Five Turkey Tips

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It’s time to start thinking about Thanksgiving turkey! Since I only cook a full turkey once a year, it does take a little jogging of my memory to remember the steps involved and the timing of those steps that lead to a perfect turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. After many years of practice, I really think I’ve got the turkey thing dialed in, so I want to share my best turkey tips with you. Here goes:

  1. Selecting – Three days before the meal, buy a 12-18lb bird and cook two if necessary. Smaller birds taste better, cook evenly and are easier to handle. Look for words like “Heritage” (mate naturally, grow slowly, exercise, taste like turkey), “Organic” (no antibiotics), “Free Range” or “Pastured” (exercised and eat natural flora and fauna).
  2. Thawing- Buy Fresh! Fresh turkeys are quick-chilled to 26°F after being processed, so the water in the cavity might freeze, but don’t worry the meat is not frozen. A fresh turkey should be cooked within 3 days after purchasing it. It is ready to roast when a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat registers 40°F.
    Safety Tip: Bacterial Danger Zone is between 40°F – 140°F.
  3. Brining – I ALWAYS brine a non-Kosher turkey because it keeps the meat tender and moist (Kosher birds are already salty). The night before the meal, place the turkey, in its original packaging, in a deep stockpot and fill with water (this way you’ll know how much water it will take to cover the turkey – probably about 2 gallons). Remove the turkey and stir in 1/2 cup kosher salt per gallon of water until dissolved. Remove the turkey from the packaging, remove the neck and giblets from the turkey’s cavity and place the turkey carefully back into the water. Refrigerate overnight. If you prefer a more seasoned brine, you might like to try Martha Stewart’s Turkey Brine recipe.
  4. Cooking – The turkey is ready to roast when a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat registers 40°F, so it should be removed from the refrigerator and brine, if using, about 30 minutes before placing it into the oven. Dry it well (inside and out), rub it with softened butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook it on a rack set inside a sturdy roasting pan with 2-3 cups of good quality chicken stock in the bottom. Do NOT stuff the bird (it takes too long to cook), but you can put carrots, celery and onion inside to add some flavor. Start breast down at 425°F for 45 minutes.  Pull the turkey out, reduce temperature to 350°F, flip the turkey to breast up, baste every 20 minutes until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 165°F (about 1 – 1/2 hours).
  5. Carving- Remove the breast in two lobes and let them rest, covered with foil, for 30 minutes. Place the remaining meat in the warm chicken stock, cover, and braise for about 30 minutes at 250°F. Slice the breast into thick slices and place on a platter. Pull the dark meat (like pork) and pile it onto the platter with the white meat. EnJOY! Here’s a helpful video for carving your turkey:

12 Responses to Five Turkey Tips

  1. Pingback: Sweet Potato Cinnamon Rolls | A Passionate Plate

  2. Hi Mary, that’s exactly what I do. When I first made the gravy w/the pan jus I was soo disappointed. Thanks.

  3. I brine w/salt n sugar for the most part. But for larger birds I omitted the sugar for fear of over browning; because turkey must roast for an extended amount of time.
    1 turkey (12 to 17 pounds) 2 gallons 1 cup salt 6 to 12 hours
    1 turkey (18 to 24 pounds) 3 gallons 1 1/2 cups salt 6 to 12 hours

  4. If the bird is brined you can add whatever you like to the gravy and it will still be salty. I did try a potato & it was a waste of time.

    • Thom~ Have you tried bring with a combination of salt and sugar? Or do you just prefer not to brine at all?

    • Hi, Thom – just thought I would throw my two cents in on this one (this is Mary, the other half of A Passionate Plate). I’d be inclined to dice the giblets and simmer them in some turkey stock, then strain and add to a roux to make my gravy, rather than the pan juices of the brined bird. Just a thought. :-)

  5. Please remember if you brine a bird and use the stock and drippings in the roasting pan for a gravy, it will be salty.

    • Great point, Thom. Of course, I <3 salt, but for those who feel the gravy is too salty, try adding a little acid to off-set the saltiness. Lemon juice works well, or you can add white wine – just be sure to simmer it long enough to cook off the alcohol or it will taste bitter. I’ve read that a peeled potato simmered for a bit in the gravy will absorb the salt, but I’ve not tried that method.

  6. great idea re: braising the dark meat while the breast rests

    • I borrowed that tip from Bobby Flay and it is genius as far as I’m concerned. Another idea from him is to keep chicken stock warm on the stove all day for keeping things warm and moist (i.e. mashed potatoes, dressing, turkey). I did that last year and it was so helpful!

  7. Caroline Ellison - 11/11/2012 at 3:21 pm

    Interesting! I’ll try braising the dark meat this year, assuming Alan will allow it…….
    :-)

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