Well it is the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and I want to give my annual quick tips. Thanksgiving can be a stressful time for any cook. Accepting or asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It can the one thing that keeps you sane during this sometimes stressful holiday. Below I have listed a few tips and shortcuts that can help ease your stress and make your thanksgiving a tad bit more joyous. There are plenty of tips from what turkey to choose all the way to how to cook a frozen turkey. Its all in there.
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.
Check your local supermarket and sign up for a rewards card. They always offer a bird for less than $0.75 a pound. I paid $0.39 a pound at food lion. This can sometimes mean that you can get a 10 lb bird for less than a 4 lb turkey breast. Thanksgiving leftovers are awesome so this might be something to think about.
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.
Thaw the Bird
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.
If you are reading this on the Wednesday before or even on Thanksgiving, I have a solution for you.
How to Cook a Frozen Turkey
You can easily cook your turkey from frozen. The step by step instructions are here. This is a super easy method and the bird comes out great. You can’t infuse it with crazy flavors, but if you like roasted turkey this is the way to go.
How to Cook a Frozen Turkey
Brine the Turkey
If you do have time, you might want to think about brining your 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. If you find yourself with a frozen bird. Add it to a brine and thaw it in the fridge to do double duty and increase the speed of thaw.
Double Check the Temperature
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 with a meat thermometer. They are available at almost all supermarkets. If it is under 160, cook for another 10 minutes and check again. Repeat until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.
Don’t use the pop-up thermometer.
Pop-up thermometers 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.
Stuffing is for the birds, maybe not
I don’t recommend that you 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…
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.
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.
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. For the long cooks this can get a little dicey. Make sure to have a backup cook on hand if you use this ratio.
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, even on Thanksgiving.
Other Options for Cooking
How to Smoke a Turkey
How to Fry a Turkey
How to cook a Frozen Turkey
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