There is something special about a holiday turkey or chicken as the perfect centerpiece. It brings everyone to the table to enjoy a home cooked meal whether it be for Thanksgiving, Christmas, other holidays, or a December get-together. 

However, it might not always be simple to prepare that perfect juicy taste and tender texture, so we’ve put together a fool-proof guide to making sure yours is the best yet! We’ll show you how to cook the perfect holiday bird to impress your friends and family. 

How Much Turkey or Chicken Will You Need Per Person? 

Before you even begin to cook or season anything, you’ll need to calculate exactly how many people you’re going to feed. Depending on whether you choose a turkey or chicken, the amounts differ, as turkey meat is a bit leaner. We would suggest 1 to 1 ¼ pounds per person for turkey and ¾ pounds per person for chicken. 

If you would like leftovers, make sure to take that into consideration when you’re calculating! Also, if you are worried about oven or grill space and need more than 15 pounds of meat, why not make two small birds or prepare one large and cook smaller thighs, drumsticks and breasts on the side? 

Is Fresh or Frozen Better? 

When planning for the big day, there are certain pros and cons when it comes to deciding if you should get a fresh or frozen chicken or turkey. Fresh options are considered to taste better on account of the muscle tissue not having been frozen, but you’ll need to order the right size or ensure you head to the grocery store only a few days before the holiday. 

Cilantro-lime-rice-burritos-with-leftover-turkey-jasmine-rice-tomatoes-and-sour-cream
Cilantro Lime Rice and Leftover Turkey Burritos

As chickens tend to run smaller, it will be easier to use a fresh option closer to the date. Turkeys, on the other hand, run a little larger and do require a bit more work if you choose to get your shopping done ahead of time and buy a frozen one. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when deciding:

  • Fresh options last about 24-48 hours in the fridge. 
  • Frozen turkeys can be bought in advance, however, you’ll need enough freezer and fridge space to store it before the big day. 
  • The easiest and safest way to thaw a frozen turkey is in the fridge, but you will need up to 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds! Don’t wash it off if you are going to defrost, simply place it on a tray or cookie sheet in the fridge.

5 Tips For a Tender Holiday Bird

When you’ve decided on whether you’re going to buy a frozen option in advance or choose something fresher closer to the date, we’ve got the tips you need for perfectly tender meat. So, we’ve put together 5 important tips that may seem simple but are quite important.

#1 Season Both Over and Under the Skin 

Before adding any spices or seasoning, make sure you pat your turkey dry with a paper towel so that everything properly adheres. For maximum flavor, use cooking fats like oil, butter or bacon grease with seasonings of your choice and make sure to coat the bird under the skin. This ensures that everything melts into the meat for tender texture and optimal flavor

Make your own blend with cooking fat and any combination of these spices: rosemary, thyme, oregano, brown sugar, garlic powder, salt, pepper, chili powder and smoked paprika. 

Roast Chicken with Chorizo Brown Rice and Mushroom Stuffing
Roast Chicken with Chorizo, Brown Rice and Mushroom Stuffing Casserole

#2 Fill the Cavity With Aromatics 

Our next tip for an incredibly juicy turkey is to fill the cavity with aromatics like carrots, apples, oranges, celery, scallions, leeks, bay leaves and garlic. Instead of a Thanksgiving stuffing, we suggest filling the bird with ingredients that will cook from within so you won’t need to overcook your turkey to cook the inner stuffing. 

Try filling this recipe for a Mexican-style Roasted Chicken with onion, bay leaves and a blend of butter, chipotles in adobo, rosemary, garlic cloves, cumin, salt, pepper, onion powder and ground cloves.

#3 Use a Meat Thermometer

One of the best ways to achieve the perfect texture is to simply not overcook your meat, which is essentially what dries it out. For that reason, we suggest investing in a meat thermometer so you know exactly when your meat is done cooking and can remove it from the heat as soon as it reaches 160°F or 175°F for larger turkeys.

#5 Let Your Bird Sit Before Cutting and Save the Pan Drippings 

Once you remove your meat from the oven, resting time can do wonders for letting the juices settle and it might also be a bit hot for carving. While everyone might be waiting patiently, we suggest you prepare a sauce from the drippings while you wait!

Tent your turkey loosely with foil to rest and use this Roasted Turkey Recipe with Homemade Gravy. Starting with the pan drippings, prepare your own incredible gravy with brown rice stuffing to serve while you let your bird rest. 

roasted-turkey-served-with-brown-rice-green-olives-nuts-dried-fruit-and-brown-rice
Roasted Turkey with Brown Rice Stuffing

Next, choose your preferred cooking method, whether it be roasted, grilled, deep-fried or smoked to prepare your chicken or turkey this year with the help of Carolina® Rice.

Bonus: Recipes to Use Up Leftover Chicken and Turkey

If you prepared for a bit of extra meat, we’ve got wonderful meal ideas to use leftovers up!

Make it into a stuffing for these Cilantro Lime Rice Turkey Burritos or a TikTok Thanksgiving-inspired Tortilla Wrap. For a comforting meal, try a Turkey and Rice Casserole or a Turkey Fried Rice.

Make sure to find all kinds of meals and recipe ideas for your next holiday event or to use up any leftovers in our Carolina® Rice recipe selection.