Want crackling crispy-brown skin and moist and flavorful turkey meat? Well, who doesn’t?! This year you really can have a perfectly roasted bird that both looks and tastes amazing. Just follow our Insider Tips, compiled from real professional chefs, and you can wow your friends and family with a beautiful, delicious Thanksgiving Turkey.
# 1 – Selecting the Turkey
Your choices when it comes to selecting the right turkey for your table have virtually exploded in recent years thanks to a growing interest in heritage and sustainably-raised turkey. Heritage birds tend to have a much more distinctive turkey-flavor which can be considerably more gamey. You can also source certified-organic or free-range turkeys that have not been fed any supplements or antibiotics. These birds will typically be much smaller and have less white meat. Turkey breeds such as Bourbon Red and Narragansett can be found at many small local turkey farms and are said to have better flavor than the Broad-Breasted White, the breed commonly sold at conventional supermarkets.
Commercially raised turkeys are bred to develop quickly, with ample amounts of white breast meat but they don’t always have the most flavor. Some of these turkeys also come “pre-basted,” a process that means they’ve been injected with liquid and fat to keep the meat moist. Some people find the flavor and texture of these birds to be lacking, while others prefer them for their size and moistness. Also, keep in mind that even though that supermarket turkey might be labeled as “fresh,” many can and are partially frozen at some point. If you want a truly fresh turkey, consider going to a local turkey farm and place your order ASAP.
Once you know which type of turkey you want to serve, you’ll then want to figure out how big a bird to buy. Plan on 1 pound of turkey per person. If you’re looking for generous leftovers, calculate 1-1/2 to 2 pound of turkey per person. For those of us going with heritage or organic turkey this year, it may be necessary to buy two birds since these kinds tend to be smaller.
# 2 – How to Prepare a Turkey for Roasting
Try some of these techniques to add flavor and moisture to your Thanksgiving turkey:
Thawing – If you buy a frozen turkey, thawing it in the refrigerator is definitely the safest way to go.
A frozen 12 pound turkey can take up to 3 days to thaw completely, so plan ahead. Place the frozen turkey in a pan large enough to hold it and place it in the back of your refrigerator.
# 3 – Brining: soaking a turkey in a flavorful mixture of salt and spices can add lots of flavor and moisture to turkey meat. Make sure to buy (and thaw) your turkey two to three days in advance. To brine the turkey, place in a large stock pot or in a plastic brining bag with salt dissolved in water and herbs (if desired). To prevent salmonella poisoning, make sure to store the turkey in your refrigerator while it brines.
# 4 – Dry Brining: rubbing the meat with salt helps infuse it with flavor. To do this correctly, carefully loosen the skin from the meat while taking care not to tear the skin. Massage the bird with your fingertips, trying to loosen as much skin over the breast, legs, and thighs as possible. Run your fingers, coated with salt, under the skin wherever possible. Wrap your dry-brined turkey in plastic wrap and keep it in the refrigerator for between 24 to 48 hours prior roasting.
# 5 – Drying the Skin: allowing the bird to sit uncovered in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours before roasting lets moisture evaporate for a crispier skin.
# 6 – To Stuff or Not to Stuff: while many of us grew up with a stuffed turkey, stuffing the turkey greatly increases roasting time, meaning the payoff for properly cooked and safe stuffing is a thoroughly dried-out bird. So it’s best to keep the cavity empty and bake the stuffing separately for a crunchy top. You can also add some of the broth you baste the turkey with to the stuffing just prior to baking to give it a baked-in taste.
# 7 – Roasting the Turkey: Did you know white and dark meat cook at different rates? White meat cooks faster than dark meat so you’ll want to consider a number of options for keeping the breast meat moist while waiting for the dark meat to cook. See tips below.
# 8 – Timing: When trying to gauge how long your turkey will take to roast, plan on about 20 minutes per pound of cooking time if your turkey is not stuffed. A 12 pound unstuffed bird can take around 4 hours at 325 degrees. If the bird is stuffed, add about 30 minutes of cooking time. But keep in mind, this is a general rule. The very best way to know when your turkey is done is to use an accurate meat thermometer as described below.
# 10 – Barding: An old-world Italian technique for adding flavor and fat to lean meats. You can keep the breast moist by covering it with strips of pancetta, bacon, or salt pork. The turkey absorbs the added fat and flavor during the roasting process and the pork products also help baste the turkey at the same time. Watch the turkey carefully. Remove the pork when it starts to brown too much. To allow the skin to brown beautifully, remove strips of pork from the breast during the last 30 to 40 minutes of cooking.
# 11 – Upside Down:Roasting the turkey breast-side-down during the first half of cooking can help protect the breast from over-cooking.
# 12 – Basting: the most conventional method for keeping the bird moist is to coat it periodically with pan drippings as it cooks. Be careful not to baste too often since opening and closing the oven door will extend cooking time. Also, stop basting the bird during the last 30 to 40 minutes of cooking time to give the skin time to crisp.
# 13 – Check the Temperature: There’s no better way to determine when your turkey is done than to take its temperature. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, without touching the leg bone. You should pull the turkey out of the oven when the thigh temperature reaches 170 degrees, since the turkey continues to cook after it leaves the oven by as much as 10 degrees. If your bird is stuffed, also check the stuffing temperature which should reach a minimum of 165 degrees.
Tip: A 12 pound unstuffed bird can take around 4 hours at 325 degrees to roast.
# 14 – Resting: It is critical to let the turkey rest for at least 20 to 30 minutes before carving. When a turkey roasts, the juices are forced to the center so resting allows the juices to flow back through the entire bird for moist and delicious meat.
# 15 – Carving: Use a boning knife to remove the legs and thighs. A sharp carving knife will make easy work of slicing the breast meat.
Happy Eating and Cooking!!!