Baking a turkey is probably one of the easiest and most delicious beginnings to a great meal. Prepared with stuffing or not, a baked turkey is the ultimate in comfort food, and especially enjoyable in the fall or for a celebration, like Thanksgiving or Christmas. But, how to bake turkey? Does it take a special knack, or certain utensils?
Fortunately, the answer is no—almost anyone can bake a turkey with what they have on hand. But first, let’s discuss the size of the turkey, and what kind of turkey to buy. Generally speaking, the days of shooting your own bird are over, but many people still prefer a fresh turkey. If that is your desire, it is best to cook the turkey as soon as you can after obtaining it.
If your turkey comes frozen from the grocery store, then the only decisions you have to make are what brand to buy, how big a turkey to buy, and whether or not you want one with a pop-up timer, which pretty much lets you know when the bird is done.
There are many brands available, such as Butterball, Honeysuckle and various store brands. Which you choose is pretty much a matter of personal preference. As far as size, it is generally recommended that you plan ½ to ¾ pound per person. Most people want some leftovers, though, so take that into consideration. Just remember that the bigger the turkey, the longer it will take to cook.
A pop-up timer is a small, red device implanted in the breast or thigh of the turkey. It looks a bit like a large nail, and when your turkey is sufficiently cooked, it will pop up, or elevate, about an inch out of the turkey to let you know that it is done. If you would rather figure this out on your own, you will need a meat thermometer. This should be placed in one of the thighs and register at 185 degrees when done.
Timetable for Baking Turkey at 325 Degrees
- Under 8 pounds 3 to 3 ½ hours
- 8 to 12 pounds 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours
- 12 to 16 pounds 4 ½ to 5 ½ hours
- 16 to 20 pounds 5 ½ to 6 ½ hours
- 20 to 24 pounds 6 ½ to 7 hours
If your turkey is stuffed, you will need to add about 5 minutes of cooking time per pound to your overall cooking time. Of course, if you use a pop-up timer, you can check the chart to approximate cooking time and keep an eye on the turkey for the timer to pop.
If your turkey is frozen, thaw it in the refrigerator or ice baths for 3 or 4 days. When you are ready to begin the cooking process, remove the giblets from the turkey and discard, or save for gravy or another use. Rinse the turkey inside and out with warm water and salt the cavity.
If you are planning on stuffing your bird, always wait until just before baking to do it, as contamination can occur with bacteria from the raw meat. There are several wonderful stuffing recipes available in magazines, cookbooks, and at www.allrecipes.com. Stuff the turkey loosely, about ¾ full, and fasten with skewers. You can also stuff the wishbone area, fastening the neck skin to the back with a skewer.
Place your turkey in a large roasting pan, breast side up. Brush with ¼ to ½ cup of melted butter or margarine. Add salt and pepper, as desired, and bake at 325 degrees according to the timetable, or until the timer pops up. Baste the turkey periodically with the cooking juices. Just to be on the safe side, when you think the turkey is done, try to move the drumstick joint up and down. If it moves easily or breaks, it is done. If the turkey appears to be getting too brown, but is not yet done, place some aluminum foil pieces over the legs and wings. After removing the turkey from the oven, remove stuffing and let it sit about 20 minutes before carving.
Everyone will rave over the moist and succulent turkey and your culinary talents. This method is so easy, but you might want to also explore the plastic bag and foil methods of how to bake turkey. If you do, take special note of the recommended cooking times, as they may vary. Happy eating!