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How Big a Bird, and Other Turkey Tips

Martha Stewart Living, November 2003

Q. What size turkey will you need?

A: For a large party, you'll need a big bird -- say, fifteen to twenty pounds; figure one and a half pounds for each person. Smaller birds -- twelve pounds or less -- have a smaller meat-to-bone ratio, so allow two pounds per person. Remember that the larger the bird, the more likely you are to have leftovers for the next few days.

Q. How should you defrost a frozen turkey?

A: Let the bird thaw in the coldest part of the refrigerator, allowing five hours of defrosting time for every pound.

Q. How should you prepare the turkey for cooking?

A: When you bring a fresh turkey home or thaw out a frozen one, remove the giblets and save them for gravy stock. Rinse the turkey under cool running water, and dry it inside and out with paper towels.

Q. Is it safe to cook the stuffing in the bird?

A: Stuffing cooked inside a turkey is more flavorful and moist, but you run the risk of exposure to bacteria. Instead, cook the stuffing in a separate buttered casserole dish at 350 degrees; cover it with aluminum foil, and baste it occasionally with turkey juices. It only needs an hour of cooking time. If you do stuff the bird, make sure to do it right before the turkey goes in the oven, not ahead of time. The stuffing should be cool and not packed too tightly inside the turkey. A twelve- to fifteen-pound turkey needs about ten cups of stuffing; a fifteen- to twenty-pound bird can hold up to twelve cups.


Leftovers can serve as the main ingredients for dishes you might not otherwise make. Sliced turkey can become the main ingredient in an open-faced sandwich, a turkey-and-green-chile burrito, or a turkey-salad sandwich. Leftover mashed potatoes can be used to make gnocchi or a potato-chive souffle; sweet potatoes can be turned into sweet-potato biscuits or sweet-potato butter. Even the turkey bones can have a second life: Use them as the basis of a delicious turkey stock, which can be frozen for up to four months and used in any recipe calling for chicken stock.


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