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in: Cooking, Food & Drink, Thanksgiving, Travel & Leisure, Turkey

• Last updated: September 29, 2020

How To Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey Like a Man

Vintage man carving turkey in suit.

Image from Vermont Ferrett

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and that means one thing- turkey. Preparing  a turkey for loved ones at Thanksgiving is definitely a manly task (cooking in general is a manly task). It involves roasted flesh, sharp knives, and popping joints. So impress your friends and family this year by cooking up a juicy and delicious bird.

To help guide us through cooking and carving our Thanksgiving turkey, we brought in our friend Karl Engel. Karl is the head chef of the award winning BBQ and grilling team Pigcasso.

How to Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey

Pick the right turkey. The first step in cooking a turkey is picking the right turkey for the job. With turkeys, bigger is not better. The best size turkey is between 12 and 16 pounds. Anything larger than 16 pounds and you’ll get tough and chewy meat. So stay away from the big 22 pound Tom turkeys. If you’re serving lots of people, get more than one medium size turkey.

Thaw it. Before you throw your turkey in the oven, it needs to be completely thawed. The best way is to let it thaw slowly in your refrigerator. Thawing your turkey in the fridge isn’t a one day affair. Depending on how large your turkey is, it could take days before it is completely thawed, so plan ahead. Below I’ve included a chart with the typical time required to thaw a turkey based on how much it weighs.

Time Required to Thaw a Turkey
8 to 12 lbs.
2 to 3 Days
13 to 16 lbs.
3 to 4 Days
17 to 20 lbs.
4 to 5 Days
21 to 24 lbs.
5 to 6 Days

What if you don’t have a week to thaw the bird? A little hack from your grandma’s kitchen will get that turkey thawed in no time. Get a large tub of COLD water. Make sure the turkey is wrapped up in a leak proof package. Place the turkey in the tub. 30 minutes per pound of turkey is required to thaw your turkey using this method, so if you have a 15 pound turkey, it will take approximately 7 and 1/2 hours. Make sure to change the water every 30 minutes to keep it cold.

Clean it. Next you’ll need to clean out the giblets and neck. Most frozen turkeys have the giblets and neck in a nice little package stuffed inside the turkey in the back cavity. Just stick your hand in there and pull them out. You can save the giblets for gravy or you can toss them. Rinse out the bird under cold running water.

Brine it. Turkey by nature is a dry meat. Cooking only makes it drier. In order to keep the juices in the bird where they belong, you’ll need to brine this bad boy. You have two options for the brine: a wet or dry brine. You can find a good recipe for a wet brine at Alton Brown’s website.

Our friend Karl likes to do a dry brine. It gets the job done just as well as a wet brine and isn’t as messy. Here’s what Karl uses for his dry brine mixture.

  • 2 cups of kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup of ground black pepper
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons of dry herb mix.
Mix this all together and pack the turkey inside and out with the brine mix. Place the turkey in a pan, and let it sit in the fridge for at least one day while packed in the brine mix.
After a day, take the turkey out of the fridge and rinse out all the brine.
Butter it. Get some melted butter and wipe the outside of the turkey with it.
Throw it in the oven. Place the turkey in a wide, low roasting pan. Set the oven for 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook it about 15-20 minutes per pound. So a 12-14 pound turkey will take between 3 hours and 3 hours and 45 minutes. However, you should always use a meat thermometer to check when your turkey is done. Place the probe between the leg and thigh. The thermometer should read 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Baste it. During the first hour of cooking, don’t do anything with the turkey. After the first hour, baste it every 30 minutes with some melted butter mixed with chopped up sage and rosemary. When the bird is done,  it will have a nice mahogany colored skin. Again, check the thermometer to see if the inside of the bird is at least 165 degrees.

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