This might seem a little early and I feel a little like I'm copping out of a really good blog post but it amazes me how hard cooking a bird can be. Because of their size, cooking a turkey can be rather difficult. There's the balance of keeping the meat from drying out and getting the deep parts of the meat thoroughly cooked.
So while I am still under the turkey influence, I thought I would share how to properly cook a turkey.
A turkey takes a long time to cook - about 1 hour for every 3 pounds at 350 degrees. Keep this in mind when planning your cooking and even when purchasing the turkey. My almost 12 pound turkey took over 3 1/2 hours.
One thing that influences cooking time is what you stuff the turkey with. Dense bread stuffings add to the cooking time. I stuffed my turkey with apples and onions which allow air circulation through the cavities and help the turkey cook faster. I didn't use a bread stuffing, simply because we didn't have any.
If you are not using a bread stuffing, fill the cavity with moist flavor ingredients. Onions, apples, oranges, and celery are all great - they keep the cavities moist and add flavor to the turkey. Adding seasonings like - bay leaves, garlic, fresh herbs also help season a turkey.
Quite often I don't add anything to my turkey aside from what I stuff in it but there are a number of things you can do to give the turkey some extra flavor. One Christmas I marinated the turkey overnight in seasoned champagne. The recipe is here. It was a really good turkey but not enough to keep me doing it year after year. Some people brine their turkey - which means soaking the turkey in a heavy salt water solution, at least overnight. Soaking the turkey in a marinade or solution increases the moisture content in the bird.
Before cooking, you can rub the skin with butter and herbs or pull back the skin carefully and butter/season the meat underneath. Seasoning the skin only guarantees the skin with have flavor but adding the seasonings under the skin gives the meat a chance to absorb the flavor.
To cook the turkey, make sure it's a thawed as you can get. Sometimes we find the center is still a little frozen, this will add to the cooking time but not a big deal (unless you are deep frying and then you may have a problem but I don't deep fry turkeys). Place in a deep roasting pan so that it will catch all the drippings. If the turkey is quite large, lay it breast side down (can for any turkey but I usually save it for the big ones). Cook in a 350 degree oven. About half way through cooking, flip the bird over so that the breasts can brown. Be careful - you may lose the skin during this if you are not careful. You can also start breasts up and rotate more than once. It's best to finish breasts up because it's easier for carving and checking the meat for doneness.
Hope this helps and makes your next turkey cooking experience an easy one.