Roasting a turkey can be one of the most stressful jobs you take on in the kitchen when company is coming. It is a large investment and can so easily go terribly wrong. I remember a few years ago cooking a fresh turkey according to the directions for a frozen turkey. Shoe leather. Totally wasted. Couldn’t even get a single bit out of it. That made me determined to cook a perfect turkey and for the last three years, that is what I have done, perfect Turkey every time. Follow my directions here and you won’t go wrong.
I’m going to split this post into three parts, the Turkey, the Stuffing and the Gravy. The Stuffing is an integral part of this dinner favourite so it needs to be done first.
There are many recipes for stuffing out there, some quite complicated but also quite nice. I’ve tried a few of them. However, in the end, I always come back to my Mom’s own recipe for stuffing. It was the one I grew up with and the one I love to this day. It’s also really, really easy.
These instructions give you enough stuffing for a 12 to 14 pound bird. Increase the ingredients for a larger fowl.
- One loaf of white bread
- 1 tsp Poultry seasoning
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 small chopped onion
- 1/4 to 1/2 Cup warm water
1.) Finger tear the loaf of white bread into a large bowl. Tear into small pieces but not too small.
2.) Chop the small onion.
3.) Add the onion, Poultry seasoning and cumin seeds to the bread and toss with your hand to evenly distribute things.
4.) Add the water a bit at a time, tossing with your hands. You want the bread slightly moist, not sodden.
5.) Stuff the stuffing (hence the name) into the neck cavity of the Turkey as well as the ‘arse end cavity. Pack it in tightly but don’t go crazy.
Neck cavity stuffed
‘Arse end cavity stuffed, with skin flap closed over it
6.) Cover the exposed stuffing in the neck cavity with a piece of tinfoil, covering only the stuffing and not the skin of the bird.
If you have stuffing left over, don’t let it go to waste. You can cook it up on it’s own, alongside the bird if your oven is big enough. Oddly enough, this is almost the same way I make stuffing for Newfie Fries (will post someday soon).
Mix the remaining butter rub (see below) with the remaining stuffing.
Place it in a small bread pan or similar, distributed evenly.
Cover it with a piece of tin foil.
Bake at same temperature as the Turkey for 30 minutes. Then remove the tinfoil and bake for another 20 minutes. Remove from oven and enjoy.
From what I have read, the rule of thumb for Turkey is 1.5 pounds per person. In the pictures in this post I used an 11 pound Turkey and it would have been just about right for six people, validating the rule of thumb. However, I’m a single guy so…. lot’s of left overs….turkey for days!!
The one place you will most definitely go wrong with your Turkey is either the temperature or the length of time in the oven. Use the chart with the turkey as a guideline only, done-ness MUST be tested with a meat thermometer. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking differently. Those little popup thingys are nice as a guide but again, use a meat thermometer. Remember as well, the length of time to cook will be different for a Turkey with stuffing from a Turkey without stuffing.
What temperature to cook the Turkey at?
Many instructions will give you temperatures from 350 degrees up to 425 degrees. However, this cooks the Turkey fast and can make it a bit tough and dried out. As with all meats, I propose low and slow is the way to go. Take longer to cook it at a lower heat for a much better final product. The minimum safe cooking temperature for Turkey is 325 degrees so that’s that I cook my Turkey at.
Temperatures for a cooked turkey (How long to cook the Turkey):
- A meat thermometer in the thickest part of the breast should be 180 degrees with stuffing (fowl temp goes higher as the stuffing catches up)
- A meat thermometer in the thickest part of the breast should be minimum 165 degrees without the stuffing.
- A meat thermometer in the center of the stuffing should be minimum 165 degrees.
Make sure you take the measurement of both the Turkey AND the Stuffing. As I said above, a Turkey that is internally 165 degrees will not yet have the stuffing at 165 degrees, therefore the turkey will be higher. To prevent the risk of drying out the Turkey, start basting it every 20 minutes after the first two hours.
In the pictures for this post, the guide on the packaging called for 3:00 Hours to 3:15 hours. However, the internal temperatures reached 180 in the bird and 165 in the stuffing at the 2:30 hours mark. So it is important that you start testing the temperature 45 minutes or so before what you have calculated the cooking time to be. Just open the oven, stick in the thermometer in the thickest part of the breast and when the needle stops moving, that is your temperature. Make sure the end of the thermometer is in the CENTER of the breast, don’t push it in further or you won’t get the correct temperature.
What kind of pan should I use?
Always use a low cut pan OR a pan that does NOT touch the sides of the Turkey. In the two pictures below, the black roasting pan is not acceptable as it closes in the Turkey too much and rubs up against the sides of it. In the second picture, the Turkey is in a low sided roasting pan that is just the right size for this particular bird. If you don’t have the right sized pan, you can buy a cheap foil roasting pan at the grocery store for about $6.00. I prefer to use one of my non-stick baking pans for easier clean up. When this Turkey was cooked I used a relatively new non-stick pan that I had only had a couple of months. The Turkey lifted right out of it without any part of it sticking to the pan.
This pan is too small because of the high sides
This pan is just right because of the low sides
Prepping the Turkey for cooking
Before you unwrap the Turkey, the first thing you need to do is wash your sink with soap and hot water then rinse it with hot water. Make sure the sink is clean before you unwrap the Turkey in it.
Next, once unwrapped, remove the neck and and the liver/giblet package. It’s in there, maybe hiding in the ‘arse end cavity. Take them out and set them aside (or throw them out, whatever).
Now rinse the Turkey thoroughly on the outside and on the inside. When you are done, pat dry the Turkey (inside and out) with paper towel. Make sure you don’t leave any bits of paper towel behind.
Now place the Turkey in your pan and stuff it. Don’t overstuff it or pack it in too tight. It will take the stuffing too long to cook and dry out the Turkey if you do. Don’t forget to stuff the ‘arse end as well, pulling the skin flap down over it afterwards.
Now prepare the butter rub. What’s that? Butter rub? Were you expecting that? This is one of those secrets that you will jealously guard from your friends and family when the inquire how you go the Turkey so perfect!
In a small bowl combine about 1 Tblp of butter with some sea salt.
Once mixed, HAND RUB the butter/salt mixture over every exposed part of the Turkey (not the bottom part on the pan). Rub it into the skin on the breast, legs and wings.
Once that is done, cover the exposed stuffing with tinfoil and you are ready to put the bird in the oven.
Bake the Turkey according to the guidelines given above for size and temperature. Remember to start basting it after the two hour mark, every twenty minutes. Remember to start testing the internal temperature about 45 minutes to an hour before the time you THINK it should be done. Always rely on the internal temperature for both the Turkey and the Stuffing to indicate done-ness. Make sure you take the temperature correctly.
One perfect Turkey!
There are different methods of making gravy. I’m going to outline the process I use for a simple pan gravy, use your judgement as you are doing it about making changes. Once you understand the concepts here, you will be better equipped to do that. The first time I made gravy myself was at a girlfriends parents place when I was 30. I had never done it before but I had watched my Mom do it for years. It turned out so good that I became the official gravy maker at her parents house for the few years that we were together.
The pefect gravy comes from four things:
- Pan juices
- A water/flour mix (basically it’s paper-mache glue)
- A slow rolling boil
If there are pan juices, great. If there are bits of the bird stuck to the pan (even if overcooked) and just a bit of juice, no problem. Just add half a cup of water.
Bring the juice/water to a low boil, scrapping the bottom of the pan to loosen up some of the stuck on bits (which releases fatty oils and flavour).
As pan juice/bit of water is coming to a slow boil, in a separate measuring cup or bowl add one cup of slightly warm (not hot) water and 1 Tbsp of all purpose flour. Use a whisk or a fork to whisk the mixture together with NO clumps.
Once the pan on the stove top starts to boil, add the water/flour mixture a little bit at a time (about 1 Tbsp at a time) and use a whisk to rapidly whisk the mixture in the pan. If you have a foil pan or an expensive non-stick pan, you may wish to transfer the oil/juice/drippings to another pot to make this but if you do, the flavour will suffer. As you whisk in the water/flour mix allow the pan juices to come to a low rolling boil (not a hard boil)… and keep whisking. If you allow it to sit still more than a few seconds, you risk burning the gravy.
Once it has reached the colour and consistency you want, remove the pan from the heat and immediately pour it through a kitchen strainer into a serving dish. Pouring it through the strainer removes any lumps or bits of scrapings, leaving a smooth tasty gravy. You may need to coax the gravy through the strainer with a spoon if it is particularly thick. Allow the gravy to sit for a few minutes and then spoon off any grease that rises to the top.