Whether this is your first time hosting Thanksgiving or your twentieth attempt at making a perfect turkey, I have 8 kitchen tested tips that result in the terrific bird every time.
Pick the right turkey. Organic, free-range, fresh or frozen? There are so many options, so which one is best? Organic turkeys are raised under organic standards, and fed organic feed. Free-range will be leaner birds and less likely to have additives. And frozen is a great way to keep the cost down. Which ever route you take, just make sure your turkey isn’t too large. The larger the bird, the older and tougher it will be. I usually account for 1.5 lbs per person. Don’t hesitate to get two smaller turkeys instead of a massive one. Anything over 20 lbs is too big!
Brine the turkey. Brining your turkey will do two things. It’s going to flavor it and help keep it moist as it roasts. So to make your own brine you will need 2 gallons of water, 1 cup salt, ½ cup sugar, and herbs or spices of your liking (bay leaves, juniper berries, rosemary, etc). Get a large enough bowl that can hold your turkey submerged in the brine. Then dissolve the sugar and salt in water first, add aromatics, and then submerge your turkey completely in the brine. Let it sit for 6 hours to overnight. Once you have completed this step, rinse your turkey well to prevent it from being too salty. For added flavor and moisture, I like to add fresh herbs and butter under the skin of the turkey breast before it goes into the oven.
Tie it up. Whenever I roast a large piece of meat, I like to truss it or tie it up. This results in a more even surface area, therefore even cooking of your protein. This isn’t mandatory, but it’s very simple. Tuck the wings under the turkey, and tie the legs together at the base of the drumsticks with butcher’s twine.
Use a roasting rack. Lots of benefits here. Roasting racks elevate your turkey off the bottom of the roasting pan. So your turkey won’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Elevating the turkey also allows the heat to circulate, creating an even all over cooking, ensuring crispiness of the skin. It is also healthier because most of the fat will render off while cooking. If you don’t have a roasting rack, no problem. Roast the turkey on a bed of herbs, carrots, onions, and celery. This is an easy way to add flavor to the bird, and enhance the flavor of your gravy.
Color equals flavor. Getting a good sear on any protein, locks in all the juices and flavor. First, allow the turkey to come to room temperature before it goes in the oven (approx 1 hr). To oven sear be sure to pat the turkey dry, and then rub your bird with butter or oil. Heat the oven to 475 degrees and roast your turkey for 20 minutes. Reduce heat in the oven to 350 degrees for the remainder of the cooking time.
Invest in a thermometer and timer. Never trust the little red, pop-up button! The only way to ensure your turkey is cooked properly is to time it and check the internal temperature. My rule of thumb is 20 minutes at 475 degrees and 20 minutes per pound at 350 degrees or until the turkey reaches 165 degrees (USDA recommendation) when a thermometer is inserted into the thickest part of the breast. For example a 20 lb turkey should take 4 ½ hrs. Avoid opening the oven constantly as this will only let heat out and require a longer cooking time. I also don’t recommend basting your turkey.
Don’t stuff it. By the time the stuffing comes to the proper temperature inside the turkey, most likely it will be over-cooked. Instead stuff the turkey with fruit or vegetables. This option will help keep the bird moist and add to the flavor. Cook the stuffing in a separate casserole dish, and serve it on the side.
Let it rest. After the turkey comes out of the oven, don’t carve it right away! Loosely tent it with aluminum foil and let it rest for at least 30 minutes. This will allow the juices to re-distribute throughout the meat. If you skip this step, all the precautions you took to get a juicy turkey will drain out onto your cutting board.
Follow these simple steps, and you will look like a pro this year and every year to come!