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Turkey 101: Your Ultimate Turkey Handbook | Wednesday’s In the Know

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Thanksgiving is just around the corner which makes me wonder, are you ready to roll up those sleeves and tackle your grand centerpiece? Your thanksgiving bird, that is!

From cooking times, how to select what size bird for number of guests, to the different types of birds and cooking methods, you can consider this your ultimate turkey handbook. So, let’s step into Thanksgiving mania with a plan and make this our best, and most delicious, Thanksgiving yet!

 Purchasing Your Bird:

  • Plan on placing your order at least 3 weeks in advance unless you want a generic store bought turkey. Place like Williams Sonoma and your major grocery stores can place orders of organic and special birds with advance notice
  • Plan on 1 pound of turkey per person (adult). Especially if the sides are in abundance!

When Home:

  • Make sure you have ample room in your fridge: To prevent the potential of cross contamination, store turkey on the bottom shelf away from produce or other raw food

General Rule of Thumb for Defrosting:

  • 1 day for every 4 pounds 


  • Dry Brine is the way to go as it takes less space in your fridge and you don’t have to worry about the liquid from your tub dripping or leaking. Rub salt, pepper and spices of choice (i.e. Italian or Greek Seasoning) around the entire bird and let it sit. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to sit in the fridge until ready to serve

Tools for The Job:

  • Oven: Use an oven thermometer before T-Day to make sure your oven is registering the correct temperature and fully functioning
  • Instant Read Thermometer
  • Roasting Pan & Roasting Rack (make sure it fits in the pan)
  • Carving Board & Carving Knife
  • Foil to cover and rest cooked turkey
  • Cooking Twine (if using) 

Approximate Cooking Times at 350ºF by Weight:

9 to 11 pounds – 2 1/2 hours

12 to 14 pounds – 3 hours

15 to 17 pounds – 3 1/2 hours

18 to 20 pounds – 4 hours

21 to 23 pounds – 4 1/2 hours

24+ pounds – 5+ hours

How Do You Know When Your Turkey is Done?

  • A digital instant read thermometer in the thickest part of the turkey (thigh) registers 165ºF
  • Juices run clear
  • Joints move easily

Let it Rest:

  • Cover with foil and allow to rest for at least 20 – 25 minutes

Turkey Varieties: Excerpt from NY Times Cooking

  •  Free-range: This is a bird that is not raised in a cage and is free to graze on any grasses or grains it can find in its pen, which is generally considered a more humane and healthy poultry farming process.
  • Organic: The U.S.D.A. requires that all turkeys sold as organic must be raised free-range, without the use of antibiotics, and fed an organic and vegetarian diet that has not been treated with pesticides.
  • Natural: Natural turkeys are generally less expensive than organic, and are often of a comparable quality. But there is no government guarantee to back up the word “natural” on a label. You must read on to find out if the bird is antibiotic-free, free-range and/or raised on a vegetarian diet.
  • Kosher: Turkeys with the “kosher” label have been farmed and slaughtered according to Jewish dietary customs, with rabbinical supervision. They also undergo a salting process after slaughter that gives the meat a juicy texture. (Don’t brine a kosher bird.)
  • Conventional: This is the standard supermarket turkey. The variety is the Broad Breasted White, which was bred to have a plumper, broader breast. A conventional turkey should be brined; it will noticeably improve the texture. And use an open hand when it comes to seasonings, since the turkey won’t offer much flavor of its own.
  • Heritage: Heritage turkeys are old-fashioned varieties of birds that were common in America until the 1920s. They have a richer, more distinct flavor, more like a game bird, and have a greater proportion of dark meat. Breeds include Narragansett, Jersey Buff, Standard Bronze, Bourbon Red and White Holland.
  • Wild Turkey: It is illegal in the United States to sell a truly wild turkey that’s been shot by a hunter, thus most “wild” turkeys on the market are pasture-raised — often free-range heritage birds. To procure a truly wild turkey you will need to either shoot one yourself or befriend a hunter.
  • Self-basting: These turkeys have been injected with a solution generally consisting of butter or oil and salt, and sometimes herbs, spices and preservatives. Self-basted turkeys are sometimes not labeled as such, so make sure to check the ingredients list. If you see anything other than “turkey,” chances are it is a self-basting bird. Do not brine it. 

Go ahead, print this out, post it on your fridge, Nextdoor Neighbor, or Facebook, forward a copy to your mum, aunt, uncle, brother, book club group, that person sitting next to you on the plane that’s peering over your shoulder…I don’t mind! 

For other terrific tips and hundreds of recipes, including dozens perfect for sharing around your Thanksgiving table like my Parker House Rolls, Pumpkin Pie with Gingersnap Crust and Maple Whipping Cream to Foolproof Turkey, Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Toasted Marshmallows, Velvety Smooth Mashed Potatoes, Cranberry Sauce and Cranberry Relish, and Green Beans with Shallots, Toasted Almonds and Cranberries, visit my website (thetabletogether.com). While there, consider “subscribing” and I will send a new tip or blog post directly to your inbox every Tuesday and Wednesday morning!

P.S. Make sure you check out my YouTube channel, The Table Together with Tiffany Lewis, for dozens of videos solely dedicated to bringing all of these fantastic tips and recipes to life!

Cheers to starting a new tradition around The Table Together!


Tiffany Lewis

Founder and true believer in the power of bringing people around The Table Together!