Let’s talk turkey-10 tips for making your turkey great
Despite the best of intentions, Thanksgiving turkey doesn't always turn out as you envisioned it. Here are my tips, along with a couple recipes for making your turkey great.
1. Buy a good fresh turkey
There really is a difference between a fresh, organic free-range turkey and a mass produced self-basting frozen turkey. There also is a price difference. If you can swing it, buy a good turkey. If it isn't in your budget, don't sweat it. A little gravy and cranberry sauce, good friends and family to share it with, and perhaps a glass of wine and your turkey will be great.
I like Diestel turkey, raised by a 4th generation family-owned farm. They are organic, free-range, sustainably grown fresh turkeys. They take their time maturing their turkeys with a vegetarian diet. And get this, they walk their turkeys every day. No kidding.
My friend Jean, swears by Heritage Food turkey, also organic, free-ranged turkey, that are purchased by many top American restaurants. Heritage will ship your turkey to your home so it arrives the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.
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2. Brine, always brine the turkey
Turkey is a challenge to cook because the breast and the thighs do not cook at the same speed. If you stuff your turkey, it becomes even more complicated, because the turkey is not safely done until the breast, thighs and stuffing all reach 165 degrees. So what do you do? You brine. Brining keeps the turkey moist and delicious, even if it is a bit overcooked. See my recipe for an easy spiced apple turkey brine.
3. Do not buy a self-basting turkey if you are going to brine
Period. They are injected with stuff, including flavorings and salt. Brining a pre-basted turkey will result in a very salty turkey. Plus, don't you like to know what is in your turkey?
4. Rinse the turkey after you brine it
It is very important to thoroughly rinse your turkey after you brine it or the turkey will be too salty. You can even soak it in a sink full of water for 15 to 20 minutes once you are finished brining. Dry the turkey before you proceed with roasting it.
5. Stuff the turkey
I am a big fan of stuffing the bird. Stuffing baked in a pan just doesn't compare to stuffing cooked in a turkey. The juices from the turkey are an important part of the stuffing flavor and moistness.
Use about 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound of bird. Stuff loosely. Do not pack the stuffing.
If you have extra stuffing, or choose not to stuff the turkey, bake the stuffing in a casserole at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, basting frequently with turkey juices.
Always stuff the turkey with room temperature stuffing right before you put it in the oven. Never stuff the turkey the night before you roast it.
There is a good argument for not stuffing the turkey. Breast meat, thigh meat and stuffing do not all get to 165 degrees at the same time. So something winds up being over cooked. There are trade offs. For me, I choose to brine and stuff. See my favorite stuffing recipe.
6. Use a meat thermometer
The only way to really tell when a turkey is done is to use a meat thermometer. Insert the thermometer in several places including the meaty part of the thigh, the breast and the center of the stuffing. You can't rely on a pop-up thermometer to check stuffing temperature. The turkey and stuffing are done when both reach 165 degrees. Some advocate taking the turkey out a bit earlier, as the internal temperature will continue to rise 5 to 10 degrees as the turkey rests.
When you stuff the bird it is critical that you use a meat thermometer to check the stuffing temperature.
7. Cover the turkey with cheesecloth
After about the first 45 minutes to an hour, I cover the turkey with a couple layers of cheesecloth and baste all of the cloth with turkey juices and/or some butter or olive oil. This helps keep the turkey from getting too brown.
8. Sometimes cheesecloth is not enough
If your turkey starts to become too brown before it is done, tent it with some foil and continue roasting.
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9. Let the turkey rest before carving
Let the turkey rest before removing the stuffing and carving. Like a steak, the turkey continues to cook after you remove it from the oven. You need to let the juices be absorbed by the turkey before cutting. If you cut too soon, the juices will run out of the turkey, leaving you with dryer, less flavorful meat. A small turkey should rest at least 20 minutes, and a larger turkey can rest up to 40 minutes before carving.
10. Save the turkey carcass
Save the carcass and use it to make a delicious soup the next day.