Turkey. It’s the star of Thanksgiving right? Eaten around once a year, we all have Norman Rockwell expectations, yet if it’s your first Thanksgiving you might have flashbacks of Christmas Vacation. Where the turkey has been so over cooked its an empty black cavity and not much else. Cooking a turkey can be intimidating, but if done right, it doesn’t have to be. In today’s post we’re going through the basics and a variety of cooking methods that make cooking this bird somewhat foolproof.
Types of Turkey.
Depending on how many people you will be serving, this should determine what cut of turkey you choose. For a smaller crowd (4 or less), I recommend purchasing a bone-in Turkey breast. This will maintain the carcuss and allow for a bit of dark meat flavor throughout. For a crowd any larger, you’ll need to step up to a whole turkey. When it comes to sourcing a bird, the more local, higher quality, and freshest you can purchase the better.
Common for most Tom Turkeys, many supermarkets are filled with 15-20 lb Whole Turkeys that are frozen, wrapped in plastic, and then a surrounding mesh. Place these in a cooler and allow them to thaw for anywhere from 2-3 days based on the surrounding temperature. On Wednesday night you will want to clean your bird, dry it out, and allow it to marinade or brine overnight, placing it back within the fridge.
This is my preference due to ease of cooking and removing the thawing process. When purchasing fresh turkey, check with your supplier to see what bird options they have available. Depending on your budget and preference, I try to purchase a non-hormone filled, organic fresh turkey. They are supplied at Trader Joe’s and I rest easy knowing the bird hasn’t been filled with additives.
How big of a turkey do I buy?
It’s all based in simple math and how many leftovers you desire. (We typically use up our leftovers in turkey soups, stews, and bowls throughout the weekend. Basically, we love having leftovers and purchase a larger bird for this reason. I estimate 1/2 pound of cooked meat per person I’m serving. This means if there are four individuals at my table, I will purchase a turkey breast of around 4 pounds, assuming the weight of the bones is around 1.5-2 lbs. Remember how I said I like leftovers (we definitely purchase a bird far larger than this, but it gives you a general idea.)
How do I clean it?
Once your turkey is thawed, you will want to rinse it under cool water. Remove the giblets and gizzard. Complete by rinsing out the cavity and patting it dry. By cleaning the bird and patting it dry, your bird is ready for flavor, salt, and the necessary fat for roasting.
How do I flavor it?
Over the years, I’ve tried a variety of cooking and seasoning methods. If you look through Pinterest and seasonal cookbooks, you’ll notice a few cooking trends that have come up repeatedly throughout the past few years that we’ll address.
By soaking a bird overnight in a brine it will absorb delicious flavor and moisture, removing the need to baste the bird throughout the cooking process.
By using a flavor injector, you can add amazing marinades to the flavor of your bird. By injecting on multiple spots throughout the bird, it’s best to inject at least 8-12 oz of marinade for a 20 lb bird.
Ways to Cook Your Bird
Using a water bath, this technique oscillates water at a steady temperature and through osmosis, brings water up to the perfect temperature. (For turkey, 165 degrees F measured in the thigh.) To complete your bird, roast the turkey breast skin in the oven for a crispy texture, that perfectly pairs with a slice of turkey breast.
For roasting, you will want to fill the cavity of the bird with aromatics, lemons, and root vegetables underneath the roasting. For a crispy skin you will want to apply a compound butter both underneath and on top of the skin. (This year we’re using this recipe from Half Baked Harvest.) Your roasting time is dependent on the size of your bird. For sanitary means, it’s no longer recommended to fill your turkey with stuffing to be consumed. Use a bakers twine to bring together the cavity of the bird. (Generally it’s estimated to cook the turkey at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes per lb.)
A classic in the South, this method involves cooking your bird in a vat of oil. Done outside, this setup is a bit more involved and calls for some commitment. The oil should be 350 degrees F for turkeys that are 10-13 pounds, 325 degrees for 14 to 20-pound turkeys. Estimate 3 and a 1/2 minutes cooking time per tab. (We love using Creole Butter for marination the night prior to frying.) When removing your bird from the pot, let drain onto a paper towel lined platter. Allow your meat to rest for 20-30 minutes before carving.
Bringing an amazing flavor to a bird, smoking with wood chips is another classic way to cook your bird. Applewood is an amazing way to cook your bird. We love brining and smoking a bird for robust flavor with a smooth finish. Brine two nights ahead and then blot dry and allow the skin to dry out overnight. The ideal temperature for a smoked turkey is between 225-250 degrees F. Smoke for 30 minutes per pound or until the internal temperature reads 160 degrees F. Allow meat to rest for 30 minutes prior to carving.
Tell me, what are your favorite ways to cook turkey. Any questions you have for cooking on the big day?
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