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Turkey 101: Tips For Making The Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey

Nov 18, 2014 06:02PM ● Published by Stefanie Montalto

Thanksgiving is just a week away—time to gather family, give thanks for all that we have, and of course, eat turkey! So, what does it take to present that perfect bird? Just follow our tips to cook and serve your best turkey yet (even if it’s your first!) and look like a pro on the big day!

What kind of turkey should you choose? And how much should it weigh? Fresh versus frozen birds are not very different. Those rock-solid birds are generally snap-frozen just after butchering, making them about as fresh as the unfrozen version. If you prefer an organic bird, you’ll probably be purchasing your turkey from a natural foods store or from a local producer. Be aware that in either case, you may have to order your turkey in advance. That means you’ll want to do that now, like right now! Then come back and finish reading our tips! To select the perfect-sized bird to feed your family and guests, plan on 1 to 1½ pounds of turkey per person, or more if you want lots of leftovers or you plan to send some home with your guests.

Brine or inject your turkey to enhance the flavor. Brining requires advance planning—up to 24 hours depending on the size of your bird. It will hydrate and uniformly season the meat, helping to prevent the turkey from drying out too much during roasting. It generally uses a solution of salt, water, sugar, and spices/aromatics. Find a tried-and-true recipe (read reviews) for a brine on cooking sites you’ve used and trust, or that are recommended by the store where you got your bird or by the producer. Injecting requires less preparation, as it can be done immediately before cooking. Injection solutions, delivered by a handy tool often referred to as a marinade injector, usually contain broth with melted butter or olive oil combined with wine, bourbon, maple syrup, or other ingredients and injected into the deepest parts of the meat. You’ll find a variety of intriguing recipes, so once again, check reviews and the producer’s or store’s recommendations, and consider the ingredients you like best.

Don’t stuff your bird! By baking the stuffing separately, you’ll reduce the cooking time of the turkey and help keep the meat moist. More importantly, doing so eliminates the breeding ground for bacteria that dark, moist stuffing inside the bird provides. Instead of stuffing inside the cavity, place halved onions, lemons, garlic, rosemary, or other aromatics to enhance flavor. Check your favorite cooking gurus’ websites for tasty tips.

Tie up your turkey—it helps the bird cook more evenly. But before you do, be sure to go on a mining expedition inside the cavity to remove the giblets and other parts hidden away in there. You can reserve them for gravy or stuffing if you’re using a recipe that calls for them. Rinse the bird inside and out. Use kitchen string to tie the legs together, and tightly tuck the wings of the bird under its body. Preheat the oven according to the directions on the turkey’s packaging. Pat the turkey dry before placing it in the oven, and rub it with butter, oil, or a combination (light olive oil and softened butter are nice) to keep it moist and eliminate the need for constant basting. You can also put small pats of butter under the skin for increased moistness; lightly salt the skin if you like. Then roast the bird on a rack made of veggies. Carrots, onions, and celery will create a perfect roasting rack for your turkey. They’ll also contribute flavors and moistness, and form the basis for a flavorful gravy. Cook your turkey until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 165 degrees Fahrenheit, then remove the bird from the oven and let it rest under a foil tent for at least 20 minutes. The temperature should rise another 10 degrees while it rests before carving.

Do you have a turkey recipe to share with us? Post it below in the comments!

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