There are basically seven different types of whole turkeys: frozen, fresh, natural, organic, free-range, heritage, and kosher. Frozen is the cheapest and most widely available. The drawbacks: you'll need considerable time to thaw in the refrigerator, and it may be injected with a salt solution to keep moist. See Sunset's Pick the Perfect Turkey for a quick primer on the differences between the turkey types.
A good rule of thumb is to buy 1 pound of turkey per person to allow for seconds and leftovers. So if you're having 8 guests for Thanksgiving, you'll need an 8-pound bird. You know your crowd best, so buy the size that fits your needs.
The best–and safest–defrosting method is to set the bird in a shallow pan in the refrigerator for 24 hours per 5 pounds of turkey. Keep in mind you'll need to save room in the refrigerator as this will take several days. The turkey is fully thawed when the thick part of the turkey registers 40 degrees. For tips to defrosting in a hurry, read, The Turkey is Still Frozen at RealSimple.com.
The key to roasting a perfect turkey is the temperature; you want moist, juicy meat on the inside and a crisp exterior. Keep your meat thermometer close by to ensure the bird reaches a safe internal temperature of between 165 and 180 degrees. An average 12-pound turkey with giblets will take around three hours to cook at 325 degrees. For a step-by-step guide, go to CookingLight.com.
Once you've got your turkey perfectly cooked, you'll want to carve it properly too to ensure that you get the most meat you can from the bird. "The whole turkey may look really pretty, but taking slices from the outside of the breast is difficult," says Cooking Light Test Kitchens staffer Sam Brannock. Watch our "How to Carve a Turkey" video below for tips on good carving technique.