10 Steps to the Perfect Turkey

[Photograph: ©iStockPhoto/MentalArt]

1. Read Turkey Labels

There are many popular turkey adjectives: organic, heritage, kosher, and basted, for example. According to our research, these terms still mean the exact same thing as they did last year. We make it easy for you to understand with How to Read Turkey Labels.

2. Buy the Right Size

Count the number of carnivores attending your meal. (Here are some ideas for meatless mains for the vegetarian guests.) Since you want leftover sandwiches, assume one pound of whole turkey (unstuffed) per carnivore. Note: the bigger the turkey, the bigger the proportion of meat to bone. Figure about a pound and a half per person if you're buying the bird pre-stuffed.

3. Allow Enough Thawing Time

Don't forget to set aside enough time for your turkey to thaw! Allow approximately 24 hours in the fridge per 5 pounds. If you're going the cold water route, allow about 30 minutes per pound and change the water every 30 minutes.

4. To Brine Or Not to Brine?

Certain turkeys are pre-brined, so don't waste your time. Check first. Kosher turkeys and some commercial brands like Butterball are "pre-basted" or brined. The ingredients should list seven percent of an added solution (water or vinegar). But be careful: pre-brining can mask other added junk like preservatives, so if you want to go au natural, buy a fresh one without additives and brine it yourself.

Here is a guide to brining your turkey. Basically you want to soak the bird in some salty, sugary, (insert spice here)-flavored water overnight. Dry it off, rub on butter or oil, and throw her in the oven. Sure, brining requires some time, but it's worth it.

5. Choose the Right Recipe

If you're in a rush: Mark Bittman's 45-Minute Roast Turkey
If you have plenty of time: Cook's Illustrated's Slow-Roasted Turkey with Gravy
If you're pretty traditional: Lidia Bastianich's Roast Turkey
If you're feeling fancy: Provencal Turkey Roast with Riesling
If you're feeling even fancier:
Barefoot Contessa's Roasted Turkey Roulade

6. Do Not Stuff the Bird

Believe food science guru Alton Brown when he says: stuffing is evil. Or at least "stuffing," the technical term for what gets shoved into the bird's cavity. Instead stick with "dressing," what's prepared in a separate casserole pan. Since the bird is extremely porous, turkey juices that may contain salmonella bacteria soak into the stuffing, which then must be cooked to a minimum of 165°F to be safe. Getting the stuffing to this temperature usually means overcooking the turkey. If you're into the bready, herb-flecked goodness, and who isn't, then do yourself a favor and cook it outside.

7. Do Not Overcook

Here are approximate cooking times for whole turkeys, stuffed or unstuffed, in an oven at 325°F.

8. Take This Carving Crash Course

Choose a sharp, thin-bladed knife. Start cutting the bird where the joint separates the thigh from the body. Do this on each side. Now use the same technique to remove the drumstick from the thigh. Be sure to avoid cutting through the bone. Move onto the thigh-cut the leg meat into thin slices. Now it's time for the wings. Cut at the joint where the wings join the body. Carve thin slices of white meat on both sides of the breast. Behold, your pile of meat!

9. Keep the Emergency Hotline Number Nearby

Foster Farms will be answering your questions around the clock, 24 hours all day. You can ring them at 1-800-255-7227.

10. Make Enough for Leftovers!

Nothing beats the classic Thanksgiving sandwich. Or throw some sunny-side eggs atop the stuffing. And for dessert, if you're somehow getting sick of pie, turn it into a pumpkin parfait.