Turkey Cooking Tips and Common Mistakes Before Thanksgiving

This is where Butterball’s Turkey Talk-Line app comes in. For the past 40 years during the holidays, these hotline experts have been available to help people troubleshoot turkey issues.

Karen Welcher has been a Talk-Line Turkey Specialist for 10 years and shares her best tips and tricks for cooking delicious turkey every time.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Karen Welcher: The easiest way to cook turkey is to roast it in the oven at 325 F. If you’re using frozen turkey, you need to make sure it’s thawed by Thanksgiving. It takes about a week for a turkey to thaw, so it’s recommended to move the frozen birds to the refrigerator on the Thursday before Thanksgiving, which we like to call National Thawing Day.

If you forgot to defrost it until the day before, at this point we recommend the water bath method. This is where the turkey, in its original wrapping, is immersed in cold water. The water should be changed every 30 minutes until the turkey is defrosted. For turkeys up to 24 pounds, you can thaw properly in 12 to 15 hours this way.

Once thawed, take it out of its packaging and remove the giblet packet. Next, dry the turkey with a towel, brush it with some olive oil, and place it on a roasting rack in the oven. Butterball has plenty of recipes online for spice options.

CNN: How long does a turkey take to cook in the oven?

Welcher: A 10- to 18-pound turkey without stuffing should take three to three and a half hours to cook while a 20- to 24-pound turkey should take four to four and a half hours. If you have stuffing inside, add 45 to 60 minutes of cooking time.

Also, immersion is not necessary. Every time you open the oven door to grease, you slow down the cooking process. The liquid doesn’t necessarily penetrate the skin so it doesn’t do much.

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This year at Butterball University, we roasted a turkey so everyone could learn about the grilling process. This is another way to cook turkey if you need to empty the oven or your oven isn’t available. I’ve been roasting turkey on a charcoal grill for two years now and had a great Thanksgiving turkey.

CNN: Why should people cook turkey at 325 degrees Fahrenheit?

Welcher: We know we can safely cook it at 325 degrees. Many recipes add extra steps, such as starting at a high temperature and then lowering it partially during the cooking process. It’s a day filled with so many things to do, and it’s often easy to forget to turn down the temperature.

Additionally, we do not recommend raising the temperature to speed up the cooking time as it may dry out the breast meat.

CNN: How does someone know if a turkey is over?

Welcher: It is important to use a thermometer to measure the temperature of the turkey rather than the eyeball. The middle of the filling should be 165°F, the chest 170°F, and the groin area 180°F. If you’re scratching your head because you don’t know where those parts are on the turkey, Butterball has a diagram on its website.
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CNN: Some people might be interested in deep frying a turkey. What are some tips for staying safe?

Welcher: You want to make sure the turkey thaws without a doubt. If you use propane, make sure you are outside and in a well-ventilated area to keep yourself and those around you safe.

Before submerging the turkey, be sure to measure out the right amount of oil so it doesn’t splash when you add the large bird. One way to do this ahead of time is to measure your water usage first to see how much oil you need when submerged. Fried turkey cooks much faster than roasted turkey, about three to four minutes per pound.

CNN: After 10 years working as a Butterball Turkey Talk-Line specialist, what are some of your favorite stories from people who have called?

Welcher: I got one call a few years ago where someone was cleaning their mom’s deep freezer and found a frozen turkey. It aged 10 to 15 easily, and they wanted to know if they could cook it. Truthfully, the food would probably have been safe, but I think after 15 years you might not want to share that.

One of my other favorite stories was about a man who was asked by his wife to help her defrost a turkey using the water bath method. He also knew that one of the things he had to do was give his children a bath. So he thought he could do both at the same time. Needless to say, we do not recommend this.

Finally, I had this guy lay his turkey outside on his roof to thaw only to find that a raccoon had bitten off a bit. Although Thanksgiving is an opportunity to share your dinner, I think you might not want to share it with a raccoon.

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