Lisa Abraham

For food lovers, tomorrow is the Super Bowl of cooking and eating. Here is what you need to know to get your turkey on the table.

By now you should have your turkey thawed in the refrigerator or you have picked up a fresh bird.

If your turkey isn’t thawed, visit for instructions on how to thaw it quickly in cold water. Never thaw a turkey at room temperature.

Unwrap the thawed bird, remove the neck and giblets, rinse it and pat it dry with paper towels. Also remove any plastic or metal clamps holding the turkey together. Save the neck and giblets for making broth for gravy.

If you haven’t already brined your turkey, you still have time, but you need to get to it. Brining is soaking the bird in a saltwater solution. The turkey pulls in the liquid, which will help keep it moist.

For a basic brine, How to Cook a Turkey (by the editors of Fine Cooking, Taunton, 2007) recommends this method: 2 quarts of cold water, 1 cup of kosher salt and ¼ cup of sugar. Simmer over high heat until salt and sugar dissolve. Cool. Stir in another 2 quarts of water and chill in refrigerator. At this point, you can add herbs, spices or other flavor enhancers like maple syrup. Using a large food-safe plastic bag, soak the turkey in the brine in the refrigerator for 12 to 18 hours. When it’s time to cook, drain and discard the brine, rinse the turkey, dry with paper towels, and it’s ready for the oven.

You can also dry-brine, by salting the bird all over, inside and out, and letting it stand in the refrigerator overnight. Drain any liquid that has accumulated in the cavity and pat dry before roasting.

Stuffing the turkey

A stuffed turkey will take longer to roast than an unstuffed one, and it is crucial that the stuffing reach 165 degrees when tested on a cooking thermometer. Stuffing can be cooked in a casserole or foil pouches outside of the bird. Remember to stuff the cavity loosely; you don’t want to pack it in. If you don’t stuff, fill the cavity with chunks of celery, carrot, onion and herbs to add flavor.

Getting it in the oven

Once the bird is stuffed, season it if you haven’t brined or dry-brined. Give the bird a rubdown with softened butter, both under the skin and on top of it. Salt and pepper the bird and add any herbs or seasonings.

You can truss the turkey, tying its legs together with butcher’s twine, tucking the wings under it, and running the twine along the back of the bird to roast it in a nice neat package. This step isn’t necessary, but it does help to keep the turkey together, particularly if you want to carve it at the table.

Place the bird in a roasting pan breast side up with a little water in the bottom of the pan. Tent it with foil, to keep in the heat. Remove the foil for browning later.

Another option is a roasting bag, which will keep the heat in and cook the turkey more quickly than an open roaster. Bags also collect a great amount of juices, which means more gravy, but you won’t get the caramelized pan scrapings prized for adding rich flavor to gravy.

Set the oven to 325 degrees and put the turkey in the oven.

Now what?

Some cooks argue you should never open the oven door until the turkey is done. Others baste every hour. You can succeed with either method.

Mostly, for the next several hours, you will simply wait for the turkey to reach the proper level of doneness. For this you need a meat thermometer.

A thermometer keeps you from eating a potentially harmful undercooked turkey, or an overcooked, dried-out bird. Do not rely on the little plastic pop-up device that may come with the bird.

The bird is safe when meat and stuffing both reach 165 degrees. The meat will be more tender if the bird reaches 180 degrees deep in the thigh.

Here is the USDA’s guide for approximate roasting times:


4 to 8 pounds (breast), 1½ to 3¼ hours.

8 to 12 pounds, 2¾ to 3 hours.

12 to 14 pounds, 3 to 3¾ hours.

14 to 18 pounds, 3¾ to 4¼ hours.

18 to 20 pounds, 4¼ to 4½ hours.

20 to 24 pounds, 4½ to 5 hours.


6 to 8 pounds (breast), 2½ to 3½ hours.

8 to 12 pounds, 3 to 3½ hours.

12 to 14 pounds, 3½ to 4 hours.

14 to 18 pounds, 4 to 4¼ hours.

18 to 20 pounds, 4¼ to 4¾ hours.

20 to 24 pounds, 4¾ to 5¼ hours.

When the turkey is done, remove it from the oven and place it on the countertop, loosely covered with foil. Let it rest for about 20 minutes. Remove trussing and all stuffing from cavity.

Carving the turkey

Whether you carve tableside or in your kitchen, the method is essentially the same. Begin at the thigh and slice down to separate the leg. Make a horizontal cut above the wing along the bottom of the breast. This will allow the breast slices to easily separate once cut. Begin slicing the breast meat vertically. Finally, remove the wing. Repeat on other side of bird.

You can present the legs and thighs whole on a platter with the breast meat, or remove their bones to divide up the dark meat.

Need help?

It’s just a click or phone call away:

• or 800-BUTTERBALL (800-288-8372).

• or 800-810-6325 for pre-recorded info; at 800-532-5756 to speak with a consumer specialist. Live help is not available on Thanksgiving Day.

• Let’s Talk Turkey fact sheet:

• USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 1-888-MPHotline (888-674-6854).

• Crisco Pie Hotline 1-877-FOR-PIE-TIPS (877-367-7438). Live help 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 18 to 27; 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Dec. 16 to 23. Recorded tips 24 hours a day. All other times, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday;

Lisa Abraham can be reached at 330-996-3737 or at Find me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter @akronfoodie or visit my blog at