Purchase a fresh bird the day before Thanksgiving. If using a frozen bird, follow defrosting directions located on the packaging. Plan ahead, though: A large tom might take as long as five or even six days to defrost in a 40° refrigerator.
To plan your cooking time, refer to the chart below. Remember though these types of time-temperature charts tell you when to put your food into the oven, not when to take it out: Check doneness with a meat thermometer.
|Approximate Roasting Times for
Unstuffed Turkey at 325°
|8 to 12 pounds||3 to 3-1/2 hours|
|12 to 14 pounds||3-1/2 to 4 hours|
|14 to 18 pounds||4 to 4-1/2 hours|
|18 to 20 pounds||4-1/4 to 4-3/4 hours|
|20 to 24 pounds||4-3/4 to 5-1/4|
|Source: USDA Fact Sheet|
About half an hour before you're to begin roasting the bird, start the prep.
Remove and keep the giblets (except for the liver). Wash the interior out with copious amounts of running cold water. Reach in and clear out veins, loose globs of fat and other tissue stuck inside. Make sure the water runs clear. Remember a turkey has two cavities; wash out both. Use paper towels to mop up all the water inside and out and throw these towels away. Don't skimp; the bird should be very dry.
Rub your seasoning mixture all over the inside cavity, and into the breast meat under the skin, where it's loose around the neck. Use it all up on the inside. Stuff the turkey with your chopped vegetables. Seperately salt and pepper the outside of the bird. Rub the softened butter all over the skin of the bird, massaging it in. (The skin will need to be dry for this to work).
Tuck the wingtips under the wing joints, then tie the wings to the body, and the legs crossed, with twine. Make sure the bird forms a compact package. Set in a large roasting pan on a rack, or set it on a 2" high pile of chopped onion, carrot and celery. Roast at 325° until done. Baste often. Refer to the table above for a general idea, but rely on a thermometer to know exactly when the bird is done. Put the thermometer into the meaty part of the thigh and when it reads 165°, remove the turkey.
Tent turkey over with foil and let sit for 45 minutes on your counter. Meanwhile, make gravy by scraping all the stuff from your roasting pan into a 2 quart saucepan. Heat until brown and bubbly, shake in flour to make a smooth roux, and cook over medium heat until browned slightly. Add giblet stock and stir until smooth. Salt and pepper to taste.