Do you go into the kitchen on Thanksgiving morning dreading dry turkey? Have you ever wished you could discover how to cook a turkey perfectly? Then you’re reading the right article. The first thing nervous cooks need to understand is that there are 101 ways to cook a turkey – from traditional to cutting-edge culinary techniques.
You do not have to be a master cook to make a good-tasting bird, but knowing what options are available helps greatly. Ready to learn more about how to cook a turkey?
Three Methods for Cooking a Moist Turkey
The most traditional method for how to cook a turkey is roasting. The average recipe calls for an oven temperature of 325 degrees. To prepare a turkey for roasting you want to rinse it thoroughly, season it inside and out with flavors your family enjoys, then put it in a roasting pan with water in the bottom. The water keeps the drippings from burning (you’ll want those for gravy).
Loosely cover the turkey with aluminum foil. For every four pounds of unstuffed turkey you’ll need about one hour cooking time. If you have a kitchen thermometer, place it in the thickest part of the turkey breast. The meat needs to be 165 degrees to be safe for consumption. Additionally, experts recommend that you keep the stuffing outside the bird (mix and put in an oven proof container, placed in the oven about 1 hour before the turkey is done). This is also a good moment to remove the aluminum foil so you get a nice crunchy skin.
Finally, the key to a good roast turkey is resting time. When you pull the turkey out of the oven let it sit untouched for about 20-30 minutes before carving. This keeps the turkey moist.
2. Oven-Bag Roasted Turkey
In deciding how to cook a turkey, turkey oven bags are a great alternative to traditional roasting. Supermarkets carry plastic cooking bags safe for oven use. The temperature for your oven is now 350 degrees F. Note that your baking pan must contain the bird and the cooking bag completely – the bag expands during cooking and if it touches any part of the oven it will melt.
As with a roast turkey you should season your bird before placing it in the bag. Consider adding some onions, a peeled orange and other flavorful aromatics to the cavity of the turkey to give it even more flavor from inside out. Cook according to the directions on the cooking bag packaging.
The alternative to the oven bag is a good quality plastic wrap. You can pre-marinate the turkey, brine it, put butter and seasonings under the skin and/or season it then wrap the bird in plastic wrap. Follow with aluminum foil completely covering the bird.
Now you can cook the turkey one of two ways. Turn the oven up to about 375 if you want a steamed turkey or you can turn the temperature down to 250 degrees and slow cook the turkey (about 2 hours per four pounds of whole bird). In either case, you can remove the wrappings on your turkey 30 minutes before serving if you want crispy skin. If using the slow-cook method turn up the heat to 375 for that last amount of cooking time.
3. Oven Braising
Oven braising is similar to using an oven bag or wrap in that you’re steaming the turkey. Your oven should be preheated to about 340 degrees. Place the turkey in a covered roaster (stuff the bird with vegetables or aromatics as with method 2). The time required for cooking is similar to traditional roasting.
There are certainly many other options as to how to cook a turkey. These options include deep frying, grilling / rotisserie style turkey, marinated or brined, and smoked turkey. Each one creates a slightly different flavor profile and moisture level so a lot depends on personal tastes. Experiment throughout the year then use your favorite method come Thanksgiving (or Christmas, or… whenever!).
You’ll find actual recipes for all of the ways to cook turkey at Divine Dinner Party’s Holiday Turkey Guide. It has everything you need to learn how to cook a turkey!