Preparing the Turkey
Now that your turkey has thawed, you'll need to unwrap it and remove the neck and giblets from the body cavity/neck cavity. Just wash your hands, reach in there and pull them out. (Okay, gross, but just go ahead and do it.)
Wash the inside and outside of the turkey under cold running water, then rinse the giblets and neck under cold running water and wipe everything dry with paper towels.
Set the turkey in a roasting pan, and place the giblets and neck (except the liver--- see more about that in the section below, about gravy) in a medium saucepan.
Is bigger better?
While those big birds make spectacular displays, resist the temptation. If you need to feed a large crowd, get 2 smaller birds instead. Why? Because it's very difficult to cook a large turkey evenly, and maintain its tenderness and moistness without overcooking it. And if you think one big turkey is impressive, just imagine bringing out a platter holding TWO turkeys!
I suggest one 12-to-14 pound turkey for 10 to 12 servings, so if you're going to have 20 to 25 people, go ahead and get two 12-to-14 pound turkeys!
So, how much turkey do I need?
Plan on one and one-fourth pounds of turkey per person, which will leave you a bit for leftovers the next day. If you're feeding just a couple of people, consider getting just a turkey breast or about one-half pound per person. Remember, though, if you go the breast route, you won't have that great carcass the next day to make gumbo!
To Stuff or Not to Stuff (that is the question)
Now a lot of you may be stuffed turkey fans, but to tell the truth, I'm not for a couple of reasons. First, it's hard to achieve perfect doneness on the bird without drying out the stuffing at the same time. I like to control the temperature of both the turkey and the stuffing without overcooking anything by cooking the stuffing in a separate dish.
Second, it can be pretty messy trying to get the stuffing out, particularly if you wait to do it when carving the bird at the table. And last, harmful bacteria are more likely to grow if the turkey doesn't cook through all the way, or if the stuffing sits awhile in the bird after cooking.
If you do stuff, remove all the stuffing as soon as your turkey is completely cooked and comes out of the oven. If you don't serve all the stuffing right away, either put the remaining stuffing in the oven at 200F. to keep it hot until you need it, or refrigerate it in a shallow container, covered tightly.
Dry Rubs and Marinades
Everybody seems to have a favorite way to prepare their turkey for the oven---dry rub, butter rub, marinade, brine, stuffing, cheesecloth soaked in butter---you name it, there are a lot of preparations out there. Other than the Pepper-Stuffed Turkey and Fried Turkey (recipes in recipe section), I like to marinate my turkey overnight in a brine mixture.
This method is pretty common in the Northeast, and what you do is soak the turkey in a mixture of salt, sugar, water and seasonings for at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours. What this does is plump up the breast meat with a sort of moisture cushion, which keeps the bird moist during cooking and imparts a great flavor. Also brining speeds up the cooking time by about 30 minutes, since water conducts heat.
How to brine
Remove the neck, giblets and liver, and reserve for the gravy.
Rinse the turkey inside and out under cold running water.
Dissolve 1 cup salt and 1 cup brown sugar in 2 gallons of cold water in a non-reactive container, such as a clean bucket or large stock pot. (You can even pour it into a clean, heavy-duty, plastic garbage bag, or a small ice chest that will hold the turkey snugly).
To the brine solution I also like to add 2 quartered oranges, 2 quartered lemons, 6 sprigs of sage, and 4 sprigs of roughly chopped rosemary.
Note: if you have a big turkey and need more brine than this, use one-half cup salt and one-half cup brown sugar for every gallon of water.
Soak the turkey in the brine, covered and refrigerated, for at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours.
Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse well under cold running water.
Pat the turkey dry with paper towels, inside and out.
Transfer the turkey to a roasting pan, loosely tie drumsticks together with kitchen string, and cook as desired.
Tying it all Together
So, what's all this about trussing? Some folks do, I don't. Trussing is done to hold the turkey together so it'll keep its shape, but I think it's just as effective and much easier to simply tie the drumsticks together with heavy kitchen twine. Just tie a tight knot around one drumstick, then pull it close to the other one, and secure it with the twine.
And when the turkey comes out of the oven, just snip right through the twine, pull it away and discard. Easy!