Every turkey doesn't have its own personality, it only seems that way when being cooked. You know the problem: Carve it one year and the legs are pink and undercooked; the next year, adjust the timetable, and the legs are so overdone they're falling apart.
Guess what, it's not the bird.
If you need help, follow the foolproof method we've been following for years:
If turkey is frozen, thaw before cooking. Rub it inside and out with salt and pepper and pack the cavity loosely with stuffing. Any remaining stuffing can be cooked separately in a shallow buttered baking dish during the last hour of cooking time.
Sew up the cavity opening or close it with skewers. Truss the bird if you want and rub it with melted butter, shortening or oil. A good trick to ensure a golden, smooth skin is to soak a piece of cheesecloth in 1/2 cup melted butter and place over the turkey's breast.
Then place the turkey -- breast side up or breast side down, depending on your particular turkey-cooking school -- on a rack in a shallow pan and roast uncovered, following the accompanying timetable. Baste every 20 minutes. Do not add water to the pan. A tent of aluminum foil may be placed over the bird, or just covering the breast and the drumsticks, to prevent scorched skin. A meat thermometer placed in the thigh, but not touching the bone, is recommended.
When the turkey is done, remove and discard the cheesecloth. Untruss the turkey and transfer it to a heated platter. Let it stand in a warm place for 20 minutes before carving, to allow the juices to set. Cover loosely with the foil tent to keep the surface warm.
TO MAKE GRAVY
Pour off the juices from the roasting pan, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Skim and reserve the fat. Heat in a saucepan 1/4 cup of the fat. Add 1/4 cup flour and whisk or stir until blended. Then slowly stir in enough pan juices and turkey stock (made from neck and giblets) and sherry or wine to equal 2 cups. Cook and stir the gravy until smooth and simmer 5 minutes. Add chopped cooked giblets. Simmer until thickened. If you prefer, omit flour and thicken at this point with arrowroot or cornstarch dissolved in cold water. There will be about 2 cups of gravy.
TO CARVE A TURKEY
To carve a turkey, remove the stuffing immediately. Remove the drumsticks and thighs to be cut separately. Thigh meat should be sliced parallel to the bone. To carve the breast, place knife as close to the wing as possible, keeping it parallel. Make a deep cut into the breast to the bone. This is called "the base cut." Begin to slice, carving downward, and ending at the base. Each new cut should begin higher up than the last and be about 1/4-inch thick.
The timetable below gives approximate total cooking times for roast turkey. Place a tent of aluminum foil loosely over the bird when it starts to turn golden.
This timetable is based on chilled or completely thawed turkeys at a temperature of about 40 degrees and placed in a preheated 325-degree oven. For unstuffed turkeys, reduce roasting time by 5 minutes per pound.
If a thermometer is not used, test for doneness about 60 minutes before timetable indicates. Move drumstick up and down. When done, the joint should give readily -- or break. Another way is to press the drumstick meat between your fingers. The meat should be very soft. You can also prick the skin on the thigh and the juices should run out clear, not pink.
When the turkey is done, remove from oven and allow to stand about 20 mintues for easiest carving.
COOKING TURKEY IN FOIL
Prepare as directed for roast turkey. To wrap, place turkey, breast side up, in the middle of a large sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil. For larger birds, join two widths of foil.
Brush with melted butter, shortening or oil and place small pieces of foil over the edges of legs, tail and wing tips to prevent puncture. Bring long ends of foil up over the breast of turkey and overlap three inches. Close ends by folding up foil so drippings will not run out. Wrap loosely. Do not seal air-tight.
Place turkey, breast up, in open shallow roasting pan in oven preheated to 325 degrees. Follow timetable below. Open foil once or twice during cooking to judge doneness. When thigh joint and breast meat begin to soften, fold back foil completely to brown turkey and crisp skin.