Turkey 101: Everything You Need to Know for a Perfect Bird
Want to know how to roast the perfect turkey? We’ve got the answers! It starts with choosing the right bird to buy. Let’s dive in. With no further ado, presenting our FODMAP Everyday® Turkey 101.
Note that all of these definitions and explanations are for U.S. turkeys governed by the USDA.
Choosing Your Bird: Fresh or Frozen
Fresh: By USDA definition, fresh turkeys have never been chilled below 26°F/-3°C. They should come with a “sell-by” or “best-by” date, which you will want to check. Typically you will buy a fresh turkey very close to the day you will be roasting, so plan accordingly
Frozen: Again, according to the USDA, any turkey that has been held at 0°F/-18°C or below must be labeled as frozen or “previously frozen”. Curiously – and frustratingly – no specific labeling is required for poultry held between 0°F/-18°C and 26°F/-3°C.
We recommend buying a fresh, unfrozen turkey for one main reason: defrosting a giant bird is a pain-in-the-butt. But if you must…
If, however, you are wrangling a frozen turkey, follow these steps for safety and best results.
For every 4 to 5 pounds (1.8 kg – 2.3 k) of turkey, plan on 24 hours of defrost time – as the turkey will optimally, slowly defrost in your refrigerator. Alternatively, you can submerge the turkey, in its leak-proof wrapping, in a deep stockpot or bucket filled with cold water.
Replace the water every half hour or so and plan on about 30 minutes per pound and make sure the water remains cold. Cook turkey as soon as it is thawed.
What About Kosher, Self-Basting and Heritage Turkeys?
Kosher: These turkeys are slaughtered and processed according to rabbinic laws, and are brined in salt. There are no specific rules governing how they are raised but they are often grain fed, free-range and antibiotic free; inquire from your butcher or read the labels. Do not brine a kosher bird, as your results will be overly salty.
Self-Basting: These are often the least expensive birds available, and they will not give you the best results, in our opinion. They have been injected with a saline solution and often other additives such as oils, flavorings and emulsifiers. These additives can potentially create problems for those following a low FODMAP diet.
We also find the flavor of self-basting birds to be poor and their texture particularly odd. They can often be simultaneously dry and spongy. Do not brine a self-basting bird, as your results will be overly salty.
Heritage Breeds: In this case it is about the breed, more than how the bird is raised, although typically they are raised humanely and have no additives. Heritage breeds are thought by many to have superior flavor. Note that they are leaner and will not only roast more quickly, but they might not be as tender as the turkey you are used to.
What IS an Organic Turkey?
In the U.S. an organic turkey has to have been fed organic feed, which by definition will contain no animal by-products, GMO (genetically modified organisms) products and be free from antibiotics, growth hormones, chemical residues, pesticides and herbicides and are free-range.
They are usually humanely processed, although no rules govern this aspect.
Free-Roaming, Free-Range & Pastured
These turkeys will have free access to the outside for over 51% of their lives. Contrary to what image this might conjure up, this does not mean the turkey is strutting about in a large field. It can mean that it just has a door to a small (possibly very small) outdoor area.
Free-range turkeys are not necessarily raised without antibiotics or hormones. Look for the word “pastured” on the label if it is important to you that the bird truly had the opportunity to roam around extensively.
For the turkeys we roast in our FODMAP Everyday® Test Kitchen, we use organic and free range.
Size & Number Of Guests
Get The Right Size Bird – Figure on 1 pound (455 g) of turkey per person. 1 ½ pounds (680 g) if you want leftovers – and you do, don’t you?
One or Two? – And speaking of size, if you have the oven space, consider roasting two smaller turkeys rather than one humongous one. They roast more evenly – and you could even make two different recipes if you are so inclined.
Be Equipped – Make sure your turkey fits in your oven and make sure that you have a pan large enough for your bird! We love this Cuisinart pan and rack combo for even heating, easy cleaning and sturdy handles.
Some Basic FAQs
- Most turkeys will have a neck and the giblets (heart, gizzard, liver) tucked inside, sometimes wrapped in a bag, sometimes not. Once you have taken the turkey out of its outer wrapper, reach inside the main cavity and the neck cavity to remove any of these turkey parts. We use the neck, heart and gizzard to enhance stock. The liver can add a bitter flavor to stock so we discard it.
- If you are placing stuffing inside the turkey, do so right before it goes in the oven and remove it as soon as the turkey comes out of the oven. Stuffing can be a breeding ground for bacteria and all of this has to do with temperature differentials. By stuffing close to roasting time and removing the stuffing from the hot turkey immediately you will prevent these issues.
- Do not trust the plastic pop-up timer that comes with many turkeys. They are notoriously unreliable. Remove and discard and invest in an instant-read thermometer.
- A general rule of thumb is to plan on 13 minutes per pound for roasting time for an un-stuffed turkey. Increase to 15 minutes per pound for stuffed.
- By the way, we prefer to roast our turkey unstuffed – they roast more evenly and we think you get a better result.
- Roast until an instant-read thermometer reads 165°F/74°C when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh, taking care not to touch the bone.
- Resting the turkey for 15 to 30 minutes (depending on turkey’s size) after it comes out of the oven will ensure the juiciest result. The resting time allows juices to redistribute. Don’t skip this step. Cover the bird very lightly with foil to retain some surface heat.