Cooking Turkey : How To cook A Turkey Properly

Getting Started

Before cooking turkey this thanksgiving or Christmas you need to prepare it properly to make sure that your turkey ends up tender, moist and safe to eat.

For a frozen turkey this means that it should be properly thawed, completely through. The only truly safe way to do this is in a refrigerator as this stops bacteria growth as the turkey thaws. Thawing a turkey in a microwave is NOT SAFE as it can heat and defrost unevenly leaving some areas cooked and some still frozen.

You should allow 5 hours per pound of turkey to thaw it in a refrigerator. This means that for a 14-19 pound bird it may take 3-4 days. Bear this in mind when planning your meal.

You should always defrost a turkey in a tray as juices can run out and drip. Uncooked juices can harbour a lot of bacteria.

Having defrosted your turkey (or if you started with a fresh turkey) you need to then prepare the turkey:

Start by removing the giblets and neckbone from the body cavity of the bird. They are usually found in a plastic bag stuck inside the neck of the bird. These can be set aside if you plan to use them for flavouring gravy etc.

Wash the bird under COLD running water. You should be very careful when doing this not to splash other parts of the kitchen. Wash as thoroughly as possible to remove as much bacteria as you are able to. After you have finished, wipe over the turkey with good quality kitchen paper and then wash the sink, your hands and any surfaces that the bird has touched with very hot soapy water to remove all bacteria.

These days it is recommended that stuffing is cooked separately to the bird. This is because it can cook very unevenly if cooked inside the body cavity of the bird. Also, it can make the cooking time of the turkey itself longer which means that the bird could potentially be undercooked.

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A properly cooked turkey
A properly cooked turkey

Roasting Your Turkey

When roasting your turkey it is VERY important to follow the recommended cooking times. Undercooking a turkey can result in serious food poisoning. You should also reweigh your turkey after defrosting as giblets and ice can weigh more than you think.

The following are recommended cooking times only based on an oven kept at a consistent temperature of 325 degrees F:

Weight Roasting Time

8 to 12 lbs   = 2 and 3/4 to 3 hours

12 to 14 lbs =   3 to 3 and 3/4 hours

14 to 18 lbs=    3 and 3/4 to 4 and 1/4 hours

18 to 20 lbs=   4 and 1/4 to 4 and 1/2 hours

20 to 24 lbs=    4 and 1/2 to 5 hours

Please remember though that these cooking times are simply and approximate guide only.

How To Tell If Your Turkey Is Cooked

The most important thing to do when checking whether your turkey is cooked is to use an accurate meat thermometer.

Other methods such as looking at the colour of the skin or meat are unreliable and could result in meat that is undercooked. A meat thermometer checks that the meat has reached the required temperature to destroy bacteria so helps to ensure that the meat is safe.

Before using your thermometer check it is working correctly by dipping it in boiling water or by using it's calibration device.

To check whether it is done your bird should reach 175-180 degrees Fahrenheit in the thigh and approximately 170 degrees in the breast. However, each meat thermometer will have its own instructions. Use these as your guidance as different thermometers vary.

You should start to check how cooked your bird is about eighty per cent through the recommended cooking time. This is because some birds cook at a different rate to others. Starting to check early will avoid an overdone turkey, using a thermometer will ensure that the turkey is cooked enough.

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