It's not every day that you have to roast a 16-pound bird. So when Thanksgiving rolls around, sometimes even the most seasoned cooks need a little help getting the turkey from fridge to table. In fact, more than 100,000 callers flood Butterball's tip line each year to double-check cook times, confirm proper temperatures, and ask about the best way to baste. But if you're not quite ready to pick up the phone, these turkey cooking tips are exactly what you need to deliver a delicious, perfectly-seasoned bird.
How to Cook a Turkey
Use these tips to prepare a turkey dinner that guests will gobble up.
The first rule of thumb when it comes to cooking a turkey: You'll need about a half-pound of turkey per guest (though you should go for one pound if you want leftovers). But if you're expecting more than 30 people at your Thanksgiving table, that doesn't mean you need one gigantic bird. You could opt for two smaller ones, or even a medium bird and one or two breasts. Butterball experts suggest these options, actually, as turkeys that weigh in over 18 pounds take longer to cook and tend to dry out in the oven. And nobody likes a dry turkey.
Thaw it out.
While still in its original packaging, place the frozen turkey on a rimmed baking sheet (to catch any juices) and put in the refrigerator. Plan on 5 hours of defrosting time per pound. Don't have that much time on your hands? Try a cold water bath: Fill your sink or a large pot with cold water and place the packaged turkey in it breast side down. (The breast contains the most meat, which means it needs to defrost the longest.) You'll need 30 minutes per pound, and you'll want to change the water every hour so the bath stays cold.
Basting can help the turkey brown evenly and get the skin nice and crispy, but there's little evidence that it actually makes the bird juicier, says Robert L. Wolke, food scientist and coauthor of What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained. You could just rub the bird with olive oil or butter before roasting - it helps you get the same crispy-skin effect - to sidestep it all together.
Keep the oven shut.
At least, as much as you can. If you want to baste the bird that's fine, but frequently opening the oven door can cause the temperature to go down and can result in uneven roasting and require you to cook the turkey longer. To keep things on track, take the pan out of the oven, close the door, baste, then return the turkey to the oven.
Make sure your turkey is cooked.
Your turkey is ready to be taken out of the oven when its temperature reaches 165°F. Insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, near where the breast begins, as that's the last place to reach a safe temperature. (You should also avoid touching the bone as that can cause an inaccurate reading.) After removing the turkey from the oven, let it rest for 30 minutes. Not only will it continue to cook, but letting the bird rest also helps the meat retain its juices so it stays moist when carved.
Who to Call for Turkey Cooking Help
If you need some personalized advice, these are the hotlines you should call this Thanksgiving.
Butterball Turkey Talk Line: 800-BUTTERBALL (800-288-8372).
For more than 30 years, operators for the Butterball Turkey Talk Line have been fielding last-minute cooking calls. The line goes live November 1st and is manned by 50 professionally-trained turkey experts from 9am-9pm EST on weekdays and from 9am-7pm EST on weekends. (On Thanksgiving Day, the line is open from 7am-7pm EST.) The experts are also available on Facebook and Twitter, where they say they'll answer questions within 24 hours.
Shady Brook Farms and Honeysuckle White Turkey Line: 800-810-6325.
You won't be able to get a live person on the line, but this number offers a wide variety of pre-recorded messages that answer all your Thanksgiving questions. From buying and thawing to cooking and carving, this number is live 24 hours a day for those counting turkey (not sheep) in their sleep.
USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline: 800-535-4555.
If you're looking for information on how to safely handle, prepare, and store your turkey, call this number. It's staffed by food safety specialists from 10am-4pm EST on weekdays, and from 8am-2pm EST on Thanksgiving Day.
Perdue: 800-4PERDUE (800-473-7383).
Staffers can answer questions about all things turkey, from preparation tips to cooking guidelines. You can also call any time to hear recorded messages answering the top turkey queries.
ShopRite Chefs On Call: 800-746-7748.
Ocean Spray Consumer Help Line: 800-662-3263.
The Ocean Spray staffers won't just tell you how to get the cranberry sauce out of the can (actual question). They also offer decorating tips, recipe help for every part of the meal, and ideas for leftovers.
Betty Crocker: 888-ASKBETTY (888-275-2388).
Ask Betty staffers will answer any questions about baking, from what recipes are suitable to make ahead, how you can make cupcakes more festive, and whether you should really line that pan before baking. (Answer: Yes.)
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