How to Cook a Perfect Holiday Turkey + Recipe for a Lemon Sage Rub

As a Chef and Personal Trainer, I receive a great many food safety questions. Thanksgiving is the holiday that produces the most questions – typically, about how to best prepare and cook a turkey. These helpful tips can take the stress out of your holiday, whether it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any family gathering.

How do I prepare the turkey?

If you are using a frozen turkey plan ahead. Your bird should be placed on the bottom shelf with nothing below it. This will prevent other foods, especially ready to eat foods, from being contaminated. You need to place your turkey in the refrigerator for 24 hours per 5 pounds. For example, if your turkey weighs 20 pounds it will need 96 hours (4 days) to thaw completely.

To stuff or not to stuff?

My recommendation is that you cook the bird without stuffing it. If you stuff the turkey, you need to bring the turkey and stuffing up to an internal temperature of 165 degrees to prevent the growth of salmonella. Also cooking a stuffed turkey causes inconsistencies. It will cause you to have wings and legs that are overcooked and breasts that could be undercooked.

How do I cook the turkey?
On average, your unstuffed turkey will take about 15 mins per pound at 350 degrees. However, the ultimate test will be the meat thermometer. I highly recommend that EVERY kitchen have a meat thermometer. This is an essential tool for cooking safely. Your temperature needs to reach 165 degrees at the thickest part of the bird. The thickest part of the bird is typically the middle of the thigh. After taking the turkey out of the oven, remember to let the bird rest for 20 minutes before carving.

Lemon Sage Turkey Rub Recipe

3 Tablespoons grated lemon peel
¼ cup lemon juice
3 Tablespoons ground thyme
2 Tablespoons ground sage
1 Tablespoon cracked black pepper
1 Teaspoon sea salt

Mix all the ingredients together. Then starting at the top of the bird, insert your fingers under the skin and gently separate from the meat. Rub the mixture under and over the skin.

Have a wonderful Holiday with your family. Be safe and make good food choices.

Chef Don Doward has 45 years’ experience in the restaurant industry, 36 of which were in the busiest restaurant in the country for 7 consecutive years, serving over 40,000 meals per week. He’s worked with the best chefs in the world, including Julia Child. Chef Don also has over 20 years’ experience in the fitness world as an ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer, Master Trainer and Certified Nutritional Meal Design. Chef Don has been a featured speaker and panelist at The ICA Symposium on Natural Fitness and Sports for 6 years. He has spoken at fitness and meal design workshops around the country and been a guest on The Travel Channel as well as numerous radio shows.