalks inside the cavity of the turkey if you’re not adding stuffing.
Baking the Turkey
After seasoning your turkey, set the oven’s temperature to 325 degrees and allow to preheat for 10 minutes. Add one to two cups of water to your roasting pan to help season the drippings. Place any remaining chopped onion and garlic into the bottom of the roaster as well. Place a lid on your roasting pan to lock in moisture. Place your turkey into the oven, on the center rack. Let turkey bake for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, spoon drippings from the bottom of the roaster over the turkey. Return turkey to the oven, checking occasionally and periodically spooning the drippings over the bird.
How long to bake your turkey in the oven will depend on the size of your turkey.
8-12 pound turkey: 2.5-3 hours
12-14 pound turkey: 3-4 hours
14-18 pound turkey: 3.5-4.5 hours
18-20 pound turkey: 4.5-5 hours
20-24 pound turkey: 5-5.5 hours
Add an additional 30 minutes for a stuffed turkey. Your turkey is done when the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. This can be determined by using a meat thermometer. Some store-bought turkeys come with a small internal thermometer that pops up when the turkey is done.
Now that you have prepared your perfect turkey, it’s time to enjoy your masterpiece. Baking a turkey in the oven is easy if you follow the right steps and have patience.