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How to roast the perfect turkey.

A perfect holiday turkey is easy to turn out--when you know how. conflicting information on how long to cook a turkey sent us back to our drawing boards. Or, more precisely, to our ovens. After roasting dozens of pairs of 8- to 34-pound turkeys in carefully regulated ovens, with a thermometer in each side of each breast and in each thigh of each bird, we learned some surprising things. We conclude that cooking 12- to 30-pound turkeys results in the most even browning and succulence. The breasts of birds larger than 30 pounds cook unevenly, and 8- to 10-pound birds have spotted coloring.

Preparing the bird for roasting

To thaw a frozen turkey (times suggested vary with size), let it stand in its sealed plastic wrap in the refrigerator for 2 to 4 days. Or immerse the turkey in the sealed bag in cool water for 12 to 48 hours, changing water frequently to hasten thawing. Do not thaw in warm water or at room temperature: bacteria can develop and spoil the bird. Remove wrapper. If bird is still icy inside, immerse it in cool water until you can remove giblets. Reserve them to make your favorite gravy (or see recipe on page 270).

Rinse turkey; drain and pat dry. Pull off lumps of fat and discard. Release legs if they're trussed (held with skin or wire); the leg joint--slowest part of turkey to cook--will cook faster untrussed. In you like, fold wing tips behind turkey back. Stuff turkey if desired (quantities needed are in the chart on page 130; recipes are on page 268). Fill breast cavity and skewer neck skin flap to turkey back. Fill body cavity ad skewer skin over stuffing to hold it in place.

Brush turkey with melted butter or olive oil, then sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper if desired (or you can season it after roasting).

Roasting the turkey

Choose a roasting pan that allows 1 to 2 inches of space all around the turkey. Set the turkey on a rack--for best browning, a V-shaped one--in the pan. If wing tips, drumsticks, or tail of a very large bird extend a little beyond the edges, shape foil cups beneath them so drippings will flow back into the pan.

Breast up or down? Though turning the turkey is a real chorE--difficult and dangerous unless you're strong enough to manage--you may prefer to start roating the turkey breast down. This gives better browning on the back and, many feel, a juicier breast. After about 1/3 of the cooking time, take the turkey out of the oven. Using hot pads and paper towels, tip the unstuffed bird to let hot body juices drain into the pan. Now the hard part: rotate the body to turn the breast up. You will probably need one person to hold the pan and rack steady while you do this.

Select roasting temperature and time from the chart at right. To brown appealingly, small birds need to cook at higher temperatures than large ones. For even browning, stuff a 10-pounder in both the front and back cavities.

Use a thermometer

We strongly recommend you use a meat thermometer to check the breast temperature. Either insert a regular thermometer before roasting, or check occasionally with an instant-read thermometer.

(In all of our tests, we found pop-up indicators for doneness were unreliable.)

Start checking the temperature well before the time suggested for doneness in our chart. The rate of cooking varies with the shape of the bird; even birds of identical weight can cook at different rates. Check birds under 12 pounds at least 30 minutes before you expect them to be done, larger ones at least 1 hour ahead. Then recheck about every 15 minutes.

Stuffing lengthens cooking time: expect a small stuffed bird to take up to 30 minutes extra, a large one as much as 50 minutes.

In the past, we have always directedthat the thermometer be inserted in the center of the thickest part of the breast, not touching the bone; the breast will be moist and juicy when it reaches 170[deg.] However, a breast is not identical on both sides, and the smaller side will be cooked more.

If you find it difficult to decide where to insert the thermometer by this technique, here is a simpler way: insert the thermometer straight down through the thickest part until it touches the bone. Or, insert the thermometer horizontally, about halfway between the wing joint and the tip of the breastbone.

You may need to insert the thermometer several times until you are sure you have penetrated the thickest part. With the thermometer in either of these positions, a 160[deg.] (not 170[deg.]) reading means the breast is done. Cooking time will be the same.

Also, you may want to use a thermometer in the thigh. Insert it deep into the thigh between body and leg, almost to the thigh joint. At 180[deg.] to 185[deg.], thigh meat is cooked well for most tastes; below this, meat near the joint may still be quite pink and too moist.

Usually, bu tnot always, the breast is done before the thigh (the drumstick will be fine in either case). If this happens, remove the bird from the oven when the breast is done. While carving breast and drumsticks, continue to cook thighs, skin down, in a shallow pan in a 450[deg.] oven until meat fibers at joint pull apart easily, 10 to 15 minutes more.

What if you don't have a thermometer?

Using only the turkey's weight to figure cooking time is definitely a second-best option. The old numbers are out of date for the plump young birds sold today, and cooking time is affected by the temperature of the bird when it goes into the oven.

As the weight of the bird increases, cooking requires fewer minutes per pound. You can use the chart to calculate minutes per pound, but you will also want to make a visual test by cutting into the breast; it should be white to the bone in the thickest part, but still very juicy.


Before carving, let the turkey rest, uncut, at least 20 minutes for juices to settle.

If you used a thermometer in the thigh, you will know if the thighs need extra cooking; keep the oven ready. While they're cooking, you can carve the breast, the dark meat from drumsticks, and the wings. (If you want to present a whole turkey to your guests, let the additional cooking wait until later.)

Use the diagram at left to help carve your bird. With a sharp knife, begin by breaking the skin along line 1. Free the drumstick from the thigh by cutting along line 2 (to do this, cut horizontally from the angle between thigh and drumstick through joint where 1 and 2 join). Cut meat off drumstick to serve. Slice along breastbone, line 3. Slice breast meat straight down, along lines at 4. Cut horizontally (line 5) to free slices and serve.
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Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Nov 1, 1985
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