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The Thanksgiving Turkey Cheat Sheet

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By Rachel Derry
Staff Writer LIFamilies

Even for the most experienced chef, an old fashioned Thanksgiving dinner can be an overwhelming task. How many people are coming, and how much of each side do you have to make? More importantly, how big of a turkey do you need and how many minutes does it need to cook per pound, again?

Well never fear, LIFamilies is here to help with a turkey day cheat sheet for you to keep close at hand. With the trivia taken care of, try to relax and enjoy your preparations. To speed up the process, grab a family member or two. You’ll add a few laughs and possibly start a new family tradition.

Keep in mind, below are estimates for generous servings and seconds.

So, how big of a turkey are you going to need? For a turkey that is less than 16 lbs, plan on at least 1 lb per serving. This will ensure plenty of meat after removing bones and waste. For a larger turkey, though, you can estimate down a little. There is a lot more meat on the bones. If you are aiming for plenty of leftovers, estimate 1 ½ lbs per person.

So for a breakdown:
- 8 people - 12 lb turkey
-10 people - 15 lb turkey
-12 people - 18 lb turkey
-14 people - 20 lb turkey

For thawing, the safest way to thaw a turkey is in the refrigerator. You will need to allot at least 24 hours per 4-5 lbs of turkey. Another way to safely thaw your bird is to do so in a sink of cold water. You will need to drain and change the water every 30 minutes, and it will take roughly 30 minutes per pound to thaw.

If you plan to brine your turkey, never do so for more than 8-10 hours. If you let it go for longer, the meat tends to get too salty. Always brine/store your thawed turkey in a refrigerator or ice filled cooler.

Okay, now to the most important step of all…the roasting! There are two main theories for roasting a turkey. For the slow and steady method, you will need to preheat your oven to 325 degrees, where it will remain for the roast. Some prefer to crank up the heat to 400-425 degrees for the first hour, and then drop it back down for the remainder of the roasting time.

Either way, insert an instant thermometer into the inner-most thigh of the bird without touching the bone. This way you will know, for sure, when the turkey is roasted. (Many turkeys come with a pop-button already inserted in them.) To be safe, turkey meat must be cooked to at least 165 degrees, but many prefer to heat keep it going until 170 degree saying the meat tastes better.

The following roast times are based on a stuffed turkey. For an empty turkey, reduce cooking time by 20-40 minutes. (Remember, a crowded oven will also make it a longer cooking time.)

-12 lb turkey – 3 to 4 hours at 325F
-15 lb turkey – 4 to 4 ½ hours at 325F
-18 lb turkey – 4 ½ to 5 hours at 325F
-20 lb turkey – 5 to 6 hours at 325F

Once your turkey is fully cooked it needs to be left to rest for at least 20 minutes before serving. That way the juices have time to redistribute.

Finally, a quick cheat sheet for your sides:

-For carrots: a 1lb bag makes about 4-5 servings.
-For cranberry sauce: a 16 ounce can is about 6 servings, and a 12 ounce package of fresh berries makes about 2 ¼ cups of sauce.
-For gravy: plan to make about 1/3 cup of gravy per person.
-For green beans: 1 ½lbs of green beans makes 6-8 servings.
-For mashed potatoes: a 5lb bag of potatoes makes 10-12 servings.
-For stuffing: a 14 ounce bag of stuffing makes 11 servings.

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