If you are hosting Thanksgiving at your house this year, you may already be feeling the pressure of having to prepare a delicious dinner for your friends and family that are joining you to celebrate. Celebrating is the easy part, but the true stress of the holiday can come from knowing that you will have to carve the big star of the show - the turkey. It can be daunting for many to do especially since many only really do it once a year. You may feel uncertain about what you're doing but don’t sweat it! With the right tips and tools, you can become the best carver in town, and everyone around your table this holiday will want to know your secret.
Whether you’re a newbie to turkey prep, or you’re looking to brush up on your skills, we’ve got you covered on how to properly prepare, cook and carve your turkey for Thanksgiving with our Guide To Simple Turkey Preparation and Carving! We’ve put together for you all the steps to choose, prepare and carve that turkey all in one place. It sure will help you with simple serving to let you enjoy your meal even more.
Food Safety Tips
Anytime you prepare and cook a meal dealing with raw food, specifically meat, it is important to remember to be safe and sanitary before and when handling the food to prevent any food-borne illnesses. The National Turkey Federation has some great food safety tips for you for this Thanksgiving:
- Make sure to always wash your hands before and after handling raw poultry to prevent any cross-contamination.
Keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods.
- Use several cutting boards to help separate the foods.
- After your turkey has thawed, chill or cook it immediately to prevent bacteria growth.
Choosing a Turkey
With so many turkey options at the supermarket, it can become overwhelming what size bird is best for you. There are a few factors to consider before purchasing the right turkey:
How many people are you serving?
- If you will be having a small gathering, you can always get a decent sized turkey breast.
- There are plenty of size options available ranging from small to large turkeys, and getting a head count ahead of time will make it easy to ensure you’ve got enough to stuff everyone this holiday.
How many adults and children are on the guest list?
- Usually, adults will eat a larger quantity of turkey than children.
- For adults: 1 ½ pounds to 2 pounds
- For children: ½ pounds to 1 pound
Do you want there to be any leftovers?
- Even if you are serving a lot of people but you don’t want any leftovers, that could cut the size of the turkey you will buy.
Turkeys come in a variety of sizes and weights and your best bet for purchasing just the right bird is to answer the questions above before heading out to the store. Once you’ve got the logistics down, you can move onto the next step of selecting the perfect type of turkey: choosing between a frozen or fresh bird.
Many might argue that there is a difference in taste between fresh and frozen turkeys, and at the end of the day, the choice mostly comes down to personal preference. Another factor in choosing between fresh and frozen in how long you plan on storing the turkey before cooking it - this should be a big consideration before making your choice. The advantage of fresh turkeys is that they do not have to be thawed, however they should be purchased only a day or two before you are planning to eat - meaning that you must find your bird the week of Thanksgiving.
Frozen turkeys, on the other hand, can stay fresh in the freezer for extended periods of time but they do require a fair amount of time to thaw. According to Butterball, for every 4 pounds of turkey, one day should be given for thawing either in the refrigerator or in cold water. If you ever get lost in the process of preparing your turkey dinner, Butterball is available for the holiday season to answer any gobbly questions you have.
Bonus Tip: Be sure to leave it in the refrigerator or freezer before the day you begin roasting!
Turkey Cooking Times
Cooking times for stuffed and unstuffed turkeys varies. In the end, you would like to the skin to be a slightly golden brown color. Here are some estimates of how long you should roast the turkey in your oven.
Between 10 to 18 pounds
- Unstuffed: 3 to 3 ½ hours
- Stuffed: 3 ¾ to 4 ½ hours
Between 18 to 22 pounds
- Unstuffed: 3 ½ to 4 hours
- Stuffed: 4 ½ to 5 hours
Between 22 to 24 pounds:
- Unstuffed: 4 to 4 ½ hours
- Stuffed: 5 to 5 ½ hours
Between 24 to 29 pounds:
- Unstuffed: 4 ½ to 5 hours
- Stuffed: 5 ½ to 6 ¼ hours
Before you get cooking, be sure to check out Butterball’s calculator and conversions to help you calculate proportion and thawing and cooking times.
Carving a Turkey
All the other steps leading up this point may have been a piece of cake (or pie in this case since we usually eat pie during Thanksgiving), but now, here comes the tricky part - carving the turkey.
As you already know, turkeys are made up of several parts such as the breast, the wings and the drumsticks. Every guest may have their own personal preference as to which part of the turkey they enjoy most, so we’ve put together for you a step by step process of how to perfectly discard each part. But first, before you begin carving, allow the roasted turkey to sit at room temperature for about 15 - 20 minutes.
Take advantage of the time you have while the bird is resting, and check that you have the correct utensils - having the right utensils is crucial when it comes to carving! A sharp knife will allow you to have a smooth cut. Try not to use serrated edges because it will chop up your turkey and the slices will not come out smooth and even like with a smooth edge. However, you may be inclined to use an electric knife, which has a serrated edge, but be warned that it may make the turkey look more “chopped up” than elegantly carved. Of course, don’t forget about the carving fork for easy handling and stability of the turkey as well as for safety.
- Take the carving fork and place it roughly halfway on the breastbone of the turkey to hold it firmly.
- At the halfway mark, slice straight down on one side of the breast using an even stroke. Follow through until you reach the base.
- Start at a higher point of the breast than before and slice straight down until you reach the base.
- Continue cutting the breast at a higher point each time until you get the desired slices of breast.
- Repeat for other breast.
- Cut the area between the wing and the body until you reach the joint.
- Grab the wing and pull it away from the body of the turkey until you hear a pop.
- Cut through the remaining tendons until the wing is fully detached.
- Repeat for other side.
- Cut the skin holding the drumsticks to the rest of the turkey.
- Use the knife to cut between the body and the thigh to expose the joint.
- Use the point of the knife to help disjoint the drumstick from the joint.
- Pull the leg away from the rest of the turkey until fully detached.
- Repeat for other side.
After all of the turkey has settled in the your stomach, don’t forget about the wishbone during clean up! Take some time to dig out the wishbone for the traditional wishing before getting rid of all those leftovers.
The wishbone can be found near the breast meat in the chest. Remove some of the meat and allow the bone to become dry which will allow for the breaking of the wishbone to be easier. When ready, two people grab an end of the wishbone, make a wish and pull. Whoever gets the longer piece of the wishbone will have their wish come true!
Now that the feast is over, make sure you get comfortable and save your spot on the couch - until dessert, that is!
If you have some helpful turkey tips you would like to share with us, comment below!
If you still find yourself to be in an absolute turkey crisis, Butterball offers a Turkey Talk Line to help you answer any of your questions and concerns about your turkey from the most bizarre to the simplest.
Turkey Carving Instructional Video via Butterball's Official YouTube Page.