Cooking a turkey can be very intimidating the first time. I know I was petrified. Then there’s the rumor going around that you have to get up at 5am to cook said turkey, which is just silly, unless you wanted Thanksgiving Breakfast I suppose. So this is the way I’ve discovered to cook a turkey in your oven that is easy, moist and delicious (also the meat seasoned this way work great for a million turkey leftover recipes). First you have to select your turkey. Remember how you figured your head count? Well, imagine about 1lb uncooked bird per person. This will leave you with plenty of leftovers, but not leftovers in December. I cook about a 12 1/2lb turkey even though our head count is 13 or so, mostly because we make way too many sides each year and this year we are also having ham (ironically this is a “guy thing”). The list below gives you cook times so you can better plan your day.
*Keep in mind that if it’s a frozen turkey you should start thawing it (on the bottom shelf of your fridge) Sunday afternoon or Monday morning. *
6-8lbs 2-2 ½ hrs
8-12lbs 2 ½-3 hrs
12-16lbs 3-3 ½ hrs
16-20lbs 3 ½-4 hrs
20-24lbs 4-4 ½ hrs
Turkey is done when it reaches a temperature of 165 degrees internally. They come with those little pop out thingies that will let you know when they are done, but I do like to double check with a meat thermometer, just in case. I cook our turkey at 350 degrees, but as the day goes on I occasionally turn the oven up to say 375 for rolls (which will only be about 10 to 15 minutes, and will not harm your turkey). I assume that’s why my turkey never takes the full amount of time to cook, but I only have the one oven. Also when plotting time for Thanksgiving Day, keep in mind after you cook your turkey it needs 20 to 30 minutes to “rest” (which is fancy chef’s language for let the juices get all good and soaked in) before you carve it. This is the perfect time to stick a few things back in that suddenly empty oven to heat them back up.
My rub for simply wonderful turkey:
Dried Rosemary (crush it in your hand before mixing it with the other seasonings)
Pinch of Sage (compared to others)
Pinch of Black Pepper
The top 4 ingredients should be in almost equal portions, sorry, I never measure and have no idea how much I put on a turkey. This should be rubbed on the breasts of the turkey under the skin and all over the exterior of the turkey.
I make my rosemary olive oil, but you can but it too and it’s not that expensive. I use that under the breast skin (about 2 Tbls) and then drizzled over the entire bird (about 7 or 8 Tbls). While I am lubing up and rubbing down the turkey (we get very close) I am preheating the oven, you want that turkey to go into the oven no cooler than 350 or you really will be doing this all damn day. While you are cooking and assembling other dishes do not forget your turkey’s most important ingredient! That’d be love and attention. Every time you open the oven door use either a turkey baster or a ladle (I mean big cooking ladle, not teeny gravy ladle) and scoop the juices from the pan back over the turkey. Think of you turkey like a well behaved 5-year-old, you can leave it be, but you should check on it at least every 30 minutes. If your oven door hasn’t opened in the last 30 thirty minutes, do so and ladle that baby up. I was looking for the tiny turkey cooking times and the giant turkey cooking times on the internet when I (happily, because I cook about the way she does and firmly believe butter gets a bad rap) discovered this is also how Paula Deen cooks her turkey! She uses a more sophisticated rub, (duh, real cook) but I’m referring to the turkey basting love, I thought that was kinda cool.
Don’t be scared of the turkey (they are not even intimidating before they get naked the way you buy them at the store), and wow the hell of anybody who gets the privilege to sit at your table this year. (Miscreants are eating out of their laps in the den around here, so really, privilege.)