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Easiest Ways to Cook a Turkey on Thanksgiving

It's time to prepare for Thanksgiving with your turkey in hand, but before you start, it's crucial to understand what kind of turkey you've got. Whether it's a plain, fresh bird or a Butterball, Honeysuckle, or injected turkey, the cooking approach can vary.

Easiest Ways to Cook a Turkey on Thanksgiving

According to Anne Legg, a seasoned cooking teacher from Sur La Table and Central Market Plano's cooking schools, if you have a plain, inexpensive turkey without added water or juices, brining is the way to go. Brining, as explained by Shirley Corriher in Cookwise, enhances the liquid content inside the meat cells, resulting in juicier meat. Legg recommends brining overnight using a solution of salt, sugar, and water, occasionally adding herbs for flavor. For commercial birds like Butterball or Honeysuckle, which are typically injected or brined, there's no need for additional brining. These birds are packed with up to 30 percent water, salt, flavorings, and preservatives, similar to a homemade brine, providing juiciness, especially to the breast. Legg advises against relying on the pop-up timer that comes with commercial birds and instead suggests using an instant-read thermometer, cooking to 160°F for optimal results. For a foolproof roasting method, Legg recommends preheating the oven to 325°F, massaging the turkey with room-temperature butter, and roasting for approximately 15 minutes per pound. She suggests testing for doneness with an instant-read thermometer, reaching 160°F in the breast without touching the bone. Rest the bird for 30 minutes before carving. If you have an injected turkey intended for deep frying, Legg highlights its usefulness in preventing popping and foaming. Injecting keeps the turkey juicy, and since the liquid is injected deep into the tissues, it minimizes water added to the skin, reducing splattering during frying. However, Legg advises against using injected turkey for other cooking methods due to potential juice leakage from the injection holes. A straightforward turkey recipe Simplify your turkey cooking experience to eliminate stress with these easy steps:

  • Keep it simple with seasoning: Apply melted butter, coarse salt, and freshly cracked pepper all over the bird.

  • Avoid basting: Repeatedly opening the oven can extend cooking time, sacrificing moistness in the white meat for flavored skin.

  • Skip stuffing: For food safety reasons, don't stuff the turkey. Cooking stuffing inside often results in a dry breast. Opt for stuffing cooked separately, which is lower in fat and calories.

  • Skip brining: Unless you overcook the turkey, brining is an unnecessary extra step. Pay attention to the internal temperature instead.

  • Rest the turkey: Just as crucial as avoiding overcooking, letting the turkey rest allows juices to redistribute throughout the meat, preventing them from being lost on the cutting board.

Checking for doneness: Unlike most roasts, turkey requires reaching the final internal temperature goal without relying on carryover cooking. Due to the turkey's size, with varying temperatures in different parts, it's safer to ensure a minimum of 165ºF to prevent any risk of salmonella. Check the temperature at multiple spots:

  • Thickest part of the thigh

  • Bottom of the bird under the leg

  • Thickest part of the breast

  • Around the wing

  • Additional spots for good measure


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