Following these ten steps, you can avoid serving a dry, tough turkey and guarantee that your family and guests will be happy they decided to have Thanksgiving at your house. Of course, if you want to avoid having them next year, follow none of these steps and they will be sure to avoid your turkey like the plague.
Cooking a delicious Thanksgiving turkey: Step 1: Pick the right turkey
The first step to cooking a delicious Thanksgiving turkey is picking the right turkey. If you are a hardcore turkey fan, you may want to go with a fresh turkey. If this is the case, be sure that you are getting it from a trustworthy source. Furthermore, buy it just a day or two ahead of time and store it in your refrigerator. Do not freeze it if you want to keep that fresh meat taste. If you decide to go with a frozen turkey, look for dings, scratches and cuts in the turkey’s packaging. People in grocery stores handle turkeys like bowling bowls around Thanksgiving. You do not want the turkey that has been exposed to the air because of someone’s negligence. Rule of thumb for turkey size is roughly 1.5 pounds per meat-eating guest.
Cooking a delicious Thanksgiving turkey: Step 2: Brine
The next step, and arguably one of the most important, to cooking a delicious Thanksgiving turkey is to brine the turkey. The first thing you will need is a large container that can hold your turkey and enough water to submerse it. Then, you want to dissolve 1 cup of kosher salt and ½ cup of brown sugar per gallon of water you will need to get your turkey completely covered. Once the seasoning is dissolved, you want to add plenty of ice (this is very important). Then, clean your turkey (removing innards) and submerse it in the iced water. You want to do this for 8-24 hours before roasting. (You can place several other ingredients in brine. Salt and brown sugar are the most important. If you want to get creative, there are many poultry brine recipes available online.)
Cooking a delicious Thanksgiving turkey: Step 3: Remove the turkey from the brine
Once your turkey is ready to be removed from the brine, remove it and put it in the sink (discard the brine). Rinse the turkey with cold water, inside and out. Lastly, place your turkey in your roasting pan and pat it dry with paper towels.
Cooking a delicious Thanksgiving turkey: Step 4: Choose the right cooking temperature
When roasting poultry, 325 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. Any higher and you risk drying out your turkey. With that being said, if you are in a time crunch, the temperature can be turned up a bit. The brine will keep your turkey more moist than it would have been. Preheat the oven to your chosen temperature before placing the turkey in the oven.
Cooking a delicious Thanksgiving turkey: Step 5: Seasoning
Common seasonings for Thanksgiving are rosemary, thyme, onion salt and sage. A great way to use sage is to tuck it under the skin of the bird before roasting. Rosemary is typically sprinkled on the skin, as is onion salt. All of these seasonings will incorporate into your drippings and be either inserted or basted onto the bird during the cooking process. Be careful not to add too much onion salt, if any, because your brine left your turkey nicely seasoned.
Cooking a delicious Thanksgiving turkey: Step 6: Cooking
Before placing your turkey in the oven, you can add oil or butter to the skin to help seal in moisture and brown the skin. Another way to seal in moisture is to cover the breasts in cheesecloth. Some chefs suggest cooking the turkey upside down until the last hour before turning it over and allowing the skin on top to brown. While this does seal in moisture in the driest part of the turkey, it may not be necessary with the other steps we have already taken. Furthermore, turning a heavy, hot turkey in a hot pan full of hot juices can be difficult. If you want to keep it simple, just put your turkey, in its roasting pan, into the oven.
Cooking a delicious Thanksgiving turkey: Step 7: Basting/ Injecting
Overdoing the basting is a bad idea. To baste, you have to open the oven door, which instigates heat loss in the oven. The best idea, if you are going to baste, is to wait until the last hour of cooking and baste roughly three times, evenly spaced. This is to keep your skin tasty, but crisp. If you want to make your Thanksgiving turkey even moister, use an injector. Follow the instructions on your injector and you will find that you are taking the seasoning that is typically on the outside of your bird and infusing it with the meat inside.
Cooking a delicious Thanksgiving turkey: Step 8: Determining when your turkey is done
For stuffed turkey, the estimated cook time at 325 is roughly 16 minutes per pound (It is advisable to cook your stuffing separately for food safety reasons.). An unstuffed turkey is roughly 15 minutes per pound. Use a cooking thermometer and check the temperature deep in the thigh. It should be at least 180 degrees Fahrenheit. If you stuffed your turkey, be sure that your stuffing is at least 165 degree Fahrenheit.
Cooking a delicious Thanksgiving turkey: Step 9: Removing your turkey from the oven
Carefully remove your turkey from the oven after you have ensured that it is fully cooked. Next, move your turkey to a platter where it can sit. Use the drippings from the roasting pan to make delicious gravy. You can use the gizzards for this purpose as well. However, it is not necessary. If you have cats, they love some cooked gizzards. Let your turkey sit for close to 20 minutes before you start carving.
Cooking a delicious Thanksgiving turkey: Step 10: Carving
Some people think of carving a Thanksgiving turkey as a monumental task. It is not. You will need a sharp carving knife and a strong carving fork. Start with the legs. Pull the legs away from the bird and cut through the joints holding the thighs. They should come away easily. Then, slice off sections of the breast, parallel to the bone and continue until you reach the bone. Repeat this on both sides. Lastly remove the wings the same way you remove the legs.
After all this work, serve your carved turkey on a nice platter, sit and enjoy. The leftovers of this turkey will be just as delicious as the original. You will have great sandwiches for days.