Turkey tips and cooking time

How to plan a dinner and tell when the turkey is done

By Jane RodmellJane Rodmell

Egg Timer

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Basic turkey talk

  • At least a week ahead, confirm your dinner guests, plan the menu, and order the turkey (if using a fresh bird). Purchase turkey parts to make stock for gravy, prepare the stock, and freeze.
  • Allow about 1 lb (500 g) of turkey per person. A little more will provide you with turkey sandwiches. Much more will result in days of turkey stew and turkey soup. (Don’t forget to eyeball your barbecue to make sure a bird of the size you plan will fit!)
  • As with all poultry, keep raw turkey refrigerated.
  • If you’re using a frozen bird, thaw it in the refrigerator. A 12–20 lb (5.5–9 kg) turkey will take 2–4 days to thaw in the fridge. You can speed up the thawing process by placing the bird in its wrapper in a large container and covering completely with cold water; change the water every hour. Use thawed turkey within 24 hours and never refreeze.
  • Barbecue the turkey unstuffed. A stuffed bird takes longer to cook, and it’s difficult to control the cooking temperature on the barbecue over a long period. Uneven temperature can mean the stuffing isn’t cooked to the required safe level. Bake the stuffing separately and serve on the side. Put some aromatic seasonings in the breast cavity of the turkey instead, to provide moisture and flavour: an onion stuck with whole cloves, celery stalks and leaves, garlic cloves, a cut lemon, and sprigs of fresh or dried thyme, rosemary, sage or marjoram.

Is the turkey cooked?

Use an instant-read thermometer for accuracy and ease of mind. Insert the thermometer into the fleshiest part of the inner thigh without touching the bone. Many older cookbooks (and thermometers) say that the turkey must reach an internal temperature of 180˚F–185˚F (83˚C–85˚C) before it’s done. However, the Canadian Turkey Marketing Agency carried out extensive research several years ago that established that 170˚F (77˚C) is the ideal temperature of a fully cooked unstuffed bird — the meat is perfectly tender and juicy, while any potentially harmful bacteria have been killed.

Other signs that the turkey is done: When you poke the thigh with the tip of a skewer, the juices run clear and the meat feels tender. As well, the skin will be pulled back from the tips of the drumstick. If the leg bone moves freely when twisted (a traditional doneness test), it likely indicates the bird is overcooked and the breast meat will be dry.

If the bird is ready before everything else, don’t panic. Remove to a warm platter and cover loosely with foil. A rest of at least 15–20 minutes is recommended for the juices to retreat through the meat, and a longer wait (up to an hour) in a warm oven will be fine. The wait will make for easier carving, and you will not lose all the good juices at the first cut.

And if pouring rain or arctic air causes the barbecue to lose heat, simply remove the turkey from the grill without alarming the waiting throng, and continue cooking in a preheated 325˚F (160˚C) oven.

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Jane Rodmell