As a child I remember my Mom getting up at 5:30 am to put the turkey in the oven on Thanksgiving. What kind of awful holiday tradition is that? The turkey always turned out fine, but it sure took a long time to cook. These days my wife has taken over the task of cooking our Thanksgiving turkey. We always have a free range Tom turkey that will weigh between 35 and 38 pounds. Believe it or not our turkey fits in a standard sized oven and cooks in a relatively short time. She uses a quick cooking, foil wrapped method and our Thanksgiving bird always cooks perfectly. The turkey comes out thoroughly cooked, moist and juicy inside, and has a nice browned skin. A perfectly cooked turkey and a couple of extra hours of sleep - what's not to like?
I've listed her quick cook recipe below. Here is a picture of me with last year's finished product that weighed in at 35.5 pounds.
Quick cooking, foil wrapped turkey
Heavy duty, wide foil
Oven pre-heated to 450
This method uses high heat and results in a shorter cooking time. It is especially useful for bigger birds. Also no basting is required because the tent does it for you.
Place turkey in roasting pan and oil and season breast. Butter works best for browning. Poultry seasoning or just sage rubbed into skin after butter will enhance flavor.
Use enough foil to make a tent that will cover the turkey without touching it and that you can fold around the roasting pan so all juices and steam stay in. You may want to wrap the wings in foil also to prevent burning.
For an unstuffed turkey calculate your cooking time by multiplying the weight of the bird by 8 minutes per pound.
For a bird with stuffing in the cavities, multiply the weight by 9 minutes per pound.
Keep the turkey tented and don't peek until toward the end so you keep all the juices in the bird and have plenty of stock for gravy in the pan.
Use a meat thermometer to make sure your bird is cooked through properly. A core breast temperature of 165 is sufficient. If the turkey is stuffed the internal temperature of the dressing should also be 165.
Smaller birds will cook in such a short time that they may not brown, so uncover them for the last 15 minutes or so.
Larger birds will brown right under the tent and generally do not need to be browned specifically.
Last year we cooked a 35 lb turkey for 12 or more people, insuring lots of leftovers. The turkey was done to perfection in 5 hours and 15 minutes, so for dinner at six we start cooking at noon and have a built in margin for resting and carving time.