Turkey for Beginners

How was your Thanksgiving? Lovely I hope. By now you’re probably sick of reading, talking and thinking about Thanksgiving and turkey but I just wanted to tell you about my Thanksgiving since it wasn’t exactly what I was anticipating. Let’s just say: If you’re 23, completely new to cooking turkey and don’t know you have to cook one until the day of Thanksgiving, well, miracles do happen. Cooking a turkey can be much easier than you think.

The plan for Thanksgiving day was to sleep in, wake up, finish any cleaning that had been assigned to me, and then help my mom with the final touches of our Thanksgiving meal. My contribution was to be the new green bean recipe and my mom was going to have the turkey and other components under control. Well, things don’t always happen according to plan.

Instead I woke up to the phone ringing and my mom frantically rushing over to my room telling me my grandma fainted, she needs to go visit her in the hospital, and I had to cook the whole Thanksgiving meal. In a moment of panic, I offered to switch roles: I thought everyone would be better off if I went to visit my grandma and my mom could continue on with dinner but she insisted on seeing her mom, which of course I understood. My grandma is ok now thank g-d, but it was a scary moment for many reasons: the worry, the  15 people that would arrive at 5:00 awaiting a Thanksgiving dinner, and most of all the fact that I had no idea how to cook a turkey.

Luckily my mom gave me some instructions before she left the house. We were both in panic mode so she rattled off as much information as she could but when you’re experienced at cooking turkey, it’s hard to remember everything a beginner might not know. Thank goodness for cellphones.

I started off by cleaning the turkey. We had a fresh young turkey that we bought from Trader Joe’s. It was wrapped with all its juice so I tore open the packaging, and let the juices pour into the sink. Next, I lugged the 15-lb. bird into a strainer to wash it in the sink and then laid it on the counter to dry. I have to tell you that for a moment, I almost returned to my phase of vegetarianism when the legs flopped down and I could easily picture this mass of poultry in its life as a living turkey. Usually my mom cooks frozen turkey, and when it’s frozen everything sticks together and you can’t quite see the turkey in uh…sitting position, if you will.

But there was no time for questioning anything. I simply had to stuff that turkey and get it in the oven because it was already 12:30 and time was running out. Step 1: Find the poultry cavity. Doesn’t sound so hard. Well, I found it alright but there was something stuck inside. My mom didn’t answer her cellphone so I called my aunt: “Is there supposed to be something inside of my turkey?”. She laughs: “That’s probably just the giblets or a neck or something, take it out and add it to the pan at the bottom”.

So I do what I’m told and proceed to chop up my orange, onions, carrots and celery to stuff inside the poultry cavity. Along with fresh herbs, I was to add one of each item inside the cavity but boy did I stuff that thing to the gills.

Anyway, I put it in the pan, and added some water to the bottom of the pan. A cook’s note: you MUST have liquid at the bottom of the pan! Then I added my extra onions, carrots and celery (and the neck). Then I made a rub of rosemary, salt, pepper and garlic powder. I melted some margarine, poured it over the top of the turkey and rubbed in the rub.

Halfway through the cooking, we flipped it over so the turkey would cook evenly and its juices would spread to both sides. All in all, this 15-lb. turkey cooked for 3.5 hours at 350 degrees.

In the end, we came out with this. That wasn’t so hard! It looked beautiful and if it didn’t taste good, I at least had that to be proud of.

My dad, the honorary turkey carver did a great job of carving, making a beautiful plate of sliced turkey for our table. Not to mention, he was also a tremendous help with flipping over the turkey and all the other Turkey Day preparations. Thanks dad!

So 3.5 hours of fretting and one burn on my arm later (I was trying to keep the turkey level while removing it from the oven and my arm wound up hitting the top oven rack), the turkey was a huge success. Everyone thought it tasted delicious (including me!) and gave me much kudos for a job well done. But I credit the good quality turkey from Trader Joe’s and most of all, my mom’s instructions. If I didn’t make the turkey exactly like she instructed, it would never have come out as delicious.

As for the rest of the meal, it was very similar to last year’s: we had meatballs, stuffing, rice noodle casserole, green beans, fresh cranberry sauce. The only changes were plain baked sweet potatoes instead of tzimmes, and my new green bean recipe instead of plain green beans. We also had a baked salami appetizer that my aunt made that was to die for (recipe to come in the near future).

And about the turkey, maybe you wish you had this recipe before Thanksgiving but it’s not too late! Bookmark it for the next Thanksgiving or make it this Christmas or Hannukah for your next holiday celebration! Turkey is something you can eat all year long, frankly, so I’d copy it down even if I had no reason at all. Trust me, it’s worth it.

My Mom’s Delicious Thanksgiving Turkey

This recipe makes delicious Thanksgiving turkey a cinch!  My mom gave me this recipe and it is made for a 15-lb. turkey. It is cooked for 3.5 hours total.


1 15-lb. turkey (preferably fresh young turkey)
1 orange
2 Spanish onions
fresh poultry herbs: rosemary, thyme and sage (handfuls of each)
1 C. water
3-4 carrots, chopped
3-4 stalks celery, chopped

1 C. margarine, melted
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. dried rosemary


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Open your turkey and drain any liquid that may be present if your turkey is fresh. Put your turkey in a strainer in the sink and rinse the skin. Check poultry cavity for giblets or neck and set aside.

Chop your orange into 8 segments. Chop up both onion into different sized pieces. Chop carrots and celery stalks.

Stuff the poultry cavity with the orange segments, one chopped onions, one chopped carrot, one chopped celery stalk and the fresh herbs (sage, thyme and rosemary).

Place 1 C. water in bottom of a metal roasting pan big enough to hold your turkey. Add the other chopped onion and the remaining chopped carrots and celery stalks. Place turkey in pan, bottom side up.

Mix all rub ingredients except for margarine together in a bowl. Pour half of the melted margarine onto the turkey and then rub in your spice mixture to coat the skin. Place in the oven for 1.5 hours.

At this point, remove the turkey and turn it over so the topside is up. Use two forks to pierce the bird at both ends and flip over (you will probably need another person to help you). Mix the margarine with the spice mixture and brush it onto the topside of the turkey to avoid burning your hands. Return turkey to the oven and cook for 2 more hours.

More Turkey Recipes:
Rosemary Roasted Turkey
Perfect Turkey
Savory Roasted Turkey
Brined and Roasted Turkey
Herb Roasted Turkey

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  • http://fortheloveofcooking-recipes.blogspot.com Pam

    Looks really good Hilary. I just love roasting turkey.

  • http://r4l Jenny

    Pam, turkey looks great. Next year, I will be having a thanksgiving dinner over my place for the first time. It will be my first time cooking the bird, also. I will make sure save your(or your moms) recipes. Thanks and wish me luck…… :)

  • http://r4l Jenny

    Hillary….sorry about the name mixed up. Again, you did a great job….

  • karen Blasing

    I guess I have been cooking turkey for years but I would like to know a recipe for tzimmes. I didn’t even know what that meant. I looked it up and this vegetable/fruit stew sounds interesting.

  • http://www.fm200sondurme.com/ fm200 sondurme

    thank you for nice post.

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    Great blog and that turkey looks awesome! I can’t wait till turkey time again!!! Have you ever thought about getting your own live turkeys or fertile eggs and raising your own? Check out http://onlinepoultryauction.com .

  • Nan

    Wash the turkey cavity very good. Especially the turkey back. Remove all blood and innards before stuffing.

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