In the Kitchen: Talkin’ Turkey

Last year I hosted Thanksgiving at my house, which meant not only did I have to clean behind the toilet and wipe off the three inches of dust that collected on the ceiling fan, I also had to provide the turkey.

Now, I’m a pretty experienced cook but the thought of tackling the turkey freaked me out. I couldn’t face the possibility of burning the bird and having to serve cold cuts along side our beautiful casseroles and perfect pies.

Luckily, my mom had come into town and she walked me through the basics. I also added in a couple of ideas of my own and we ended up with a fantastic turkey and a magical meal.

I had a few requests from friends to share my turkey tips, so here you go.

Mamamash Talks Turkey: Do’s and Don’ts

DO plan ahead. Most turkeys are sold frozen, so you’ll need to plan for defrosting time. It takes 24 hours to defrost 5 pounds of turkey, so do the math and realize that 20-pound bird you’ve purchased needs four days just to reach a non-frozen state.

DON’T defrost the bird in the sink. It must be kept cold. Place the turkey in the refrigerator in a jelly roll pan lined with paper towels so you don’t end up with unwanted juices mingling with the fresh produce. Salmonella is not a good way to lose the holiday weight.

DO remember to remove the giblet bag once your turkey is defrosted. It’s not a nice surprise to pull it out in the middle of carving your bird at dinner.

DO brine your turkey. Once your turkey is defrosted, you’ll need an extra 12 hours to brine it. The night before, while you’re off marinating yourself in martinis in order to calmly handle your houseful of relatives, soak the bird in a salt solution in order to increase the moisture holding capacity of the meat. You can choose from many brines, like this one here, or this one, or this.

DON’T substitute one cup of table salt for one cup of kosher salt when making your brine. Table salt is much saltier.

DO continue to keep your bird chilled while brining. You must keep your turkey chilled to at least 40 degrees Farenheit during the brining process. If your brining container won’t fit in the fridge, put the turkey in a cooler, cover with ice, and pour the brine over the top. Stick it in the garage overnight if it’s cool outside. Last year, my turkey hung out in its cooler in the bathtub. To be completely honest, it was very odd to be doing my business next to a large dead bird, but definitely worth it.

DON’T attempt to deep fry a frozen or wet turkey. It will explode and burn down your house. Seriously, Google fried turkey mishaps. You’ve been warned. In fact, here are some great tips for frying birds.

DO let your turkey come to room temperature before cooking it. It will roast/fry/smoke more evenly that way.

Now, if you’re smoking or frying your bird, check here and here for tips on those two methods. I’m going to continue on discussing how to roast the perfect turkey.

DON’T be afraid of the butter. Pull a Paula Deen and set out a whole stick of butter, y’all. Soften it, then gently separate the skin from the bird and rub that butter all over the place. Give the bird a nice butter massage.

DO be creative. If you want to use herbs, place them inside the gap you’ve made between the breast and skin. If you like citrus, throw some orange slices into the bird’s cavity. Be sure to salt and pepper the skin as well. If you don’t have a roasting rack, line the bottom of a roasting pan with carrots and celery stalks to elevate the bird.

DON’T ever cook the turkey with stuffing inside. Yes, I know that’s how your mom did it. No, the fact that fact that you never got sick doesn’t discount the fact that it’s a recognized health hazard. If you must have your dressing flowing out of the turkey as you place it in all its glory on the table, stuff it with separately cooked stuffing when you pull it out of the oven.

DO truss up the bird’s legs for more even roasting. Also, it looks cool. Look, you’re a chef!

DON’T forget to preheat the oven. It can take 30 minutes for a cold oven to reach 325 degrees Farenheit.

DO roast the bird with its foil-covered breast side up in the oven at 325 for 20 minutes per pound if previously frozen and 12 minutes per pound if fresh.

DON’T even think about peeking until about 45 minutes before you estimate the turkey to be done. Remove the foil so the breast will brown and check the internal temperature. Baste with the pan juices.

DO ensure that the meat reaches 180 degrees at deepest spot between the leg and the breast.

DON’T immediately cut into the bird. Tent it with foil and let it rest for 20 minutes so the meat can absorb all the juices back in.

DO lay claim to your favorite piece before allowing anyone else near the bird. After all, you’re the one who’s been working on this dish all week and if you want a leg, dammit, you get a leg.

If you happen to run into a turkey emergency, don’t forget the awesome experts at the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line. I’ve never used their services, but I’ve heard that they are enthusiastic and very helpful.

Also, if you’d like to bring something besides green bean casserole to your family’s celebration this year, try this corn casserole from  The Bearded Iris.

Good luck and have a Happy Thanksgiving!