Roasting a turkey is one of the most simple, elementary cooking processes a person will ever do. The stress factor about holiday feasts is really all of the trimmings, not the main dish. It’s a lot more difficult to stir up an excellent gravy for the potatoes and stuffing than it is to roast a bird. And turkey roasting is now easier than ever.
An article here http://www.busycooks.about.com/od/thanksgiving/a/cookfrozenturke.htm describes the technique; however, the following summary will in some ways simplify those instructions, leave out some side notes, organize the sequence of events, and be much more directive about the method.
First, some reality: Most people are going to buy a frozen turkey at a supermarket. A few will buy a frozen turkey breast and perhaps also, for variation, a frozen turkey hindquarter that brings dark meat to the table-both choices depending on the number of people who will eat. The weight of the bird or the parts is significant because it takes longer to cook more meat.
When you buy the frozen turkey, or parts, make it a specific point to also buy a touch tip-sensitive digital thermometer (if you don’t have one), which will cost between $8 and $30, depending on functions, features, and complexity.
You are now fully prepared to roast a solid-as-a-rock frozen turkey. The description here is for a 12 to 13 pound bird, and there will be some moderate variations for smaller and larger turkeys. For your total re-assurance, this frozen-to-table method is approved according to the FDA Food Code and the USDA developed HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) process established for juice, meat, poultry and seafood preparation in order to prevent foodborne illness. Because the bird goes in the oven still frozen, the bacteria are killed by roasting and never touch your refrigerator shelf, countertop, sink, utensils, etc. Also, it is notable that the bird is flash frozen at the slaughterhouse so the fresh flavor and moisture are retained.
For the average, or nominal, 12 pound turkey you will put it in the oven about 5.5 hours before your planned serving time-noon feast equals a 6:30 am. start. For a 6 pound bird or a few pounds of turkey parts, plan on 1.5 to 3 hours roasting time. For a 20 to 25 pound turkey, you will need up to 7 or 8 hours. Note: you are not going to stuff the bird. Make your dressing (it’s not “stuffing” now) in a separate pan and bake it alongside the turkey. Filling the bird’s body cavity with a mixture of bread and other food interferes with the distribution of roasting heat into all of the meat. Preparing a turkey and cooking side dishes are different processes in this methodology, which makes the roasting process very simple and efficient.
Pre-heat your oven to 325 F. Take a very shallow, flat pan (cookie sheet or similar) and line it with foil. Take the wrapping materials off your frozen turkey and place it, bottom down on the pan. Some frozen birds have the giblets and neck inside the body cavity. Leave them. When your oven is at full temperature, put the bird in the oven on the lowest rack. Go away. Come back in 2 hours (about 1 hour for a smaller bird or parts, 2.5 to 3 hours for a larger bird). Use your touch-tip thermometer, as per the instructions, to “test” the breast meat, drumstick, and thigh. The leg areas should be at about 150 F and the breast in the 40 F to 50 F range. From here on you will monitor the cooking temperatures at regular intervals because birds cook at different rates (densities of meat and bone), all ovens will have variations in the exact cooking temperatures, and every time you open the oven door a lot of the heat escapes.
Come back in half an hour and check the temperatures again. For a small bird or parts, your meat will be approaching the ready-to-serve point. If your turkey had giblets inside, this is the time to take them out. Wash your hands. Putting on rubber gloves or using wet dishcloths, hold the turkey firmly, reach into the body cavity, and pull out the bag of giblets, neck, and any other parts (you may choose to use tongs). These items may now be used to make dressing or be discarded, etc. Put the bird back in the oven. Wash your hands.
Check the temperatures again about 20 to 30 minutes later. You may notice at this point that your turkey is nearly done. Leg meat temperatures of 175 F to 185 F and breast meat at 160 F to 170 F indicate that your turkey is ready to serve. If your turkey has a pop-up insert thermometer, it may stick out at or near the 5 hour time; smaller birds or a breast may be fully cooked as early as the 2.5 to 3.5 hour time. Obviously, larger birds will need to be checked often starting at about the 6 hour time.
If your turkey or the parts completely cook before your meal time, then reduce the oven temp to 225 F as a “holding” temperature. Check the breast meat every so often and keep its thermometer reading at or above 130 F until you are ready to serve. Allow the bird to “set” for about 15 minutes before carving-perhaps with a foil cover over the breast.