How to Prepare a Turkey & 3 Ways to Cook It

Many families are staying home this year due to Covid-19 and cooking a turkey themselves for the very first time. If you happen to be one of those folks who normally dine with family or friends and you’ve suddenly found yourself stuck cooking the turkey yourself, don’t fret! We’re here to help.

How to Prepare a Turkey for Cooking

Ensure that the turkey is fully thawed. If it’s still partially frozen, use the cold water thaw or microwave thaw method to finish defrosting it prior to cooking.

Wash the sink thoroughly before beginning and place the packaged turkey in the clean sink.

Remove the packaging from the turkey and discard it, careful to avoid dripping raw poultry juices on the countertops or floor on the way to the trash can.

remove giblet bag from turkey

Most commercially prepared birds contain a giblet package. This packet is often stuffed in the neck cavity of the bird and contains the heart, liver, and gizzard. Carefully remove the package and set it aside. We’ll be using some of the contents of the package later in the gravy. The neck is usually in the main cavity of the bird, so be sure to remove that as well.

turkey giblet bag

The next step is rather controversial and whether you opt to skip it is entirely up to you. While the CDC advises against washing poultry, I prefer to rinse the bird off, inside and out.

Often times during butchering small shards of bone, skin, or unappetizing spots of blood remain on the bird. If you do rinse the bird, use cold water, turned on a low setting for minimal splashing.

rinse inside turkeyFlush the inside of the bird out with water, let it rest in a colander to finish draining.truss the turkey 1

Regardless of the cooking method you choose to use, roasting, deep-frying, or spatchcocking, you’ll want to season the bird. Our favorite seasoning is a stick of melted butter mixed with one package of Good Seasons Italian dressing mix.

Melt the butter in a microwave-safe glass dish, then add the seasoning mix. Whisk until the mixture is completely combined. Working quickly use an injector to inject the mixture deep into the meat of the turkey.

inject turkey seasoning 1

Don’t be tempted to use the small hole tip for this or the seasoning mix will get stuck in the holes, clogging it and making it impossible to inject the seasoning. We use the largest tip of the stainless steel injector.

Stainless Steel Meat Injector

Repeat until all of the seasoning blend is used. If you plan to roast the turkey, drizzle some over the top as well. This isn’t necessary if you’re planning on deep-frying the turkey.prepare turkey for roasting

How to Cook a Turkey, Step by Step

It truly doesn’t matter which method you choose to cook the turkey, it only matters how you prepare the bird and whether you follow the cooking guidelines so it doesn’t accidentally get overcooked. Overcooking is the cause of dried out, flavorless meat.

  1. How to Deep Fry a Turkey
  2. How to Roast a Turkey
  3. How to Spatchcock

how to cook turkey 3 ways

How to Fry a Turkey

Deep frying a turkey is our favorite method of cooking because the bird cooks quickly, with minimal effort, and is always juicy, so long as you follow the frying recommendations.

The trick to perfect fried turkey is maintaining the oil at the correct temperature of 350°F. Turkey must be cooked for 3 1/2 minutes per pound in peanut oil.

Prepare the turkey for cooking, as listed above. Fill the turkey fryer to the marker line for the size turkey that you have. If your particular fryer doesn’t have marker lines you can place the turkey in the deep fryer bucket, fill it with water until it is submerged an inch under the water.

Remove the turkey, use a pencil to mark the waterline. Dump out the water, wipe down the inside carefully, ensuring ALL water is removed (otherwise it will splatter as the oil heats). Fill the container with peanut oil to the line, approximately 4 to 5 gallons. Heat the oil to 350°F.

While the oil is heating, place the turkey in the fryer basket or slide the hook through the bottom. The type of hook is entirely dependent on the brand of fryer you’re choosing to use.

place turkey in fryer basket

Once the oil has reached temperature, very slowly lower the bird into the oil.

deep frying turkey

Take your time, slowly lowering the bird into the hot oil. Be aware that if there is excess water in the bird and it runs out it can and will cause the grease to spatter out at you!
lower turkey into hot oil
Once the bird is fully submerged, set the timer for 3.5 minutes per pound. For example, a 12-pound bird would be approximately 42 minutes.
turkey frying in peanut oil
Periodically check the oil temperature to ensure that it remains right at 350°F.

maintaining oil temperature

Once the timer goes off, carefully lift the bird from the hot oil. Use a thermometer to test the deepest part of the thigh, the temperature should be at least 165F. If the turkey is not yet up to temperature, carefully lower it back into the oil.
remove turkey from fryer

If the bird is done, remove it from the oil and transfer it to a tray, cover it with foil and let it rest about twenty minutes prior to carving and serving.

We deep fry turkey every year and we prefer this automatic regulating turkey fryer. It has a basket, safety brackets on the side to prevent the pot from sliding off, and it’s thermostatic, meaning that when you set the temperature, it automatically kicks on and off to maintain the temp you’ve set.

deep frying turkey 1

How to Roast a Turkey

Roasted turkey takes an average of 13-15 minutes per pound at 325°F. Prepare the turkey as listed above and place the seasoned turkey in a roasting dish. You’ll want to use a dish that has a bit of depth to it as turkey tends to release a lot of juice during cooking.

Skip the Dressing

If you want perfectly cooked turkey, don’t put the dressing inside until AFTER it’s done cooking. Cook stuffing separately in a casserole dish. By stuffing the bird prematurely, the meat will be overcooked on the exterior before it can reach a safe temperature on the inside.

Don’t Baste Turkey

Basting is often touted as a great way to keep the turkey moist, but the truth is, it’s completely unnecessary. Each time the oven door is opened it causes a minimum 25-degree drop in temperature. This, in turn, means that the turkey will need longer to cook and be more likely to dry out.
Roast Turkey Time Chart

How to Spatchcock a Turkey

Spatchcocking is a method that can reduce cooking time by as much as 75%! Here’s a video that walks you through how to spatchcock a turkey.

Food Theory: You're Cooking Your Thanksgiving Turkey WRONG!

Spatchcock Turkey Directions

  1. Cut out the spine using kitchen shears. Let the knife glide through the collarbone.
  2. Flip the bird over and flatten the turkey onto a tray.
  3. Season the bird with your favorite seasoning.
  4. Bake at 450°F for 25 minutes, reduce the heat to 400°F, and cook until done.

A 12-pound bird takes about 45 minutes, an 18-to-20 pound bird takes 60-75 minutes. If the skin starts to darken too much, reduce the temperature by 50 degrees.
spatchcock turkey

Spatchcocking the turkey (removing the spine) reduces the cooking time by nearly seventy-five percent! The turkey remains juicy and succulent and requires very little picking over, thereby reducing waste.

cooked spatchcock turkey

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