Cooking a turkey, especially if it’s your first time, can seem like a rather daunting task. Really, though, it’s not difficult at all. The first thing you’ll need is the turkey. How do you know how big of a turkey to buy? The easiest way to determine what size bird is necessary is to count the number of guests that will be helping to eat the turkey. If you’re inviting 20 people, figure on procuring a turkey weighing approximately 20 pounds.
Once you’ve purchased the turkey, and most of them will be frozen, keep it frozen until about three days before you plan to cook and serve it. Three days before the intended meal, you’ll need to move the turkey from the freezer into the fridge so that it will have time to thaw. It used to be a common practice to let the turkey sit out on the counter for a day and then refrigerate it but this isn’t safe. Poultry is susceptible to growing salmonella bacteria which can cause food poisoning.
A 20-pound turkey will require approximately six to seven hours to cook. A smaller turkey might need an hour or two less. Stuffing the turkey does not vary the cooking time significantly but will result in the meat being more moist, tender and flavorful.
To prepare the turkey for cooking, reach into the opening in the back of the turkey, beneath the flap of skin, and remove the bag of “gizzards.” You can then cook these in the same pan as the turkey and use them later for gravy flavoring. Remove the plastic that binds the legs together. Remove the neck from the body cavity —- you can also cook this along with the turkey or simply discard it. Rinse the turkey off and place it into a large roasting pan or in an electric roaster. If you are stuffing the turkey, mix up your stuffing and fill the body cavities, front and back with your stuffing mixture. Oven roasting the turkey will require cooking at 325-350 degrees. Cover the turkey for the greater portion of the cooking time to help keep the meat moist. If you like to eat the skin, uncover the turkey for the last hour of cooking for a crisp, golden treat. Roasting the turkey in an electric roaster will not provide you with a crisp skin but the meat will be moist and tender.
To determine doneness, attempt to pull a leg off the turkey. If it comes off easily, the turkey is done. Remove from the oven and serve with your favorite accompaniments.