Cooking the Thanksgiving Turkey: Oven, Deep-Fryer, Frozen

Family and friends will gather soon for Thanksgiving Day.  While most people will sit down to a roasted turkey, there are also options for deep-frying a turkey and, for those running behind, you can place a still-frozen turkey in the oven and still end up with a meal that your family and friends will enjoy.  Following are tips on successfully cooking the Thanksgiving turkey, with several routes to the table.

Whether you have purchased a fresh or frozen turkey, the days before the big meal you will want to make sure you have all the ingredients and pans that you will need.  Many newspapers and magazine recommend a turkey roasting pan with a special rack to hold the turkey but, in a pinch, any pan with sides that is large enough to hold the turkey securely will work.  A special reminder: do not wash the turkey!  Washing will not remove bacteria that may be securely adhered to the bird and washing only ends up spreading germs in the kitchen.  If you wish, take a paper towel and gently blot the surface of the bird, removing pin feathers or coagulated blood that may be present.

Roasting a Thanksgiving Turkey (almost as easy as 1, 2, 3)
1. Set the oven temperature no lower than 325°F.  Pre-heating is not necessary.  Position the racks so the turkey will sit in the middle of the oven for even heat flow.  Some recipes calls for placing the turkey in a very hot (450°F) oven, and then turning off the heat and letting the turkey ‘cook’ in this environment.  Do not follow directions such as this; this is a very unsafe practice. 
2. Place turkey breast-side up in a shallow roasting pan, 2 to 2 1/2 inches deep, on a flat wire rack.  Optional steps:

  • Tuck wing tips back under shoulders of bird (called “akimbo”).
  • Add one-half cup water to the bottom of the pan; this will make clean-up easier and serves as the basis for pan gravy.  You may wish to add celery, onions, and spices to the bottom of the roasting pan – or stuff in the cavity of the bird.
  • In the beginning, a tent of aluminum foil may be placed loosely over the breast of the turkey for the first 1 to 1 1/2 hours, then removed for browning.  Or, a tent of foil may be placed over the turkey after the turkey has reached the desired golden brown color to prevent the meat from drying out.

3. Roast to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F.  Check the temperature using a food thermometer; check in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. Stuffing must also reach 165°F.
4. Let the bird stand 20 minutes before removing stuffing and carving.  The USDA has handouts on roasting a turkey in English and Spanish

Deep-Frying the Thanksgiving Turkey.  If you wish to deep fry a whole turkey, choose a bird that is 12 pounds or less.

  • Completely thaw your turkey (if purchased frozen), or use a fresh turkey.  Do not stuff the turkey.  Pat turkey dry using disposable paper towels.
  • Preheat oil in the fryer to 350-400°F, depending on the type of oil chosen.  Constantly monitor the temperature of the oil during cooking.
  • Slowly lower turkey into the hot oil and cook 3-5 minutes per pound.
  • Cook to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F as measured with a food thermometer.  The turkey is safely cooked when the food thermometer reaches a minimum internal temperature of 165°F in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.
  • Let stand for 20 minutes before carving.

Complete instructions on adding delicious deep-fried turkey to your Thanksgiving dinner are available from USDA.

Cooking a Turkey from the ‘Frozen’ State 

Sometimes despite all the planning, the Thanksgiving turkey is still frozen, or your plans changed and you need to prepare the turkey earlier.  It is safe to roast a turkey from the frozen state; however, it will take longer than a fresh or thawed bird.  To determine an approximate cooking time, consult a timetable for oven-roasting a whole turkey.  Use the timing for the size turkey you have, and then add 50 percent of that time to the original time.  Do not smoke, grill, deep-fry, or microwave a frozen turkey.  A handout on Cooking Turkey From the Frozen State is available.

Other options for preparing your holiday meal include grilling, smoking, or using a slow cooker.  Find out more!

Happy holidays!

Authored by: Barb Ingham, bhingham@wisc.edu
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