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Tackling Your Thanksgiving Turkey

Turkey is the focal point of any Thanksgiving dinner, and culinary expert Tori Ritchie offered viewers of The Early Show


Over several days, The Early Show and home furnishings specialty retailer Williams-Sonoma teamed to tell you how to create the "Perfect Thanksgiving," from the planning to the cooking to what to do with leftovers.

The segments took place in the Williams-Sonoma store at New York City's Columbus Circle.

Ritchie, a San Francisco-based food writer, cooking teacher and host of the long-running "Ultimate Kitchens" on the Food Network, led co-anchor Hannah Storm from getting a raw turkey ready to the finished, tantalizing prize on a platter.

You could call this, "Turkey 101," Ritchie said.

Williams-Sonoma offers a pamphlet with the following, detailed suggestions:

What Size Turkey to Buy: To ensure ample servings for Thanksgiving dinner and generous leftovers, allow one to one-and-a-quarter pounds of turkey per person (Ritchie suggests up to a pound-and-a-half).

What Size Pan to Use: For best results, roast your turkey on a wire rack in an open roasting pan. Because of the turkey's weight, a sturdy pan with good handles is recommended. If you use a foil roasting pan, double it for extra strength and take special care when transferring it into and out of the oven.

Turkey Weight/Pan Size
10 to 14 lb.: Medium (14" x 10" x 2 1/2" high)
14 to 20 lb.: Large (17" x 11 1/2" x 2 1/2" high)
20-plus lb.: Extra-Large (19" x 14" x 3 1/2" high)

Trussing the Unstuffed Turkey: Trussing, or tying a turkey into a compact shape, ensures it will cook evenly. After the turkey is roasted and the twine is removed, the bird will still hold its shape for easier carving. Set the turkey breast-side up; cross the legs and loop a piece of kitchen twine over, around and under the crossed legs several times, tying securely. Tuck the first joint of each wing under the body of the bird. Take note: Cooking the stuffing (dressing) inside the turkey can present a health hazard, since the turkey is often not cooked long enough for the dressing to be cooked properly. Therefore, Ritchie advises cooking the stuffing separately.

Remove the turkey from the refrigerator an hour to an-hour-and-a-half before roasting.

Do not leave the turkey at room temperature longer than an hour-and-a-half.

Roasting an Unstuffed Turkey: The times listed here are calculated for an unstuffed turkey brought to room temperature and roasted at 400°F, breast-side down, for the first 45 minutes, then turned breast-side up and roasted at 325°F until done.

Turkey Weight Approximate Time
(allow 13-15 minutes per pound)
10 to 12 lb.: 2 1/2 to 3 hours
12 to 14 lb.: 2 3/4 to 3 1/4 hours
14 to 16 lb.: 3 to 3 3/4 hours
16 to 18 lb.: 3 1/4 to 4 hours
18 to 20 lb.: 3 1/2 to 4 1/4 hours
20-plus lb. : 3 3/4 to 4 1/2 hours

Test the Turkey to Make Sure It's Done: Probably the trickiest part of roasting a turkey is making sure the breast and thigh meat are done at the same time. All too often, the breast meat ends up dry and overcooked while you're waiting for the thighs to finish cooking. For an unstuffed turkey, roast the turkey, breast-side down, for the first third of the cooking time. This increases the rate at which the thighs cook, so they'll be done at about the same time as the breast.

The Right Temperature: A good roasting thermometer is indispensable for determining when the turkey is properly cooked. An instant-read thermometer is inserted into the roasting meat periodically to gauge the temperature. A leave-in thermometer stays in the meat as it roasts. You can check the temperature without opening the oven door and letting the heat escape. A dual-temperature thermometer features two probes, so you can simultaneously monitor faster-and-slower cooking parts of the meat — ideal for the breast and thigh of the turkey.

To test the breast: Insert an instant-read thermometer into the meatiest part, several inches above the wings.

To test the thigh: Insert the instant-read thermometer away from the bone, alongside the opening of the main cavity, underneath the drumstick. This is the meatiest part of the thigh.

To test for doneness: Using a dual-temperature thermometer, insert the probes into the turkey before roasting and keep them in the bird throughout the cooking process. Place one probe in the meatiest part of the breast and the other probe in the thigh, as described above.

Roasting Tips:The turkey will continue to cook internally once it is removed from the oven, so you may remove it when the temperature registers a couple of degrees below the minimum temperature. Cover the bird loosely with aluminum foil. After taking the turkey out of the oven, let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes. This allows time for some of the juices to be absorbed back into the meat, which makes it easier to carve and more moist.



Butter blended with orange zest and herbs is rubbed under the skin and on the outside of the turkey. This helps the meat stay moist and infuses the bird with delicious flavor.

1 fresh turkey, about 16 lb., neck, heart and gizzard removed (reserved, if desired)
8 Tbs. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 Tbs. Turkey Herbs

Finely grated zest of 2 oranges
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper

Let the turkey stand at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours. Position a rack in the lower third of an oven and preheat to 400°F. In a bowl, using a wooden spoon, beat the butter, herbs, orange zest, salt and pepper until well blended. Set aside. Rinse the turkey inside and out with cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Trim off and discard excess fat. Gently slide your fingers under the breast to loosen the skin and work your fingers down to the thigh, being careful not to tear the skin. Spread one-third of the butter mixture evenly under the skin. Spread one-third of the mixture inside the body cavity, then spread the remaining mixture evenly on the outside of the turkey. Truss the turkey, if desired, using kitchen twine.

Place the turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a large roasting pan and roast for 45 minutes. Reduce the heat to 325°F and continue roasting, basting every 30 minutes with the pan juices. After about 2-1/2 hours of total roasting time, begin testing for doneness by inserting an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the breast and thigh, away from the bone. The breast should register 165°F and the thigh, 175°F. If the breast begins to cook too quickly, tent it loosely with aluminum foil. Total roasting time should be 3 to 3-3/4 hours.

Transfer the turkey to a carving board, cover loosely with foil and let rest for 20 minutes before carving. Serves 12.


Turkey gravy, the perfect complement to roast turkey, is especially delicious when made from the pan juices, enhanced with turkey or chicken stock.

Pan drippings from roasted turkey
3/4 cup water
3 Tbs. unsalted butter
3 Tbs. all-purpose flour
2 cups turkey or chicken stock, lightly salted
2 Tbs. dry sherry
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Skim and discard any fat from the turkey drippings in the roasting pan. Add the water to the pan and set over medium heat. Boil for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom and sides of the pan. Transfer to a bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. When it bubbles, add the flour and stir rapidly for a few seconds to cook the flour. Rapidly whisk in the reserved pan drippings and the stock. Cook until the gravy is smooth and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the sherry and season with salt and pepper. Pour the gravy into a warmed sauceboat or wide-mouthed pitcher for serving. Makes 2 to 2 1/2 cups.

Ritchie's final word to the wise, perhaps only half-kiddingly? Have someone else carve the turkey. You'll have earned it.
Ritchie's latest cookbook is "Party Appetizers: Small Bites, Big Flavors" (Chronicle Books, Fall 2004).
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