Get Ready, Get Set, ROAST!

Prepare for Your Best Holiday Feast Yet

Getting ready for the holidays? Don’t know where to start? Freaking out that they’re just around the corner?

Relax. Everything you need to know about storing, preparing and roasting your bird will be covered here. Once you’ve got the info you need, you’ll have more time to enjoy the day.

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Storage

You just picked up your turkey from the Co+op. Now what?

Be prepared to get that bird in your refrigerator A.S.A.P. The turkey you pick up at the Co+op will be either fully frozen, like the Ferndale and Organic Prairie birds, or flash chilled, like Mary’s. Flash chilled is a process by which the outside of the turkey is subjected to a quick blast of freezing air to freeze just the outer inch or so of the flesh and keep the interior raw. This process speeds up the thawing time significantly.

A frozen turkey is safe indefinitely. Once the turkey begins to thaw, it can enter the “Danger Zone”. When a turkey, or any other kind of meat, enters the Danger Zone any bacteria that was on the surface of the meat will be able to grow again. Properly thawing your turkey keeps it, and you, safe from contamination. A frozen turkey left to thaw on the counter for more than two hours can reach unsafe temperatures. While the center may still be frozen solid, the exterior can quickly reach the Danger Zone, temperatures between 40 and 140 °F, when bacteria can multiply rapidly. What are safe methods to thaw your bird?


Thawing

under refrigeration

In a refrigerator kept under 40 °F, plan to allow 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds for proper thawing. Really big turkeys can take up to five days to completely thaw. Place the turkey in a container to prevent juices from dripping on other foods.

Refrigerator Thawing Times

  • 4-12 pounds - 1 to 3 days

  • 12 to 16 pounds - 3 to 4 days

  • 16 to 20 pounds - 4 to 5 days

  • 20 to 24 pounds - 10 to 12 days

A thawed turkey may be stored in the refrigerator for a day or two before cooking and may be refrozen after thawing, however a loss in quality may occur.

Cold water thawing

Allow thirty minutes per pound for the cold water thawing method. Put the bird in a leak-proof plastic bag to prevent cross contamination and to keep water out so the tissue doesn’t absorb it and turn waterlogged. Thoroughly wrap the bird and fully submerge it in cold water. Change the water every thirty minutes.

Cold Water Thawing Times

  • 4 to 12 pounds - 2 to 6 hours

  • 12 to 16 pounds - 6 to 8 hours

  • 16 to 20 pounds - 8 to 10 hours

  • 20 to 24 pounds - 10 to 12 hours

Turkeys thawed with the cold water method should be cooked immediately. The meat can be refrozen after cooking.

Microwave Thawing

Follow the manufacturers recommendations for thawing a turkey in the microwave. A turkey thawed in the microwave must be cooked immediately since parts of the turkey might start to cook during defrosting and temperature can reach the Danger Zone.

Please note that what ever method you chose to thaw your turkey, be sure to remove the giblets (if your turkey came with giblets) and set in a separate container until you are ready to cook them.


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Preparing

To brine or not to brine? Dry brine? Wet brine? What the heck is a brine?

Before the advent of refrigeration, people used a technique called brining to preserve meat. Meats, like pastrami and ham, were packed in salt or pickled in a salt solution to prevent spoiling. Today, we use brining to seal in moisture and enhance the flavor of roasted meats.

How to Dry Brine a Turkey

Brining can be accomplished with a dry brine wherein the meat is rubbed with salt and a combination of spices. Dry brining is a lot like applying a dry rub, but a dry brine is a whole lot saltier and is rinsed off before the meat is cooked. A dry brine is left on the meat under refrigeration for eight to twenty-four hours. The recipes at the end of this section will work very well for a dry brine, just mix them together and rub them all over the outside and inner cavity of the turkey.

how to wet brine a turkey

A wet brine is a lot like pickling. Water and salt are combined, often with sugar and spices, and the meat is submerged for eight to twenty-four hours. Just like a dry brine, the mixture is rinsed off of the meat before cooking.

  1. Measure the Water - Wrap the bird tightly in plastic wrap to keep the water out while figuring out the proper amount of water to start with. Get a non-reactive container (glass, plastic or stainless steel) that is large enough to hold the bird fully submerged in brining water. A non-stainless steel, metal container will react with the salt in the brining solution and give the bird a metallic taste.

    Place your plastic wrapped turkey in your container and fill it with water until the bird is fully submerged. You will need to add more water to fill in the cavity - about two cups for birds under 16 pounds, three or so cups for birds over 16 pounds.

    After determining the proper amount of water to cover the turkey, remove the bird and return it to the refrigerator.

  2. Mix Your Solution - Brining solutions are mostly salt. Use non-iodized salt for best results. The rule of thumb for brining is to use one cup of salt per gallon of water. Some folks also like to add up to one cup of sugar per gallon, as well.

    1. Remember the 2-3 cups of water that we estimated for the inner cavity of the turkey? Now we’re going to put it to use. In a medium saucepan, add the appropriate amount of water and salt (and sugar, if you choose). Bring to a boil and allow the salt to completely dissolve. Undissolved salt crystals will sink to the bottom of the brining vessel and will not penetrate the bird’s flesh.

    2. Mix in the other ingredients, if desired.

    3. Allow the brining concentrate to cool completely and add it to the rest of the water in the bring vessel.

  3. Add the Turkey - Lower the turkey into the brining solution neck first. Allow the inner cavity to fill with brine. Be sure that every part of the turkey is submerged. If there is any part sticking out past the water line, mix up some more brining solution and add it to the water. Place the brining vessel in the refrigerator. If you’re short for space, place it in a large ice-filled cooler.

  4. Time Your Brine - The rule of thumb for brining time is one hour per pound, not to exceed 24 hours. If the turkey needs to be brined in a cooler, make sure that the temperature is staying under 40 °F to keep the food safe and out of the Danger Zone. Refill and refresh the ice as needed.

  5. Once the turkey has been brined, rinse it thoroughly, inside and out, to remove excess salt. Do not add more salt as the turkey cooks or as a seasoning. The brined, rinsed and cooked bird will not taste salty, but will taste well seasoned. Additional salt is completely unnecessary.

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Basic Brine

A basic brine recipe to get you started. Use this recipe just as it is, or use it as a springboard for your culinary creation.

2 cup kosher salt

1 cup sugar

3 teaspoons minced garlic

1 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

 
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Savory Brine

Pick up fresh herbs from your Co+op and mix with pantry basics to create a rich and savory brine for a delightfully aromatic infusion.

2 cups salt

3-4 sprigs fresh thyme, crushed

3-4 sprigs fresh oregano, crushed or roughly chopped

2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary, crushed

 
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Apple Spice Brine

Who says a turkey can’t be seasoned with sweetness? This brine imparts a slightly sweet and slightly spiced flavor to the bird. The acidity of the juices further tenderizes the meat.

2 cups salt

2 quarts apple juice

2 quarts orange juice

1/2 cup brown sugar

10 whole cloves

1 tablespoon nutmeg

2 tablespoons lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon roughly ground anise


Roasting

You got your bird, thawed it and prepared it, now it’s time to roast!

Turkeys should be roasted at no lower than 325 °F, so preheat your oven before tossing your bird in. Place the turkey in a shallow pan and set it on the lowest rack.

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Roasting Timetable

Roast your bird to tender perfection. No more dry turkeys!

Stuffed

  • 6-8 pounds - 2.5-3 hours

  • 8-12 pounds - 3-3.5 hours

  • 12-14 pounds - 3.5-4 hours

  • 14-18 pounds - 4-4-4.25 hours

  • 18-20 pounds- 4.25 - 4.75 hours

  • 20-24 pounds - 4.75-5.25 hours

Unstuffed

  • 4-8 pounds - 1.5-2.75 hours

  • 8-12 pounds - 2.75-3 hours

  • 12-14 pounds - 3-3.75 hours

  • 14-18 pounds - 2.75-4.25 hours

  • 18-20 pounds - 4.25-4.5 hours

  • 20-24 pounds - 4.5-5 hours

The turkey is ready to remove from the oven after the internal temperature has reached a safe point. The turkey should be checked in three places - the thickest part of the thigh without touching the bone, the breast and the inner cavity (or in the stuffing, if the bird is stuffed). All internal temperatures should be 165 °F before removing the turkey from the oven. If any part is under 165 °F, rotate the turkey in the oven so that the cooler parts are in the hot spots in the oven. Areas that are up to temperature may be covered in aluminum foil to help prevent the turkey from drying out.

After the turkey is fully cooked, remove it from the oven and allow it to rest for up to 20 minutes. This allows the juices to reabsorb and disperse throughout the meat, and allows to turkey to cool to an appropriate temperature for serving.

Have more questions? Need to speak to a meat expert? Talk to the folks at the USDA meat and poultry hotline. Holiday hours may vary, so call ahead if you’re unsure about the best way to prepare or roast your turkey.

USDA meat and poultry hotline

1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854)
TTY: 1-800-256-7072
10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday
E-mail: mphotline.fsis@usda.gov