With the holiday season approaching from Thanksgiving dinner to Christmas and other December get-togethers, there is something special about a large roast turkey or chicken to bring everyone to the table and tie the spread together! 

So, if it’s your turn to host the event this year and you’re new or you need a few pointers to really impress your guests including friends or family we’ve got what you need! Follow along with our no-fail guide to making chicken and turkey. We’ll show you how to cook the perfect holiday bird. 

What Sized Turkey or Chicken Do I Need?

Before any cooking starts, you’ll need to consider how much turkey or chicken you actually need. When it comes to looking at portion sizes, these two birds are actually not interchangeable. Turkeys tend to run larger but their meat is a bit leaner so we would suggest about 1 to 1 ¼ pounds per person. Chicken, on the other hand, is about ¾ pounds per person. 

If you’re doing the math and realize you need a bird that is larger than 15 pounds, why not consider making two smaller ones or one large and cooking thighs, drumsticks and breasts in addition on the side. 

Tip: If you’re thinking of having any leftovers, you might want to take that into consideration when deciding which size is best!

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Brown Rice Stuffing with Roasted Turkey

Should I buy my bird fresh or frozen? 

Nowadays, there are plenty of options available between fresh and frozen turkeys and chickens, but does it really make a difference when it comes to flavor or ease of cooking? 

While there might be some debate when it comes to quality, each option has its pros and cons. A frozen bird can be bought in advance for maximum convenience and is possibly more budget-friendly. However, it does require sufficient thawing time. A fresh turkey is considered to have a better taste on account of the muscle tissue not having been frozen, but you’ll need to order the right size or ensure you head to the grocery store only a few days before the holiday. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when deciding:

  • Fresh turkey and chicken is ready to prepare and lasts in the fridge for 24-48 hours. 
  • If you like to plan ahead, frozen turkeys can be bought in advance! However, you’ll need to keep in mind that you need enough freezer and fridge space to store it before the big day. 
  • If you choose a frozen turkey, remember it will need up to 24 hours of thawing time for every 4 pounds! To avoid any unwanted bacteria growth, make sure you thaw it in the fridge rather than on the counter at room temperature.

How Do I Keep the Bird Moist and Tender When Baking?

Want to know how to cook a turkey so it doesn’t go dry? At Mahatma® Rice, we’ve got you covered. We’ve put together 4 important tips that may seem simple but are quite important and necessary for a great turkey or chicken. 

Tip # 1 Season Your Turkey Under the Skin

Start your base with a cooking fat such as oil, butter or bacon grease mixed with spices and seasonings of choice! We suggest seasoning under the skin rather than over it because it allows the seasonings to penetrate the meat and lets the fat render for optimal flavor and texture! 

stuffing-casserole-with-brown-rice-chorizo-and-mushroom-served-with-roast-chicken
Brown Rice, Mushroom and Chorizo Stuffing Casserole with Roast Chicken

Start with a simple blend of olive oil, dried thyme, dried rosemary, dried oregano, garlic powder, smoked paprika, salt and pepper and experiment from there. You can even use a flavor theme if desired like in this recipe for a spicy Roasted Chicken with a Brown Rice Pilaf using butter, chipotles in adobo sauce, rosemary leaves, garlic, cumin, salt, pepper, onion powder and ground cloves.

Tip # 2 Baste Your Bird

When we talk about basting your turkey or chicken, we’re referring to spooning, squirting or brushing the juices that are in the roasting pan back over the meat as it cooks. This might also refer to laying something over it that will release fat as it cooks such as aluminum foil or even bacon.

Some might also use a combination of butter and brown sugar or seasonings to help the natural sugar caramelize on the outside of the turkey giving it a nice and crispy yet flavorful skin. Or, use a specialized marinade like in this Roast Chicken with a Chorizo, Brown Rice and Mushroom Stuffing.

Not sure when to baste your turkey? This all comes down to preference as there is some debate as to when and how often to open the oven (which releases the heat and therefore takes the bird longer to cook). Some say baste every thirty to forty minutes, while others might suggest waiting until the last hour or two and basting every fifteen to twenty minutes. How do you know when the last hour or two is? That brings us to the next tip. 

Tip # 3 Check the Interior Temperature with a Meat Thermometer

Using a meat thermometer will help you gauge the cooking time of your bird. It will also allow you to know when to remove your meat from the heat so that it doesn’t overcook and dry out. 

We suggest using an ovenproof meat thermometer and to check the temperature when basting to open the oven as little as possible. The rule of thumb for cooking is 13 minutes per pound at 350°F for an unstuffed bird. It should cook until it reaches 165°F or 175°F for larger birds.

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Creamy Rice with Nopalitos and Leftover Turkey

Tip # 4 Try Brining Your Meat 

If you’ve tried everything else but your meat is still dry, try brining your fresh bird before cooking it. This refers to leaving your turkey in a basic solution of water and salt for nearly 12 hours before cooking. This helps to coax a bit of flavor and moisture into the bird before roasting. On the downside, if you do brine your turkey, the gravy may turn out to be a bit too salty for some. 

Different Ways to Cook a Turkey 

Part of the fun of a Thanksgiving meal or a holiday dinner is choosing which cooking method to use. While most choose to roast theirs in the oven the traditional way like this recipe for Roast Turkey With Stuffing, there are more and more innovative methods to choose from like deep frying, in a bag or smoking. 

Take a look at our essential cooking techniques to try at home and discover how you will cook yours this year! 

Bonus: Leftover Chicken and Turkey Recipes 

If you’ve got one too many extra dishes leftover after the big event, try repurposing your leftovers into new and delicious dishes! 

Try a creamy rice dish with Nopalitos and Turkey, make it into a delicious Cilantro Lime Rice and Turkey Burrito FIlling, or make it into a delicious Turkey and Rice Casserole

Find all kinds of meals and ideas for your next holiday event or to use up any leftovers in our recipe selection using Mahatma® Rice!