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talking turkey and other Thanksgiving advice for the first-timer host by Yee-Fan Sun  | 1 2 3
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Don't stuff your turkey until just before it's ready to go in the oven. Some recipes will suggest that you don't stuff the turkey at all, since it takes so long for the center of the bird to heat up to the proper, bacteria-killing temperature that the rest of the bird might finish cooking well before that point. Me, I liked stuffed turkeys. As long as you stuff the bird fairly loosely, and don't let it sit around at room temperature breeding ever more bacteria, all should be fine.

What the heck do I do with that little packet in the middle of the turkey?
First of all, when you discover that little packet as you're rinsing your turkey, pull it out from the cavity and set it aside while you finish washing and drying the bird. The stuff in the packet is generally referred to as the giblets, and you can use them (minus the liver, which is the dark reddish-brown, flattish bit) to make stock. Just toss the giblets into a pot with some water, a quartered onion, a couple of carrots, a celery stalk, and a few peppercorns, and cook it up for an hour or so, until you have a nice, flavorful stock that can be used to make your gravy.

How do I know which side is up?
So your recipe instructs you to roast your turkey breast side up. You look at your turkey, flip it this side and that, and realize with a panic that your knowledge of turkey anatomy is woefully lacking. Relax: it's easy. Basically, you want to sit the bird so the curved side (that would be the breast) is pointing up, and the wings (those would be the smaller, flappy, non-drumstick appendages) aim towards the bottom.

How do I know when my turkey's done?
Here's a rough guide to turkey roasting times (stuffed and at 325 F):

8-10 lbs. 3-4 hrs
10-14 lbs 4-5 hrs
14-18lbs 5-6 hrs
18+ lbs 6+ hrs

Knowing this will really only help you time when you should pop the turkey in the oven. Figuring out when to actually take it out can be a little trickier. Most turkeys will come with a plastic self-timer that will supposedly pop up when the turkey's ready. These are notoriously unreliable, as they have a tendency to stick once the cooking gets underway and the juices start flowing.

The best way to figure out when to stop cooking is to get yourself a meat thermometer, as the turkey should be safe to come out of the oven when the thigh registers 175F (the turkey will continue cooking a little while longer after you take it out of the oven -- it'll need to sit for about 20 minutes before carving so all the juices don't just run out as soon as you slice in). I have a fabulous little thermometer that you stick in before you pop the pan in the oven; the probe is attached to a digital read-out that sits on the outside of the oven, and you can set your target temperature so the doodad beeps once you've hit it. You can also get an instant-read thermometer that you insert whenever you think the turkey's getting close to the right temperature. Either way, it's important to insert the thermometer in the right place to get your temperature reading. Slide the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, so that it goes parallel to the thigh bone but doesn't touch. This last bit is important, as the bone conducts heat better than the meat, and will give you a higher-than-actual reading.

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