2000s Archive

Kitchen Notebook: Think Big

Thanksgiving for a large crowd means two small turkeys (more dark meat, easier to handle) or one huge bird. If you want to serve drama along with all the trimmings, go for the latter. When everyone sees what’s coming, they’ll burst into applause.

We call for 14-pound turkeys in our Thanksgiving menus (see Maple-Glazed Turkey with Gravy; Spiced Roasted Turkey; and Stuffed Turkey with Lemon, Oregano, and Red Onions) because one will serve eight to ten people with some leftovers; it will also fit into most home ovens and can be easily lifted in and out.

But if you want a monster turkey, it’s not necessary to sacrifice succulence or flavor. For starters, make sure it is completely thawed. That means 24 hours in the refrigerator for every 4 to 5 pounds of meat, so a 20-pound turkey will take about five days. Let it stand at room temperature for an hour before roasting; for best results, don’t stuff a turkey this size; and let it rest for a good 30 minutes before carving.

When we tested 20-pounders at 350°F in both conventional and convection ovens, we found that rotating the birds 180 degrees was crucial: They wouldn’t have cooked through evenly, otherwise. We rotated about three times—every time we checked the temperature (which should register 170°F when the bird is done)—and we checked the temperature with several instant-read thermometers in several places: the side of each breast; going down into the thickest, innermost part of each breast; the side of each thigh; and going up into the thickest, innermost part of each thigh. At 350°F in a conventional oven, it took about 3 3/4 hours and yielded tender, juicy white meat. The legs, which looked slightly underdone, weren’t; they were superb. A convection oven cut the cooking time drastically: The bird was done in about 2 1/4 hours. If your turkey is even larger, you might have to tent it with foil during roasting so that it doesn’t overbrown.

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