You’d think we’ve never done it before. It’s Thanksgiving and we all go into a tizzy about cooking the bird. But it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without the turkey. No matter what your turkey experience is, each year we’re faced with perplexing questions regarding this highly anticipated, perfectly prepared tradition. Here are a few surefire tips that will guarantee the success of the perfectly roasted turkey for your table.
For the best flavor and texture, choose a fresh turkey. Having said that, I have yet to have a dinner guest correctly guess which bird is fresh and which is frozen. Fresh turkeys aren’t normally as big as the frozen, so if size is important (think leftovers here) then frozen may be your best bet. If preparing a frozen bird, you’ve got two methods in which to thaw that turkey. Although more time consuming (and space invasive), refrigerated thawing is the safest because the turkey stays cold the entire time, greatly reducing the chance for harmful bacterial growth. A 10-pound bird needs two days in the refrigerator; a 15-pound bird needs three, and upward of 20 pounds will require four days in the refrigerator to thaw adequately.
The quickest way to defrost the turkey is to use the cold-water method. Keep the turkey in its original packaging and place in a sink filled with cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes so it stays cold, lowering the risk for bacterial growth. Allow a half-hour per pound to thaw sufficiently. Never thaw a turkey at room temperature as this radically encourages the growth of harmful bacteria.
While my mother would never agree with me on this one (and why would she seeing as she successfully roasted stuffed turkeys for over 60 years), stuffing the turkey can present problems. It may be traditional, but it is an open invitation for food poisoning. In an effort to not overcook the bird, often the stuffing does not reach a high enough temperature to eliminate the harmful bacteria surrounding the stuffing. To be safe, the internal temperature of the stuffing must reach at least 165 degrees.
If you’re going to stuff, pack the bird very loosely and check the temperature with a foolproof instant-read thermometer. Bake the bulk of the stuffing in a lovely casserole dish creating a wonderful crusty outside and a moist, tender inside.
Thanksgiving is all about tradition and I have found that roasting the turkey in the classic method is the best way to cook this culinary centerpiece. Creative pursuits of brining, frying, and roasting-on-end have yielded interesting results, yet I always come back to tradition. And I have a family that reassures me it’s the tried-and-true method they prefer.
A perfectly roasted turkey
For a 12 to 15 pound bird
1. Remove the neck and giblets and rinse the turkey inside and out; pat the outside dry.
2. Place the turkey breast-side up on a rack in a roasting pan. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the turkey cavity. Stuff the cavity with a couple quartered onions, a halved lemon, and sprigs of fresh thyme. Brush the outside of the turkey with melted butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
3. Tie the legs together with string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the turkey. Brush the bird with melted butter and season with salt and pepper.
4. Pour two cups of chicken stock in the pan and roast in a preheated 350-degree oven. Roast the turkey, basting occasionally, for approximately three hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut between the leg and the thigh.
5. Remove the turkey to a cutting board and cover with aluminum foil; let rest for 20 minutes. Slice and serve.
That should do it! When all else fails, call Turkey 911. The experts at the Butterball Turkey Talk Line at 1-800-Butterball are standing by to talk turkey. Happy Thanksgiving!