I'm so excited to share tons of information about how to cook a turkey and my recipe for Orange Rosemary Roast Turkey!
How to cook a turkey
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I don't know about you, but in our home, we're all turkey lovers! The minute the smell of that glorious bird roasting in the oven hits our noses, we all find every possible excuse to make our way into the kitchen. Now, if you've never cooked a turkey before, it can seem a little bit intimidating. Believe me when I say, I was in your shoes!
The first time I tried cooking a turkey I was so nervous that I accidentally brought a grapefruit to stuff it with instead of the orange my mom told me to get (she basically coached me through that first turkey, and let me just say, the grapefruit did add fantastic flavor!).
But today I am here to make it all easier for you. With the help of my friends at Shady Brook Farms and Honeysuckle White, I plan to break it down in the most simple of terms and by the time you're done reading this, you'll be excited to make this year's Thanksgiving turkey. Buckle up, this will be a long but super informative post!
Here's what I'll be covering:
- Choosing a turkey: from Farm to Table
- Thawing turkey
- Turkey brine
- Turkey seasoning
- Cooking a turkey
- Carving the turkey
- Turkey troubleshooting
- What do I make with my turkey leftovers?
Knowing more about where your food comes from.
Shady Brook Farms and Honeysuckle White are committed to food transparency and both brands exclusively work with family farm raised turkeys. They strive to help people understand where their food comes from. This is such a priority that last year they launched a pilot program where they provided traceable turkeys. This means that consumers were able to type in a code from a tag on their turkey and were able to trace it back to the exact farm that raised it and learn more about that family owned farm.
The program, which currently specifically includes Honeysuckle White fresh turkeys, will include more than 200,000 traceable birds. This means the program has tripled since last year. And the farmers are also super interested as well. What started as four family farms participating in this program has now grown to 70 farms! Honeysuckle White is the only major turkey brand to spearhead an effort to introduce consumers to the farmer who raised their holiday turkey.
You can see where to purchase their traceable Honeysuckle White turkeys on the Honeysuckle White website or find Shady Brook Farms turkeys using the product locator on the Shady Brooks Farms website. You can also purchase a traceable turkey. Honeysuckle White traceable turkeys are also available, in a limited quantity, on Amazon.
- The safest way to defrost a turkey is in the refrigerator. You'll want to plan for around 4 pounds thawing per day, so a 16 lb. bird will need 4 days in the refrigerator (the USDA tells us its 5 lbs. per day, but better safe than sorry!).
- Be sure to thaw it on the bottom shelf and keep it well wrapped to avoid cross-contamination.
- Thaw breast side up in the back of the fridge to avoid temperature fluctuation. You'll know its breast side up because the drums face the top and the wings on the other side are toward the bottom.
- Be sure to cook it within 4 days of thawing.
- If you want a perfectly tender and juicy turkey, brine it! Seriously.
- You'll want to brine it for a minimum of 12 hours but can brine up to 24 hours.
- Remove the hock lock which is the plastic thing holding the drums together. Although it's safe to cook with it on, I find it easier to remove the neck and the giblets before brining once the hock lock is removed (but don't dispose of them!).
- Be sure to cool your brine completely before submerging the turkey to avoid temperature fluctuations.
- I like to use a brining bag to keep my brine contained.
- You'll find my turkey brine recipe below- it's a goodie!
- Once you're done brining, carefully rinse the turkey (try not to have anything around your sink while doing this to avoid cross-contamination).
- Now pat the turkey dry with paper towel.
- An optional but excellent trick for crispier skin is to refrigerate the turkey after patting it dry to help the skin dry out even more. Less moisture = crispier skin.
- So the ideal timeline would be to prepare the brine 2 days before roasting the turkey.
- Submerge the turkey in the brine first thing in the morning the day before roasting for at least 12 hours.
- Rinse and pat dry before going to bed the night before roasting the turkey. This includes patting the inside of the carcass dry.
- Store it in your fridge uncovered to air dry. Be sure to have nothing else around it (store it in the pan you'll be roasting it in).
- Please note this step is optional as not everyone has that kind of fridge space available. If this is not the right option for you, you can always just brine it the day before and the rise and pat dry the morning you'll be cooking it.
- Be sure to pull the turkey out of the fridge an hour before cooking so that it can get closer to room temperature.
- If your roasting pan doesn't come with a rack (or if you're the smart person who prioritizes the convenience of a disposable roasting pan over the pretty store-bought ones- more power too you) pop a metal baking rack into the pan before adding the turkey. This will help keep the bottom from burning and make it easier to remove the bird once he's cooked.
- Be sure to salt and pepper the inside cavity of the turkey for added flavor to the inside meat.
- To stuff or not to stuff? I am in the camp of not stuffing your turkey with actual stuffing for a few reasons (although you should totally make my delicious Cornbread and Sausage Dressing and serve it along side this turkey! Trust.):
- You need to also make sure that the stuffing comes to a safe temperature for eating or you'll risk getting food borne illness.
- Because of the last reason, you're much more likely to overcook your turkey if you stuff it with actual stuffing since you'll probably want to avoid the aforementioned food borne illness.
- That said, I still encourage you to stuff it with things like citrus, herbs, alliums etc. You'll see in my recipe below that I did this. Just don't over stuff it.
- For the outside of the turkey, I went with a compound butter in this recipe to add great flavor and help with browning. You'll want to make sure you soften your butter in advance so that it's easy to work with. I just leave a stick out the night before.
- First, rub ⅓ of the compound butter under the skin, directly onto the turkey breast. Make sure you get all up in there. I'm serious. It's important to get all that delicious flavor onto the actual meat, not just the skin!
- I rubbed ⅔ of the compound butter all over the outside of the turkey.
- Tie the drums together with a bit of cooking twine. I also tuck the wings under the turkey a bit.
- Place the neck and giblets into the bottom of the pan as they provide excellent flavor for the juices (in our family we also fight for the neck as the meat is fantastically tender).
- You'll want to start at a higher heat to render some of the fat out quickly so I start my bird at 450 degrees for the first 20 minutes and then reduce the heat to 350 degrees for the remainder of the cooking time.
- It's usually around 20 minutes per pound but the temperature takes priority over the time. With this in mind, I strongly encourage you to have a good thermometer. The one I linked actually has duel probes so you can have one in the thickest part of the thigh and one in the thickest part of the breast. The LCD part sits outside of the oven and that way you can monitor the temperatures at all times without having to open the oven and lose heat. You can even set an alarm to be able to pull the bird out at your exact specified temperature. If not anything else, at least have a good instant read thermometer. That said, don't rely on the pop up thermometers that come in the turkey.
- To get the right temperature, insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, near where the thigh meets the breast and push it into the thigh meat. Make sure you don't touch any bone.
- To baste or not to baste? There are certainly arguments on both sides. I've done it both ways, but I haven't really been pulled strongly in either direction. The turkey in my images was not basted and as you can see, it has some gloriously crispy skin. At the end of the day, I didn't want to let heat out of the oven and have to extend my cooking time, so I didn't baste. That said, my mom swears by it, and moms are basically always right. TL:DR you do you.
- If the turkey breast is getting too dark too quickly (check it periodically) you can tent just that part with foil to help keep it from burning.
- I recommend pulling the turkey out at 161 degrees. While technically poultry is safe to eat at 165 degrees, it will continue to cook while it rests and get up to 165 degrees during that time while still saying tender and juicy.
- Speaking of resting, be sure to rest your bird for at least 30 minutes to redistribute the juices before carving.
- If possible remove the wishbone. You can find this on the wing side of the turkey under the turkey breasts. You'll slice on either side of it and give it a good yank to get it out. This is optional, but it makes removing the breast meat easier.
- Next slice through the skin connecting the leg and breast meat and pull the turkey leg down exposing the joint (use your muscles!!). Cut through the hip joint to remove the legs. Then you can separate the drums from the thighs by cutting through the joint that connects those and if you want, remove the bone from the thigh meat and slice it.
- Remove the breast meat in one piece by slicing down the breast bone and peeling the breast meat down (go for longer strokes so that you're not sawing the meat). Then slice the breast against the grain from tip to tip.
- Pull down the wings to expose the joint. Cut through the joint and remove the wings.
- Be sure to save the carcass to make turkey soup and be sure to use all the pan drippings to make gravy (you can add additional store-bought or homemade turkey broth and thicken with a flour or corn starch slurry on your stovetop. Be sure to use a fat separator first!).
- Most importantly, eat insane amounts of turkey and then take a glorious tryptophan nap (is that a real thing? I don't know, but I'll take any excuse to squeeze a nap in!).
- What if I don't eat butter or can't eat dairy? No problem, this will also work well with olive oil and add a another ¼ teaspoon of salt to the rub. It's a slightly different flavor but still delicious.
- What if I start carving my turkey and realize it's not all cooked to temp? No biggie, it happens to us all from time-to-time! For the legs, leave the drums and thighs connected and either pop them back into the pan with the juices or braise them in the cooking juices in a large pan on the stovetop. For breast meat, I'd encourage you to leave that on the carcass, tent it in foil to prevent the skin from burning and pop it back into the pan. Either way keep an eye on it so that you don't accidentally overcook it! One thing to note is that breast meat tends to cook a little faster than leg meat, so you can always start with carved breast meat while the leg meat comes to temp.
- I didn't leave enough time to thaw. What now? I've got you! Submerge it (the whole turkey must stay fully submerged) in cold water, Throw a few ice cubes in so it stays below 40 degrees. Change that water every 30 minutes (seriously, set a timer!) planning on around 30 minutes per pound and then cook right away once thawed. Also, stir it once in a while while thawing.
- I got some last-minute guests and I'm worried there won't be enough turkey! It's ok, send your spouse or dad or someone equally as awesome to the store and have them grab a package of turkey thighs- my Roast Turkey Thighs for Two recipe can be ready in an hour!
- I overcooked the turkey, now what? It'll be ok! The dark meat is fattier and tends to be more tender so that'll probably be fine. As for the breast meat, cover it in pan drippings and turkey (or chicken broth) and pop it back into the oven for a few minutes. And then use plenty of gravy when serving.
These are some of my recipes that are made with cooked turkey and also chicken recipes that you can easily substitute cooked turkey:
- Turkey Tetrazzini
- Day After Thanksgiving Sandwich
- Copycat Panera Bread BBQ Chicken Salad
- Chicken Caesar Pinwheels
- Baked Buffalo Chicken Sliders
- Copycat Panera Bread Napa Almond Chicken Salad
- Buffalo Chicken Braid
- Rainbow Asian Chicken Salad
- Cheesy Chicken Taco Bowls
- Sheet Pan Chicken Nachos
- Chicken Salad Stuffed Tomatoes
- BBQ Chicken Flat Bread Pizza
- Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup
Discover the secret to hosting Thanksgiving without all the stress! Prepsgiving is your FREE guide to making a delicious Thanksgiving feast the easy way.
I'm so excited to share all sorts of information about how to cook a turkey and my recipe for Orange Rosemary Roasted Turkey!
- 2 gallons water, divided
- 1 cup kosher salt
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 1 orange cut into eighths
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ cup salted butter, softened (1 stick)
- 1 orange worth of orange zest
- 1 ½ Teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- 1 15 pound Shady Brook Farms Frozen Young Turkey
- Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 onion, cut into chunks
- 3-4 cloves garlic
- 1 orange, cut into chunks
- 1-2 large sprigs fresh rosemary
In a large pot, combine 1 gallon water, salt, brown sugar, rosemary, orange pieces and bay leaf. Simmer until sugar and salt have dissolved and remove from heat. Cool completely.
While the mixture cools, remove the hock lock and the pop up thermometer from the turkey as well as the giblets and neck. Keep the giblets and neck in an container in the refrigerator.
Combine the cooled mixture with another gallon of water and submerge the turkey in this brine for 12-14 hours.
When you're done brining, rinse the turkey and pat dry with a paper towel.
Refrigerate uncovered until you're ready to roast.
Optional: Finish brining and rinsing the night before and allow the turkey to sit in the refrigerator over night uncovered to dry the skin and promote crispier skin.
In a medium bowl add 1 stick softened salted butter, zest of 1 orange, chopped fresh rosemary, salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder.
Stir until well combined. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the oven racks at the lowest level.
Remove the turkey from the refrigerator 1 hour before roasting and give the turkey one more good pat-down with paper towel, both inside and outside.
Sprinkle a generous amount of salt and pepper into the cavity of the turkey.
Place onion chunks, garlic cloves, orange chunks and rosemary into the carcass, being careful not to over stuff it.
Rub ⅓ of the compound butter under the turkey skin. Make sure you get all the way to the bottom of the breast meat.
Rub the remaining compound butter all over the outside of the turkey.
Gently tie the drumsticks together with a bit of butcher's twine.
Place the turkey on a rack in the roasting pan and gently tuck the wings a bit under. Also place the giblets and neck into the pan.
Insert the meat thermometer probe into the thickest part of the thigh and place the turkey into the oven and roast for 20 minutes.
Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and roast until the internal temperature reaches 161 degrees, around 2-3 hours. If the breast skin is browning too quickly, tent it in foil.
Once you've removed the turkey from the oven, rest it for at least 30 minutes before carving, reserving pan dripping for gravy. Serve immediately.
If you tried this recipe please comment and rate it 🙂 I love hearing your feedback and answering your questions! And if you make it please tag me on Instagram with @thelifejolie so I can share it <3
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