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How to roast a turkey without a meat thermometer?
November 24, 2004 6:38 PM   Subscribe

I need help with turkey. Old fashioned help. [More Inside]

For some reason or another, Ralph's just gave me an 18 pound (I think...) turkey. The trouble is, I haven't even roasted a chicken in my whole life. Nor do I have a meat thermometer or whatnot that people buy for turkey cookin'.

So, my googling didn't turn up any results. (I didn't even know what to search for - turkey+no+fricking+clue+tools?) All of them require the use of a meat thermometer!

The turkey is defrosting right now with a running cold water bath, and I would like to somehow cook this turkey to make it edible. Nothing fancy here, just without the help of any thermometers . I know I'm risking possible food poisoning but I can't get to a meat thermometer without a car, and all the shops will be closed tomorrow.

Thank you very much! Sorry for clogging up the AskMe with more postings from me.
posted by christin to Food & Drink (37 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
1-800-BUTTERBALL is your friend.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:44 PM on November 24, 2004


I'm a professional chef.

What you want is this.

I'm not really a chef.
posted by orange clock at 6:49 PM on November 24, 2004


Meat thermometers are available at places like Ralph's which are open tomorrow and they are cheap. You don't need one until late in the process so you could go out and get one while the turkey is cooking. Butterball has a web site section that is made for people like you. It's really the go-to place for "I don't want to screw this up" advice. Otherwise, this page has some advice of what to look for if you don't have a meat thermometer. Basically figure out how much the bird weighs, look at the chart on the second link to figure out how long it takes to cook, make sure you have a good sized pan, and go for it. Turkey is tough to really ruin, usually the worst case scenarios are you undercook it and have to toss it back in, or you overcook it and it's dry [barring food poisoning that is]. If you're gauging the time at all properly, you won't experience worst case scenario #3 which is a bunch of starving people at your house and a turkey that needs just a few more minutes. You might also want to test your oven temp [if you can, if you have any thermometers] because this will drastically affect your cooking time if it's off. Good luck!
posted by jessamyn at 6:50 PM on November 24, 2004 [1 favorite]


Basically figure out how much the bird weighs

Let's just say that the price sticker of the turkey fell off and I have no idea how much it weights (18 pounds was just my estimate)...is there a way to figure this out without a balance?
posted by christin at 6:54 PM on November 24, 2004


Epicurious is a great cooking site.

Whatever recipe you chose, make sure to brine the turkey first. It is well worth the effort, adding flavor and keeping the meat moist.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:00 PM on November 24, 2004


Cook it to your best estimate (18lbs?) well ahead of time. Carve it all up into serving portions. If it's not done properly, roast all that carved up bird in a pan with stock (barring that, water, but add salt or something) until it is. It will be much easier to see that way if it's done, and the liquid will keep it moist. Of course, if it is done when you carve it, just reheat using the same method.

And remember that anything that touches raw poultry should be washed thoroughly.
posted by transient at 7:06 PM on November 24, 2004


I've never used a meat thermometer in my life--I depend on timing and visual cues to know when turkey (and all other meats) are done. The pages jessamyn cited are good, and what transient said above is a good path to follow if you're really paranoid about giving anyone salmonella.

As for determining the weight of the turkey--get on your bathroom scale holding the turkey, then get on the bathroom scale without the turkey. The difference is the weight of the turkey.

And stop having your slacker friends steal turkeys from Ralph's for you, young lady!
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:09 PM on November 24, 2004


As for determining the weight of the turkey--get on your bathroom scale holding the turkey, then get on the bathroom scale without the turkey. The difference is the weight of the turkey.

I don't have a bathroom scale... :( Think erm, utilitarian housing.

And stop having your slacker friends steal turkeys from Ralph's for you, young lady!

Ralph's gave it to me for free and I was greedy.
posted by christin at 7:17 PM on November 24, 2004


Ah. I thought you were being coy about the sticker falling off there.

Okay, how large is the turkey? Do you have a ruler or anything else to measure it with? If you do, I will attempt to estimate for you how much it probably weighs.

Conversely, if you have any full two-liter bottles of soda, those weigh about 3 pounds each, so think about how many two-liter bottles of soda it weighs.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:26 PM on November 24, 2004


My mom always estimated 20 minutes per pound, and it always seemed to work. Basting is good, and a foil tent over the bird for the last hour or so will keep the skin from getting burnt.

You didn't ask about stuffing, but most people like stuffing with turkey: for a bird that size reduce at least one wheat loaf to crumbs by hand (it's best if the bread's two days old or so, a little dry, but you may not have the time to arrange for this), chop up three or four onions finely, saute them in generous amount of butter with crumbled sage leaves, salt and pepper. The eventual mixture should consist of breadcrumbs well soaked in the tasty butter-onions mixture. Stuff the bird's cavity and close with skewers or, in my mom's method, simply sew it up with a big needle and string.

Make a little more rather than a little less stuffing than you think you will need. You can cook the rest in any cake pan; add a little dripping before you serve it to add authenticity.

Someone else should explain gravy. I've always found it a little bit too mystical to describe.
posted by zadcat at 7:34 PM on November 24, 2004


Okay, how large is the turkey? Do you have a ruler or anything else to measure it with? If you do, I will attempt to estimate for you how much it probably weighs.

It's about 14 1/2" long (from neck to butt) and about 9" across.

Thank you very much for your help!
posted by christin at 7:34 PM on November 24, 2004


Also, if you've honestly never, ever cooked a turkey before...there is a little bag inside the body cavity, and another inside the neck flap, filled with internal organs and the neck.

TAKE THEM OUT BEFORE YOU COOK THE BIRD.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:43 PM on November 24, 2004 [1 favorite]


If it's 14" long, 9" across, and 8-10" high, my guess is that it weighs about 20 pounds, give/take. I would plan to start it around the time that you'd start a 20-pound turkey, then take it out of the oven about 45 minutes before it's "supposed" to be done and see if it's actually done.

Don't forget to take the giblets/neck/heart/other gook in a paper or plastic bag out of the turkey cavity and throw it away (or boil the giblets and heart for ten minutes and feed them to your cat or dog, if you have one, but throw the neck away somewhere the cat or dog can't get it, because there are tiny bones in there that can choke animals).
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:46 PM on November 24, 2004


(Whoa, jinx, mr_crash. I owe you a Coke.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:47 PM on November 24, 2004


Good point, mr_crash_davis. It's with these giblets one begins the gravy-making alchemy. You simmer them slowly for an hour or so, and the resulting broth is added to the pan dripping (after the fat has been skimmed) and then thickened by whatever method you like to use. Additions such as soy sauce and port wine are sometimes tasty. You can then feed the cooked-out giblets to any animals about the place.
posted by zadcat at 7:49 PM on November 24, 2004


If it's 14" long, 9" across, and 8-10" high, my guess is that it weighs about 20 pounds, give/take.

Thanks! Man that's huge.

TAKE THEM OUT BEFORE YOU COOK THE BIRD.

That, I know. :)

Good point, mr_crash_davis. It's with these giblets one begins the gravy-making alchemy. You simmer them slowly for an hour or so, and the resulting broth is added to the pan dripping (after the fat has been skimmed) and then thickened by whatever method you like to use. Additions such as soy sauce and port wine are sometimes tasty.

Will cornstarch work? That's all I have in my very well equipped chicken kitchen.
posted by christin at 7:54 PM on November 24, 2004


Corn starch is an excellent gravy thickener.

Just out of curiosity, are you sharing this sumptuous feast with anyone else, or will you be eating turkey sandwiches until Xmas?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:58 PM on November 24, 2004


Just out of curiosity, are you sharing this sumptuous feast with anyone else, or will you be eating turkey sandwiches until Xmas?

That is for you to ask, and for me to find out.

I think I might give them out in place of actual Christmas gifts.


Here you go! Happy Holidays! *Hands over sloppy piece of meat*

posted by christin at 8:02 PM on November 24, 2004


Nothing says Xmas like an old turkey sandwich (covered with festive green mold for that holiday touch!)
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:13 PM on November 24, 2004


Cooking times for a 21-pound, unstuffed turkey:

From Zadcat's mom:
My mom always estimated 20 minutes per pound, and it always seemed to work. Basting is good, and a foil tent over the bird for the last hour or so will keep the skin from getting burnt.

From the Shelton's site:
20 to 24 lbs - - 5 - 5 1/2 hours

From Butterball's site:
18 to 22 [lbs] 3-1/2 to 4 [hours]

Now, my turkey does happen to be Butterball if it matters. Which one of these is closest, though?
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 9:37 PM on November 24, 2004


Update on frozen turkey: Still frozen.
posted by christin at 10:23 PM on November 24, 2004 [1 favorite]


Put the foil tent on right from the beginning, then take it off for the last half hour (just long enough to brown), and you won't have to baste. (I don't know why more people don't do this - my mother's turkey is never dry, and she didn't even own a baster for years.)

I'm cooking a turkey dinner tomorrow in a small kitchen with the tools of a graduate student who doesn't cook much - dollar stores are your friend (foil roasting pan, masher, extra glasses because wine in mugs is very silly). I bought the thermometre ($4), but did just discover that an empty snapple bottle makes a fine rolling pin for pie crust.
posted by jb at 10:36 PM on November 24, 2004


Put the foil tent on right from the beginning, then take it off for the last half hour (just long enough to brown), and you won't have to baste. (I don't know why more people don't do this - my mother's turkey is never dry, and she didn't even own a baster for years.)

Good tip! How do you put the foil tent on? Do you just get an aluminum foil sheet and tuck it under both drumsticks with the shiny side up?
posted by christin at 10:39 PM on November 24, 2004


My no fail way from new york times cookbook. Roast @ 325F. for about 6 to 6 and half hours.

They also have a high heat version which is 425F for 15 minutes on one side then 15 minutes on the other. Reduce the heat to 375F and cook 20 minutes per pound.

To check if it is done move the leg joint up and down it should give readily or break.

good luck :)

ps: don't forget to baste the turkey while cooking.
posted by squeak at 10:42 PM on November 24, 2004


If you don't plan on stuffing, you can put an onion inside the body cavity just for flavour (good for roast chicken too). (After washing it out with salt, of course.)

The foil tent - I'm practicing this tomorrow, but if I remember right from years of watching my mother: It goes over the whole turkey, but not tightly, maybe not even touching. Basically, your turkey is in the roasting pan, and you take two long sheets of foil (because one isn't wide enough), and tuck them inside the roasting pan lengthwise (against the edges of the pan, but on the inside), then fold/join them together in the middle, in a tent like shape (above the turkey). A good lidded roasting pan works the same way, but I don't have a lid for the cheap foil pan I bought (and my mother's pan never fit a large turkey under the lid).

I think what matters is that there is enough of a seal (but also enough room) that evaporating moisture goes up, hits the tent and runs down into the pan again - like a steam bath for your turkey (which is why you don't have to baste. I don't think shiny/not shiny matters. Then you take it off when your turkey is nearly done (for me, when the thermometre hits poultry), and brown for about 1/2 hour (or until brown).

Other advice I have heard - never stop the turkey (ie start cooking, turn off, then cook some more). My aunt did this once, and all the juices ran out and it was awful and dry.

Is there any reason you're trying to cook it tonight? (eg, you're going away or something) Because I would have thought it would be easier to leave it to thaw overnight, and cook it tomorrow (I'm doing that). As for thawing quickly - I don't know any faster way than a cold bath. I don't think it has to be running - just not so warm bacteria decide it's a jacuzzi for them.
posted by jb at 10:54 PM on November 24, 2004


Oh - I would still rub oil (or butter, which is better) on the turkey breast with the foil tent method. I am actually going to use some chicken fat I have, but only because I bought it by accident when looking for lard.
posted by jb at 11:07 PM on November 24, 2004


Other advice I have heard - never stop the turkey (ie start cooking, turn off, then cook some more). My aunt did this once, and all the juices ran out and it was awful and dry.

Ok, I'm trying to synthesize all the advice in my head here...if I'm following the advice from Squeak about how to check whether it's done (To check if it is done move the leg joint up and down it should give readily or break.), and having a tent like you said to avoid basting, how do I check without stopping the turkey? Sorry but I have kitchen phobia from setting off the fire alarm too much. (There was once a baked potato...and then it was no more. :( )

Is there any reason you're trying to cook it tonight?

I'm not, but I'm trying to get all the steps brewing in my head first. Turkey status: Still frozen!
posted by christin at 11:09 PM on November 24, 2004



Oh - I would still rub oil (or butter, which is better) on the turkey breast with the foil tent method. I am actually going to use some chicken fat I have, but only because I bought it by accident when looking for lard.


Haha! That's your question at the top isn't it! I always thought that lard was...lard. Smelly and animal-ish.
posted by christin at 11:15 PM on November 24, 2004


Turkey is fully cooked at 180 degrees. So, when the bird has turned itself all the way around in the oven, it's done.

(Sorry.)
posted by Caviar at 11:44 PM on November 24, 2004


christin - sorry! I was thinking of how my aunt took the turkey right out of the oven for a few hours (something else had to go in), and then tried to start it again. No problem opening up the tent - it's just to keep most in. My mom always had to open to stick in the thermometre. Just don't think about what can go wrong, because it's really hard to make things go wrong (unlike a souffle or a cheesecake). So long as the bird is cooked, it will be good.

Yes - that's my question. Lard is animal fat, but it is usually just about odourless (and thus just about tasteless) - when you eat raw pie dough, you taste the flour and the bit of salt, but not the lard. This stuff was not odourless.
posted by jb at 12:01 AM on November 25, 2004



christin - sorry! I was thinking of how my aunt took the turkey right out of the oven for a few hours (something else had to go in), and then tried to start it again. No problem opening up the tent - it's just to keep most in.


Ok I got it! I especially like this method because it requires minimum work. :)
posted by christin at 12:16 AM on November 25, 2004


That said - I just had to do this, and getting that tent on is a bit of a wrangle. Hope you had an easier time -
posted by jb at 9:31 AM on November 25, 2004


That said - I just had to do this, and getting that tent on is a bit of a wrangle. Hope you had an easier time -

Getting it on wasn't bad, but trying to put it back on after checking up on it is hard! I was trying to prod the foil back on with a chopstick.

Part of me is thinking: "Silly Americans! Why cook such a big bird when it can be chopped and stir-fried in a few minutes?!"

Current Turkey Status: Roastin' along for almost 2 hours so far. No pyrotechnics ensued, which is a good sign.
posted by christin at 5:12 PM on November 25, 2004




Sorry for posting an image here on mefi, but I just want to thank you guys for teaching me how to cook a turkey. But I've had so much I think I'm gonna stave off meat forever.
posted by christin at 9:07 PM on November 25, 2004


I imagine a future AskMe thread on how to make a baby would be structurally very similar to this one.

Looks good.
posted by Stan Chin at 10:09 PM on November 25, 2004


That looks terrific, christin. You got a lot more drippings than I did.

My roommate and I made an adjustment to my mother's technique - we rubbed the turkey with butter to begin with, did a few hours in the tent, then took it off for the last 1-2 hours, basting once again with a pat of butter, and every half hour with its own juices. That made the skin crispier than my mother's oiled turkey, and it was still very moist.

That said, you could have deboned and stirfried your turkey meat, after all. : )
posted by jb at 5:02 PM on November 26, 2004


Just a note - if you bend the wings under the turkey (or chicken), they don't stick out of the pan so much, and the turkey in the oven looks like he's sun bathing with his arms behind his head. (Turkey's always bring out my macabre side - my mother always descibed how to wash a turkey by comparing it to washing a baby, so I guess that's where I get it from.)
posted by jb at 9:27 PM on November 26, 2004


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