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Turkey is the ultimate comfort bird that can be served any time of year. A large, 18-pound bird can easily feed up to 25 guests, making this entrée economical and easy to serve at large get-togethers. Cooking a crowd-pleasing turkey doesn't just have to mean roasting it. There are a variety of methods for preparing and cooking a delicious turkey. There's also a lot to know about this bird aside from its place on our dinner table.

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Turkey Is Good For You

Not only is turkey full of protein, but it's also very low in carbohydrates. Some of the other nutrients contained in one serving of turkey breast will include:

  • Selenium
  • Phosphorus
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin C
  • Riboflavin
  • Niacin
  • Potassium
  • Thiamin
  • Zinc
  • Tryptophan

These nutrients strengthen your immune system, boost energy levels, increase metabolism and raise serotonin levels. It also doesn't hurt that turkey meat also has no fat content.

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To Brine or Not To Brine

Brining means soaking the entire bird in a solution of heavily salted water for 12 hours to 3 days before cooking to infuse it with flavor and juiciness. You'll need a large container to soak a big turkey in and a safe spot that's cool enough for storing while it's brining.

If you want to avoid the soaking method, you can dry brine your turkey. Rub salt all over the skin and refrigerate the bird uncovered one day before cooking. The results are moist, tender meat and crispy skin.

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Cooking a Turkey The Easy Way

One of the simplest methods for cooking a turkey, brined or not, is to roast it in the oven.

  1. Rub the skin with seasonings of your choice and place in a pan.
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 450°. When you're ready to put the turkey in, reduce the heat to 350°.
  3. Roast for 13 minutes per pound of turkey; if you've stuffed the bird, make it 15 minutes per pound. The internal temperature should register at least 165° in the thigh's thickest part.
  4. Let the turkey sit for 15 minutes before carving.
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Deep-Frying Is Fast

Deep-frying a turkey is much quicker than roasting it. Your bird will cook in about an hour or so, depending on its size. This provides more room in the oven for side dishes.

A turkey deep fryer has to be used outdoors. Very hot oil is involved, so have a fire extinguisher nearby and be cautious when submerging the turkey. Only deep-fry a completely dry and thawed turkey, with no herbs, rubs or stuffing. You can brine it beforehand or inject it with marinade, but be sure to dry it out for a day before frying.

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Take Your Time and Smoke a Turkey

If you love being outdoors, you'll enjoy cooking your turkey in a smoker. It takes about 30 minutes per pound to smoke a turkey, which means your 20-pound bird could be cooking for 10 hours before it's done.

The type of wood chips you use can improve the flavor of the bird. Many prefer apple, cherry or oak chips.

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Grill In Any Weather

Whether you use gas or charcoal, grilling your turkey outside gives you space in the kitchen and equals less clean-up time. A 16-pound turkey takes about 3 hours to grill.

If you're cooking with gas, add wood chips that have been soaked in water or beer, wrap them in foil and place near the turkey on the grill. Use indirect heat by placing the bird opposite to where the gas flames are burning.

Grilling your turkey over charcoals gives it a nice, smoky flavor. Use two beds of charcoal pushed to either side of the bird.

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Cooking a Frozen Turkey

What if you need to cook a turkey, but it's still frozen solid? Here is what you can do, which basically thaws the bird as it cooks:

  1. Preheat your oven to 325°.
  2. Hold the turkey beneath warm running water for about three minutes while it's still in its original wrapping.
  3. Remove the bagging, and place the turkey on a rack in a roasting pan, breast side up.
  4. Brush vegetable oil on the skin, so the meat stays moist.
  5. An 18-pound turkey may take close to seven hours to cook. Be sure to check that the meat is done using a thermometer.
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Prepare In Advance

Eliminate stress and cook your turkey a few days ahead of time. Roast and carve the turkey into thick slices. In a baking pan, press the slices close together and cover tightly with plastic wrap and aluminum foil. Refrigerate.

Before you're ready to reheat the meat, allow it to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. Remove the wrap, spread out the turkey slices, and drizzle some broth over them. Cover with foil and reheat in a 350° oven for about 30 minutes.

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Turkey Deconstructed

One of the problems with cooking a whole turkey is that the white breast meat often dries out while the darker parts are moist and tender. You can please everyone with equally delicious meat choices if you cook turkey parts instead of a whole bird.

Roast a turkey breast alongside some bone-in legs; add thighs about 30 minutes later, as they take the shortest amount of time to cook.

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Turkey Trivia

The turkey that holds the record for being the largest ever is a male turkey that weighed 86 pounds. Turkeys by law are free of hormones and steroids. It's a fallacy that turkey makes people feel sleepy after eating. The fact is that large, carbohydrate-laden dinners feature turkey as the main course. It's all the side dishes like stuffing, potatoes, rolls, and pie that cause drowsiness.

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