Turkey—Thanksgiving Special
November 1971

“Turkey—Thanksgiving Special,” Ensign, Nov. 1971, 71


Thanksgiving Special

While turkey has become a bird for all seasons, it still stars as the special in the drama of Thanksgiving dinner in most homes. And what could look more dramatic than that beautiful, pompously stuffed bird of the holiday feast!

While most older homemakers take the preparation and serving of the bird in stride, there must be many young families who will be tackling the job for the first time this year.

Whatever your experience, fear not. This is a fun time, a heart-warming experience, and one that is not really hard anymore, with no pinfeathers to pick and the turkey delivered to you in ready-to-use-form. A few ground rules should be kept in mind, but the work can be minimal.

First, buy the right size turkey. Plan for 1 1/2 pounds of ready-to-cook turkey per serving. This will allow for seconds and for cold turkey for a bedtime snack. Large turkeys are usually more economical than the smaller birds, and leftovers make excellent future meals. While young hens are usually more expensive than young toms, both are tender birds with little difference between them after proper roasting.

Choose the way most convenient to you for thawing frozen turkey:

1. Place the turkey in a double-walled paper bag in its original plastic bag. The insulation from the two paper bags will keep the skin surface below 55° F., even for several hours after the carcass is thawed. This will take up to 15 hours for a turkey under 12 pounds and about 20 hours for a 25-pound bird, but your refrigerator and sink are freed for other important preparations.

2. Place the turkey in the refrigerator for 2 to 4 days (stored in original plastic bag).

3. Place the turkey in a sink of cool water (in original bag) for six to eight hours.

A frozen stuffed bird need not be thawed before cooking. Don’t attempt to stuff and freeze a turkey at home, because there is danger of bacterial contamination. And don’t stuff the bird the night before you cook it, even if you leave it in the refrigerator. The center of the stuffing cools off (and heats up) much too slowly for safety. Add stuffing at the last minute, just before you put the bird in the oven.

Stuff the bird, allowing approximately 1/2 to 3/4 cup of stuffing for each pound of turkey. Or don’t stuff it. It will cook faster and be just as good. Stuffing cooked separately is also delicious, and the job of preparing the turkey without stuffing it is much easier.

A question commonly asked is, Should the bird be cooked with the breast up or the breast down? Since dark meat requires more heat for perfect doneness than white, it will get it with the back up, because the hottest temperature in your oven is near the top (heat rises—remember?). Cooked breast down, the white meat gets the least heat. If you prefer to cook the breast up, use a foil tent or buffered lightweight cloth to cover the breast to keep it from over-browning and drying out.

The man of the house can make his important contribution to this festive meal by carving the turkey. To set the stage, let the turkey stand for about 30 minutes after roasting to allow the juices to be absorbed. Then remove all trussing equipment, such as skewers or string, and place the bird on a large, warm platter. Use a sharp carving knife (a thin-bladed one works best) and a fork with a guard.

If you’re brave, carve the bird at the table so family and guests can enjoy the full effect. Use either the “side style” or the traditional “breast up” method, whichever seems easier, as shown in the accompanying diagram. Provide a second platter for carved meat, to stockpile enough to serve all the guests at one time.

“It was a turkey!” So the bird was described by Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol. “He could never have stood upon his legs, that bird. He would have snapped ‘em off short in a minute, like sticks of sealing-wax.” The bird you eat Thanksgiving day is like that—plump and with remarkable staying power. You will no doubt have him around for a few days or, thanks to modern appliances, even a few months. He will taste as good as ever in imaginative recipes that bring him to the table in a new guise. (See recipes, p. 76.)

Turkey cooked right is not only more moist and tasty, but also provides more servings. Here’s a step-by-step procedure for basic preparation.

1. Thaw bird according to directions.

2. Remove giblets and neck from both openings of turkey.

3. Rinse bird inside and out and pat dry.

4. Salt cavities and add stuffing, if desired. Stuffing is good but not necessary.

5. Tuck legs under skin band; tie wings to body with twine or leave them akimbo.

6. Turn turkey on its breast on rack in shallow pan and cook in preheated 325° F. oven.

7. When turkey is half cooked, turn it over onto its back (with protected hands).

8. Using time and temperature chart as a guide, begin to check for doneness about an hour before indicated cooking time is up:

—Insert a thermometer into the thickest muscle of leg or breast. When it registers 180–185° F., meat is done.

—Move drumstick up and down with protected thumb and finger; when it moves easily, it is done. Pinch thickest portion of thigh meat; when it feels soft, it is done.

9. Remove turkey from oven and allow it to stand for 30 minutes before carving.

Time Chart for Roasting Turkey in Preheated 325° F. Oven

Ready-to-Cook Weight

Approximate Cooking Time


6 to 8 pounds

3–3 1/2 hours


180–185° F

8 to 12 pounds

3 1/2–4 1/2 hours

12 to 16 pounds

4 1/2–5 1/2 hours

16 to 20 pounds

5 1/2–6 1/2 hours

20 to 24 pounds

6 1/2–7 hours

Note: Because turkeys vary from one to another due to conformation, variety, etc., cooking times can be only approximate. Because of this, it would be well to allow an extra half hour of roasting time in case the turkey needs that extra cooking.

Traditional Carving Method

1. Removing drumstick and thigh—To remove drumstick and thigh, press leg away from body. Joint connecting leg to backbone will oftentimes snap free or may be severed easily with knife point. Cut dark meat completely from body by following body contour carefully with knife.

2. Slicing dark meat—Place drumstick and thigh on separate plate and cut through connecting joint. Both pieces may be individually sliced. Tilt drumstick to convenient angle, slicing toward the plate, as shown in illustration.

3. Slicing thigh—To slice thigh meat, hold firmly on plate with fork. Cut even slices parallel to the bone.

4. Preparing breasts—In preparing breast for easy slicing, place knife parallel and as close to wing as possible. Make deep cut into breast, cutting right to bone. This is your base cut. All breast slices will stop at this vertical cut.

5. Carving breast—After base cut, begin to slice breast. Carve downward, ending at base cut. Start each new slice slightly higher up on breast. Keep slices thin and even.

New Side Carving Method

1. Carving position—Place turkey on its side, breast away from carver. Remove wing tip and first joint. Hold tip firmly, lift up, and sever at joint. Set this aside for other dishes and leave second joint of wing attached to turkey.

2. Remove drumstick—Slice dark meat off drumstick and thigh until thigh bone is exposed. Lift drumstick and cut off at thigh joint. Slice meat from drumstick.

3. Cut away thigh bone—Steady turkey with fork. Run knife point completely around thigh bone, loosening it. Pry one end up, grasp, and pull it free. With thigh bone gone, generous portions of dark meat can be sliced from turkey.

4. Slicing dark meat—Slice dark meat away from turkey just above removed thigh bone. As you work deeper into the meat, you will discover the “oyster.” This choice piece may be lifted whole from spoon-shaped section of backbone.

5. Slicing white meat—Breast meat, like dark meat, is much easier to carve if turkey stands 20 to 30 minutes after roasting. Make deep vertical cut in breast just in front of wing joint to serve as base for all breast meat slices.

6. Breast slices—Start from center of breast and cut toward you, making large, even slices. When more slices are needed, turn turkey and repeat process. Remove stuffing from a hole cut under thigh.

  • Sister Thackeray is consumer information specialist for the Utah State University Extension Services and a member of the 33rd Ward, Bonneville Stake, in Salt Lake City.