‘Tis the season and we are seeing numbers everywhere—how many people, how many guests, kids, gifts, parties and meals, all are part of the countdown to the holidays. See what I mean—December by the numbers! Although non-traditional meals are on the rise, turkey is still the star of a lot of menus.
As one of several experts on the Butterball® Turkey Talk-Line that has been around for 38 years, I can share a few numbers to help you trim your holiday trauma. What makes me an expert? After more than ten years of fielding questions from holiday cooks, including over 14,000 inquiries via phone, texts, chats and email by Thanksgiving Day, I am definitely one of the bona fide experts. Now our team thinks we’ve heard it all, but every year there are new questions that send us back to ButterballU.
You Have Questions, We Have Answers
One of the first numbers folks have to deal with is how big a turkey to buy. We have a video for that. If you’d like to have plenty of leftovers for self-serve eaters after the big meal, plan to buy a turkey that allows 1-1/2 pounds for each person. Check. We now know what size turkey to buy. Now on to our top five questions.
- How do I thaw or I forgot to thaw the turkey?
You want to thaw the turkey in the refrigerator in its original packaging on a pan or tray with sides. The rule of thumb for thawing is to allow one 24-hour day for every four pounds of turkey weight. In a rush, the cold-water thaw can help. Place the unopened turkey, breast down in a sink, pail or tub of cold water, changing the water every 30 to 40 minutes. You can cold water thaw during the day, then refrigerate the turkey overnight.
- How do I roast the turkey, cook covered or uncovered or cook it breast down? Do I make changes for high altitude?
There are lots of ways to cook the turkey; the easiest option is to roast the turkey on a flat rack in an open shallow pan at 325oF. Depending on the size of the turkey, let your thermometer be your guide. For example, if you are preparing a 12-pound turkey with dressing, estimate cooking for 3 ½ to 4/ ½ hours. Without dressing, roasting time is around 3 to 3 ½ hours.
The key to flavorful, moist turkey is to rely on a meat or roasting thermometer which will prevent overcooking. The done temps you want to cook to are:
- 170o F in the white meat or turkey breast
- 180o F in the dark meat or turkey thigh
- If cooking dressing, make sure the dressing temperature registers 165oF
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Whether you’re cooking the turkey covered, uncovered, smoked, fried or breast down, the done temperatures are the same.
- Storage—This is generally when folks discover a bonus turkey in the freezer. If the turkey is in its original packaging and has been frozen, it can be safely cooked one to two years after the use-by date on the Butterball tag. For cooked turkey, you can freeze in airtight containers or zip-top bags for up to two months and one month for the dressing.
- Food Safety—Always use good food safety practices when cooking. First wash your hands. After removing the turkey from the packaging, do not rinse or wash, pat the turkey dry (these are the juices from packaging) using paper towels. Make sure you don’t spatter raw turkey juices and thoroughly clean your cutting board or sink after placing a raw turkey on those surfaces.
I’ll sanitize my cutting board and sink after using them by mixing a solution of one teaspoon of liquid chlorine bleach with one quart (32 oz.) of water. Spray or flood the surface with the bleach mixture and allow the sink or board to stand ten minutes. Rinse and air-dry or pat surfaces dry with paper towels.
- Brine— These questions run the gamut from what is it, can I do it and how to do it?
The Food Lover's Companion defines brine as an old technique which is enjoying a rediscovery. The turkey or other meat is soaked in a mixture of salt, water or other liquid, and seasonings. You may also dry brine, which seasons the turkey like a more traditional wet brine, but it does not use any water. Instead, a dry brine involves rubbing the salt, seasonings and/or sugar directly onto the meat and skin, then letting the meat rest in the refrigerator for a period of time before cooking.
If you plan to brine the turkey, make sure your timeline includes time for the turkey to thaw if you use a frozen turkey plus one day for brining the thawed turkey. As a rule of thumb, you should brine your turkey 45 to 60 minutes per pound. The following are good tips for brining:
- Choose a non-corrosive large container of food-grade plastic, stainless steel, glass or brining bag. Be sure the container will fit in your fridge.
- Do not substitute equal amounts of kosher salt for table salt.
- Make sure you stir the brine until the salt is completely dissolved before pouring it over the turkey.
- If your brine is boiled, make sure it cools to 40oF or cooler before pouring it over the turkey.
- After brining, rinse and pat the turkey dry with paper towels. Discard the brine liquid. If using a dry brine, do not rinse off.
- Brining may speed up the cooking time; use a meat or roasting thermometer to start checking the turkey temperature after it has been in the oven 2 to 2 ½ hours.
Frying Your Turkey for the Holidays
We’ve learned that folks have tons of traditions for celebrating the holidays; it’s not one of the top five questions, but we get quite a few queries on frying turkey. If a crisp, golden turkey is what you want, the following will be helpful.
- You will need about three to five gallons of oil. You can use any vegetable oil such as canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower or soybean. There should be at least three to five inches from the top of the oil or the fill line to the top of the pot so the oil doesn't boil over.
- If you’re outdoors, using a propane deep fryer can be dangerous. Never leave your deep fryer unattended and be sure to follow these instructions carefully:
- Deep-fry your turkey outdoors on a flat surface, far away from homes, garages, wooden decks, etc.
- To determine how much oil is needed for frying, place the thawed turkey in the fryer basket and place it in the fryer. Add water until the top of the turkey is barely covered. Remove the turkey, allowing the water to drain from the turkey back into the fryer. Measure and mark the water line and use that line as a guide. Pour out the water and dry the unit before adding oil to the propane fryer.
A key point to remember if you are planning to fry your turkey is to make sure it is completely thawed and patted dry—oil and water do not play well together. Plan to fry your turkey in 350oF to 375oF, pre-heated hot oil three to four minutes per pound.
No matter how it’s cooked, plan to let the turkey rest 20 to 30 minutes after it is done to ensure that it will slice well. Now you know the next steps—give thanks, break bread and enjoy the holiday meal with friends and family.
Still have a question? The Butterball Turkey Talk-Line is open Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., the weekends and Christmas Eve from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. All times are Central Standard Time. Call us at 1-800-Butterball (1-800-288-8372 or send a text with your questions to 1-844-877-3456. You can also visit www.butterball.com for more information and tips.
Still not sure how you want to prepare your turkey? Let this Spice Rubbed Turkey recipe by Butterball come to the rescue.