Even though it’s a meal that’s primarily known for Thanksgiving, turkey can be enjoyed any time of the year. So, whether you’re getting ready for the holiday staple or just curious about how to cook one yourself, we’ve got the steps to teach you how to prepare and cook the turkey at home. You could always use the best turkey fryers, roasting pans, or carving sets - but just the necessary tools and some elbow grease will do the trick.
Step 1: Thaw the turkey
Thawing the turkey does take some time, and you’ll have to do this part of the process days in advance. Place the turkey from your freezer into the fridge for a few days - a 20-pound turkey should take 4 days to thaw, and 1 day less for every five pounds lighter it is. You can also give yourself an extra day just to be extra safe. Remember to place the turkey on a roasting pan or sheet so that any liquid that defrosts doesn’t drip all over.
Step 2: Prepare the stuffing
Many people prefer to stuff the turkey before they bake it, but here’s a little secret: you don’t have to. In fact, unless you know what you’re doing, you can even end up with a bad turkey if you cook the stuffing while it’s inside. The stuffing will take too long to cook, and by the time it’s ready for consumption, your turkey will be too dry.
To solve this problem, simply bake the stuffing separately in a casserole dish. Then, once the turkey is done, simply stuff it with your desired stuffing. Now, this does remove some complexity in the flavor, and the stuffing may look out of place, but it’s far easier to do than cooking the stuffing while it’s inside the turkey. So, unless you’re an expert cook, cooking the stuffing separately is probably the best choice. You can place some ingredients that can improve the turkey’s flavor, such as salt and pepper, carrots, and other ingredients, but for those that need thorough cooking, do those separately.
Step 3: Baste the Turkey (Optional)
Basting the turkey is a great way to add color to the turkey, but it can be a difficult process. It’s an optional step for some people, and you don’t really need to baste a turkey for it to look or taste great. Basting a turkey requires you to constantly open the oven, and if you do this too often, it will take longer for the turkey to fully cook. This can lead to a dry turkey, which is not worth all the effort if this is your first time.
Alternatively, a mixture of butter and herbs can be a great substitute. Applying this over the skin of the turkey is more than enough to achieve the texture and flavor of using a baster.
Step 4: Wait Until It’s Cooked
Finally, you’ll want to check the temperature of your turkey periodically. Check it while it’s still in the oven - you’ll want it to be 165°F. If you plan on tenting the turkey with foil after removing it, then remove it while it’s somewhere around 160°F - the foil will help the turkey stay heated for long enough to achieve the same effect.
Step 5: Place the stuffing
If you decided to cook the stuffing separately, then now’s the time to stuff the turkey. Wait until it’s cool enough to handle, but not too cool, and stuff the turkey as quickly as possible without ruining the turkey itself.
Step 6: Enjoy
Now that you’ve got your fully-cooked turkey, you can then serve and enjoy it with friends and family.