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Turkey 101
Turkey 101

~ Thawing & Storing ~ Stuffing ~ Roasting ~ Carving ~ Gravy ~ Troubleshooting ~

Welcome friends to my little cooking school on the web! I'm glad you could stop by! As you can see, I've arranged this page so you can jump right to the area you feel you need the most help or you can go through the entire lesson. If you have any suggestions or comments, send an email, I'd be glad to hear from you!!!

So go forth and learn, gentle reader, for there is much here!!

Thawing and Storing Your Turkey

Fresh or frozen, it is important to follow the proper food safety guidelines for storing it to ensure the best quality of your bird.

Storing ~ Refrigerate a fresh or thawed turkey up to 2 days at 35 - 40 degrees F, but no later than the "use by" date on the package.
~ Freeze a frozen turkey up to 1 year (in a freezer that is not a "frost-free"!!!) at 0 degrees F or below.

Thawing ~ The best way to thaw a turkey is in a 40 degrees F refrigerator. To do so, place the turkey in its unopened wrapper on a heavy large baking sheet and keep it refrigerated. The general rule is "one day per 5 pounds of turkey." Even then, the night before I usually need to do the "quick-thaw" method for approximately 1 to 2 hours.

Quick-Thaw Method ~ Place the turkey breast side down in its unopened wrapper in a very large pot or bowl, and cover with cold salt water. (Add approximately 1 tablespoon of salt per quart of water.) (If the turkey is over 20 lbs, I will use my kitchen sink to soak it in, after I have thoroughly scrubbed it out, of course!) Change the water every 30 minutes. Expect the thawing time to be 30 minutes minimum per pound.

Always remember to scrub everything you come in contact with using HOT SOAPY WATER after handling raw turkey!!! I cannot stress this enough!!!

***Wagging my finger***
What a terrible thing to watch your guests becomming ill because the rest of the meal was cross-contaminated!!!
***Getting down from my soap box now***


Stuffing Safely

Let's get a few things cleared up right away...stuffing can be cooked inside the turkey or baked in a separate baking dish. When baked in a separate dish, it is then called a "dressing." I go 'round and 'round every year on this one...stuff the bird...not to stuff the's all up to you and your preference!!!

Stuffed Turkey ~
1. Pack the stuffing loosely into the neck and body cavitities of a thawed turkey just before roasting, using about 3/4 to one cup of stuffing per pound of turkey.

2. When cooking a stuffed turkey, use an instant-read meat thermometer to take the internal temperature of the stuffing as well as of the turkey. Although the turkey may be adequately cooked, if the stuffing is not between 160 and 165 degrees F, it may still harbor food-borne bacteria.

3. If you do not have a thermometer, cook the stuffing separately!!!

Unstuffed Turkey ~
1. Spoon the dressing into a buttered baking dish. Add enough stock, broth or water to the dressing to replace the juices the dressing would have absorbed from the turkey.

2. Cover the dressing and bake at 325 degrees F for 30 to 45 minutes.

3. For a crunchy top, bake the dressing uncovered for the final 15 minutes.


Roasting Your Turkey

Now, before I roast the turkey, I like to place spices under the skin. Sometime it's parsley and sage, or thyme or basil...whatever spices you choose remember to start at the back of the turkey and pull the skin up to begin placing your spices. I prefer to use whole leaves just because it looks prettier...but don't over do it!

Let's discuss roasting time...the first time is for a stuffed bird and the second time is for an unstuffed bird.

10 to 18 lbs. ~~ 3 3/4 to 4 1/2 ~~~ 3 to 3 1/2 hrs.
18 to 22 lbs. ~~ 4 1/2 to 5 hrs. ~~~ 3 1/2 to 4 hrs.
22 to 25 lbs. ~~ 5 to 5 1/2 hrs. ~~~ 4 to 4 1/2 hrs.
24 to 30 lbs. ~~ 5 1/2 to 6 1/4 hrs. ~~~ 4 1/2 to 5 hrs.

Place the turkey in a constant 325 degrees F oven. This assures that the breast meat is not overcooked. Every half hour I usually baste the bird with one stick of melted butter. {Oh, just for the record, I do not use a stick of butter every half hour! I melt one stick of butter in a small pan and use this until it is finished, which usually is 3 to 4 bastings :-)} When that is finished, use the drippings in the bottom of the pan for basting. ~~~ I have found that basting every half hour really keeps the breast meat from drying out!

About half an hour before the anticipated completion of roasting time, test for doneness by inserting a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. The juices should run clear with no traces of blood when the turkey is pierced with an instant-read thermometer. Be careful not to touch the bone as this will give you a false reading by making it seem hotter than it actually is!!!

The turkey is done when the meat thermometer registers the following temperatures:

180 degrees F in the innermost part of the thigh.

170 degrees F in the thickest part of the breast.

160 degrees F in the center of the stuffing.

If the breast is done but the thigh is not, cover the breast with foil and continue roasting. Remove the turkey from the oven when it registers about 4 degrees below the desired temperature. Let the turkey rest loosely covered for 20 to 30 minutes. This allows for the juices to distribute evenly in the meat before cutting. Otherwise, the juices run out all over the place and your meat becomes very dry!!! Ughhhh!!!

Carving the Turkey

Although presenting a whole roast turkey at the Thanksgiving table is very Norman Rockwell like, it is best to carve the bird in the kitchen. Transfer it to a large carving board, slice the meat, arrange it on your favorite platter, and garnish with bouquets of fresh herbs. Presenting such a platter at the Thanksgiving table will no doubt delight family and guests.

Getting Ready ~ Loosely cover the turkey with foil and let it rest on the rack in the roasting pan for about 20 to 30 minutes before carving. This resting period allows the meat to reabsorb the juices. If you cut into the turkey too soon, you'll lose a good amount of the juices and the meat will not be as moist.

Place the turkey, breast side up, on a carving board. This type of board catches any juices exuded from the turkey, which can then be drizzled over the sliced turkey. Position the turkey so that the drumsticks are pointing toward the you.

Use a two-pronged carving fork to keep the turkey steady. Using a sharp carving knife, cut off the legs and thighs. Then carve the breast meat. Have a large platter ready on which you can place the sliced meat.


Homemade gravy is essential! Follow these easy guidelines for making it delicious!!

1. Degrease the pan juices. Pour pan juices from the roasting pan into a fat separating measuring cup or strain through a large sieve. The fat will rise to the top and separate from the juices. Pour off and discard all of the fat. (Okay, keep approximatley 1/4 cup of fat for your gravy.)

2. Gather the browned bits from the roasting pan. Return the juices to the roasting pan. Place the pan over two burners on the stove, and bring the juices to a simmer. Using a wooden spatula, stir juices to loosen the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add enough turkey or chicken broth to juices to measure 4 cups.

3. Make the roux (a thickener). Place the pan over two burners on the stove. Add about 6 tablespoons flour and whisk until smooth. Add reserved fat and cook until the flour mixture is golden brown to eliminate any raw flour flavor.

4. Gradually whisk mixture and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer the gravy until it is reduced to sauce consistency and is just thick enough to coat a spoon. If desired, add fresh herbs such as rosemary, sage and thyme at this point. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
And ***music please*** taaaaaa daaaaaaa!!!!!


To prevent pan drippings from burning ~
1. Scatter chopped carrot, celery and/or onion over the bottom of the roasting pan and around the roasting rack. These vegetables will exude juices and help keep the pan drippings lubricated.

2. Add enough chicken broth to the roasting pan to just cover the bottom of the pan and moisten the drippings. The broth will not only catch the pan drippings and keep them moist, but the water will evaporate from the broth, leaving behind a flavorful reduction to make a delicious gravy.

To thicken gravy ~ If you've already made the gravy, and find that it is still too thin, do not add more dried flour to the gravy or else lumps will form. Rather, use one of the following suggestions:

1. Whisk flour and broth or water in a small bowl to blend, then add this slurry to the gravy. Continue to simmer the gravy until it is just thick enough to coat a spoon.

2. Mix equal amounts of flour and room temperature butter in a small bowl to form a paste. Whisk this paste into the gravy, and simmer until the gravy thickens.

To avoid lumpy gravy ~

1. If adding warm broth, add it gradually.

2. If adding boiling broth, add it all at once.

3. Always whisk constantly when adding the broth.

To fix lumpy gravy ~ Transfer the lumpy gravy to a blender and blend until it is smooth, adding more turkey stock or chicken broth to thin, if necessary. Add chopped fresh thyme, sage, rosemary or tarragon to the blender to further flavor the gravy, if desired.


Finally, just in case you need a little more are those helpful links again!!!

  • Land O'Lakes Bakeline 1-800-782-9606
  • Pillsbury and Green Giant Experts 1-800-400-0127
  • USDA Hotline
    • Meat and Poultry 1-800-535-4555
    • Seafood 1-800-332-4010
  • Reynolds Turkey Tips Line 1-800-745-4000
  • Perdue Farms 1-800-473-7383
  • Butterball Turkey Talk-Line
    • 1-800-323-4848 --a real person answers the phone!
    • 1-800-TDD-3848 (for hearing and speech-impaired)

  • Back Email
    Last update ~ November 4, 2000