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Turkey Cooking Tips


Turkey Preparation Purchasing Tips
Thawing Tips Cooking a Turkey
Stuffing Tips Carving Tips
Turkey Leftovers Smoking a Turkey
Turkey Grilling Tips Brining a Turkey
Deep-Fat Frying a Turkey Marinating a Turkey
Cooking Turkey Breasts Cooking Turkey the Day Before Serving


Turkey Preparation

The Poultry and Egg Division, with the help of the National Turkey Federation (NTF), can help make your turkey cooking experience easier with a full array of tips to ensure quality and safety from purchasing, to cooking, to storing, to preparing leftovers, using thermometers, and all the steps in between.

Keep food safety in mind before preparing any turkey and remember to wash hands thoroughly, with soap and hot water, then rinse before beginning any food preparation. Hands should be washed again, and rinsed along with all utensils, equipment, and countertops that have been in contact with any raw food (especially raw turkey) before preparing foods. It's 20 seconds of prevention that can eliminate 90% of foodborne illness.

With a little organization, a few simple recipes and tips from people who have prepared a fully roasted turkey, even a novice cook can prepare and enjoy a scrumptious turkey dinner. For most Americans, turkey is the main course on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas. Because there are so many choices on the market today, choosing the right turkey can be a task. Decisions about turkey size, cooking method, fresh or frozen, and other factors all come up in the weeks before the holidays. Explore the links on this web site to ensure that your turkey dinner will be the best meal of the year!

More turkey preparation tips:
National Turkey Federation
USDA
Printable brochure - Take the Guesswork Out of Roasting a Turkey
Printable brochure - Take the Guesswork Out of Roasting a Turkey - Spanish Version

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Purchasing Pointers

What Size Turkey Should I Buy?
Allow one pound of turkey for each adult person. For example, if you are serving 12 people, purchase a 12 pound turkey. This allows everyone to enjoy a generous serving of turkey and enough extra turkey for additional meals.

Frozen or Refrigerated? What's the Difference? Which One Should I Buy?
Choose the type of turkey that best meets your individual needs. There is no quality difference between a frozen or refrigerated turkey. Frozen turkeys are flash frozen immediately after packaging to 0°F or below and held at that temperature until purchased. They can be purchased in advance whenever it is most convenient or when they are on sale. Once defrosted, the meat is virtually as fresh as the day it was processed. A frozen turkey, once thawed, must be used within approximately seven days of thawing. Keep it cold in the refrigerator until ready to roast. For the best flavor and quality, a turkey will keep easily for one year in the freezer. However, a turkey will stay safe and wholesome for much longer, several years if held at 0°F or lower.

Refrigerated
Turkeys are deep-chilled to 24 to 26°F after packaging and rushed to the store. Refrigerated turkeys are convenient because they do not need to be thawed, but they have a shorter shelf life. They require special handling to assure you the best possible quality and flavor. A refrigerated turkey should be cooked or frozen by the "use by" date found on the weight tag or weight sticker.

Turkey Breasts
If you like a traditional roasted turkey, but the whole bird is too much, try a bone-in breast or a boneless breast. These normally weigh 4 to 8 pounds, and can be roasted in 1½ to 3 hours, and can be served the same way as a whole turkey. Buy one with a pop-up timer gauge to make roasting even easier. For directions for roasting a turkey breast, click on
Cooking a Turkey and refer to the roasting times for a turkey breast.

Half Turkey
For the best of both worlds, try cooking a turkey half. This way, everyone at the table can enjoy their favorite type of meat. Buy a small whole turkey (8 to 10 pounds) and ask your meat manager to cut it in half for you. Use one half for a special meal, and have the other half cut into parts to freeze for later use. For directions for roasting a turkey breast, click on Cooking a Turkey and refer to the roasting times for a half turkey.

Smoked Turkeys
For a special, convenient whole turkey treat, try serving a pre-cooked hickory smoked turkey. Simply thaw, heat, slice, and serve. Or since the turkey comes already pre-cooked, just thaw and serve cold. For recipes and directions on thawing and heating the pre-cooked smoked turkey, click on Whole Smoked Turkey.

More Turkey Purchasing Tips
National Turkey Federation

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Thawing Tips

Before starting any food preparation, especially turkey, keep food safety in mind. Always remember to wash hands thoroughly, with soap and hot water, then rinse before beginning any food preparation. Hands should be washed again, and rinsed along with all utensils, equipment, and countertops that have been in contact with the raw turkey. It's 20 seconds of prevention that can eliminate 90% of foodborne illness.

Thawing the turkey

Refrigerator Method
Approximately 24 hours per every 5 pounds of whole turkey.

8 to 12 lbs. 1 to 2 days
12 to 16 lbs. 2 to 3 days
16 to 20 lbs. 3 to 4 days
20 to 24 lbs. 4 to 5 days
Cold Water Method
Approximately 30 minutes per pound of whole turkey. Change the water every ½ hour.
8 to 12 lbs. 4 to 6 hours
12 to 16 lbs. 6 to 8 hours
16 to 20 lbs. 8 to 10 hours
20 to 24 lbs. 10 to 12 hours
More Turkey Thawing Tips
National Turkey Federation
USDA

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Cooking a Turkey

To prepare the thawed whole turkey for roasting, remove the giblets and neck from turkey. Rinse the turkey with cold running water, drain, and pat dry with paper towels to remove excess water. To aid in the browning of the turkey, rub the skin of the turkey with canola oil or margarine, and add some paprika to the oil.

Place the turkey, breast side up, in a large cooking bag.* Place the turkey in a shallow roasting pan (about 2½ inches deep) and roast it in a 325°F oven. Refer to the timetable for approximate times for roasting a bird based on the weight. Or refer to the printable brochure Take the Guesswork Out of Roasting a Turkey. The bird is done when the meat thermometer reaches 180°F in the innermost part of the thigh, not touching the bone. The thermometer should reach 170°F in the breast. Juices should be clear. For safety and doneness, use a meat thermometer even if a pop-up temperature indicator is used.

*Note: If using a cooking bag, follow the instructions provided with the bag, and reduce the amount of total roasting time. Never use a brown paper bag as they are made from recycled materials that may contain toxins. Make sure you use a meat thermometer to determine doneness.

How Long Should I Cook the Turkey?
Turkeys today take less time to cook than in the past. Improved breeding practices produce turkeys with a higher ratio of white meat, which cooks faster than dark meat. With this in mind, the USDA and the National Turkey Federation (NTF) recommend the following roasting timetables. Many factors, including oven calibration, beginning temperature, using a cooking bag, and type of roasting pan, can affect how long it takes your turkey to cook thoroughly. These times are a good guideline:

Turkey Roasting Times
(Approximate Timetable for Roasting a Turkey at 325°F)
Weight Unstuffed Stuffed
8 to 12 pounds 2¾ to 3 hours 3 to 3½ hours
12 to 14 pounds 3 to 3¾ hours 3½ to 4 hours
14 to 18 pounds 3¾ to 4¼ hours 4 to 4¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds 4¼ to 4½ hours 4¼ to 4¾ hours
20 to 24 pounds 4½ to 5 hours 4¾ to 5¼ hours

You should NOT partially roast a turkey one day and complete roasting the next. Interrupted cooking enhances the possibility of bacterial growth.

Decide what time you need to begin cooking your turkey, and set your alarm clock accordingly. DO NOT cook the bird overnight or for long cooking at a low oven temperature (250°F) This method is NOT recommended because it is not safe. Because of the low temperature, the turkey may not reach a high enough temperature to destroy bacteria. The quality of the turkey might suffer too. During prolonged cooking, some areas would tend to become very dry. The oven needs to be at least 325°F.

The new internal temperature recommendation for a cooked turkey was made by the USDA due to research by the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods. Their research showed that bacteria and viruses are destroyed at 165°F. However, the National Turkey Federation believes many consumers may wish to continue cooking the turkey to the higher internal temperatures to achieve the desirable firmer texture and to ensure that all juices run clear, without traces of any pink color.

Bone-In Turkey Breast
Place the turkey breast on a rack in a shallow baking pan. Roast in a 325°F oven until a meat thermometer, inserted in the thickest portion of the meat, not touching the bone, reaches at least 170°F. Cover the breast with foil the last hour to prevent over browning. Allow the meat to rest for approximately 15 to 20 minutes after removing from the oven to let the juices settle and redistribute throughout the meat before carving.

Follow these cooking times for roasting a turkey breast:
4 to 6 pounds       1½ to 2¼ hours
6 to 8 pounds       2¼ to 3¼ hours

Half Turkey
Place the turkey, split side down, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Roast in a 325°F oven until a meat thermometer, inserted in the thickest portion of the thigh, not touching the bone, reaches at least 170°F. Allow meat to sit for 15 to 20 minutes after removing from the oven before carving.

Cooking times for a half turkey will vary depending on the size of the bird. One half of a 9-pound turkey takes 1½ to 2 hours to cook. For best results, cook until the meat thermometer reads 170°F when inserted in the thickest portion of the thigh, not touching the bone.

Regardless of how you prepare the turkey for your small group, everyone is sure to enjoy a delicious meal. Turkey is high in protein, delicious, low in fat and cholesterol, and is easy to prepare for any size group.

More Turkey Cooking Tips
National Turkey Federation
USDA

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Stuffing Tips

The USDA recommends NOT stuffing your Thanksgiving turkey. With faster cooking birds, the turkey may be done before the stuffing. For the best, most uniform results for both the turkey and the stuffing, cook the stuffing in a separate casserole dish. However, if your family insists on stuffing the turkey, make sure you follow these instructions:

More Stuffing Tips
National Turkey Federation
USDA

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Carving Tips

A roasted turkey should never be carved immediately after removing it from the oven or grill. Allow the turkey to rest for approximately 20 minutes to let the juices settle and redistribute throughout the meat. The meat will be tender, flavorful, and easier to carve. It is important to use a sharp knife when carving.

There are two carving methods the "traditional method," often used for carving at the dining table, or the "kitchen method," which is easier and more practical, to be done in the privacy of your kitchen.

For more detailed instructions and photographs illustrating how to carve a turkey:
Printable brochure -
Carving The Whole Turkey.
Printable brochure - Carving The Whole Turkey - Spanish Version.

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Turkey Leftovers

It is important to handle cooked turkey correctly. Keep food safety in mind before preparing any turkey and remember to wash hands thoroughly, with soap and hot water, then rinse before beginning any food preparation. Hands should be washed again, and rinsed along with all utensils, equipment, and countertops that have been in contact with any food before handling or preparing foods.

If you have stuffed the turkey, remove any stuffing and debone the turkey before storing. Store all leftovers in shallow containers. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within two hours of cooking. Why just two hours? Because bacteria that causes food poisoning can multiply to undesirable levels on perishable food left at room temperature for longer than that. Use cooked turkey and stuffing within three to four days. For new ways to use the rest of your turkey leftovers, click on Recipes for Leftovers for several recipes that are sure to please.

More Turkey Leftover Recipes
National Turkey Federation

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Smoking a Turkey

Turkey is especially adaptable to smoking, taking on a delicate pink color during the smoking process. The pink color is a natural occurrence of smoked meat, and for that reason, it is important to check internal temperatures to judge doneness.

Keep food safety in mind before preparing any turkey and remember to wash hands thoroughly, with soap and hot water, then rinse before beginning any food preparation. Hands should be washed again, and rinsed along with all utensils, equipment, and countertops that have been in contact with any raw food (especially raw turkey) before preparing foods. It's 20 seconds of prevention that can eliminate 90% of foodborne illness.

When preparing turkey, use an electric smoker (instead of a charcoal-powered unit) in order to maintain a consistent smoking temperature. It is important for a minimum temperature of 140°F to be reached quickly during the initial cooking process and maintained above this level to assure safe food preparation. Because smoking of meat is a slow process, using low cooking temperatures (about 170°F), usually spread over several hours, a smoker with an electric unit eliminates concern for maintaining proper smoking temperatures of turkey.

A smoked turkey is a taste-tempting treat, but will require the better part of the day to accomplish. A faster method, designed to meet today's busy lifestyle and smaller families, is to use turkey parts.

When cooking with a smoker, start with clean equipment. Place the smoker in an area shielded from winds to maintain a consistent cooking temperature. To enhance the flavors, add chunks or chips of water-soaked hardwood or fruitwood. The flavor of smoked foods comes from both the seasoning and the wood chips used. Hickory chips add a zest; apple wood gives a mild, sweet flavor; cherry is rich-flavored, particularly tasty for dark turkey meat.

DO NOT use softwood (pine, fir, cedar, or spruce) as it gives the food a turpentine flavor and coats it with a black pitch or resin. Smoking time depends on many factors: the size and shape of the turkey, the distance from the heat, temperature of the coals, and the outside air temperature. Estimate 20 to 30 minutes per pound if using a smoker. Always use a meat thermometer. The whole turkey is done when the meat thermometer, placed in the inner thigh, reaches 180°F. The breast is done when the internal temperature reaches 170°F.

For a special, convenient whole turkey treat, try serving a pre-cooked hickory smoked turkey. Simply thaw, heat, slice, and serve. Or since the turkey comes already pre-cooked, just thaw and serve cold. For recipes and directions on thawing and heating the pre-cooked smoked turkey, click on Whole Smoked Turkey.

More Tips for Smoking a Turkey
National Turkey Federation

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Turkey Grilling Tips

Think about choosing turkey as an ideal grilling food. Outdoor cooking of turkey is a popular cooking method. From ground turkey burgers and turkey franks, turkey tenderloins, and other cuts for the grill, turkey provides you with a wide range of tasty, healthy, and convenient meal solutions.

Keep food safety in mind before preparing any turkey, and remember to wash hands thoroughly, with soap and hot water, then rinse before beginning any food preparation. Hands should be washed again, and rinsed along with all utensils, equipment, and countertops that have been in contact with any raw food (especially raw turkey) before preparing foods. It's 20 seconds of prevention that can eliminate 90% of foodborne illness.

During grilling, the turkey cooks by indirect heat in an outdoor covered gas or charcoal grill. A pan of water is placed beneath the grilling surface to catch the dripping turkey juices. Cooking is done by hot, smoky, steamy air.

Turkey breasts, drumsticks, wings, and whole turkeys are all suited for grilling. Whole turkeys that weigh 16 pounds or less are the recommended size for safe grilling. A larger turkey remains in the "Danger Zone" - between 40°F and 140°F - too long. Do not stuff the turkey. Because cooking is at a low temperature, it can take too long for the temperature of the stuffing to reach the required temperature of 165°F. Also, smoked stuffing has an undesirable flavor.

Grilling time depends on many factors: the size and shape of the turkey, the distance from the heat, temperature of the coals, and the outside air temperature. Estimate 15 to 18 minutes per pound if using a covered grill. Always use a food thermometer. The turkey is done when the food thermometer, placed in the inner thigh, reaches 180°F.

Gas Grilling
Always start with a clean grill rack, bottom tray and catch pan. Gas grills must be preheated. All preheating and cooking should be done with the lid in the closed position. When preheating, turn the burners to high and close the lid. Preheating usually takes 10 to 15 minutes and the grill temperature should be about 500°F. The temperature is then lowered for most grilling.

Direct Method
The direct method of grilling is used for searing foods. To sear foods, place the food on the preheated cooking grates directly above the hot flame. Most grilling is completed by the indirect method at a lower temperature.

Indirect Method
The indirect method of grilling is achieved by turning off the burners directly beneath the food, while the burners on either side of the food are turned to the same heat setting (medium to low). The circulating heat cooks the food.

When grilling a whole turkey or turkey breast, use a disposal drip pan to catch the drippings.

Charcoal Grilling
Begin with clean equipment and good quality charcoal. Be sure all vents are open. Build a pyramid of charcoal. As a guideline, for a 22-inch diameter grill, ignite about 50 charcoal briquettes. Allow the coals to glow red hot. Place an appliance thermometer on the food rack to monitor the inside grill air temperature. Allow the charcoal to develop a light coating of gray ash, about 25 to 30 minutes, with the temperature reaching 350°F (medium heat) before distributing the coals.

To enhance the flavors, add chunks or chips of water-soaked hardwood or fruitwood. Do not use softwood (pine fir, cedar, or spruce) as it gives the food a turpentine flavor.

If an outdoor grill is not available, consider using a stove top grill for grilling different cuts of turkey.

More Turkey Grilling Tips
National Turkey Federation

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Brining A Turkey

The brining process, water saturated with salt, is believed by some to be a favorable way to prepare turkey, resulting in a moister product. For centuries, salt has been used in poultry and meat processing to add flavor and to provide extra moisture. During the soaking process, the water is locked within the turkey. As the cooking process begins, the heat gels the proteins and forms a barrier to keep the liquids from escaping.

Keep food safety in mind before preparing any turkey, and remember to wash hands thoroughly, with soap and hot water, then rinse before beginning any food preparation. Hands should be washed again, and rinsed along with all utensils, equipment, and countertops that have been in contact with any raw food (especially raw turkey) before preparing foods. It's 20 seconds of prevention that can eliminate 90% of foodborne illness.

Brining foods nearly triples the storage life of smoked foods. When smoked, brined foods retain more moisture and have greater succulence. However, for those on a sodium-controlled diet, it is possible to smoke meat with good results by eliminating the brine process.

Since brining does not preserve poultry, the turkey must be kept below 40°F throughout the entire brining process. If refrigerator space is limited, the brining process should be done with the use of ice packs to ensure the turkey stays below 40°F during the brining time.

Several chefs add other ingredients to the brining solution including a combination of herbs such as 6 to 8 bay leaves, ½ cup dried rosemary leaves, 3 cloves peeled garlic, 2 teaspoons peppercorns and ½ cup dried thyme leaves. Other chefs recommend the addition of brown sugar with the herbs. Still others prefer the heat imparted by the addition of 1-cup small dried red chili peppers.

There is an additional large container required for the brining process, along with lots of space in a refrigerator. A large covered non-corrosive pan or stockpot (glass or stainless-steel) or food-safe plastic container (available from home-brew supply stores) is required for the soaking process.

A few other pointers:

Brine Roasted Turkey

Basic Brine
1 15- to 18-pound whole TURKEY, (use a non self-basting) thawed, giblets, and neck removed
3 cups water
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 ½ cups table salt
3 cloves garlic, (peeled and split)
2 teaspoon whole black pepper
4 bay leaves
2 gallons icy cold water

Rinse the turkey in cool water.

In a large, non-corrodible container (glass or stainless steel) large enough to hold about 10 pounds of turkey (whole or parts) combine ingredients, stirring briskly to dissolve salt and sugar. Add turkey to brine and keep submerged. If desired, add herbs, brown sugar, or chili peppers to the soaking solution.

Submerge the turkey in the brine solution and keep submerged. If the turkey is not completely covered, prepare additional brine. Cover and set the turkey in the refrigerator for 6 to 8 hours.

Remove the turkey from brine. Thoroughly rinse under a slow stream of cool water, rubbing gently to release sugar, herbs, and salt, from both the inside and outside of the turkey. Pat the skin and cavity dry.

In the cavity of the turkey, place any combination of the following:
      1 onion, peeled and quartered
      1 carrot, peeled and cut into 1" chunks
      1 small celery stalk, cut into 1" chunks
      2 teaspoons dried thyme

Brush the turkey with 4 to 6 tablespoons melted unsalted butter. Place the turkey in a V-rack or sturdy wire rack and arrange the turkey with breast side DOWN on the rack.

Roast the turkey, breast side down, in a preheated 325°F oven for 2 hours. During this time, baste the legs and back twice with 2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter.

Remove turkey from the oven and, protecting your hands, grasp turkey with several layers of clean paper towels at both ends, and turn turkey, breast side up.

Return the turkey to the oven and continue to roast, basting twice with pan drippings. Continue to roast until the internal temperature reaches 170°F in the breast and 180°F in the thigh. Remove the turkey and allow to stand for 20 minutes before carving.

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Deep Frying a Turkey - Use Caution

Some people may choose to deep fat fry the turkey instead of the traditional roasting for their turkey dinner. Deep fat frying results in a juicy product because the hot fat seals the outside and the skin becomes crisp. However, the process can be dangerous. Due to increasing reports of fires and burns related to deep fat fryers, Underwriters Laboratory does not certify any turkey fryers with the UL mark of approval.

Equipment
In order to fry a turkey, a deep fat fryer or a 40 to 60 quart pot with a basket, burner, and propane gas tank are needed. If using a pot, it should be larger than the burner. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions exactly for the fryer's use. A candy thermometer should be used to check oil temperature and a meat thermometer is necessary to check the meat for doneness. An all-purpose fire extinguisher should be close by. Never use water or a water-based extinguisher, as it will cause an oil fire to spread. You may need assistance from another person.

Location or Placement of Fryer

Cooking Preparation
According to the National Turkey Federation, smaller turkeys, 8 to10 pounds, and turkey parts such as breasts, wings, and thighs are best for frying. Approximately 5 gallons of cooking oil are necessary - more for large turkeys. Only oil with a high smoke point should be used, such as peanut, canola, corn. or sunflower. Peanut oil works the best as it adds flavor, but some people may be allergic to it.

Be sure the turkey is thawed completely. Remove giblets and neck. Remove skin if desired. DO NOT STUFF turkeys for deep-frying. Turkey can be injected with a marinade, coated with breading (such as Shake n Bake), or seasoned with a rub before cooking. The turkey may be injected and refrigerated overnight for more flavor. Approximately one cup of marinade is needed for an 8- to 10-pound turkey, 2/3 injected in the breast and 1/3 in the rest of the turkey. If you're not using a marinade, use paper towels to pat the turkey dry inside and out before inserting the bird into the oil.

To determine the correct amount of oil, place the turkey in the basket and place in the pot. Add water until it reaches 1 to 2 inches above the turkey. Remove the turkey and note the water level, using a ruler to measure the distance from the top of the pot to the surface of the water. Pour out the water and dry the pot thoroughly. Be sure to measure for oil before breading or marinating the turkey.

Frying the Turkey
The National Turkey Federation recommends you heat the oil to 350°F checking with a candy thermometer. Depending on the amount of oil used, this usually takes between 45 minutes and one hour. Be sure to keep the oil temperature above 340°F or oil will begin seeping into the bird. Once the oil has reached 350°F, place the turkey in the basket, feet up, then slowly and carefully lower into the pot. For safety reasons, it is best to have two people lowering and raising the turkey. Do not use a lid while frying. Whole turkeys require approximately 3 to 5 minutes per pound to cook.

After frying, remove turkey, drain oil from cavity and check internal temperature with a meat thermometer. The breast must reach 170°F; the thigh should be 180°F not touching bone. If it's not done, return to the hot oil immediately for additional cooking. A turkey that is cooked thoroughly should start to float.

Turkey parts require approximately 4 to 5 minutes per pound to reach appropriate temperatures. Chicken and Cornish game hens require about 9 minutes per pound because oil cannot circulate as well in smaller cavities. Allow the turkey to drain for 20 to 30 minutes before carving.

Storage of Oil
The following recommendations are from the Institute of Shortening and Edible Oils in Washington, D.C.

Additional Safety Precautions Food Safety Tips


For Safety and Information on Proper Procedures, Follow These Guidelines
National Turkey Federation
Underwriters Laboratories

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Marinating A Turkey

Marinades are seasoned liquids in which the turkey is soaked both to absorb flavor and to tenderize. Most marinades contain an acid such as vinegar, citrus juice, wine and herbs or spices. One of the easiest ways to marinate a turkey is by using a needle-like injector. Injectors can be purchased at kitchen supply stores and range in price from $10 to $15.

To marinate a turkey without an injector, simply use a fork to make random holes over the entire bird. Place the turkey in a large, plastic cooking bag or foodservice grade plastic bag, pour in the marinade, close the bag securely and let it marinate overnight. Turkey should always be marinated in the refrigerator. Before cooking, be sure to scrape off excess marinade and discard. DO NOT re-use marinade to baste the turkey.

Herb Marinade
½ cup canola oil
½ cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon fresh sage
½ teaspoon salt
1 10 pound whole turkey, cleaned and drained well

Combine the oil, vinegar, herbs and seasonings together in a small bowl. Place the turkey in a large, plastic cooking bag.

Add marinade, close bag securely and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for several hours.

Oven roast or deep-fry the turkey until the internal temperature reaches 170° F in the breast and 180°F in the thigh. Cooking a Turkey   Deep-Fat Frying a Turkey. Remove the turkey and allow to stand for 20 minutes before carving.

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Cooking a Turkey the Day Before Serving It

Sometimes it may be easier to prepare your turkey the day before you plan to serve it. If you do, follow these guidelines:

  1. When the turkey is fully cooked, wait about 20 minutes after removing it from the oven to allow the juices to distribute. NOTE: Wash your hands with soap and warm water then rinse before you begin slicing your turkey.

  2. Slice breast meat; legs and wings may be left whole. Shingle (slightly overlap) a single layer of the carved turkey and place turkey in metal containers; limit depth to less than 2 inches. Metal containers cool faster than glass-type pans.

  3. Pour a little broth over the turkey to prevent drying. Then refrigerate, loosely covered. You can place loosely covered foods in the refrigerator while still warm; cover tightly when food is completely cooled.

  4. Gretta Irwin from the Iowa Turkey Federation suggests on the day of your meal, combine approximately 1-1/2 cups of pan drippings or reduced-sodium chicken broth with 1/4 cup warm water, white wine or apple juice. Pour over turkey to prevent drying. Cover the pan with an ovenproof lid or aluminum foil and reheat thoroughly in a 350°F oven until hot and steaming throughout (165°F) until ready to serve.

  5. Either freeze leftover turkey or plan to eat cooked turkey within 3 to 4 days of the day it was originally prepared. Once removed from the oven, turkey should not set at room temperature longer than 2 hours TOTAL time. For best safety and quality, avoid reheating and cooling turkey multiple times.

If you make your gravy the day before, refrigerate it in a shallow container. Bring gravy to a rolling boil when reheating it. Eat the gravy within 1 to 2 days of original preparation date.

TIP #1:   If using a DIAL instant-read thermometer, insert it at an angle 2 to 2-1/2 inches deep through several slices of turkey. If using a DIGITAL instant-read thermometer, insert it at least 1 inch deep so it measures the center of a layer of slices.

TIP #2:   If heating your turkey in a glass-type container, it's safest to transfer the turkey to the container just before heating. For some glass-type baking dishes, you run the risk of the glass breaking if you put the cold dish from the refrigerator directly into the oven. It's not safe to let your turkey warm at room temperature before reheating it.

TIP #3:   It's recommended that dressing be made as a separate dish and not stuffed in your turkey. Heat the dressing until the center reaches 165°F. Eat dressing within 1 to 2 days of preparation.

NOTE:   If you're planning to travel and bring the turkey, it's safest and easiest to travel with it pre-cooked and cold. Carry it in an insulated cooler with lots of ice or frozen gel-packs to keep the cooler temperature under 40°F. Then reheat the turkey at your final destination.

Adapted from Alice Henneman, MS, RD
University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension

Is the Turkey Done But Your Guests Have Not Arrived?
Shingle (slightly overlap) a single layer of the carved turkey in an oven safe pan; do not over stuff the pan. Combine 1-1/2 cups of pan drippings or reduced-sodium chicken broth with 1/4 cup warm water, white wine or apple juice. Pour over turkey and cover with aluminum foil or an ovenproof lid. Hold in a 250° F oven until ready to serve.

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For Additional Turkey Cooking Tips and Frequently Asked Questions
Cook it Quick
National Turkey Federation
USDA


Files in PDF format can be viewed with Adobe Acrobat Reader

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