Countdown to Turkey Day 2013: Have You Ever Cooked a Turkey?

Heather says:

Have you ever cooked a turkey? No? Well hosting your first ever Thanksgiving dinner should probably not be your first attempt to cook a turkey. Thanksgiving is a busy enough holiday and even if you’re super organized, there’ll probably be a little self-induced stress, even with a timetable, all of your recipes organized, and knowing your pantry has everything you need. I really don’t want you to stress about the bird, too.


Cooking a Turkey for Thanksgiving

Don’t get too worked up about cooking turkey, really it’s not any different than a really big chicken. If you are feeling any trepidation about cooking your first turkey, and you have never roasted a chicken, I highly recommend you start there.

Why not? You get the benefit of a great roast chicken dinner and you’ll feel more confident on Thanksgiving day.

Here’s a simple how to roast a chicken tutorial.  And yes, I seriously need to redo the pictures, as that’s from 2007, well before I learned anything about photography.

So, once you have mastered roasting a chicken, it’s time to look over its slightly bigger cousin, the turkey.

Yes, I have a tutorial for that, too: How to Roast a Turkey. Keep in mind that you don’t have to truss your turkey, I just like the way it turns out. When I went to the Butterball University event last year, they recommend tucking the wings under the shoulders to give a the turkey more of a flat bottom which makes carving easier, but it’s completely a matter of personal choice. Butterball also recommends the more simple basic roast at 325°F for the entire time, instead of the initial high heat blast that I prefer. Again, it’s an each to your own kind of situation. If you prefer that method, Butterball has a great how to roast a turkey video.

Either way, you may need to tent the turkey with foil.

Now, if you are thinking of frying a turkey this year, I have a full tutorial on that, too: how to fry turkey. In this case, skip the chicken. Frying a whole chicken would be possible, but you’d displace a different amount of oil so the experience isn’t exactly the same. If you plan on taking the fried turkey route, buy a practice turkey and just enjoy that thing well before the holiday. You can certainly reuse the peanut oil, unless you burn it. As long as you’re careful you’ll actually be getting more out of your oil investment than if you only used it to fry the Thanksgiving turkey.

If you want to ramp up the flavor even more, consider brining your turkey. Rachel has a fantastic turkey brine recipe that I use as a basis for my own brines. I tend to vary the seasoning to match the rest of the meal. Now keep in mind if you choose to brine and fry your turkey, you’re going to have a very, very dark, probably unattractively so, turkey. That said, once you get under the skin, it’s amazing. If you roast your turkey after brining, your turkey will be darker brown and I suggest using the 325°F roasting temperature suggested by Butterball.

So there we go, an introduction to two basic methods of cooking turkey. How do you cook your turkey or is this your first year? If so, what cooking method are you considering?

Today on the company and cleaning front? Just make sure you’re keeping up with the daily chores -yeah the ones on the post-it note up there ↑. If you have overnight guests coming, you may want to figure out where they’re going to sleep and if you have enough sheets and bedding.

Are you Counting Down to Turkey Day with us?


  1. K Campbell on November 7, 2013 at 10:54 am

    A potentially silly question… can I brine a chicken? Just curious if I could practice both methods… no “test drives” on Thanksgiving! I don’t understand exactly why brining helps…

    • imabug on November 7, 2013 at 2:54 pm

      brining chicken works just as well as it does with turkeys. You naturally won’t leave the chicken in the brine for as long as the turkey would stay. 4-6 hours should be plenty of time for a medium sized chicken.

      Look for the Good Eats episode “Romancing the Bird”. I think you can find it on Food Network. AB does a pretty good job of explaining the brining process.

    • Heather Solos on November 8, 2013 at 6:07 am

      Absolutely, you can brine anything. I understand not wanting the full on turkey commitment and @imabug is spot on with his advice. Due to the size of the chicken I wouldn’t brine it more than 6 hours.

  2. imabug on November 7, 2013 at 7:20 am

    Fall has traditionally marked the start of turkey eating season for me. While I think any day of the year is a good day for turkey, I typically only do whole turkeys once September hits.

    First, to warm things up and refresh the turkey roasting muscles, I’ll start with a small practice turkey a few weeks before Canadian Thanksgiving in October. The carcass also serves to make a delicious turkey stock that can be used for the Canadian Thanksgiving turkey dinner. Then a turkey for Canadian Thanksgiving, another turkey for US Thanksgiving, and finally one for Christmas. If I haven’t had enough by then, January might see another turkey.

  3. Deneicer on November 13, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    I cook mine in a turkey roasting bag. May be boring … but it makes my life so much easier! I cook it with the breast down. The bird is always very moist and tasty.

    This is how I prepare it: I quarter an apple and an onion, I peel a couple of garlic cloves and stuff all that inside the bird. I butter or olive oil the outside and shake it with S & P. Then I insert it into the floured roasting bag (this is a little tricky and it is nice to have a helper.) Then I just put it in the oven.

    I personally prefer dressing so I don’t stuff it into the turkey.

    It is easy and once I get that done I prepare everything else I am going to serve that is cooked. I make the refrigerator salads the day prior. Once I am done with the dressing, sweet potatoes, broccoli, mashed potatoes, dinner rolls dough etc. … all that stuff is either done or ready for a quick heat … I take out the turkey and pop in the dinner rolls.

    I actually have a recipe card that is labeled Thanksgiving Fare. I have it all listed in order that it needs to be prepared so that it is (mostly) ready all at the same time … it is a lifesaver every year!

  4. Mindy on November 5, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    I always brine and roast. I typically throw it in a nice bath with salt, sugar, rosemary, sage, thyme and some peppercorns and just let it hang out from whenever I get home on Wednesday until time to cook on Thursday. We do an evening meal because my chef husband has to serve Thanksgiving at work. That means I don’t need to start cooking until mid-day on the big day. Makes for a nice relaxing day actually with a big feast at the end.

  5. HomemakersDaily on November 3, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    I’ve cooked a LOT of turkeys at this point in my life. But it took me several years to get the hang of it.

    The first time I cooked a turkey, I didn’t thaw it long enough so it was still a little frozen. I was horrified at the thought of putting my hand in the cavity so I wore rubber gloves & used pliars to try to get the neck out. It was tough since it was a little frozen. That was the year I left the giblet sack in the turkey. Didn’t know it was there or that it needed removed.

    The next year I was a little braver and didn’t need the rubber gloves but I still used the pliars. And my turkey was more thawed.

    The next year I didn’t care a bit about sticking my hand in there. I just stuck it in and dug around until I got the neck out. And I finally realized I needed to remove the giblet sack.

    Of course, even after several years of successful turkey cooking, I had the Thanksgiving from Heck. That was the year my oven was going out and I didn’t know it. One batch of rolls was burned and one was raw. I had no clue why. I had never had trouble with rolls before. And when it was time to eat, the turkey wasn’t done!!! Everyone was hovering and making me a nervous wreck. Oh, yeah – that was also the year when the stuffing overflowed & caught fire. Oops. And then I cut my hand on a broken vase in the trash and nearly passed out (I had never even come close to passing out before – I still don’t know why it affected me that way.)

    But overall, once I got through the first couple of turkeys, it was a piece of cake. If I can do it, anyone can!

  6. Lizz on November 3, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    I found a few years ago spatchcocking a turkey. You cut the backbone, and break the breast bone so it lies flat on a cookie sheet. It is self basting, and cooks faster. My turkey cooked in under 2 hours on average. Sometimes barely a little more.

    • Heather Solos on November 6, 2012 at 12:03 pm

      Excellent technique, I have a tutorial on how to spatchcock a chicken, it’s the same, just a bit bigger 🙂

  7. Jennifer on November 2, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    I’ve made Turkey at Thanksgiving for the past 10 years. However, this year, is the first year to have company (MY PARENTS!) over for Thanksgiving. Now my dad always fries his turkey, but I don’t have a fryer. My Turkeys usually turn out okay but it has always felt like luck more than skill. One year, with a new baby in the house, I just did a Turkey breast in the crockpot and that went well. One year it was really bad, because I took someone’s recommendation to baste it with butter and it tasted SO salty! My dad is such a picky eater. I’ve tried cooking for him in the past and he has never been pleased. Needless to say, I let Mom do the cooking for Dad now. This thanksgiving they are driving 2 days to our new home to see the grandkids I do not want Mom spending the whole visit in the kitchen.

  8. Gator Pam on November 2, 2012 at 10:13 am

    I fried turkeys for years, and then one year decided to go with Alton Brown’s (of Good Eats) method. He also does a high temperature roast to start, and then turns it down. I love fried turkey, but like AB’s roast turkey even more.

    But before Thanksgiving, I like to do a four day dry brine, so if I purchase a frozen bird I have to start defrosting it a week to ten days before Thanksgiving. That’s a lot of room taken up in the fridge for that length of time, but it is so worth it!

    • Deneicer on November 13, 2012 at 8:12 pm

      Hi Gator ~

      Have you considered defrosting and doing the brine in a camping cooler? I bet it would work well. You may have to check it everyday to see if you need to add a little ice to keep it cool (not frozen) but it would sure be nice to have your fridge available!

      I usually defrost my turkey in a cooler full of water. (I cannot attest to the safety of this method!) I personally keep it in a cool place and check the water daily. I add ice if I need to do so. And, the bird thaws quickly this way, too.

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