We're all thinking about two things this time of year: turkey and eating turkey. To make both of these easier for serious eaters, we've compiled everything you need to know about turkey in one handy guide. Have a question we haven't answered? Leave a comment—serious eaters are always happy to help.
Serious Eats' Ten Turkey Tips You'll Be Thankful For
- What Kind of Turkey to Buy
- What Size Turkey to Buy
- Thawing Time
- To Brine or Not to Brine?
- Calculating Cooking Time
- Roast Turkey Recipes
- Non-Roasted Turkey Recipes
- How to Carve a Turkey
- Still need help? Turkey Hotlines
- What to Do with Turkey Leftovers (Yay!)
What Kind of Turkey to Buy
Last Thanksgiving, Ed grappled with all the popular turkey adjectives: organic, heritage, kosher, and basted, for example. According to our research, these terms still mean the exact same thing as they did last year. We make it easy for you to understand with How to Read Turkey Labels.
More tips, after the jump.
What Size Turkey to Buy
Count the number of carnivores attending. Since you want leftover sandwiches, assume one pound of whole turkey (unstuffed) per carnivore. Note: the bigger the turkey, the bigger the proportion of meat to bone. Figure about a pound and a half per person if you're buying the bird pre-stuffed.
Don't forget to set aside enough time for your turkey to thaw! Here are some guidelines so you can plan accordingly.
Turkey Thawing Time in the Refrigerator (40 degrees F): Approximately 24 hours per 5 pounds.
|Whole Turkey Weight||Thawing Time|
|8 to 12 lbs||1 to 2 days|
|12 to 16 lbs||2 to 3 days|
|16 to 20 lbs||3 to 4 days|
|20 to 24 lbs||4 to 5 days|
Turkey Thawing Time in Cold Water: Approximately 30 minutes per pound. Change water every 1/2 hour.
|Whole Turkey Weight||Thawing Time|
|8 to 12 lbs||4 to 6 hours|
|12 to 16 lbs||6 to 8 hours|
|16 to 20 lbs||8 to 10 hours|
|20 to 24 lbs||10 to 12 hours|
To Brine or Not to Brine?
Certain turkeys are pre-brined, so don't waste your time. Check first. Kosher turkeys and some commercial brands like Butterball are "pre-basted" or brined. The ingredients should list seven percent of an added solution (water or vinegar). But be careful: pre-brining can mask other added junk like preservatives, so if you want to go au natural, buy a fresh one without additives and brine it yourself.
To brine your turkey, soak the bird in some salty, sugary, (insert spice here)-flavored water overnight. Dry it off, rub on some butter or oil, and throw her in the oven. Sure, brining requires some time, but when else will you commit such time for brining? At least try it if you don't have a stance.
Calculating Cooking Time
Your turkey is thawed, brined or not brined, stuffed or not stuffed. Now it's time to get it into the oven. Approximate cooking times listed below are for a whole turkey cooked at 325 degrees.
|Weight (Pounds)||8 to 12||12 to 14||14 to 18||18 to 20||20 to 24||24 to 30|
|Unstuffed (hours)||2 3⁄4 to 3||3 to 3 3⁄4||3 3⁄4 to 4 1⁄4||4 1⁄4 to 4 1⁄2||4 1⁄2 to 5||5 to 5 1⁄4|
|Stuffed (hours)||3 to 3 1⁄2||3 1⁄2 to 4||4 to 4 1⁄4||4 1⁄4 to 4 3⁄4||4 3⁄4 to 5 1⁄4||5 1⁄4 to 6 1⁄4|
Roast Turkey Recipes
- Lidia Bastianich's Roast Turkey
- James Beard's Favorite Roast Turkey
- James Peterson's Roast Turkey
- Cook's Illustrated's Slow-Roasted Turkey with Gravy
More roast turkey recipes »
Non-Roasted Turkey Recipes
From the queen of greasy fingers, Paula Deen's deep fried turkey recipe.
Our grilling correspondent Josh Bousel suggests smoking the turkey.
How to Carve a Turkey
If you're a visual learner these video, illustrated, and photo tutorials will teach you how to carve your turkey like a pro.
- Video from VideoJug (pleasant British woman's voice narrates)
- Photo step-by-step from eHow
- Illustrated step-by-step from Cooks.com
- New York Times video with Ray Venezia, butcher at New York's Fairway Market
Still need help? Turkey Hotlines
If you find yourself in a bind on the big day, friendly folks will be standing by the phone to answer your last minute turkey questions. Don't be afraid to give them a ring; it could save the day!
- Reynolds Turkey Tips: (800) 745-4000; 24 hours
- Butterball Turkey Talk Line: (800) BUTTERBALL (800-288-8373); 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. CST on Thanksgiving day
- Honeysuckle White: (800) 810-6325. Recorded answers to FATQ (turkey questions)
- Foster Farms: (800) 255-7227; 24 hours
What to Do with Turkey Leftovers (Yay!)
Congrats! You did it! Now what to do with all those leftovers?
- Serious Eaters' Ideal Thanksgiving Sandwich Combos
- Robyn's rundown from last year
- Turkey Gumbo
- Nigella's Vietnamese turkey salad, turkey hash, turkey pot pie [Talk]
Wait there's more!
Thanksgiving is about more than turkey.
Don't miss Serious Eats' complete Thanksgiving coverage »