How to Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey
Thanksgiving brings thoughts of homemade stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and most importantly, turkey. Lots of people get overwhelmed with preparing this bird.
Here at Seven Sons Farms, we understand how stressful it can be to perfect this iconic dinner. That's why we've created this guide to help you cook a Thanksgiving turkey dinner that your family and friends will never forget!
To cook a successful Thanksgiving dinner, you need the proper equipment. Make sure your kitchen is stocked with these essentials:
Meat thermometers are an essential piece of equipment for cooking the perfect Thanksgiving turkey. A meat thermometer ensures that the meat you're cooking is up to temperature and will not give you accidental food poisoning. It can also ensure that your meat of choice does not come out overcooked and dry.
A roasting tin is essential for roasting a turkey; it's in the name! The tin should be big enough for the turkey to fit. We suggest opting for a pan that has handles, so the turkey may not fall through or break the tin when carried. The tin will catch any juices that may drip when the turkey is cooking, and these juices can later be used for a delicious gravy!
The wire roasting rack is important in letting air circulate around the turkey when roasting. This allows it to cook evenly. It also lets the natural juices in the turkey to drip into the roasting tin, so you can save the drippings to make gravy or stew.
If grilling or smoking, you need to have a grill or smoker! Make sure that the equipment is clean and void of any old food residue. Also, make sure to practice food and equipment safety when operating these appliances.
Once the turkey is cooked, you have to be able to carve and serve it! You'll need a slicing knife and a carving fork in the set. You should also have a large cutting board to carve the turkey, with a groove along the edges to catch any juices that may escape.
Picking Your Turkey
There are many things to think about when selecting the perfect bird for your Thanksgiving turkey, including size, seasonings, and other considerations.
One consideration when shopping for turkeys is to buy from a local or family-owned business. Here at Seven Sons, we are a family-owned and local farm.
We offer a wide selection of free-range, non-GMO poultry, so you can cook up a Thanksgiving meal that is sure to bring happiness into your home.
There are numerous known benefits to buying from local or family-owned businesses, such as:
- Knowing exactly where your money is going (supporting working families)- Knowing the source of your meat and other goods- Putting money back into the community
By purchasing your Thanksgiving turkey from Seven Sons Farms, you're buying the freshest and most ethical meat. Buying local supports not only our family but your family, too.
Consider How Many People You're Feeding
We all love having leftovers to snack on for days after Thanksgiving. It's one thing to have some leftovers, but it's an entirely different story to have three-quarters of the bird left sitting in your refrigerator.
As a general rule of thumb, plan to have 1.5 pounds of turkey per adult. If you're feeding a large family or group, such as 10 people, choose a bird that's 15-20 pounds in size. If you're feeding fewer people (2 or 3), it can get tricky because smaller birds have a lower meat-to-bone ratio. Opt for 2 pounds per person in the case of a smaller family or group.
Tip: If you need to go for more than 15 lbs, cook two smaller birds as opposed to one large bird. It'll save oven space and take less time to cook! This also helps if your oven is too small for one large bird but can fit two small ones. You can also season the two birds differently, so people can have options!
Nobody likes a bland piece of turkey. Seasoning is one of the most important aspects of cooking, and different herbs and spices can greatly enhance the flavor of any food.
The two most important seasonings for any meal: salt and pepper.
Salt and pepper do not alter flavor but rather enhance it. Salt makes food taste more like itself, and pepper gives complex flavor but isn't overly assertive.
Herbs and Spices
The best seasonings to use on a turkey are largely up to your preferences. However, there are some herbs and spices that are just universally great with turkey. There are two main places to put the spices: on the skin and in the stuffing. Sage can be used as a stuffing mixed with breadcrumbs and onion, which adds an aromatic taste.
If applying on the skin of the turkey, use herbs such as parsley, thyme, rosemary, and oregano. Parsley can brighten the flavor, while thyme can add an earthy taste. Rosemary and oregano can both add woodsy and aromatic flavors.
Tip: Score the skin of the turkey before seasoning, so the herbs and spices can penetrate the skin and get deeper into the bird.
Where else can I incorporate these flavors?
Use similar flavors in other dishes in your Thanksgiving dinner, such as in side dishes and gravy, to create unity across dishes! You can use rosemary and thyme in your green beans, garlic in your mashed potatoes, and oregano in your salads.
Gravy can be enhanced by adding fresh herbs such as chives, chervil, thyme, and parsley to create complex and delicious flavors the entire family will love.
What can I put inside the turkey to give it some good flavor?
You should always liberally salt and pepper the inside of the turkey. You can also stuff some herbs, spices, and other ingredients into the turkey to incorporate the flavor of the turkey into the stuffing.
You can ensure a moist and flavorful turkey by loosely stuffing some bread mixed with thyme, lemon, onion, garlic, and some organic vegetables to incorporate the flavors without taking away from the moisture of the bird.
So you've bought your free-range, GMO-free, turkey from Seven Sons. You've gathered your equipment and have decided on your seasoning.
What's next? Cooking it, of course!
People often don't know that there are many ways to cook a turkey, just as there are many ways to cook a steak. In this section, we've broken down the basic cooking methods.
The most classic and well-known way to cook a turkey is by roasting it. Roasting is when high-temperature dry heat is used to envelop and cook the food evenly on all sides. This is not to be mistaken with baking, which is done at lower temperatures. Roasting provides a crispy, well-browned skin and moist meat.
For a baseline, a turkey that is between 10-18 pounds (unstuffed) should be roasted for 3 to 3.5 hours. For every 3-4 additional pounds, add 35 minutes to the cooking time. If the turkey will have stuffing, add 45 minutes to the cooking time. Always let the turkey rest for a few minutes before serving.
Tip: Achieve the crispest skin by reducing excess moisture on the surface. You can rub the skin with baking powder and salt, then let the turkey rest overnight for super crisp, brown skin. This is called dry-brining.
Deep frying involves frying the turkey in enough oil to cover it completely. This method seals in the flavors while creating a crisp outer skin. It can also be a fun family experience as long as everyone is safe!
Deep frying a turkey takes much less time than roasting or grilling it. Turkeys should be deep-fried for 3 minutes per pound. Using a thermometer, make sure the thickest part of the turkey breast reads 155 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature will carry over to 165 degrees as it rests.
Note: Deep frying a turkey can be extremely hazardous if done incorrectly. There's a high risk of causing a fire if even the smallest amount of oil comes in contact with the burner, and the unit housing the oil can easily tip over and spill.
It's imperative to always use the fryer outdoors on a solid, level surface a safe distance from buildings. Remember not to overfill the fryer. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby and make sure the turkey is completely thawed before placing it in the fryer.
Grilling / BBQ
A lesser-known method of cooking a turkey is barbecuing it on a grill. It's one of the best ways to ensure that it comes out tender and juicy, and it gives the turkey a wonderfully smokey flavor. It also frees up the kitchen for other dinner preparations and is just generally a fun way to cook!
The turkey should be grilled 11 to 13 minutes per pound (unstuffed). A meat thermometer inserted on the innermost part of the thigh and the thickest part of the breast should read 165 degrees Fahrenheit. The turkey should rest before being served.
Tip: When grilling, place a disposable aluminum pan underneath the turkey to catch the drippings for use in gravy.
Smoking the turkey allows you to infuse a robust, smokey flavor into the meat. Turkey tends to be pretty bland by itself, so make sure to use a mild, light wood (such as cherry or apple). Smoking the turkey also frees up oven space for other dishes, such as sides and desserts.
Smoking a turkey will take about 30 minutes per pound, so it's best to start this process as early as possible. Make sure that you have a meat thermometer on-hand to check the internal temperature every so often.
The temperature must be past the range of 120 - 140 degrees Fahrenheit within 4 hours of being in the smoker. Otherwise, it may start to spoil before cooking through all the way. Also, make sure to baste your turkey every so often to retain moisture. The turkey is done cooking when the internal temperature of the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Tip: Brine your turkey before smoking it. This helps to tenderize the meat and add more flavor and moisture. The brine prevents the turkey from drying out during the cooking process. Plan to brine for between 18-24 hours.
Simple Roasted Turkey Recipe
Now that we've covered almost everything, let's go over a very basic roasted turkey recipe. Keep in mind that you can always modify or improve on this recipe by adding your favorite spices, herbs, vegetables, gravy, or stuffing!
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Pull neck, liver, and giblets out of turkey and put in a bowl for later.
3. Dry the turkey with paper towels and season the inside and outside with salt and pepper.
4. Fill the cavity of the turkey with bread, chopped onions, carrots, apples, herbs, and anything else you feel would go nicely inside to add flavor.
5. Brush the turkey with butter and place the whole turkey breast-side up in a roasting pan.
6. Tent with foil and roast for 2 hours, adding 15 minutes for every extra pound.
7. After removing foil, baste with melted butter. Increase the oven's heat to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
8. Roast until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
If roasting a turkey isn't your speed, you can always search for an easy deep-fried or grilled turkey recipe online. Don't be afraid to experiment with herbs, spices, and flavors to create your perfect turkey dinner!
Savory Gravy Recipe
Here's where you can use the neck and giblets to ensure no part goes to waste!
1. While the turkey is roasting, place the neck and giblets into a medium saucepan and cover with 2 inches of water. Bring the pan to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
2. Remove the neck and giblets from the water. When cooled, pick off the neck meat. Chop up the giblets into pieces about a half-square-inch each.
3. After removing the turkey from the oven and roasting pan, pour the drippings from the turkey into a large pitcher. Leave long enough to let the fat separate from the drippings.
4. Use a ladle to skim off the fat and transfer it into another bowl.
5. Set the roasting pan over the stove and turn the heat to medium, then pour in the fat.
6. Sprinkle some flour onto the fat when the fat is heated. Whisk it until the consistency feels paste-y.
7. Pour in some chicken, turkey, or vegetable broth. Cook until brown. Then, pour in the turkey drippings. Stir until thick, then add the giblets and neck meat.
8. Add salt and pepper to taste, then serve hot!
Tip: Incorporate bone broth into your gravy or stock for extra flavor. Seven Sons Farms sells bone broth kits, but you also have the option of purchasing stewing hens to make your broth! If you make gravy after cooking the turkey, you can also incorporate the drippings from the pan.
Side Dishes and Desserts
Side dishes are almost as important as the big bird itself! Here are some of our favorite side dishes to complement the turkey:
Mashed Potatoes are creamy, comforting, and completely customizable. Add creamy butter and cheese, along with sour cream, bacon, and gravy.
Sweet Potatoes are sweeter than a white potato but can be sweetened even more with brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, walnuts, or pecans. You can also add marshmallows to make it into a dessert if you like!
Baked Potatoes can be filled with almost anything and taste great. Use a combination of butter, sour cream, cheese, bacon bits, and scallions for great, hearty flavor.
Green Beans are a great vegetable to serve with Thanksgiving dinner and can even be made into a casserole. Slivered almonds, fried onions, or bacon bits can be added for texture and flavor.
Cranberry Sauce is a classic side for turkey. It can be baked if it's fresh and homemade (not canned), which it should always be!
Sweet Yeast Rolls with creamy, softened grass-fed butter are a crowd-favorite at Thanksgiving. These rolls are rich and fluffy. For a sweeter version, you can top it off with cinnamon and brown sugar.
Stuffing can help keep the inside of the turkey moist while cooking and absorbs some of the excess juice. Try stuffing with bread and veggies to achieve different combinations and flavor profiles.
Veggies such as carrots, corn, squash, pumpkin, and zucchini are classic autumnal sides and delicious extra options for Thanksgiving dinner. Check out some options for healthy, organic vegetables to get some ideas.
As for desserts, you gotta go with a classic pumpkin or pecan pie to finish off the night on a high note. Add whipped cream to the pumpkin pie, or a side of ice cream to the pecan pie for an added touch of sweetness. Am I right?
Do’s and Don’ts of Cooking Turkey
Don't wait too long to buy your bird, especially if you plan on buying a frozen one. Buy your bird with enough time to give it the attention it needs. For instance, if you plan to brine the bird, you'll want enough time to let the brine soak into the skin before cooking.
Don't forget about food safety. Use a meat thermometer, color-coded cutting boards, and sanitize surfaces to minimize the risk of cross-contamination and foodborne illness. You can't enjoy your Thanksgiving turkey if you get sick from mishandling or undercooking it!
Do make sure the turkey is completely thawed before cooking. This ensures that the turkey gets cooked completely without burning the outside. While cooking, also remember to use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature. Just because the outside looks golden brown doesn't mean the turkey is cooked!
Don't overstuff the turkey. Overstuffing can lead to a dry turkey because the bread can soak up too much of the natural juices. It can also take longer to cook and result in undercooked turkey. Be sure to stuff loosely and don't stuff the turkey if it's going to be grilled, smoked, or fried.
Do save your leftover turkey for other post-Thanksgiving dishes. Turkey sandwiches are a popular choice, but there are tons of other things you can make with leftovers such as salads, wraps, rice bowls, and other dishes.
Thanksgiving dinner is one of the best and most iconic meals of the year. Who doesn't love a holiday that revolves around food, family, and thankfulness?
As a family-run business, Seven Sons Farms considers Thanksgiving extra special, which calls for extra care and love in the kitchen.
We hope our guide has empowered you to craft a beautiful and memorable Thanksgiving Turkey dinner, and we wish you the best for the holidays!
Got any questions, or have some of your own tips and tricks to share? Please leave a comment, or contact us today!