Cooking Turkey – Comparing Methods

You have selected your bird, decided to brine or not to brine and now you have to choose a cooking method.  I am going to feature several cooking methods and offer my opinion of each method.

Whatever method you choose, remove the turkey from the refrigerator about an hour prior to cooking, upwards of two hours for really big turkeys.

Traditional Pan Roasted:   My preferred method.

  • Choose a roasting pan with a 2″ – 3″ lip, use a roasting rack to evaluate the turkey off the bottom of the pan so the hot air can circulate around your turkey.  This way you will actually be roasting and not steaming your turkey. I prefer roasting at 350° in a regular conventional oven – not a convection oven.  (*More on convection cooking later)
  • You can add chopped apples, onions, oranges, lemons, herbs to the cavity.  What ever you like.  Also, there are some people that like to make an herb butter and rub it between the skin and the breast meat.   If my turkey has been brined I do not use any additional salt, I usually just rub a little oil over the top of the skin.
  • During cooking keep an eye on the drippings the roasting pan, if they seem to be dry and threatening to burn add some broth to the bottom of the pan.
  • If you your turkey has been brined, the relaxed muscle structure may cause the turkey to cook faster than a turkey that has not been brined.  An unstuffed, untrussed bird will cook a lot faster that one that has been stuffed and tightly trussed.   Bottom line is that you MUST rely on your thermometer and internal temperature.  An unstuffed turkey is done at 165° when measured at the thickest part of the thigh meat.  If you insist on stuffing your bird, the center of the stuffing must be 160°  – this is why I don’t stuff the turkey. Most old thermometers indicate 180° for poultry. If you cook your turkey until the thickest part of the thigh registers 180° the breast is going to be dry and mealy.   I suggest removing the turkey from the oven when the temperature in the thickest part of the thigh reaches 161°  – 163° – place on a warm platter, tent with foil to keep warm. The turkey will continue to cook and the juices will reabsorb.  Do NOT carve the turkey prior to resting.    Keep in mind that I do not stuff my turkey – the dressing is cooked in the oven after the turkey comes out and while it is resting.

High Heat Start:

  • This is for you Scott!
  • When starting any type of meat at 500° be prepared for SMOKE.  Lots of smoke!  Even if you start with an impeccably clean oven you may have SMOKE.  Not just a little smoke but the kind of smoke that fills the entire house, where you have to open the windows and doors.  Then you just pray that the neighbors don’t call the fire department.
  • If you have brined your turkey in apple juice with brown sugar added to the brine the high heat may cause the sugar to burn.   The skin will be black, although the turkey beneath it will probably be fine.
  • Can you tell I am not a fan?  Don’t even ask why, you don’t want to know!  Our friend Scott insists he has never had a problem with smoke and Alton Brown does recommend this method.  They may have cleaner ovens than me!
  • Be warned if you experiment with this method, you might want to set 6 more places at the table…..those firemen might want to stay for dinner!

Deep Fried Turkey:

    • Speaking of firemen…..There is reason that fire extinguishers are sold right next to the turkey fryers.  Make no mistake, I am not an expert at frying turkey.   I know plenty of people who are sold on this method and I would be happy to eat any of those turkeys, especially the skin.
    • Only use a Fresh Turkey*
    • That said, let me give you a couple of tips. If you are going to brine the bird, I suggest using a water and salt brine, no apple juice and no sugar, the same chemical effect will take place without any burning sugar.
    • Make sure your turkey is REALLY dry.  Drip drain it, on a rack in a large stock pot.  Water and chunks of ice and oil do NOT mix well.
    • I would suggest cutting the tips of the wings off and using for stock.  They will burn to a crisp in the fryer.
    • How much oil to use:   The day before frying, take your raw turkey and place it into the empty fryer.  Add water to cover the bird plus an inch or two.*see note below from the Fry Master*  Remove the turkey, let all the water drain back into the pot.  Now measure the depth of the water in the pot.  Mark that spot. That is how much oil to add to your fryer. ( Now, go empty that fry pot of the water and set to drain and dry – I told you oil and water do NOT mix)   It is amazing how much oil is displaced by a turkey! You don’t want the hot oil to pour over the top of the fryer and catch fire!
    • Plan on immersing your turkey into 350° oil and cooking for 3 1/2 minutes per pound.   Maintain the heat at 350°
    • Do not put your fryer on uneven ground, on a glass table top or in the garage or close to your house!  Place it in a spot away from things that will catch fire. Cover the ground in tarps, old carpets, cardboard or whatever else may absorb the oil may splatter out.  Expect a  5′ radius of splatter and you should have a 8′ radius covered to protect concrete from acquiring permanent oil stains.  Set the propane tank as far away from the burner as the connections will allow. In other words, “Good luck and I wish you well.”

Notes from the Fry Master himself.  Thanks for the help, bd.weld 

  • “I deep fry turkeys often and have had great results. I inject them with a combination of spices/herbs and real butter.
  • First, use only fresh turkeys, never frozen defrosted ones.
  • Second, when determining how much oil do not cover the turkey with an inch or two of water. Keep in mind that oil expands when heated. Place enough water to about an inch below the top of the bird (you can always add oil but it’s difficult to remove hot oil).
  • Third, after the oil has come up to temp turn off the burner prior to submersing the turkey into the hot oil. Most of the splatter will occur when lowering the turkey into the hot oil. After the turkey is submerged relight the burner. A 12 to 15 pound turkey will cook in approximately 45 minutes.” bd.weld

 

Convection Roasting:

  • Convection heat is best reserved for baking or small roasts.  Using the convection setting on your oven to roast a whole turkey will, in my opinion, only dry out the surface of the turkey and not speed up the overall cooking time.   I would consider using the convection setting to start a bone in turkey breast – then after 20 minutes return the oven to “bake” and reduce the oven temperature to 325° until the internal temperature is 163° – Remove, tent and allow to rest before carving.

Cooking Bag:

  • Turkey cooked in a cooking bag will cook faster than turkey roasted in a open roasting pan.
  • Although cooking bags make for easy clean-up the turkey is really steamed rather than roasted.
  • Follow the instructions that come with the cooking bags.

 

What ever method of cooking you choose, here are good tips to remember.

  • Defrost SAFELY:  Place the turkey  in the refrigerator, in the original wrapper, in a pan large enough to hold the turkey and catch any drips. Allow 1 day for each 5 pounds plus a day.   “Fresh” turkey are ‘almost’ frozen, give them a day or so in the refrigerator.  Do NOT defrost at room temperature!
  • Clean before and after handling poultry.   Wash all areas with soap and water to remove visible soil.  Then disinfect using 1 teaspoon bleach mixed with a gallon of water.
  • Once your turkey is defrosted and prior to brining – remove the neck and giblets.  Check both ends of the turkey, you should find a sack with giblets in it.  Reserve both the neck and giblets in a food storage bag in the refrigerator, we have another use for those.
  • Rinse your turkey to remove any ice chunks from the interior of the turkey.  *** Disclaimer – I know that the USDA says to not rinse your poultry. ***  Personally, I rinse.  There are too many times when I have unlodged huge chunks of ice – they are REALLY dangerous if you are planning on deep frying your turkey, internal organs that were not properly removed and other unmentionables.  So yes, I clean – I rinse the bird and then I clean again.
  • Do not place the turkey into warm brine.  Brine should be chilled to at least 40° prior to placing the turkey in the brine and then immediately into the refrigerator or insulated cooler along with ice or blue ice to maintain the brine at temperature below 40°.

Cooks Notes:

I am often asked why even though thoroughly cooked turkey meat has a pink tinge.

  • Is it safe to eat?   Yes, turkey cooked to 165° is done.
  • Will cooking longer and to a higher internal temperature remove the pink tinge?  No, even cooked to 180° and dry as a bone, the meat will still be pinkish.
  • If you would like to check out the reason behind this pinkish tinge check out  USDA – Is Pink Turkey Meat Safe

About Baking Nana

Each morning my granddaughter Sarah calls to ask, “Watcha doing, Nana? Are you baking Nana?” Hence my “name” Baking Nana. I am a mother to three wonderful children and a grandmother to 12 very hungry grandkids. I don’t bake fancy cakes but I do make wonderful yeast bread and home cooked meals made with love.


Comments

Cooking Turkey – Comparing Methods — 22 Comments

  1. Regarding the 500 degree method and smoke; never done a turkey at high temp but I love roast duck… Add just enough water to the bottom of the pan so when the initial dripping drop they hit water instead the hot pan. Honest, you can really smoke a house up cooking duck if you don’t add a little water to the pan when you start

  2. I have a question I forgot a roasting rack to put in the pan is there anything else I can use or can I put it directly in the pan? Can I put broth on the bottom then put a bed of potatoes and onions and put the turkey on top

    • You certainly can use a bed of potatoes and onions. Carrots and celery are good to. Actually, you don’t HAVE to have a rack. The bird might stick to the pan a little and you might loose some of the skin on the thigh, but really that is OK. As for the broth, I don’t add broth unless the pan is really too dry and in danger of burning. Again, use your best judgement. Broth or not, both ways are fine. Happy Thanksgiving.

    • Thanks Jane! I will check it out.
      OK I just looked at the recipe / method. I love poached chicken so I know that I would love poached turkey. I would only cook to 165 though. My usual method for chicken is to bring the water / broth to a boil – drop in the poultry, cover and reduce the heat to low for 20 minutes at the lowest setting – turn off heat and let sit until done. Thanks for the link!

    • Hi Kevin. You can put stock or broth in the bottom of the roasting pan, I don’t unless it seems the drippings are going to burn. I also don’t cover with foil. However, if your bird looks to be getting too brown before it is done, a layer of foil just layed on top will prevent it from over browning. There are a lot of people that start cooking the turkey breast side down and then flip it over half way through cooking time. That helps the breast from over cooking and over browning. My problem is physically flipping over that heavy and now hot turkey without either burning myself or dropping the whole dang thing.

  3. Thanks for info BNana. In regards to cooking at 500 for 30 minutes, maybe it does smoke and I do open the windows, I guess I did not pay attention. The purpose for the 500 is to brown the skin ……. I guess.

    The big difference in my brine and yours is you use apple juice and I use a chicken or vegetable stock……. any comments on the difference?

    • Hi Scott! The chicken or veggie stock is great – the apple juice really does make the skin brown nicely, maybe that is why I don’t really need the high heat start. What ever flavors are in your brine will be imparted to the turkey meat so the broth would work nicely. My understanding is that the process of osmosis is what draws the brine into the meat as the muscle fibers relax.
      Thanks for stopping in.

  4. Great info, B’Nana! I don’t usually stuff the bird, I only add aromatics and prepare “dressing” as a side. I have to be careful with the way I flip the bird, though. I usually start off with the breast down, then flip half-way through the roasting time. A 16 pound bird is about all I can handle this way.

    • Hi Brenda. I don’t stuff the bird any more either. We used to many years ago but no more. I debated mentioning starting with the breast down – but flipping that hot bird over is really dangerous. I have often thought about just cooking it upside down for the whole time. We don’t do the crave at the table – present the pretty bird on a platter routine. If I can find a small fresh turkey I might try that. Thanks for stopping in.

  5. I still don’t get it. Is it that bd.’s method greatly lowers the splatter factor, but whoever is putting the turkey in the oil still needs to wear protective and long gloves?

    • I don’t wear protective gloves, I do wear a pair of old tennis shoes though. The deep fryer is made specifically for deep frying turkeys and comes with a stainless steel handle that hooks onto the apparatus that holds the turkey. There is sufficient room between your hand and the oil when you gently lower the bird into the hot oil.

  6. If bd. says it’s okay to deep fry turkeys, I’ll back off from my thinking it one of the most dangerous cooking ideas out there. Still, I probably should not be the one in charge of deep-frying the turkey at the party!

    • still emeralds! bd.weld is the Master Fryman! I wouldn’t let No Baking Papa near a turkey fryer ~~Nope, no how~~ Me, I am too busy in the kitchen. My son tried it one year, notice I said “one’? I think his wife was more than a little annoyed with the grease stains on the patio concrete. We need to train a family Master Fryman.

  7. I deep fry turkeys often and have had great results. I inject them with a combination of spices/herbs and real butter. First, use only fresh turkeys, never frozen defrosted ones. Second, when determining how much oil do not cover the turkey with an inch or two of water. Keep in mind that oil expands when heated. Place enough water to about an inch below the top of the bird (you can always add oil but it’s difficult to remove hot oil). Third, after the oil has come up to temp turn off the burner prior to submersing the turkey into the hot oil. Most of the splatter will occur when lowering the turkey into the hot oil. After the turkey is submerged relight the burner. A 12 to 15 pound turkey will cook in approximately 45 minutes.

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