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How to Cook a Turkey in an Electric Roaster

 Help!!!! This is the first Thanksgiving dinner I am cooking! I am using a 20-quart Rival Roaster Oven to cook it instead of the conventional oven. I am doing this to free up my oven for other dishes (that I don't know how to cook either!). How do I use this appliance and what temperature and length of time do I cook it? Do I need to put water or broth in the bottom of the roaster oven for flavor or to keep it moist? Please help! I am in desperate need of professional advice!

—Signed, Never cooked a turkey before in my life!

 We understand very well having a shortage of ovens. Your huge roaster is theoretically capable of cooking a 22- to 24-pound bird. But because the interior is so much smaller than a standard oven and because of the tight-fitting lid, it will essentially steam your turkey rather than roast it.

According to the manufacturer, the roaster oven cooks at approximately the same temperature and in the same time as would a conventional oven. Rival suggests you cook your turkey at 375°F (190°C) for 13 to 18 minutes per pound — a pretty broad range. For a 20-pound turkey, that's 4 hours and 20 minutes to 6 hours. A lot of overcooking (read: dried-out meat) can happen in that discretionary hour and 40 minutes. What's the solution? That's right, while there's still time, you purchase an instant-read thermometer, the only practical way for a novice (or not so novice) cook to know that his or her meat is thoroughly cooked. It is inexpensive and you'll find many uses for it in the years to come.

Cook the turkey until the breast meat registers about 155°F (68°C) and the innermost depths of the thigh reaches 160°F (71°C). According to the US government, turkey meat is safely cooked when it reaches 165°F (74°C) throughout, but the turkey will continue to cook during the 20 to 30 minutes you let it rest on the counter, while the juices are redistributed throughout the meat. If you keep the turkey in the oven until it reaches the government-approved temperature, it will overcook during the rest period, and your turkey will be dry and your guests will be grumpy (in the case of in-laws, they will be grumpier). You're not going to want to check the temperature too frequently, because your electric roaster loses a lot more heat when you take off the lid than occurs when you open the door of your oven.

To compensate for the steamy nature of your roaster, we think you should remove the turkey from the roaster a half hour or so before it would be done, lightly butter the skin, and pop it into your regular oven, set at 400°F (205°C) to finish cooking. This will allow the skin to crisp and at the very least give the impression of a well-roasted turkey. If you quickly clean your roaster's cooking pan (saving the drippings to make gravy, of course), you can put the side dishes that were taking up all the precious space in your oven in the roaster to finish cooking and stay warm.


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