I’ve roasted eleven turkeys in my life. The mantle of cooking the turkey somehow fell to me after my mom died, and I started have two Thanksgivings a year five years ago, so I know my way around a turkey.
If I were a proper food blogger I’d have really lovely softly lit hi-res images of each step, but then I’d also have turkey germs all over a really nice camera that I don’t really own. And besides, I often feel like I need an extra hand or two while preparing a turkey, not one fewer. AND FURTHERMORE, uncooked turkeys are actually pretty gross and you don’t really want to look at pictures of that.
The greatest thing in the history of the Internet is not Wikipedia, not fuck yeah tumblrs, not even free porn. It is the Butterball Calculators. I will be referring to this resource a lot. I have confusingly abbreviated it as the BBC. Sorry, readers from the Mother Country.
STEP ONE: BUY A TURKEY
Addendum: Buy a FRESH turkey. I do not make this recommendation because Fresh turkeys are more flavorful or wonderful or better for the environment or whatever. I make this recommendation because the number one easiest way to screw up a turkey is to start roasting it when it is not fully defrosted. And I have no idea how to defrost a turkey, because I always buy fresh.
Pop your head count and other variables (appetite/leftovers preference) into the Butterball calculator to get the poundage of turkey you are going to be looking for.
Some extra considerations regarding turkey weight:
- If you have a tiny oven, you need a tiny turkey. Or maybe you should make a duck or something (see bullet point two below. I had to move the party to someone else’s house the year I had a tiny oven.
- I have roasted turkeys for parties as small as six people, for which the BBC suggests a 12 pound turkey. Don’t buy a 12 pound turkey. That turkey is a runt. It’s shape will more resemble a chicken nugget than a hungry cartoon character’s hallucination. No one will ooh and ahh when the turkey comes out of the oven. And the meat will probably end up dry. Just buy a 14 pound turkey and have more leftovers. Turkey soup is pretty great.
- If you need more than 20 pounds or so, you need to go to a fancy store.
Around turkey number 4, I vowed to never again buy the store-brand turkey. The extra trouble is just not worth the ten cents a pound in savings. I’m normally all about the cheap off-brand alternative, but your Butterballs and your Honeysuckle Farms are not just turkeys, they are practically cyborgs programmed to stop you from screwing up Thanksgiving dinner. Sure, maybe it’s creepy to have a plastic clamp wedged into the carcass that perfectly positions the turkey legs. Or maybe you think it is going to give me cancer. You can go brine your organic free-range turkey in alfalfa juice, hippie.
STEP TWO: PREPARE STUFFING
You are going to stuff your turkey. That is why it has a cavity. No, it doesn’t have a cavity because it used to have organs. It had organs so it would have a space for stuffing after they were removed.
I don’t care what kind of stuffing you make. I’m pretty simple, I use the bag of sage/onion bread cubes and follow the package directions, using turkey broth instead of water and adding fresh food-processor blitzed celery and onions. You can go all fancy with your wild rice and your oysters. Just make sure you cook everything before you stuff the turkey.
STEP TWO.ONE: PRE-HEAT THE OVEN
To 325 degrees F. The higher heat lower time method has become very popular over the last ten years, but it means you can’t stuff the turkey, and that’s a dealbreaker.
This is step 2.1 because you want the oven to be pre-heated and ready to go as soon as you stuff the turkey. That usually takes way longer than the time it takes the oven to preheat to a measly 325 degrees, though.
STEP THREE: COLD TURKEY
- Slice off your turkey’s plastic bag, trying your best not to slice through the directions. There will really cold be pink water everywhere. Do not think about why the water is pink, or your sixth-grade flirtation with vegetarianism will seem much less foolish than it was.
- Yank out the organs. If you bought the name brand turkey, congrats, the organs are in a baggie for you! If you bought the store brand or hippie-brand turkey, they’re probably not, so you are about to reach into a turkey’s neck and yank out its heart. Bully for you.
- Put the organs in a dish in the fridge for when the time comes to make turkey stock, or if that is too scary to you and you’re using jar gravy, just pitch them.
- Rinse the turkey inside and out. They insist this makes it less likely that you will kill your guests with turkey germs. Then pat dry.
STEP FOUR: STUFFING AND TRUSSING
- Move the newly clean turkey to whatever roasting pan you are using. [If you are using the foil kind (I do!) than I recommend using two shelled together. That way you don't have to follow the extremely annoying "remove all juices with baster before removing from oven" instruction.]
- Fill the neck cavity with stuffing first. If you have a friend to hold the turkey upright while you jam bread cubes in there, your life will be easier. If not, there will just have to be slightly less neck stuffing, and you can playfully fight with your siblings over who gets to eat the most precious of all stuffings. If you have trussing pins, pin the neck skin down over the stuffing, or just tuck it under the weight of the turkey when you reposition it.
- If the legs are clamped in, un-clamp them. Fill the body cavity with stuffing. They warn you not to over-fill, I guess because it can prevent the stuffing from cooking properly, but I like to imagine it is because you might make the turkey explode. Re-clamp the legs. If you got a turkey that doesn’t have a leg clamp, find another blog tutorial to explain this step. I think it involves twine and those little paper caps that cartoon turkeys always have on their legs (those are called “turkey frills” apparently).
- Pull the wings out, bend them backwards like you’re trying to put the turkey in a wrestling hold, and then tuck them under the body of the turkey. You want the turkey breast to be slightly propped up by the wings. I assume this is less important if you have a fancy roasting rack.
STEP FIVE: EFF YOUR ARTERIES
- Crack salt and pepper all over the outside of the turkey.
- Melt a stick of butter. [Yes, another one. I know you probably used at least a stick in the stuffing. It's Thanksgiving. This is not a time for counting calories!] Add a hefty shake of powdered sage such that the butter turns green. You can also use “poultry seasoning,” whichever smells more delicious to you.
- Paint the entire outside of the turkey generously with the sage butter. Sometimes the turkey is still cold enough that the butter re-solidifies after you paint it on. This actually makes your job easier, so try not to fixate on how that is what the butter will once again look like inside of your circulatory system.
STEP SIX: PUT THE TURKEY IN THE OVEN
STEP SIX: SWEAR LOUDLY BECAUSE YOU FORGOT TO REMOVE THE SECOND OVEN RACK AND NOW IT IS BOTH IN THE WAY AND TOO HOT TO HANDLE
- Remove second oven rack. Try putting it on top of the fridge.
STEP SEVEN: PUT THE TURKEY IN THE OVEN
- And set a timer for two-thirds of the low end of the estimated roasting time you get from the BBC.
STEP EIGHT: LEAVE WELL ENOUGH ALONE
- Do not. Do anything else. To the turkey. Every time you open the oven door while the turkey is roasting, you are making your turkey shittier. Besides, I’m sure you have plenty of other things to occupy your time, like cleaning up the mess preparing the turkey made, heating side dishes, and hanging out with your family.
STEP NINE: BLOCK OUT THE ALIEN MIND RAYS
- When your two-thirds timer goes off, you can open the oven door. JUST THIS ONCE. If the turkey skin looks golden brown and delicious, make a tent out of tin foil and cover the turkey breast with it, trying to keep it from touching the actual turkey. If the turkey skin is still pale, put the bad boy back in without a tent, for now, and try to figure out when it is brown using just the oven light to reduce oven openings.
- Re-set the timer for the rest of the roasting time.
STEP TEN: TURKEY TIME
- When the timer goes off, it’s time to start checking the turkey for doneness. You need to meat thermometer it in three places: the breast meat (you want at least 150-160 degrees F), the thigh meat (180 degrees F; point it the end toward the turkey to avoid hitting the bone, that will mess with your results), and the center of the stuffing (165 degrees F).
- If the turkey meat or the juices look too pink, you can cook it a little longer even if the thermometer says it is done. Better to have a slightly overcooked turkey (just use more gravy!) than food poisoning.
- Let the turkey sit for 20 minutes. Use this time to frantically ready the table.
- Demand that someone else carve the turkey because you did all the hard work. If possible, provide this person with an electric carving knife so that you can eat sometime before Christmas.
- Name the turkey. Suggested sources for names: politicians you disagree with, people who are mean to you at work, guys who have dumped you. Note that most turkeys we eat at Thanksgiving are female, but my family pretty much always picks a man’s name. Sexist!
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!