The good news is that if you’ve ever cooked a chicken, you’re a shoe-in to tackle a turkey. The same cooking rules, delicious side dishes, and TLC for a chicken or small turkey apply to cooking an extra large turkey -- it simply takes more time to cook a larger bird. Make sure that you have a roasting pan large enough to accommodate an extra-large turkey. If not, buy an inexpensive disposable pan sized to fit your bird.
Tradition and Savings
Turkeys are relatively inexpensive purchases from your meat and poultry department, but if you are purchasing a turkey that weighs more than your 2 year old son, enter into budget-mom mode. Do a little sleuthing to find out if any of your local grocers or meat markets offer turkey dollars or deals. For example, some stores may give you turkey “bucks” based on how much you spend within a certain time frame, which you can then use toward a holiday turkey purchase. Other stores offer special deals on their birds if you shop on a certain day or early. Whatever the deal is in your area, go for it, and your wallet will thank you.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that you defrost your bird in the refrigerator and that you allow one day of defrosting for every 4 to 5 pounds. If you bought a frozen turkey that weighs 25 pounds, it will take almost one week to fully thaw your bird. If you can't tie up refrigerator space that long, thaw your turkey in the sink in a cold-water bath. Place your unwrapped turkey in a large trash bag and seal tightly. Place the double-wrapped turkey in your sink and run cold water on it until the sink is full. Change the water every 30 minutes to keep the bird surrounded by cold water. It will take about 30 minutes per pound to thaw.
The tried-and-true method for cooking your extra-large turkey is to roast it in the oven. The USDA recommends that you cook it at a temperature that is no lower than 325 F. An unstuffed, 20- to 24-pound bird will take an average of 4 1/2 to 5 hours to cook thoroughly. While family tradition may call for stuffing the cavity of the bird before cooking it, it's safest to cook your dressing or stuffing in a separate pan to avoid contaminating the dressing with juices from a cooking bird. Sprinkle salt and pepper inside the body cavity, or use a packet of dry salad dressing and seasoning mix for a blend of herbs and spices. When you think the turkey is done, insert a food thermometer into the meatiest parts of the turkey, such as the breast and thigh, to ensure that it registers a minimum of 165 F before removing the bird from the oven. That temperature is the threshold at which bacteria and other foodborne illnesses are destroyed in poultry, and you'll know you've successfully cooked your extra-big bird.
Love Your Leftovers
Immediately refrigerate uneaten turkey to keep it safe for leftovers. Keep refrigerated leftover turkey for up to three to four days, and keep cooked turkey in the freezer for up to four months. Use leftover turkey as the basis for a delicious turkey noodle soup. Top a healthy green salad with shredded turkey and your favorite creamy dressing. Many families enjoy turkey layered between yeasty, leftover rolls and topped with cranberry jelly and dressing or a simple turkey sandwich on bread with a dollop of creamy bacon ranch dressing to hold it together.