How to Cook the Perfect Christmas Turkey

Few things are more exciting and more stressful than being in charge of cooking the Christmas turkey. However, once you have done it, the process is clear and further turkey occasions will be more about the joy than the stress. Cooking the perfect Christmas turkey is as simple as following a few basic guidelines that will ensure a delicious, moist bird for your holiday table. From choosing and purchasing the turkey until the steaming, highly anticipated bird comes out of the oven, the steps are truly quite clear and simple to follow.

Christmas Turkey

Choosing the Turkey

When choosing which turkey to purchase for your holiday celebration meal, there are several things to take into consideration:

• How many people will you be feeding? Having too little food on Christmas is practically an unforgivable offense, so be sure your turkey is going to be big enough to provide for everyone—plus leftovers, if so desired. The standing guideline for choosing how much turkey to prepare is to have one pound of turkey per adult and half a pound per child.

• If you wish to have leftovers—and aren’t leftovers a huge part of it all?—it is ideal to add about 50% more turkey beyond what is needed to feed the crowd on the big day. Ideally, if you need a large turkey, it is better to choose two smaller birds at around 12-15 pounds apiece as opposed to one big 20 pound bird. The reasoning for this is that a large turkey will not cook as evenly as two smaller ones.

• Decide a couple of weeks before the holiday whether or not you will buy a fresh or frozen turkey. Purchase the best quality turkey you can afford, free range is ideal in that the turkey is well treated before butchering and thus the meat is a much better quality.

Prepping the Turkey

If your turkey is frozen, defrost it just as it came from the store—in the original wrapping. Place your turkey in a pan in the refrigerator for 24 hours per 5 pounds. If you are pressed for time—and who isn’t when cooking the Christmas feast?—you can defrost the turkey a bit faster by placing it(still wrapped) in the sink covered with cold water. Change the cold water every 30 minutes, allowing 30 minutes per pound for thawing. Once thawed, the turkey can sit in the refrigerator for up to three days before cooking, so get that turkey defrosted early and skip the stress and worry of trying to ensure a thawed turkey on Christmas morning. Never, ever thaw the turkey at room temperature, for this allows dangerous bacteria to breed and can make people very sick.

Once your turkey is thawed and ready to cook, dispose of all wrappings. Remember to reach inside the bird and remove the neck and giblets. Do not neglect the inside of the bird, for spices are key for good flavour. If you want to add an extra boost of flavour to the turkey, tuck a few carrots, some onion and garlic inside. Some people use fruit such as oranges or grapefruit instead of the aromatic vegetables to add another dimension of flavour. Once seasoned, tuck the wing tips under the bird and place it breast side up in a large, shallow roasting pan. Brush the skin all over with butter or oil and place inside a pre-heated 325 degree oven.

Cooking the Christmas Turkey

There are many schools of thought and personal opinion on how to cook a turkey perfectly, if your grandmother or mother taught you some tips and tricks, then by all means employ those traditions. For those who are learning as we go here, baste the turkey every 30-40 minutes with melted butter or broth, this will ensure a moist bird—as long as you do not overcook it. As the skin becomes golden, tent the pan with foil in order to keep it from overcooking while the rest of the turkey cooks. The time needed for thorough cooking is usually listed on the turkey package or can be advised by your butcher. Use an instant read thermometer starting about 30 minutes before the turkey should be done. The internal temperature should be 165 degrees for safety.

Try to be sure and not under or over cook the turkey—both are to be avoided at all costs in order to achieve the perfect, moist and delicious Christmas bird.

Once cooked, let the finished turkey stand, tented loosely under foil, for 20 to 30 minutes. This allows the meat to reabsorb the juices, for cutting into a hot, unrested turkey will cause the juices to run out and result in a dry meat.

The perfect Christmas turkey is as easy as following these precise yet basic steps, no stress needed.

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+Tim Capper

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