There are a bunch of ways to prepare a turkey for Thanksgiving. You can bake it, grill it, smoke it, and deep fry! I tend to lean towards the oven or the grill. Despite your chosen method there are a few things to consider. Here’s some Turkey Day Basics!
How Many Servings?
Allow 1 pound of turkey per person. Yep – a 12 pound bird figures out to 12 adult servings. The birds are weight with bones, neck bone, and more.
Defrost time from Frozen?
A frozen 12, or less, pound turkey can take upwards of three days to completely thaw in a refrigerator.
Cooking times and Temps?
The suggested internal cooking temperature for a turkey, per the USDA, is 165 degrees. That means a 12-pound bird in a preheated oven at 325 degrees would need several hours of cooking time. Instead of doing math… let’s just use the USDA cooking numbers.
USDA Timetables for Turkey Roasting (325 °F oven temperature) – Use the timetables below to determine how long to cook your turkey. These times are approximate. Always use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of your turkey and stuffing. NOTE: For Un-stuffed Turkey.
- 4 to 8 pounds (breast) = 1 1/2 to 3 1/4 hours
- 8 to 12 pounds = 2 3/4 to 3 hours
- 12 to 14 pounds = 3 to 3 3/4 hours
- 14 to 18 pounds = 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours
- 18 to 20 pounds = 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours
Can I cook the Stuffing in the Bird?
YES AND NO – You can do it – but this is one of the main causes of food poisoning when it comes to cooking turkey. Both the turkey and the stuffing need to reach an internal temp of 165 degrees. Your turkey will hit the temp first – while the inside packed with stuffing lingers behind.
Many people try to avoid drying out the bird but don’t take into consideration the stuffing is not done and it’s soaked with raw or under cooked turkey blood and drippings. Skip the stuffed bird and prepare the stuffing separately!
Can I trust pop-up thermometers?
Probably not a great idea. They are great indicators of the meat being cooked in an area around the pop-up. However – the whole bird on the other side may not be done. A thermometer is a great thing! Think of the pop-up as an alarm for… “TURKEY IS ALMOST DONE! GRAB THE THERMOMETER!”
Those are some basics when it comes to baking a turkey. I would suggest checking out Butterball and the USAD websites for additional tips and tricks. For me – I tend to stick to the basics. Traditional seasonings either grilled covered with wood chips and a drip/water pan or going slow baked in the oven covered in a roasting pan with some basic seasonings.
After the holiday, I’ll share some tips with my East Ridge neighbors about how to shoot past the classic turkey sandwich when it comes to left-overs.
Kent Whitaker, also known as “The Deck Chef,” is a culinary writer and cookbook author. He’s also penned Young Reader and History titles. The former winner of the Emeril Live Food Network Barbecue Contest also covers football, motor-sports, and bass fishing. Kent currently lives in East Tennessee with his wife, son, and a couple of dogs that love when he fires up the smoker or grill.