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Turkey 101: Everything You Need to Know and 7 Juicy, Delicious Recipes

From thawing to brining to carving, we’ve got your Thanksgiving game plan right here

Thanksgiving is around the corner, so let’s talk turkey. Whether it’s your first time tackling the big meal or you’re looking for tips to level up your cooking game, this turkey tutorial covers everything you need to know.

Step 1. Buying the bird 

Once your guest list is confirmed, buy a frozen turkey at least one week before Thanksgiving. Fresh turkey can be purchased and kept refrigerated up to four days ahead. Plan on approximately 1.5 pounds per person if you want leftovers, or one pound per person if you don’t.  

Step 2. Defrosting  

When thawing turkey in the refrigerator, allow one day for every four to five pounds. For example, if you’re cooking a 12-pound bird, enough for eight people with leftovers, begin defrosting three days before Thanksgiving. Alternatively, thaw turkey in a cold water bath, allowing 30 minutes of soak time per pound

Step 3. Removing neck and giblets 

Once your turkey is defrosted, remove the neck and giblets. Simmer the neck and giblets in water for up to an hour to make broth, adding leftover vegetable scraps for extra flavor, if desired. Use the broth to make gravy, add it to stuffing, or freeze for later use.  

Step 4. Brining 

Though it’s an optional step, once the turkey is thawed, we’re big fans of brining. This process, which is essentially just infusing the turkey with salt, not only makes the meat more flavorful, but also juicier. The salt helps to break down protein strands in the bird so it contracts less in the oven, resulting in less moisture loss. You can wet brine your turkey by immersing it in a saltwater solution (approximately 1 cup of salt per gallon of water) overnight or up to 24 hours. We recommend dry brining, rubbing a salt mixture directly onto the bird, which takes up less room in the fridge and helps to create crispy skin.

Step 5. Cooking 

When roasting turkey, a good rule of thumb is 15 minutes per pound in the oven at 350F (though some recipes start at a higher temperature to achieve crispy skin then reduce to prevent overcooking). To ensure even cooking, tie the legs together with kitchen twine and tuck the wing tips under. A digital thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh is the most accurate way to gauge doneness. When the temperature reaches 165F, the turkey is ready to come out of the oven. If the breast meat is above 165F but the thigh meat is below, cover the breast with foil to prevent it from drying out and continue roasting, checking the temperature frequently.  

Step 6. Resting 

Don’t skip this important step, which can mean the difference between a succulent, flavorful bird and one that’s dried out. Allow your turkey to rest, covered loosely with foil, for 15 to 30 minutes before carving so the juices have a chance to redistribute. The turkey will still be warm.  

Step 7. Carving 

To carve your turkey (this method also works with chicken), use a sharp knife to remove the drumsticks and thighs, then separate them at the joint. Remove the breast one half at a time, running the tip of the knife firmly along the breastbone. Separate wings at the joint. To serve, cut the breast and thighs crosswise into thick slices and arrange on a platter. 

Now that you’ve got your poultry plan of attack, check out these recipes to make this Thanksgiving the tastiest one yet.

Easy Garlic and Sage Turkey 

If you think of turkey as boring and bland, this five-ingredient recipe will change your mind. The key is smashed garlic inside the cavity, along with oranges and fresh sage, and a garlic-cheese butter rub that creates delicious, golden-brown skin.

Get the recipe: Easy Garlic and Sage TurkeyFoolproof Roast Turkey 

If there’s one turkey recipe to keep in your back pocket, this surefire version with the mild sweetness of carrots and onions is the one. A two-temperature roasting method and generous seasoning ensures flavorful, never-dry meat every time.  

Get the recipe: Foolproof Roast Turkey 

Cider-Glazed Turkey and Gravy 

This lip-smacking turkey has an irresistible glaze made with apple cider and honey. The drippings help to create a complex, sweet-savory gravy accented with fresh rosemary and parsley.  

Get the recipe: Cider-Glazed Turkey and Gravy 

Slow Cooker Turkey Breast with Mustard Sauce 

If you’re hosting a smaller group for the holiday, save time and money by cooking turkey breast instead of a whole bird. This genius recipe, including the gravy, comes together hands-free in the slow cooker.  

Get the recipe: Slow Cooker Turkey Breast with Mustard Sauce 

Citrus Herb Turkey 

Fresh herbs, a duo of citrus, and a healthy dose of butter make this succulent turkey melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Dry brining two to three days before roasting keeps the meat ultra-juicy and the skin shatteringly crisp. 

Get the recipe: Citrus Herb Turkey

Maple Thyme Dry Brined Turkey 

One unexpected ingredient adds savory depth to this turkey brimming with the fall aromas of apple and maple. Basting with brewed coffee infuses the meat with flavor and helps to create a rich gravy.  

Get the recipe: Maple Thyme Dry Brined Turkey 

Butterflied Turkey with Sage Gravy 

When you want to cook a whole bird in half the time, spatchcocking (removing the backbone and pressing flat to butterfly) is a smart strategy. An hour of roasting time is all you’ll need for a 10-pound turkey with this recipe. 

Get the recipe: Butterflied Turkey with Sage Gravy 

Apple-Herb Roast Turkey with Cider Gravy 

Sparkling apple juice adds sweet tang to the gravy paired with this butter-rubbed bird. Stuffing the turkey with apple, lemon, and aromatics imparts extra flavor as it cooks inside a flour-dusted roasted bag that yields perfect results every time. 

Get the recipe: Apple-Herb Roast Turkey with Cider Gravy 

Easiest Five-Ingredient Turkey 

One unexpected ingredient is the key to this can’t-fail turkey that’s always succulent and full of flavor. Rubbing mayonnaise flecked with garlic and fresh herbs under the skin keeps the meat juicy, while a coating on the outside helps to achieve golden, gently crisped skin.   

Get the recipe: Easiest Five-Ingredient Turkey 

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