Tips: Working with Turkey

by on April 16, 2012
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  • If you have the freezer space, buy your turkey during Thanksgiving or Christmas when they are on sale.
    Make sure they are wrapped well so they do not dry out or get freezer burn.
  • If it is a fresh turkey, piece it out and freeze the pieces.  Use shrink wrap to preserve them for up to an entire year.
  • Cooking for a big crowd?  Consider two smaller turkeys instead of one large one.
  • Buy a FRESH turkey without any added ingredients.  Other great options are organic, kosher, heritage or premium-brand.


  • NEVER EVER EVER cut a frozen turkey with an electric knife.
  • Starting from completely frozen, figure about one day for every four pounds of meat
  • Put into sink in COLD water, breast side down, for 30 minutes per pound.
    Keep water running at a trickle for THE ENTIRE TIME that it is thawing
  • Put into HOT water, breast side down, for 15 minutes per pound.
    Keep water running at a trickle for THE ENTIRE TIME that it is thawing
    Refill sink with hot water every half hour
  • For crisper skin, unwrap it during the last day and let it thaw uncovered the last 24 hours.  Even better, use a dry rub during the last day.  This will draw even more of the liquid out resulting in even crispier skin.

PLEASE NOTE:  Only the first method is recommended by the FDA, but it has never worked for me.  My refrigerator though, is set at 34º
I follow the first method, then move to the second until the internal temperature is about 35º and does not have ice crystals.


  • Cross contamination is your biggest enemy.  Wash your hands frequently.
  • After you have rinsed your turkey, wash your sink with soap, and wipe your counters off with bleach wipes.
  • Wash cutting boards with soap and water, then wipe with a bleach wipe.


  • Before cooking, let it rest on the counter for an hour so that the heat can come up to room temperature.  This will result in a more evenly cooked bird.
  • The first time I cooked a turkey I had never heard of “a bag of giblets.”  I cooked the turkey with the bag inside the body cavity.  Remember to take this packet of meat out.  You can cook these up and use the broth as the base for your gravy.
  • DO NOT throw out the pan drippings.  They are pure gold.  Use them for making gravy.
  • If you use one of those cheap aluminum roasting pans DO NOT us it alone, but rather place it on a heavy oven baking pan.  Use a foil bed to hold it off the bottom of the pan.
  • Use an internal thermometer to make sure your oven thermometer is properly calibrated.
  • If you are cooking your turkey to be served with other things, and it finishes too soon, cover it with aluminum foil, then a thick bath towel.
  • If presentation is not an issue, piece your turkey out and cook the parts individually.
    White meat to the front of the oven, and dark meat toward the back.  The back gets hotter and will dry out the white meat.
  • For cooking a thawed frozen turkey, plan on 20 minutes per pound in a 350 degree F oven
    plan on 10 to 15 minutes per pound if you are cooking a fresh turkey
  • A turkey will cook more evenly if you do not stuff it.  Fry up the giblets and use the fond and broth to cook your stuffing in a pan using the drippings.
  • Instead, put some garlic, onions, carrots and celery into the body cavity.
  • Never trust the pop up timers that come already inserted into the turkey
  • If you get a late start cooking your turkey, cook it for the first 30 minutes at 425º and then reduce to 375º.  Remove one hour from the overall cooking time.
  • For crispier skin, wipe the outside with olive oil and sprinkle with some herbs and spices
  • Once you get the turkey in the oven LEAVE THE DOOR CLOSED until the time is up.  Resist the urge to peak
  • If it appears to be browning too quickly put a sheet of foil loosely over the top.
  • Likewise, if the fond on the bottom of the pan is dry and starts to burn, put 1/4 C of water in the bottom of your pan to save the drippings.
  • Use an insertable thermometer to check when the center of the breast meat hits a temperature of 165º, or the thigh for a temperature of about 170 degrees.  Get one from
  • The intense heat forces the liquid to the center of the turkey, away from the skin.  After cooking, cover with a foil and then a bath towel and let rest 20 minutes.  This will allow the juices to redeploy and let the temperature continue to rise until it hits about 170 and 175,  This is just about the time needed to make gravy.


  • Use a Weber Grill that has a lid that closes completely
    Put coals on each side of turkey (not directly under)
    Put drip pan under turkey for catching the gravy drippings


  • This is quite the fad, but the benefits do not outweigh the risks.  A nicely seasoned oven-cooked turkey can be just as flavorful as one cooked in a vat of grease that will burn you to the point of scarification in about five seconds.
  • If you insist on doing this
    • …take EXTREME precautions against spilling your container of hot grease
    • … dry your turkey off VERY well before putting it into the fryer
    • … make sure your turkey conveyance mechanism is tight, secure and sound
    • … keep all children and other activities away from the cooking area
    • … have a fire extinguisher immediately available


  • Tent foil over the turkey for 20 minutes before carving to allow moisture to redistribute into the meat.  If you need more time to make stuffing, etc. you can keep it tented for about 45 minutes without losing too much heat.
  • View the below video by Martha Stewart Kitchens that shows, in excellent detail, how to carve your turkey.
  • Turkeys start to spoil after only two hours on the serving table.  Have everything ready for refrigerating the left-overs and remove the bird and wrap it while dessert is being served.  This is a task that can be delegated even before you start eating, so that you can focus on being a good host or hostess.  Have them remove most of the meat from the bones and put into a baggie or foil.  Put the carcass in a bag and put in the refrigerator intact so that your guest can return to the party.  You can get the small pieces of meat off later.  Save the bones in the freezer for making stock.

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