Chapter 1. Buying a Turkey
Q: What size turkey should I buy?
A: For a whole turkey, allow about one pound per person, which includes a moderate amount for leftovers. If you like a lot of leftovers, allow up to 1-1/2 pounds per person. Turkeys range in size from 4 pounds, which are baby turkeys about the size of a chicken, to whoppers up to 25 pounds. Most markets stock 8 to 20 pound turkeys, so if you plan on a small or very large bird, you may want to order it in advance.
Turkey Tip: Make sure your roasting pan, oven and refrigerator can accommodate the size turkey you buy. There's nothing worse on Thanksgiving than realizing the bird won't fit in the oven or the pan.
Q: Is it better to buy one large turkey or two small ones?
A: If the visual image of a huge, whole bird on a platter is important to you, then go with a large turkey (if you can lift it). But today's chefs have found that two smaller birds not only take less time to roast, but they stay moister too. In many cases, one of the birds is served on Thanksgiving and the remaining one is stored for leftovers, again staying moister and taking up less room in the refrigerator than the leftover carcass of a large bird.
Q: Should I buy fresh or frozen?
A: That depends on your tastes and budget. A fresh, commercially raised turkey is easy since it does not require thawing. Many people feel it tastes better than frozen, but USDA rules allow for poultry to be labeled fresh even if it has been frozen to some extent. Birds sold as frozen can taste just fine, provided they have not been frozen so long that the quality begins to deteriorate. Fresh, locally raised turkeys are often raised on special diets that are claimed to make them tastier, and are available from the turkey ranch directly or by advance order to certain specialty and natural foods markets. These types or turkeys really are fresh and not frozen in any step of the process, and consequently cost more.
Q: What about turkeys that have been injected with fats and seasonings?
A: Some brands of turkey inject the flesh with fatty substances to keep the breast meat moist. However, many people prefer natural birds that are free of these added fats, salts and chemicals. Before buying a bird, be sure to read the label.
Q: What about turkey parts and frozen stuffed turkeys?
A: For a small meal, or if you prefer only one type of meat, you may want to consider buying turkey parts, such as the whole breast, half breast, legs or thighs. Other products now available include boneless breast roasts, sliced turkey breast cutlets and boneless turkeys. While frozen pre-stuffed turkeys are convenient in that they go from the freezer directly to the oven (no thawing), you take your chance on whether you'll like the stuffing and seasonings they use and on overall taste and quality.
- What size turkey should I buy?
- Is it better to buy one large turkey or two small ones?
- Should I buy fresh or frozen?
- What about turkeys that have been injected with fats and seasonings?
- What about turkey parts and frozen stuffed turkeys?
- How long can a whole turkey be kept frozen?
- How long can a fresh turkey be kept refrigerated?
- Thawing Rules
- Thawing Methods
- Turkey Thawing Charts
- Is it best to cook the stuffing inside the bird, or separately in a baking dish?
- If I do want to stuff the bird, what's the best way to do it?
- How much stuffing do I need?
- Do I need to close up the cavity after it has been stuffed?
- Preparations Step-by-Step
- Stuffing & Trussing
- Do I need to truss the bird's legs, or can I just roast it the extra effort?
- Roasting Step-by-Step
- How do I keep the breast meat moist when cooking?
- Use a Meat Thermometer
- My turkey comes with a plastic pop-up timer. Can't I use that instead?
- How accurate are "recommended cooking times"?
- How can I tell when the turkey is done?
- USDA Timetable for Turkey Roasted at 325 degrees F.
- Rules for Making Gravy
- Making the Basic Gravy
- Additions to Gravy
- Basic Carving steps
- Removing the Thigh, Drumstick & Wings
- Carving the breast
- Storing leftovers
- Reheating leftovers
- Back to Thanksgiving Headquarters
This page modified November 2006