I know that cooking a turkey for a big holiday meal can be very intimidating, but I’m here to walk you through it and give safety tips to ease your anxiety! I just recently cooked my very first turkey for my husband’s family’s Christmas dinner and it really wasn’t hard at all, I want to show you how to cook your first turkey. Don’t let this big bird intimidate you!
Prepare the Turkey
- If you’re buying a fresh turkey, keep it in your fridge until ready to cook
- If you’re thawing a turkey, never thaw at room temperature, always in the fridge or in a cooler with cold water, changing out the water every ½ hour – 1 hour
- Never rinse poultry before using it because the bacteria can spread everywhere the water splashes, creating more of a safety hazard
- Place turkey, breast side up on rack in roasting pan, remove giblets and neck from inside turkey
- If adding stuffing to the turkey, do this now by stuffing lightly into turkey instead of packing firmly because stuffing expands while cooking; place turkey legs in ring of skin or tie with twine and truss as needed.
- Coat turkey in butter or canola oil, season with salt & pepper (or whatever you’d like)…or try Christine’s paper bag turkey (see below & make sure you clean your oven first before doing this method!)
- Insert meat thermometer into thickest part of thigh, not touching any bones. If you’re a visual person like me, you can watch this video that shows exactly where that is!
Cook the Turkey
- For the traditional way to roast a turkey, preheat oven to 325ºF
- Cover turkey roasting pan with lid or loosely with tin foil, put into oven and cook approximately ½ hour per pound. Turkey Farmers of Canada have this handy whole bird turkey calculator to use and it also gives calculations for what size of turkey to buy for how many guests and for thawing time too
- Turkey is cooked when thermometer in thigh reads 170ºF for an unstuffed turkey and 180ºF for a stuffed turkey; the drumsticks should also pull away easily. Make sure to check the temperature of the stuffing and that it cooked to 165ºF to ensure it is done.
- When done, let turkey sit for 15-20 minutes tented with tin foil before carving
Paper Bag Turkey
I chose to try a paper bag turkey because I had heard that it was fail-proof and a very easy way to cook a juicy and flavourful turkey. All you need is a standard paper grocery bag, scissors to cut your bag and butter!
This turkey was fresh, so I took it out of the bag in the sink, didn’t rinse it, and put it in my roasting pan on a roasting rack, breast side up. I tied the legs together with twine and used my trussing pins to close up the turkey. I did NOT stuff this turkey and you cannot stuff it if you’re doing this way, it is way too moist inside this turkey to stuff it.
Then you cut your paper bag into a large rectangle, big enough to loosely tent the bird. If you’re a visual person like me (as I already stated) I couldn’t picture how to cut this bag without wrecking it, so my dear friend Christine made a video for me and then I felt really stupid for not “getting it” before I saw it. But, that’s how I learn…so there you go!
Then you slather one side of the bag with butter. It will become very shiny and I figured butter is awesome so I left lots of clumps of butter on my bag.
Insert your meat thermometer into the biggest part of the thigh and loosely tent buttered paper bag (butter on the inside) over the turkey, making sure your paper bag is inside the roasting pan so all the drippings are caught in the pan and not on the oven floor.
Then you cook the turkey as follows on the lowest rack in the oven, no matter how big your bird is:
- Put turkey, covered with buttered paper bag, in cold oven, set timer for 1 hour and cook at 500ºF (yes, 500 and no the paper bag did not light on fire, nor was there any smoke)
- Cook at 400ºF for 1 hour
- Cook at 300ºF for 1 hour or until thermometer reads 180ºF in the thigh
- Take out of oven and let rest, tented with tinfoil for 15-20 minutes
My 15 lb turkey was done at 2.5 hours perfectly at this method. Next time I do this I would season the outside and inside and perhaps cut up some onion, celery and carrot to put on the inside for more flavour. The turkey was moist and delicious, but I think it would be even better with seasonings.
Note: the gravy made from this bird wasn’t as good as a traditional turkey as the drippings do come off the paper bag, it’s a self-basting turkey so you do not have to ever open the oven to baste. I am not a gravy fan myself so I feel it is worth the sacrifice, but I’m probably the only one in my husband’s family that feels this way!
For more, really thorough turkey tips, see this post by Marilyn Smith. I hope you feel confident enough to cook a turkey now. If I can do it, so can you!