My mother loves turkey so much that I grew up having it for every major holiday of the year, from Thanksgiving to Easter and sometimes July 4. Most people don't have either my mother's enthusiasm or stamina and rarely cook a turkey more than once a year. If you're one of those and your memory is faulty, or are new to the job, relax: this bird roasts just like a chicken; it just takes longer. Allow plenty of time and remember that a lot of ordinary people have been doing this well for a very long time.

But first: if you're just now reading this and your frozen turkey is still ice-hard, give up the notion of having that one tomorrow. In order to safely thaw it, you'd need a day for every 4 pounds that the turkey weighs. There's no way to safely thaw it by tomorrow: plan to cook it later and go get a fresh turkey.

Helpful advice:

⢠This is the most important thing: Get over the notion that it has to be magazine cover perfect. Who cares if the skin tears a little or if the browning is not perfectly even? You do want it to look appetizing, but what really matters is how it tastes.

⢠Choose a smaller turkey: Monster birds with breasts so big that they could barely stand are far too unwieldy for the average cook, never have as much flavor as a smaller one, and are a lot harder to cook evenly. If your crowd is large, consider cooking two small birds, or roast a breast alongside the whole bird.

⢠If you've bought a frozen turkey and have been safely thawing it (see above) but find that it's still isn't thawed by Thanksgiving morning, unwrap it, remove the neck and giblet packet and completely submerge it in cold, salted water (1 tablespoon kosher salt per quart). Salt speeds up thawing, keeps it juicy, and helps prevent bacterial growth. Never do this with warm water: salmonella will be tap-dancing on your bird. Cook it right away.

⢠Brining a turkey will indeed make it more tender and juicy, but it can be an unwieldy undertaking. It's easiest done in a plastic brining bag, available at many supermarkets and kitchenware stores. Follow the directions that come with the bag and don't try to adapt a cookbook brining formula to the bag.

⢠A few years ago "dry brining" became fashionable. Why we allow such ridiculous oxymorons into print is beyond me: Brining by definition is a wet process. "Dry-brining" is a foreshortened corning, or dry-salt curing process. Salt and spices are rubbed into and often under the skin, and the bird is refrigerated at least overnight. If you want to try it, follow the directions of the "dry-brine" kit packaging.

⢠Sometimes I loosen the breast skin, smear a little butter underneath, and then decoratively arrange fresh sage leaves across the breast.

⢠To stuff or not to stuff: the choice is yours. Stuffing adds flavor, and is especially moist and delicious since it bastes in the roasting juices, but it also slows down the roasting and can make the meat dry. I prefer dressing and fill the bird's cavity with moisture-rich vegetables and herbs, which is the best of both worlds.

⢠If you stuff, heat the stuffing in a large skillet before putting it in the bird and cook the turkey the moment it's stuffed. Never stuff and refrigerate it: that creates the perfect bacterial incubator and insures that the stuffing won't cook evenly.

⢠Loosely spoon stuffing into the turkey to give it room to swell. Let it remain in the bird for 15 minutes after cooking, but then remove it all to a serving bowl.

⢠Roast at a high temperature, beginning at 450 to 500 degrees F. for 20 minutes to sear the outside, then reduce the temperature in stages (see Damon Lee's Favorite Roast Turkey, following). This makes a mess of the oven, but it's worth it.

⢠Roast the bird mostly breast down. This makes it automatically "self-basting". Start it breast up, rub well with fat after it is seared, and turn it breast down until it is nearly done (150 degrees on a meat thermometer), then turn it breast up to let the skin crisp and brown during the last bit of cooking.

⢠Have trouble flipping the bird? Thickly rub the breast with butter (Rick Rodgers suggests butter-soaked cheesecloth) and, after searing, cover only the breast with buttered heavy-duty foil. Remove the foil for the last 20 minutes of roasting.

⢠Testing for doneness: Use a reliable "instant read" thermometer, available at any kitchenware store. Insert it into the thickest part of the inner thigh without touching bones. It's safely done at 160 degrees, overdone at 170. If the bird is stuffed, the center of the stuffing should read 165 degrees. To test without a thermometer, pierce the thigh: the juices should run clear. If they're red, it's not done. If there are no juices, you're doomed: it's overcooked. Make lots of gravy.

⢠Cover leftovers well and refrigerate promptly, but let them cool first: don't tightly cover and refrigerate hot food. That's inviting spoilage.

⢠Use common sense: after handling raw poultry immediately wash your hands and scrub cutting boards, knives, and other tools with detergent or disinfectant before they touch anything that won't be - or already is - cooked.