The centerpiece of any Christmas dinner is of course the turkey. Whether you’re about to host your first festive dinner or you’re an old pro, you’re bound to pick up a new trick or two.
We’ve put together our top 10 turkey tips for choosing, prepping and roasting your Christmas bird this year!
1. CHOOSE THE CORRECT SIZE
Size matters: How big a turkey? For birds under 16 pounds, figure at least 1 pound of turkey per person. For larger birds 16 pounds and heavier, figure a bit less since there’s more meat in proportion to bone. If you want substantial seconds and leftovers, allow another 1/2 pound per person.
2. ROAST TWO SMALLER TURKEYS
Got a big crowd? Roast two smaller turkeys (12 pounds or less) instead of one large one. Smaller turkeys fit better in the fridge and roasting pan, plus they cook more quickly and evenly. Plus, it lets you experiment with two different types of preparations.
3. CHOOSE THE CORRECT TYPE
Choose the right turkey With so many turkeys on the market, trying to choose your holiday bird can be mind-boggling: free-range? organic? natural? We recommend choosing a fresh turkey without any added ingredients, and organic, kosher, heritage or premium-brand turkeys are all great options.
4. DON’T OVER STUFF
If you stuff the bird, do it loosely, to give the stuffing room to expand.
5. TRUSS LOOSELY
Truss loosely, or not at all. Legs tied up tightly against the sides of the turkey take longer to roast, putting the breast meat in jeopardy of overcooking while the legs take their time. Before setting the bird in the pan, fold the wings back to secure the neck flap (use a skewer or a toothpick if the flap isn’t long enough). Then use kitchen string to loosely tie the drumsticks. Tying them too tightly can prevent the thighs from cooking evenly.
6. INVEST IN A GOOD PAN
Invest in a good pan. The best pan for cooking a turkey is a heavy-duty roasting pan with about 2-inch sides. High sides prevent the lower part of the bird from browning and can make basting difficult. Heavy-gauge metal helps keep the drippings from burning. Look for a stainless-steel finish on the pan’s interior: nonstick makes for easy cleanup, but the dark color does make drippings more prone to burn.
7. PLACE WITH LEGS TOWARDS BACK OF THE OVEN
If your roasting pan will fit in your oven the long way, put the turkey in the oven with its legs pointing towards the back of the oven, since it’s usually the hottest spot and the legs tend to cook slower than the breast. If the roasting pan will only fit in horizontally, be sure to rotate it halfway through cooking so both sides of the turkey cook evenly.
8. START THE TURKEY ROASTING UPSIDE DOWN
Start off your turkey upside-down in a roasting rack; it will help the turkey’s natural juices collect in the breast, which tends to dry out otherwise. After roasting for 1 hour, flip the turkey breast-side up to finish roasting, using wads of paper towels to protect your hands. The marks on the breast from the rack will disappear as it continues to cook.
9. AVOID SCORCHING
Avoid scorching. If the bird is browning quickly but not near its target doneness temperature of 170°F, tent it loosely with foil and continue roasting. If the drippings seem to be getting too dark, add a couple tablespoons of water to keep them from burning.
10. LET IT REST
Let it rest. The intense heat of the oven forces the juices into the center of the bird, so after roasting, let the turkey rest for roughly 20 minutes (enough time to make the gravy). The juices will redistribute, and you’ll get moister slices.