How to Select a Thanksgiving Turkey

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Buying the right turkey for Thanksgiving dinner involves a lot more than a quick trip to the supermarket: you have to consider how many people you're serving, how much time the bird will need to thaw, and even whether you have enough room to store the blessed thing. Here's how to get this most basic part of the holiday right.

Things You'll Need

  • A big freezer
  • A big refrigerator
  • Count heads. As a rule of thumb, you should procure between one and one and a half pounds of turkey for each guest-so a 12-person Thanksgiving dinner calls for a 12- to 18-pound bird. If you can afford to, err on the side of generosity; it's better to suffer through a week's worth of turkey sandwiches than to leave your guests hungry.

  • Know your appliances. One of the worst mistakes you can make is to buy a Brobdingnagian bird a week in advance, then discover that you can't stuff it into your freezer. If the size of your Thanksgiving guest list is inversely proportional to the size of your refrigerator, consider buying an already-thawed bird the day before the holiday.

  • Plan the rest of your menu. While we're on the subject of storage, remember that a frozen turkey may not be the only thing for which you need to clear space-there's also dessert, salad, and various side dishes. If you have a tiny fridge, now is a good time to ask your guests to bring specific dishes, so you can concentrate all your efforts on Big Bird.

  • Consider the bird's "thaw time." Hopefully, you're already aware that you can't pop a frozen turkey into the oven, cook it for half an hour at 800 degrees, and serve 22 guests. You need to weigh the size of your turkey against the two or three days it will need to defrost in the refrigerator, and also clear out enough space for this to happen.

Tips & Warnings

  • Always check the package of your frozen turkey for any signs of damage or frost buildup-clues that the turkey may have partially thawed in the grocery store, then been refrozen. Also, the turkey should be solidly frozen, with no areas that feel soft to the touch.
  • Never leave your turkey out overnight to defrost at room temperature, since there's a possibility that this can lead to bacterial contamination. If you don't anticipate having enough time to thaw out a frozen bird, a fresh turkey may be your best choice.
  • Remember, your standard, store-issued, bagged and frozen turkey has a plastic bag full of giblets (the bird's heart, liver, and other internal organs) stashed away somewhere inside. Always remove this bag before roasting your turkey, unless you want to reprise the plot of about 137 Thanksgiving-themed sitcoms.

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