How to Cook the Perfect Turkey in a Few Simple Steps
Christmas is coming and it’s safe to say many families will celebrate with the unavoidable roast turkey. But will it meet expectations? Here are some tips to help you choose the best one and cook it to perfection.
1. CHOOSING YOUR TURKEY
Both Grade A and Utility turkeys are available on the market. The latter have small defects, and are therefore less expensive, but taste the same as the others. If you plan to carve the turkey at the table, go for Grade A. If not, go for Utility.
Which Turkey? What Weight?
All turkeys sold in grocery stores are young turkeys. Their age varies from 10 to 18 weeks and their weight varies depending on their age. Small turkeys are generally more tender than heavier, older ones. You’ll need between 500 and 680 grams of meat per person, so most of the time a bird of between 5 and 7 kilos is sufficient, depending on the number of guests.
Brined or unbrined?
The label “brined” signifies that the turkey has been treated with brine, meaning it has been injected with a mixture of water, salt, sodium phosphate and sometimes also butter or margarine. The principle advantage is that you don’t need to baste the turkey during cooking, and the meat will be less dry once cooked. The quantity of brine varies from one turkey to the next. As a consequence, the turkey’s protein content, originally around 22%, can be considerably reduced. Choose a product with at least 17% meat protein. Be aware that brine makes the turkey saltier. If you plan to brine your turkey yourself, make sure you choose it unbrined.
Dry aged or not? Frozen or fresh?
In general, dry aged turkey has a drier meat. Fresh turkeys don’t necessary have a better taste or texture than frozen turkeys. Their advantage is that they don’t need to be defrosted, which saves time. If you choose a frozen product, you’ll have to plan enough time to defrost it in the fridge, usually around 5 hours per pound (500g).
Cooking Turkey from Frozen
You can skip the defrosting step and put the frozen turkey directly in the oven if you buy the “ready to roast” type. These are brined turkeys (so there’s no need to baste them during cooking), which may or may not be stuffed. Cooking time will be longer (around 2 hours depending on the weight), but the result is completely satisfactory. The cooking time will be indicated on the packaging.
Several factors enter into play when it comes to cooking turkey properly, for example the type of oven dish used (those in aluminum take much more time), as well as the actual temperature of your oven, or how many times you open the door to baste the turkey.
The first tip I can give you is to take a look at the cooking timetable below and add an hour to compensate for any surprises. In practice, it’s best to start cooking in advance and then keep the turkey warm (in an oven at 77°C/170°F) rather than risk everyone being ready around the table while the turkey is still cooking in the oven.
My second tip is to buy a thermometer so that you can ensure your turkey is thoroughly cooked. Don’t forget you must insert the stem of the thermometer between the breast and the thigh, without touching the bone. Your turkey is cooked when the temperature of the thigh reaches 82°C/180°F if it is stuffed, and of 77˚C/170˚F if it is not. The target temperature for the breast is at least 74°C/165°F.
Minimum cooking times in an oven at 160°C/325°F
|Whole Turkey||Stuffed||Not Stuffed|
|3.5-4.5 kg (8-10 lb)||3h15 to 3h30||2h45 to 3h|
|4.5-5.5 kg (10-12 lb)||3h30 to 3h45||3h to 3h15|
|5.5-7 kg (12-16 lb)||3h45 to 4h||3h15 to 3h30|
|7-10 kg (16-22 lb)||4h to 4h30||3h30 to 4h|