Well it is the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and I wanted to give a few pointers.  Let me know if there is anything that I have left out.

Choose your turkey wisely…

  • Choose a turkey based on the number of guests.  Average is about 1lb per person.  Sounds like a lot, but remember a turkey contains bones and fat.  It will roughly give you about 6-8oz serving per person.  When the number of guests reaches over 12, I would rather cook two smaller birds than a giant 20lb bird.  The smaller birds cook quicker, more evenly and some would say (AKA me) taste better.
  • Make sure your bird will fit into your oven and/or roasting pan.  Sometimes large birds look good in the store, but when you get home it won’t fit into the fridge, oven and/or roasting pan.  Go to the store with a plan.
  • Allow the turkey to thaw for 3-4 hours per pound.  So if you have a 16lb turkey give yourself about 48 – 64 hours to let it thaw.  That means that it should be in the fridge as you read this.
  • Use a probe thermometer.  Sounds fancy but it takes the guess work out of cooking.  Want to know how people get perfectly juicy birds, it is based on temperature not time.  Place the probe into the breast meat, making sure not to touch the bone.  Cook until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.  Remove the bird from the oven, tent in aluminum foil and let rest for 20-30 minutes.
  • If you do not have a probe thermometer, cook the bird for 14 minutes a pound and then check the temperature in the breast.  If it is under 160, cook for another 10 minutes and check again.  Repeat until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.
  • Don’t use the pop-up thermometer.  They are set to spring at 175 degrees.  At that temperature the breast is already too dry.  Plus remember that once it pops you need to let the bird rest.  Yep, that turkey is gonna be 180+ degrees by the time it is served.  Definitely not good.
  • The approximate time till eating is roughly 19 minutes a pound.  Includes resting time.
  • Don’t stuff the bird with stuffing.  The internal temperature of the bird will not reach a temperature that is hot enough to kill the bacteria that will be absorbed by the stuffing.  The only cure for this is to make the stuffing separately (AKA dressing).  If you wish, you can cook the bird and the stuffing separately and then assemble them together before serving.  That way you get the nice Norman Rockwell presentation.

Keys for seasoning a turkey…

  • Brine the Turkey.  Even though thanksgiving is only two days away you have plenty of time to brine the bird.  Check out my post on how to brine a turkey for instructions.
  • Rub a mixture of olive oil and herbs under the skin and over it.  You have to season the bird under the skin for the best results.  See the herb paste that I made for my boneless turkey breast.
  • Using an injector you can pierce the outer layer and season the turkey from within.  Coolness factor – by using a herb oil you can add ribbons of green throughout the turkey.  This makes for an eye catching bird when you carve it.
  • Layer on the pork.  Adding a bacon layer over the breast allows for added flavor and further prevents the breast from drying out.
  • Stuff the inside with aromatics.  Halve an onion, some lemons and fresh herbs.  Unlike stuffing these won’t be eaten and will add a tremendous amount of flavor to the finished bird.

Cooking the Turkey…

  • Place the seasoned turkey breast side up on a rack in a roasting pan.  If you don’t have a rack, make one out of carrots and celery.  Make sure the turkey is not sitting on the bottom of the pan.  Add a 1/2 cup of water or your favorite white wine to the bottom of the pan.
  • Start the turkey in a preheated 325 degree oven.  Cook until the internal temperature is about 140-145 degrees.
  • Turn the oven up to 400 degrees and continue cooking until the internal temperature of the breast is 160 degrees.
  • Take the turkey out of the oven and wrap in foil.  Let sit for 20-30 minutes.  During this time the turkey will continue to cook and bring the temperature of the breast to 165 degrees.

Gravy tips…

  • Use the giblets.  They package them with the turkeys for a reason.  While you are cooking the turkey, simmer the giblets.  Place them in a pot and cover them with chicken stock.  Add an onion, a couple stalks of celery and a couple carrots.  Season with a little salt, pepper, 1 tsp sage, 1/2 tsp thyme, and a bay leaf.  Simmer for 2-3 hours.  Strain out the solids and you have a perfect stock for making gravy.
  • Make a roux.  Basically the start of gravy is to make a roux.  Take 2 tbs butter and 2 tbs flour.  Add them to a sauce pan and stir until brown in color.  This will take the flour taste out of the flour and give you a rich nutty flavor as the base of your gravy.  The key to a roux gravy is to use 2 tbs fat (butter) with 2 tbs flour along with 1 cup of stock.
  • You can use a slurry of water or chicken stock, and flour to thicken your gravy, but make sure to simmer it for at least 30 minutes to get rid of the raw flour taste.  The slurry is a 1 to 1 mixture.  1 part liquid, 1 part flour.
  • Don’t for get to add a splash of that starchy potato water.
  • Deglaze the roasting pan with 1/4 cup of your favorite wine.  Reduce and use that along with the giblet stock to make an amazing gravy.
  • After adding your roux, giblet stock, roasting pan drippings and a dash of starchy potato water, make sure to simmer for at least 15 minutes to allow the gravy to thicken.

Enjoy yourself…

  • Cooking is fun, don’t let a turkey stress you out.
  • The turkey and the gravy can use a bit of wine, so can you.  When I cook it is a 3-1 ratio.  Three glasses for me and one for cooking.
  • A meat thermometer is the only way to cook a turkey.  No checking charts or guessing based on a pop-up thermometer.
  • Make as many of the sides and desserts the day before.  If you don’t have too much to do, you can relax with your guests and have a good time watching the Lions lose once again.
  • If you have any questions click the Ask Rex link in the top menu.  I will be available all week.

Other Options for Cooking

How to Smoke a Turkey

How to Fry a Turkey

Rex is an avid griller, barbecuer and bacon enthusiast. He is the Pitmaster for the Rex BBQ competition team. Rex was also featured on the TV show American Grilled. If you have any questions or wish to have Rex decode your favorite dish, click on the ASK REX link in the menu above.

2 Comments

  1. I ended up using chicken stock for my gravy 🙁 I had planned to use the drippings and wine from under my bird but apparently I didn't provide enough spacers between the ceramic plate setter and my stoneware, so it burned near the end. Lesson learned.

  2. Remarkable things here. I am very happy to see your post. Thanks a lot and I am taking a look ahead to contact you. Will you please drop me a e-mail?

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