Let's talk first about thawing a frozen turkey since most of us start with one. Buy the turkey at least 3 days before you plan to cook it. Place it in a bag in the refrigerator, unopened, and allow it to thaw slowly. You may turn it a couple of times if you wish. It happens that your turkey does not get completely thawed, immerse the turkey, still warpped in COLD water in a large pan or the sink. Turn it regularly to assure even thawing and change the water about every 30 minutes. If you happen to have waited too late to do the thawing right, you can put it into warm (not hot) water to thaw. If you do this, be ready to cook it the moment it finishes thawing.
Once the bird is fully thawed, carefully pull the neck from the inside and remove the bag of giblets from inside or under the skin at the center of the breast. Dry the bird thoroughly inside and out.
From this point, the easiest way of cooking the bird is to place it in an open roaster pan or even on a broiler pan. Put a little water under the bird, sprinkle it with salt and cook according to the directions on the wrapper. This will be about 15 minutes per pound in a 325 deg oven.
Now let me suggest some add-ons which can add both moisture and flavor to the turkey. Instead of just salt, you can mix salt, black pepper and a little poultry seasoning and the bird with it. Even better, go to the back of the bird and loosen the skin gently and slide your hand down in between the breast and the skin on each side and rub the spice mixture in generously. Any of that mixture you have left, you canput inside the bird. A very nice idea for both appearance and taste is to place fresh herbs between the skin and the breast. I would suggest sage and rosemary and a little parsley or thyme would not hurt. It also helps to put chunks of celery, carrot and onion inside the cavity of the bird.
Once the turkey is cooked, allow it to stand at least 15 to 30 minutes before carving. I will leave the intricacies of carving for someone else to teach you. You may ask about stuffing. My advice is DON’T. Real Southern folks make dressing not stuffing. Just to be nice, here is my mother’s recipe for dressing from my book Kinfolks and Custard Pie which you can order from Amazon.com or at the bookstore at the Museum of Appalachia.
Dressing for turkey or chicken
4 cups each, cornbread and biscuit crumbs
2 medium onions, chopped fine
2 stalks celery, chopped fine
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp salt
1/ to 1 tsp ground cayenne pepper (to taste)
1 to 2 TBSP rubbed sage (to taste)
2 cups water
4 cups hot turkey or chicken broth (approx)
Place the cut onions, celery and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Place the crumbs and all other seasonings in a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. Add the boiling onion mixture and most of the hot broth. Mix thoroughly. The mixture should be soft but still lhold its shape. Add more broth is necessary. Taste and add more seasonings if desired. Remember, the cooked dresssing will be slightly more seasoned than the uncooked mix. Place ina 9x13" baking dish and bake in a 350 deg oven until browned and firm. May be served hot, cold or warm.