If you plan to present a whole roast turkey for your Thanksgivingdinner–or any other occasion–you want a beautifully browned bird withmoist, juicy meat.
But because there is much conflicting information about how long tocook a turkey, we decided to start from scratch in Sunset’s testkitchens and run a series of carefully controlled tests. We roastedmatching pairs of 10- to 26-pound unstuffed birds, cooking each inidentical ovens; then we roasted more to compare times for stuffed andunstuffed birds. Some of the results were very surprising. All the birds, no matterwhat their size, cooked in 2 to 4 hours, give or take a few minutes.Turkeys that weighed 20 to 26 pounds often cooked in the same amount oftime–except 24-pounders often cooked more quickly, as the proportion ofbone to meat appears to jump. Smaller turkeys, simply because they cook for a shorter time,didn’t brown as richly as the larger ones. Stuffed birds sometimestook a little longer to cook.
We agree with the general consensus that 170[deg.] is the idealtemperature for moist breast meat, but there is only one way to tell:use a meat therometer in the breast, not the thigh. Turkeys cook fairlyevenly throughout.
If the thigh reaches 180[deg.] to 185[deg.], ascommonly recommended, you will be disappointed by a dry breast. AT 170[deg.] or thereabouts, the thigh joint is often–but notalways–pink. It may be undercooked or slightly discolored.
If themeat is underdone when you cut it off, cook it further while you carvethe bird. A 10-pound cooked bird may have as little as 65 percent meat, whilelarger ones may yield 70 to 78 percent meat. Toms, at 16 pounds, canhave as much as 10 percent less meat than hens of equal weight.Roasting a turkey Allow 3/4 pound raw turkey for 1 serving. To prepare turkey forroasting, remove neck and giblets and reserve for gravy; pull off anddiscard large fat lumps. Rinse turkey inside and out. Set, breast up, on a rack in a panthat allows an inch or two of space all around the turkey. Stuff ifdesired; pin neck skin to back and skewer body opening shut.
Leave legsfree so they cook more evenly at the hip joint. Rub with butter ormargarine and sprinkle with salt and pepper, or season according to afavorite recipe. Roast in a 325[deg.] oven until a thermometer inserted in thickestpart of breast, not against bone, registers 170[deg.]. For unstuffed birds, allow about 2 hours for a 10-pounder, 2-1/4hours for a 12-pounder, 2-1/2 hours for a 14-pounder, 3 hours for a16-pounder, 3-1/4 hours for an 18-pounder, 3-3/4 hours for a 20-pounder,4 hours for a 22-pounder, as little as 3-1/4 hours for a 24-pounder, and4 hours for a 26-pound turkey. Check thermometer every 15 to 30 minutes after the first 2 hours ascooking rate varies with conformation of the bird; also, jigglethermometer around to be sure it is in the coolest part of breast.
Ifbird is stuffed, anticipate as much as 30 minutes’ extra cookingtime. Let the turkey stand 20 to 40 minutes before carving for juices tosettle in meat. Cut of drumsticks and thighs at joints. If thighsaren’t done, put in a shallow pan and roast in a 450[deg.] ovenuntil meat fibers pull apart easily, 10 to 15 minutes; meanwhile, carvethe bird and continue to serve dinner.