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Updated: Nov 22, 2012 12:25 PM EST

turkey

The USDA recommends about three to four hours for an un-stuffed 12-15 pound turkey, maybe an hour longer if it's stuffed. (Photo : Flickr)

You've prepared all you can, readied the home for relatives, and the couch for football, but there was something you forgot ... What was it? Oh yeah, how do you cook a turkey again? Read along below for helpful hints from Butterball turkey Talk Line experts 

This year, Talk Line experts are providing their top five tips from thawing, food prep, cooking methods and budget tips to making Thanksgiving better. The original Turkey Talk-Line One was of the first national help lines, and so far its already answered over 3 million questions since opening Nov. 1 with more than 50 Turkey talkers.

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First step:

Preparation: Make sure you pull out the bag of giblets, wash off the bird and towel dry it. Stuff the bird, and baste the skin with butter for added moistness if you like. Then, stick the turkey in a sturdy pan and roast it at 325 degrees for a few hours.

The USDA has guidelines here for how long, but it's about 3-4 hours for an unstuffed 12-15 pound turkey, maybe an hour longer if it's stuffed.

Thawing

Butterball recommends following the "three T's" - Thaw, Temperature and Two-Hour Rule.

Thaw: Thawing in the refrigerator is the recommended method. For every four pounds of turkey, allow at least one day of thawing in the refrigerator. The refrigerator temperature should be below 40 F.

Ways to safely thaw a turkey:

Refrigerator: For every 5 pounds of turkey you will need to thaw the bird for 24 hours. This takes time, but there are alternatives that are much faster.

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Microwave: Thaw the turkey in the microwave using the manufacturer's directions. If your turkey is small enough to fit in the microwave, you can use this method, but remember to cook the bird immediately following the thawing process. If the microwave is not an option for one reason or another, use the old fashion method of cold water.

Cold Water: Be sure the turkey is in a leak proof bag. Allow 30 minutes per pound to thaw your turkey. If you have a 12 pound turkey, it will take you six hours of thawing time using this method, so you might want to do this the night before. Make sure you change the water every 30 minutes. Cook the turkey immediately after thawing.

If you'd rather not thaw at all you can still cook a frozen bird, it'll just need to spend more time in the oven.

Cooking time for a frozen turkey: A frozen turkey that weighs 12-14 pounds needs approximately 4 ½ to 5 hours to cook.

If you go this route, DO NOT stuff the frozen turkey before cooking it. Instead, cook the stuffing on the stovetop. You can prepare it separately while the turkey cooks, or add it inside the bird after its been cooking for at least two hours and is fully defrosted.

Cooking

Temperature: The USDA recommends about three to four hours for an un-stuffed 12-15 pound turkey, maybe an hour longer if it's stuffed.

Always use a meat thermometer to determine when the turkey is fully cooked. The turkey should reach 180 F in the thigh, 170 F in the breast and 165 F in the center of the stuffing.

Two-Hour Rule: Store leftovers in separate containers within two hours after cooking and eat or freeze within two days.

Carving

Step 1. Cut band of skin holding drumsticks. Grasp the end of the drumstick. Then place a knife between drumstick/thigh and body of the turkey, and cut through skin to joint. Remove entire leg by pulling out and back, using the point of the knife to disjoin it. Separate the thigh and drumstick at the joint.

Step 2. Insert fork in upper wing to steady turkey. Make a long horizontal cut above wing joint through to body frame. Wing may be disjointed from body, if desired.

Step 3. Slice straight down with an even stroke, beginning halfway up the breast. When knife reaches the cut above the wing joint, slice should fall free on its own.

Step 4. Continue to slice breast meat easily by starting the cut at a higher point each time.

Frying

Before you put it in a fryer, make sure the turkey is perfectly thawed and dried. There should be no ice or water on it. Inject some seasoning, spices to get more flavoring. Place the turkey in the fryer properly to ensure success.

Butterball Turkey Talk Line

If you're totally lost, or created a new walk-in kitchen when you tried to fry your frozen bird, give Butterball's turkey cooking experts a call at 1-800-BUTTERBALL or visit butterball.com.

Or for another step-by-step guide check out this Wiki how-to

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