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FAQs: Turkey

Created December 8, 2016
whole turkey on plate
The Pillsbury Kitchens staff answer your frequently asked questions about the Thanksgiving turkey. MORE+ LESS-

Can I brine a turkey if I plan on cooking it in a roasting bag?

No problem! Both the brining and the cooking it in a bag will make your bird super moist and tender. Just remember to rinse off the salt and pat dry after brining. Keep in mind that the pan drippings from brined turkey can be very salty and may not make good gravy, so taste it first before you use it. Try it out with Apple-Sage Brined Turkey Breast.

Gravy Solution: If the drippings are too salty, reduce the amount of turkey drippings added to your gravy, or simply make it with reduced-sodium broth. Give these easy turkey gravy recipes a try:

Classic Pan Gravy

No-Drippings Gravy

How can I roast my turkey at high heat (400°F +)? Here are some tips: 

Be sure your turkey is completely thawed all the way to the center or the high temperature can cook the outside meat before the internal temperature is safe (165°F in thickest part of the thigh).

Avoid burning the pan drippings by adding more water before the water completely evaporates.

Another option: Roast the turkey at 325°F covered with a foil tent until almost done. Then remove the foil tent and increase the oven temperature to 400°F for a few minutes to make the skin nice and golden brown.

How do you get the nice golden brown skin on the turkey?

Brushing the skin with butter or juices every 30 minutes during baking will help to provide a moist and beautifully brown turkey. You can also use an oil based mixture (1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil, 2 teaspoons chopped herbs, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper) to brush on the turkey.

Roasting the turkey uncovered at the start of the bake time will also increase the browning. Covering the turkey loosely with a piece of tented foil will prevent the browning from burning. Be sure to follow the recipe on when to bake the turkey covered or uncovered.

If the turkey is not browned but has reached the desired doneness, crank up the heat to 450 or turn on the broiler and give it just a minute or two… but be sure to watch it very closely because this can easily go from perfect to overdone.

My turkey is still frozen! What do I do? 

Use the “water-bath” thawing method. That means you’ll need to stay close by and change the water often, but it can speed up thawing so you can get your turkey in the oven faster!

Here’s how:

Clean out your sink well or use a deep pan of cold water.

Keep poultry in its original wrapper during thawing, or place in a resealable, heavy-duty plastic bag. Thaw the frozen uncooked turkey by completely covering it with cold water.

Change the water often to keep it cold. Allow 30 minutes per pound to thaw. (That’s 10 hours for a 20-pound bird!)

Not enough time? If the water-bath method isn’t fast enough, there are directions for safe microwave thawing from the USDA. Here is a link to their information.

Despite my best intentions to roast the turkey correctly, when I go to carve it I find the breast done but the thighs undercooked. How do I avoid this next time around? 

If your turkey shows pink color, it may still be done. The color of cooked poultry is not always a sure sign of its safety. Turkey can remain pink even after cooking to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F. Only by using a food thermometer can you accurately determine that poultry has reached a safe minimum internal temperature. If the breast meat has reached a safe temperature but the thighs are still not at 165°F, you can remove the breast meat and wings, in one piece, if possible, and place in a glass baking dish. Cover it with foil and set aside. Put the drumsticks and thigh portion of the turkey back into the oven to continue cooking until done. If you remove the breast meat by slicing it, you can add a little water to the baking dish; cover and reheat in oven while carving the rest of the turkey when it is done. 

Can you give me the basic information needed to roast a turkey?

Here are some tips for roasting turkey:

Use an oven thermometer to ensure correct oven temperature for turkey roasting for the recipe you're using.

Whether roasting or grilling, use a meat thermometer so you’ll know when the turkey reaches a safe internal temperature. Insert the meat thermometer in the thickest part of the inside thigh muscle so the thermometer does not touch bone.

Turkeys often come with plastic pop-up indicator. When your meat thermometer or pop-up indicates the turkey is ready, remove it from the oven, grill, or fryer.

Basting promotes moist, flavorful turkey. Baste or brush the turkey with pan juices every 30 to 60 minutes of cooking time.

Convection ovens decrease roasting time (check the guidelines for your convection oven).

What’s the difference between, fresh, frozen and organic turkeys? 

An organic turkey must meet the USDA Approved Label Claims:

Certified Organic by C.C.O.F. (California Certified Organic Farmers)

Free Range

No Antibiotics

No Animal By-Products

Both organic turkeys and those that aren’t can be purchased either frozen or fresh. There’s no difference in quality between fresh and frozen turkey…but if you purchase a frozen turkey, leave enough time to thaw completely (24 hours for each 4 pounds thawed in the 'fridge).

I don’t have a meat thermometer; how can I judge if my turkey is done? 

The turkey may turn golden brown before it is done. The turkey is done when the juice is no longer pink when you cut into the center of the thigh and the drumstick moves easily when lifted or twisted.

How long can I keep the leftovers — and how about recipes for the leftovers?

Find the answers in our Second Acts: Turkey Leftovers section.

More Thanksgiving questions? Ask our experts in the Community.