What size turkey do you cook and why?

rosyladyDecember 3, 2012

The thread on CornuFe ranges got me wondering how many Americans cook really large birds, and why.

I think this question may have been asked in previous years, but I'm curious again!

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I would never cook a large turkey, unless it was given to me and I didn't want to waste it. IMHO, the best birds are in the 12-14 lbs range. I wouldn't go larger than 15 lbs. I like them because they cook fast so the meat doesn't get dry, even with brining. If I had to serve a lot of people, I'd get two smaller turkeys instead of one large one. The two turkeys cook in about the same time as one. With a large turkey, you have to cook it low and slow to keep it moist, even with brining. If I didn't have the time, I'd be more inclined to break up a large bird and cook the parts separately.

I also want to add that I always got a big kick over on the Appliance forum when people talked about having an oven large enough to roast a very large turkey. It's a misguided requirement for the reasons I stated above.

This post was edited by jscout on Mon, Dec 3, 12 at 15:25

    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 3:22PM
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We cook large birds for Thanksgiving (24 lbs this year, which is probably the biggest I've ever done), because we have up to 27 mouths to feed that day... and sandwiches from leftovers are the best part! I guess that small birds are supposed to be more flavorful, but I didn't want to use 2 ovens just for turkey.

I use the "2-hour" cooking method, which is pretty quick and keeps even a large bird moist, especially since I also use our oven probe to prevent over-roasting. No brining or basting. I go for the easy approach!

This post was edited by rhome410 on Mon, Dec 3, 12 at 15:29

    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 3:24PM
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In the last kitchen I discovered I could not get a large turkey in my Capital oven! So, after that first year, we ordered one that was under 15# and we did it on the rotisserie in the Capital. It was really great.

This year we just did a 14# bird in the new oven. Fit fine, probably had room for a bigger bird, but didn't need it, there was only immediate family and that included one vegetarian. But I will say we used both Miele wall ovens, the steamer and the speed oven on the same day! It was a joy!

    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 3:35PM
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I cook a 14-18 pound turkey, depending on number of guests. Enough to have a few meals of leftovers. We're lucky to be able to buy them locally, fresh. We always butterfly it; and a bird of that size fits just fine butterflied in my 16x13" roasting pan. I would cook two smaller turkeys rather than try to cook anything larger than 18 pounds.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 3:38PM
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I tend to cook medium-sized birds: 12-14 lbs. They tend to be priced best, and they cook relatively quickly. It's more meat than we can eat (before we grow sick of it), but, if packaged well, it freezes nicely.

If I am feeding more people than can eat a turkey that size, I'm probably cooking a bunch of sides as well; thus, I'd ask my husband or brothers to deep fry two medium-sized turkeys outside, leaving the kitchen free for me to work on the sides. That's just how it'd work in my house. If their help was not available to me, I'd use my countertop roaster, which can hold two medium-sized turkeys.

As for the "I've gotta have an oven big enough to hold a 50-lb turkey crowd" -- I know, hyperbole -- I think most of those people get excited about planning a perfect kitchen and plan for every contingency rather than their real, everyday cooking.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 3:42PM
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I seldom cook a bird larger than 15 lbs. However, I don't think I could do one much bigger, even though I have a 36" range. Newer ovens like mine are wide, but not so high. A turkey on a rack in a roaster pan on the lowest oven rack comes perilously close to the broiler element.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 3:44PM
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I do two Turkeys on Thanksgiving and both are around 12-14 lbs. I only cook those because my husband and Father like the dark meat. The rest of us like the white meat so if I had my way I'd only cook Turkey Breasts. I also cook Turkey Breasts about once a month throughout the year.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 4:18PM
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I do two birds due to the size of our group. This year bird 1 was about 16 lbs (brined & cooked on the grill); bird 2 was about 22.5 lbs (basted, not brined, cooked in the oven.) We had some leftovers to keep and some to send along with our guests, but not enough that I could size down much.

FWIW the bird on the grill got done way too early (more than an hour before our guests arrived!) So I stuck it, roasting pan and all, into our largest cooler and shut the lid. It sat and steamed in there and was very juicy and tender.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 4:46PM
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Mine was about 20 pounds this year. Cooked it breast side down, was moist and delicious. Made stock from the carcass, ate the rest, thought I was going to freeze the extra meat, but we ended up eating it all up in the few days after Thanksgiving. Guess maybe I should've cooked more.

These oven stories make me think of some folks I know who were given a huge homegrown turkey one year. It wouldn't fit in their wall oven, so they took a saws-all to it to make it fit! I think it was in the 40 lb range.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 5:15PM
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Usually 12 to 14 pounds for us. Why? Because that's the size that the cook-from-frozen, pre-stuffed butterball turkeys come in. :-) I am totally hooked on those ... I guess it's not "cooking" but I'll never go back. Love, love, love those things!

I do make all the side dishes, cranberry sauce, and appetizers from scratch. But the cook-from-frozen turkeys are one of life's best ever inventions IMO (right up there with canned beer and boxes of wine, lol).

    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 7:16PM
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As big a bird as I can conveniently find, which is usually 20-22 lbs. We usually have about 20 people to Thanksgiving dinner, so we need a big bird. This year we were only 11, but I still got a 22 pounder. Turkey sandwiches, turkey tart, turkey pot pie... When we tire of it I portion it for certain recipes and put it in the freezer for a rainy day.

Oh, and my Capital (36") does fit a large turkey on a rack, that was a must. But I bought a 15 lb frozen bird to use on the rotisserie another time. Guess we like turkey!

    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 7:45PM
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I generally cook a 19-20 lb turkey. Like having lots of leftovers and I always make a huge pot of turkey soup for the freezer. Yum!

I'll never forget the year my sister and her husband raised their own turkey. We weighed it right before putting it in the oven and it was 37 lbs! It was so big that it barely fit in my sister's oven. I couldn't use a roasting rack because it made the turkey sit up too high to fit in the oven. Then the drippings overflowed the roasting pan and made a huge mess in the oven. The turkey was good but such a huge pain to roast. I told my sister that I'd refuse to prepare Thanksgiving dinner at her house if she ever tried to make me roast a turkey that big again! She doesn't cook and wasn't willing to take the chance that I'd quit on her, so no more gigantic turkeys. lol

    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 8:00PM
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Tom was 25 pounds, but last year he was 28.

I always ask for the biggest turkey they have. I bring my roasting pan to the store when I pick up, because just like people, some are taller, and some are rounder. I want to make sure it will fit in my pan.

I use the recipe in the Fannie Farmer Boston Cooking School Cookbook, and it's always perfecto!

I have a Thermador All Gas 36 inch range. One of the reasons we bought it was for Thanksgiving.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 8:03PM
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We never cook a turkey in a range so the size is not a factor there, but we prefer under 14lbs just on a flavor basis (kind of like trying to hunt for a prize grizzly....it's a big bear but it will taste like dog doo doo if it's prize worthy.

We cook our birds on the big green egg, leaving the stove top and ovens for the more important items (stuffing and sweet potatos....my family disagrees on which items those are but I'm posting so it's mine LOL).

The only reason I like a large oven is for large parties. If you're doing mushroom caps (for instance) for 100 it's nice to be able to use a larger cookie sheet than standard (restaurant size). We do this a few times a year so we're looking forward to the day we can cook more than a dozen items at a time LOL But we still won't cook turkeys in them!

    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 8:15PM
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Igloo chic. We call them Lunch Lady sheetpans at my place. LOL

    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 10:00PM
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Knowing that my vendor errs on the large side, I ordered three 12-14 pound turkeys and one 14-16 lb turkey. When people come for Thanksgiving, they stay for five days and I need lots of leftovers. However, I prefer the flavor of smaller birds, so I roast several, and DH deep fries one, outside. My purveyor gave me three 16's and a 21, despite what I had ordered, and I was not a happy camper. Everything turned out well, but the deep fryer maxes out at 18, so I had to roast the largest indoors. It was excellent, as it happened. I'm fortunate that my two gas ovens are quite large, and can handle turkeys and sides simultaneously. Our kitchen is set up for large crowds and caterers.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 10:10PM
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My mother usually cooks about 20 lbs for a group of 8-12. Some goes home with assorted family, and they love having sandwiches the next day. They also look forward to having extra for turkey soup, and in a rare year, there's enough for turkey pot pies.

This year mom cooked it and took it to my step brothers house for dinner. They were happy to discuss all the details of their new (non-GW) kitchen. They were also happy to volunteer me to host next year in my kitchen. Trial by fire! We never have more than 5-6 for dinner at our house, should be interesting!

    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 10:32PM
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I have never in my life cooked a turkey. I don't like them that much. When we do turkey, dh smokes a breast or two or three outside in his smoker. Much tastier, IMO.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2012 at 8:20AM
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mama goose_gw zn6OH

Usually 20-24lbs, but this year it was smaller, and my brother offered to deep-fry it at his place. I think this is my new favorite method ;). He put it in a covered canner for transport, and from his house to mine, it had just enough time to 'juice up'--I had the saucepan ready for the extra, for gravy.

Since the turkey was on the smaller side, I baked a ham. Everyone likes the variety, and we always share out the left-overs.

I like to use the upside down method for roasting turkey, after using ice packs on the breast, so that it cooks a little more slowly.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2012 at 9:52AM
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I did two 12-14 pounders this year and can't think of a good reason to do a large turkey. A bird that small is done in 2-3 hours and stays nice and juicy. I actually cooked one of them the day before and used those drippings and a pot of turkey broth made from roasted wings to make the gravy ahead.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2012 at 10:26AM
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I stopped doing turkeys in my oven the year I had 18 for Thanksgiving. I bought an old fashioned "roaster" like my mom had, white metal with lid, for 29$ at home depot ( it came with an electric knife!) I needed both ovens for the accompaniments since no one brings anything since the big bunch is out of towners.
Best thing I've ever done. Ever since I get way more compliments on the turkey. Nice and moist and browned. No basting needed. Just put in and forget. I 've done a 22-24# turkey in there but usually keep them around 15 unless the crowd comes over.
Love that roaster!! One year I put it in the laundry room on the counter-- freed up counterspace.
I've also used it for giant batches of chili and soup for the fundraisers. Best $29 I ever spent!

    Bookmark   December 4, 2012 at 11:03AM
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I like a 10-12 pound bird. Easier to thaw and takes up less room in my refrigerator. Not what you wanted to know though was it? ;)

    Bookmark   December 4, 2012 at 11:16AM
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Mine comes in the mail!! Gift from my parents who order smoked turkeys from a place in Texas. Eat at room teperature or reheat just a bit. Easy!

    Bookmark   December 4, 2012 at 11:57AM
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My mom always bought the largest turkey she could find -- had to be over 20 lbs and was 24 lbs one year. For Thanksgiving, I have tended to follow suit because I now have the gang, and the saddest thing ever at Thanksgiving is not having leftovers (it happened one year. I was really upset and cooked another turkey that weekend. :D

This year, we had a 20-21 lb turkey but only had 10 coming. We had more leftover than usual, but it wasn't too much. The turkey was free in a grocery store promotion, so it is a lot of good eating for very little money (some with the rub and brine), it's easy to cook and everyone loves it.

I have cooked 2 smaller turkeys side by side in a very large roasting pan. That works too. If it is just for us, I will cook a 12-14 lb turkey.

Rhome, have you used the convection roast cycle on that Wolf oven of yours for roasting turkey or whole chickens? Fabulous! We brine our turkey, but not the chickens. I use a dry rub, may stick some lemon or orange in the cavity (the rub we use most often has citrus in it too) and pop them in on the preset convection roast cycle. The hot air of the convection sears the skin, seals in juices and it cooks fast. I think our 21 lb bird took about 3 hours - and it was moist, juicy and the flavor was fantastic. We may do turkey at Christmas or New Year's and experiment, but I doubt we will every make our Thanksgiving turkey any other way. I love that convection roast cycle.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2012 at 1:26PM
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I order a free-range turkey in the 11-12# range since it's just us and MIL. The free-range turkeys have smaller breast meat. I am not a huge fan of turkey vs. DH where it is one of his favorite foods, so this size is enough. Still, we have some leftovers frozen. It cooked in 2 hr 15 min on convection roast.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2012 at 9:56PM
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13 pound bird. There were 5 of us including my mom. When DS2 and DIL make it up here, I get a 14 to 16 pound bird. We enjoy the leftovers but don't want too much. I make turkey breasts fairly frequently throughout the year, but only do full stuffed birds a couple times a year (Thanksgiving and spring).

    Bookmark   December 4, 2012 at 11:12PM
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I make at least 2 turkey breasts and dark meat parts. We love turkey. I used to buy big turkeys but cannot heft them around anymore so make 5-8 lb. breasts,
which I like better anyway.

This year I made 2 12 lb. whole turkeys and one breast, which is still in the freezer downstairs. Convection roast does it. But this year, we went out! I much prefer eating in.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2012 at 11:30PM
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I make 2 turkeys...one around 12# the day before Thanksgiving. I slice that one up and have it all in ziplock bags for the guests to take home.
The day of..I do a lrg turkey around 22#.
Truth be told I'd rather do a few roasting chickens..better flavor I think.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2012 at 11:42AM
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I have taken over Thanksgiving from our moms, so we have 16 or so folks over from both of our families. I do a 20-22lb turkey. It usually gets done in about 2.5 hours, and then I panic because dinner isn't for another 3 hours. So it sits on keep warm for 2 hours, we take it out and it rests for half an hour, then we cut it and serve it. Since we've been doing it that way, it's very, very moist and tender. :-) I guess I could stop panicking at 1:30 in the afternoon, hm?

Honestly, I like turkey just fine once a year, but don't really get a hankering for it at any other time. Once the leftovers are gone, we're pretty much done with turkey. Perhaps I should try a smaller turkey sometime, since many think they taste better.


    Bookmark   December 5, 2012 at 6:07PM
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