How to Perfectly Cook a 20-Pound Thanksgiving Turkey

·4 min read
How to Perfectly Cook a 20-Pound Thanksgiving Turkey

From Country Living

Picture this: It's Thanksgiving. You've spent hours—days even—preparing. You've put together the perfect Thanksgiving table setting and set out all the most tasteful Thanksgiving decorations. Cars full of family and friends will be pulling into the driveway soon. You're sipping on a fall cocktail recipes, mentally preparing to step into the roll of perfect host. You've even got a fire in the fireplace. This year, you've encouraged folks to bring their favorite Thanksgiving side dishes and Thanksgiving desserts, so all you have to do is roll out the bar cart when guests arrive, and bring the main attraction at dinnertime: That golden brown, perfectly cooked 20-pound turkey everyone looks forward to!

But wait! Is the turkey defrosted? How long does it need to go in, again? Should you have woken up early to cook it? Will it be ready in time for dinner? And what if it overcooks, or gets dried out? Let's just say you wouldn't win too many awards for hostess of the year if the turkey turns out to be trash. Luckily, we've here to help ensure your bird is neither undercooked nor dry as Uncle Bob's boots. Follow these helpful tips and your turkey will be the star of the Thanksgiving table, guaranteed.

What You Need for a Perfectly Cooked Turkey

Fully Defrosting the Turkey

Don't wait too long to start defrosting! A frozen turkey will take approximately one (1) day for every 4 pounds of, to defrost in the fridge — which is the best way to do it (though there are faster methods). So to properly defrost a 20-pound turkey, plan for between 5 and 6 days for a fully thawed bird. To thaw, simply set the turkey on a large rimmed baking sheet and slide it in the fridge. It really is as simple as that!

Preheat the Oven

When you're ready to start cooking, preheat the oven to 325ºF. Remove the turkey from the refrigerator. Unwrap it (if applicable) and remove the neck and giblets. (Save the neck for roasting and the giblets for gravy, if you want.) Let the turkey sit at room temperature for an hour while the oven heats up.

Photo credit: Tetra Images - Getty Images
Photo credit: Tetra Images - Getty Images

Season that Bird!

When cooking anything, always start seasoning at the beginning of the cooking process so that you can build the flavors as you go. The same goes here. Place the neck and half of the aromatics in the roasting pan; top with the roasting rack. Place the turkey on the rack, breast side up, and fold the wings under; this makes for a nicer presentation. Loosen the skin over the breast meat and rub the butter between the skin and meat. Season the large cavity with plenty of salt and pepper; stuff with the remaining aromatics. Tie the legs together with baker's twine. Season the outside of the turkey with salt and pepper. Pour 1/2 cup water in the pan to prevent the vegetables from scouring.

How to Cook the Turkey

Make sure the oven rack is in the lowest position—this will help the bottom of the turkey cook while protecting the more delicate breast meat on top. Slide the roasting pan into the oven, close the door, and wait! After about 3 hours, take a peek. If the skin is starting to get too brown, gently lay a piece of buttered foil over the turkey. If not, keep roasting. The surest way to tell when the turkey is done is to test the internal temperature with an instant read thermometer. It's done when the thermometer reads 165ºF. It should take between 4 to 4 1/2 hours to come to temperature, but you'll want to start testing it at about the 3 1/2 hour mark to be sure that it doesn't get overcooked.

To do this, remove the roasting pan from the oven (close the oven door, you don't want to lose all the heat!) and slide the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh (the easiest way to find this is to insert the thermometer into the crease between the leg and the breast), making sure you don’t touch any bones. If the thermometer reads 165ºF, it's done. If not, slide it back into the oven. Check it again every 15 minutes until it reaches 165ºF. Because the bird will continue to cook after it's removed from the oven, it's better to err on a few degrees under rather than over.

Let that Turkey Rest!

When the turkey is cooked, transfer it to a large cutting board and lay a large piece of aluminum foil over the top. Let it rest between 30 and 45 minutes while you make the gravy. After that, carve and enjoy!

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