Thanksgiving Turkey: My Favorite Recipe & Tips

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Turkey with Buckwheat Retro PrintI’ve eaten loads of turkey, and I’ve roasted plenty. As an avid cook, I’m always looking for ways to cook “smarter not harder” while also producing a great-tasting entree.

I’ve tried many recipes and followed many tips for roasting turkey. Years ago I simply buttered and salted the bird heavily before roasting. I’ve tried the bags, the stuffed bird, and basting and brining. I’ve settled on a brined bird, and my favorite recipe comes from Alton Brown (you can print his recipe here – I’ve been using it for years and it always results in a fantastically moist bird).

No matter how you roast the bird, though, there are some important tips to follow. I know that some of these go against what grandma told you, but there’s science behind cooking. So, trust me, these are quite important if you want a great-tasting, moist turkey before dark.

  • The safest “quick” way to thaw a turkey is in salted ice water. I use a 5-gallon bucket filled with half ice and half water and a full cup of salt (I prefer kosher salt). The salt steers bacteria away. The ice keeps the raw meat at a safe temperature. A 24-pound bird will thaw this way in about 16 hours, which means I can take advantage of last minute price drops.
  • Stuffing the bird breeds bacteria and slows the cooking process. The turkey needs that gap back there for proper circulation, so if you must stuff, introduce only half the amount so there’s plenty of breathing room.
  • Basting does nothing. I know, I know… people swear that basting helps brown the skin and adds flavor, but all it does is increase the cooking time. Every time you open the oven door you let precious heat escape.
  • Ignore that little pop-up timer. Millions of turkeys include this, and many say it’s the best way to tell if the turkey is done. But, get this… these generic timers that come with the bird pop at about 180 to 185 degrees. White turkey meat is actually done around 165 degrees. If you’ve ever wondered why your turkey comes out dry (no matter what you do), blame this commercial timer. Instead, use a probe thermometer (I prefer a digital one) and take the bird out when it hits 160 degrees. It will rise at least another five degrees during the resting stage.
  • Aluminum foil is your friends. If you want to seal in the juices, brown the skin at the beginning, not the end. Once the skin is browned nicely, use an aluminum foil tent to cover the top of the bird.
  • Grandma and Mom are right about “resting”. The resting stage of about 30 minutes allows the cooking process to complete and lets the juices settle nicely. Carve the turkey too early, and all the moisture will escape quickly.

As for the size of the bird, I always buy what will fit comfortably in my brining bucket, which usually lingers around 24 pounds. I’ve learned that there’s no extra work in roasting a larger bird, only additional roasting time. Plus, I like to make soup and stew from the carcass – the bigger the better.

Have some tips to share? Chime in below.


Last updated: Nov 17, 2012
Filed under: Retro Food and Recipes Tagged with: holidays, recipes, Thanksgiving