We get questions every day about cooking a fresh turkey versus a frozen turkey. There is a huge difference between a frozen turkey and a fresh turkey, both in quality and in price, but there isn’t much difference in cooking a fresh turkey and a frozen (thawed before cooking) turkey. Following is an easy “recipe” for cooking a plain fresh turkey. We’ll leave the fixin’s to you.
Remove the giblet pack from the neck cavity. To add a lot of flavor to your gravy, add the giblets and cook thoroughly.
Wash the turkey cavity and the outside of the bird – pat dry.
Allow the turkey to get to room temperature.
If you are stuffing the turkey – always stuff it loosely – about 1/2 to 3/4 cups of stuffing per pound of turkey in the cavity. Tie the drumsticks together if you are using stuffing.
Spread unmelted butter under the skin, next to the flesh of the turkey. Gently pull the skin away from the meat and find areas that you can get to the meat to spread the unmelted butter. (Best to use salted butter for this task.) You can add flavorings to the butter if you wish – mix the room temperature butter with your favorite spices or herbs before spreading under the skin. You can also add sliced mushrooms to the mixture.
Brush the skin with melted butter. If you use spices or herbs to the butter for under the skin, we suggest that you put the same herbs or spices in your melted butter.
Now is the time to make a decision on whether you want a beautiful turkey or a delicous, moist turkey. If you want a beautiful turkey, you will cook it breast up (whatever part is up will brown while cooking). If you want a delicious, moist turkey, you will cook it breast down (cooking with the breast down will allow the juices that naturally flow with gravity to flow into the breast, keeping it moist).
Preheat your oven no more than 300 to 325 degrees F. Remember that low and slow is the preferred method to cooking most meats in the oven.
Place the bird on a rack (you don’t want it resting in the liquid that it will create while cooking) in a roasting pan and into the preheated oven. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. The thermometer should point towards the body and should not touch the bone.
Bake until the skin is a light golden color and then cover loosely with a foil tent. During the last 45 minutes of baking, remove the foil tent to brown the skin. Basting is not necessary, but helps promote even browning. Use melted butter if you want to baste.
All turkeys will cook much faster if you don’t stuff it. So if you have a deadline, then you can cook the stuffing in a casserole dish and that will speed up the process of cooking the bird (there are new “instant pots” that cook the outside crispy, which would be great for the stuffing – frees up some oven space).
The turkey is done when the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F at the thigh.
Most turkey labels have a cooking time chart. Mert’s suggests the following chart be considered, but always use a meat thermometer to determine whether your turkey is cooked sufficiently.
10 to 18 pounds unstuffed 3.5 to 4 hours stuffed 4.5 to 5 hours
18 to 22 pounds unstuffed 4 to 4.5 hours stuffed 5 to 5.5 hours
22 to 24 pounds unstuffed 4.5 to 5 hours stuffed 5.5 to 6 hours
24 to 29 pounds unstuffed 5.5 to 6 hours stuffed 6.25 to 6.75 hours
Allow the turkey to rest for at least 15 to 20 minutes before carving.