While the traditional holiday turkey may be roasted, deep-fried, grilled or smoked, RVers, students and other small-space dwellers may not have an oven or the outdoor space to cook a full-size turkey. Despite the memes and jokes that emerge every year about microwave turkey disasters, you really can cook a whole turkey in the microwave.
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Select the Turkey
Most modern microwaves are fairly small, so unless you've been gifted with Grandma's 1970s behemoth, you're limited to an 8- to 10-pound turkey or a turkey breast. Select a fresh or frozen whole turkey. Avoid prestuffed turkeys; microwaving a frozen, stuffed turkey is not recommended.
Thaw the Bird
An 8- to 10-pound turkey will require 48 hours to thaw in the refrigerator. If you're short on time, you can also thaw the wrapped turkey by placing it in cold water. Allow 30 minutes per pound and change the water every 30 minutes. While microwave thawing is possible, check the instructions before thawing your turkey in the microwave. In general, a turkey thawed in the refrigerator or in cold water may be held for a day before cooking. If you thaw the turkey in the microwave, cook it immediately.
Prepare the Turkey
Remove the wrapper and pat the turkey dry. Remove the giblet packet and neck from inside the turkey. You can brine the turkey by submerging it in a large pot filled with cold water plus 1/4 cup of salt and spices. You might add onion powder, garlic powder and poultry seasonings or thyme. Let the turkey soak for at least 1 hour or overnight. Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse it.
Put the turkey in a cooking bag made for microwaves to minimize spatters and keep it moist. Secure the open end of the bag loosely; you'll need to open it to check the turkey's internal temperature. Put the turkey breast-side down in a microwave-safe casserole dish.
Microwave the Turkey
Butterball turkey cooking times are the same as a house-brand turkey. The time is determined by weight and the microwave power, which may vary by manufacturer. If you really do have Grandma's gargantuan microwave, you can cook up to a 25-lb. turkey. Follow the same instructions or the recipe in the manual. If the microwave doesn't have a turntable, rotate the turkey regularly.
Set the microwave timer at 4 minutes per pound. An 8-pound turkey would cook for 32 minutes, while a 10-pound turkey requires 40 minutes. Cook at full power.
After the initial cooking period, turn the turkey over. Be sure to hold onto the open end of the bag, so you don't spill the hot juices. Microwave at 50 percent power for 8 minutes per pound – approximately 64 to 80 minutes. Every 18 minutes, stop the microwave and check the internal temperature with an instant-read or meat thermometer. While the bag is open, carefully baste the turkey with the juices in the bag; then close and secure the end before restarting the microwave.
When the turkey reaches 165 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit in the thickest part of the breast and thigh, take it out of the microwave and let it rest for 20 minutes. Remove from the bag and carve.
Make a Crispy Skin Topper
The skin may be pale and unattractive after microwaving. Remove it from the turkey. Place several paper towels on a microwave-safe plate. Spread the skin over the paper towels. Cover with several more paper towels and weigh them down with a second plate.
Microwave for 3 minutes at 50 percent power; then microwave at full power for another 2 to 4 minutes, or until the skin is crispy and browned. Slice the skin into thin strips to garnish the turkey.
Keep Everything Clean
While the turkey is cooking in the microwave, wash everything it touched with hot, soapy water, including the counters, sink, utensils and the bottom of the refrigerator. Then wipe or spray everything with a solution of 1 tablespoon bleach to 1 gallon water. Allow all surfaces to air-dry.