1. Cooking

Preparing a Thanksgiving turkey? Keep these things in mind

Plan on about 1 ½ pounds of turkey for each guest when buying your bird. (Photo by Tom McCorkle for the Washington Post)
Published Nov. 14, 2018

Let's talk turkey. Specifically, what you should be doing to make sure the turkey roasting process goes as smoothly as possible on Thursday. If you're cooking a whole bird, keep the following things in mind.

How much to buy?

The goal is to feed everyone around the table and have leftovers, right? You should be aiming for 1 ½ pounds of meat per person. So:

• For eight people, buy a 12-pound turkey

• For 10 people, buy a 15-pound turkey

• For 12 people, buy an 18-pound turkey

• For 14 people, buy a 21-pound turkey

Before you cook

Invest in a thermometer and roasting pan. A moderately heavy roasting pan is best, so the turkey won't buckle under the weight of a large turkey. And an instant-read thermometer is the most accurate way to determine when your turkey is done. It's worth buying if you don't have one.

Thaw the turkey. The safest way to thaw a frozen turkey is in the refrigerator. You'll need about 24 hours per 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. For speedier thawing, put the turkey (still in its wrapper) in a sink of cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes, and plan for about 30 minutes per pound.

Brine the turkey. The results are worth it. A good brine uses kosher salt and sugar in a 1-to-1 ratio, and usually no more than 1 cup of each. Heat the salt, sugar and any other seasonings you like with a bit of water until dissolved. Then add cold water until you have enough brine to submerge the turkey.

Turkeys should be brined for at least eight to 10 hours but can go as long as 72 hours. The longer the brine, the weaker the brine. Always keep the bird refrigerated during brining — or in an ice-filled cooler.

Cook times

The following times are for a standard oven:

• 12-pound turkey: 3 to 4 hours at 325 degrees

• 15-pound turkey: 4 to 4 ½ hours at 325 degrees

• 18-pound turkey: 4 ½ to 5 hours at 325 degrees

• 21-pound turkey: 5 to 6 hours at 325 degrees

Use an instant thermometer inserted at the innermost part of the thigh (without touching bone) to determine when your turkey is done. The meat needs to hit 165 degrees for safe eating, though some people say thigh meat tastes better at 170 degrees. If the outside of the bird gets too dark before the center reaches the proper temperature, cover it with foil.

Information from the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times was used in this report.


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