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How to Cook a Turkey: Thawing a Turkey, Cleaning a Turkey, Turkey Cooking Instructions and Tips

How to Cook a Turkey

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How to cook a turkey – It is one of our basic holiday foods, yet many people find cooking a moist and tasty turkey one of cookings’ greatest challenges.

We’re here to take the challenge and mystery out of handling and cooking turkey, one of the leanest and healthiest protein foods.

Note: These are our turkey cooking tips and hints. If you are looking for a full roast turkey recipe you will find it here.

Thawing a Turkey

Knowing how to cook a turkey begins with thawing it properly.

Never thaw a frozen turkey at room temperature. Leave it in the original plastic package and follow one of the following methods to thaw your turkey:

  • Refrigerator Method: This method is ideal as it keeps the meat cold until it is completely defrosted. Place turkey on a tray in the refrigerator, allowing 5 hours per pound defrosting time.
  • Cold water method: In a large container, cover turkey completely with cold water. Change water at least every hour, allowing 1 hour per pound defrosting time.
  • Frozen pre-stuffed turkey. Do NOT thaw. Cook from the frozen state and check the product label for further instructions.

Cleaning Turkey

  • Remove plastic wrap from thawed turkey.
  • Remove neck and giblets from body cavity.
  • Rinse turkey well inside and out with cold water. Thoroughly pat dry with paper towels.
  • Always wash hands thoroughly in hot soapy water before and after preparing foods and handling raw meat.
  • Do not let raw meat juices touch ready-to-eat foods either in the refrigerator or during preparation.
  • Do not put cooked foods on the same plate that held the raw product.
  • Wash utensils, dishes and surfaces used for cutting turkey with hot soapy water. Then rinse using a sanitizing solution of one capful of chlorine bleach in 4 cups of warm water.
  • Thoroughly rinse surfaces, dishes and utensils with hot water.
  • Keep cutting board and utensils in good repair as they can harbour bacteria inside cracks and crevices.

Storing Turkey

  • When storing fresh turkey remove giblets and refrigerate in covered container for use within 2 days.
  • Whole turkeys can be frozen for 1 year, parts for 6 months. Once the turkey is thawed, treat as fresh turkey and do not refreeze until it is cooked.
  • Cooked turkey may be stored in a covered container, plastic bag or wrapped in aluminum foil for up to 4 days in the refrigerator, or up to 3 months in the freezer.
  • After cooking, keep the turkey hot, above 140ºF or refrigerate below 40ºF. Do not leave turkey at room temperature for more than 2 hours.

How to Cook a Turkey

  • Preheat your oven to 325ºF.
  • If you want to stuff the turkey, stuff it lightly and just before it goes into the oven. Never stuff turkey the day or night before.
  • Stuffing can be prepared separately in a covered baking dish. Place it in the oven during the last 30 minutes of the turkey’s roasting time.
  • Many people wonder how to cook a turkey in the pan – breast up or breast down. Turkey should be placed breast up on a rack in a shallow pan.
  • Insert an oven-safe meat thermometer into the thickest part of the inner thigh just above but not touching the thigh bone.
  • Roast uncovered or loosely covered with foil. If you choose to baste your turkey, limit the number of times you open and close your oven (once an hour is enough). Opening the oven will lengthen the cooking time.
  • Roast turkey for about 20 minutes per pound, until the meat thermometer reads 170ºF for an unstuffed turkey or 180ºF for a stuffed turkey.
  • Remove turkey when cooking is completed and let stand for 15 to 20 minutes before you carve it to allow the juices to settle.

General Turkey Hints

  • Purchase one pound of turkey per person. This will allow for some leftovers.
  • Factors such as incorrect oven temperature, the temperature of the turkey at the time it is placed in the oven, and the number of times you open the oven door will affect the length of cooking time.
  • An oven temperature of 325ºF (max 350ºF) is best for roasting turkey. Higher temperatures may toughen the protein and cause shrinkage. Temperatures lower than 300ºF are not safe.
  • Avoid interrupting the roasting time. Cook turkey at 325ºF until thoroughly done. Do not partially cook at one time to complete at a later date.
  • A few slices of lightly buttered bread, placed under the turkey, will prevent it from sticking to the pan.
  • For more flavour, place strips of bacon across the breast and around the drumsticks. Secure with toothpicks.
  • If drumsticks are browning faster than the breast, simply wrap drumsticks with aluminum foil to slow the browning process.
  • When roasting an unstuffed turkey, season the cavity with salt, pepper, poultry seasoning (if desired) and add two quartered onions.

* This information on how to cook a turkey is courtesy of the Ontario Turkey Producers’ Marketing Board

See our Cooking Measurements Conversions Charts to convert these measurements to metric.

Now that you are armed with our information on how to cook a turkey, look here for our roast turkey recipe with gravy and stuffing.

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