Talking turkey: Pro tips for cooking the perfect Thanksgiving bird
You’ve invested in the biggest bird you can find for your crew on Thanksgiving Day. But those visions of Thanksgiving Past are still dancing in your head, aren’t they? You remember: the polite silence that took over the crew last year upon discovering the dark meat was decidedly pink, and the white meat dry.
So, how to prevent the same issue? Whether you buy one of their birds or not, the folks at Butterball seem to speak only one language: They talk turkey.
Visit butterball.com for information on everything from how long to thaw your frozen bird, to how large a turkey you’ll need for a group of a dozen.
And, of course, the site offers tips on how long to cook the mighty bird.
If you’re lucky enough to have the luxury of time, and a good-sized smoker, a smoked turkey is always popular, the pros say. But marinating the bird—or brining it—is a great way to ensure you won’t end up with a lot of dried out leftovers.
“Brining works great,” says chef Howie Velie, associate dean at the Culinary Institute of America. “The bird picks up moisture.”
To the naysayers who say it’s too much trouble to brine, Velie notes this: “I’ve cooked thousands of birds, both brined and not. Brining is better.”
Another sure-fire way to ensure your bird is perfectly cooked is to deconstruct it before cooking, he says.
It might take a bit of extra effort, but the fact is that the dark meat will take a bit longer to cook that the breast, the chef notes. In other words, getting that thigh meat to 180 degrees might mean that the breast, which should only reach around 165 to 170 degrees, is a bit overcooked.
The best way to ensure your meat is cooked through? Forget jiggling a leg, or even using the sniff test. A great meat thermometer is essential, the pros say (we like this remote digital model from Bed Bath & Beyond).
A few other tips from the Culinary Institute and Butterball:
- Keep food safety in mind. Keep a container of bleach water (one quart water and one capful of bleach) nearby when handling the bird. Don’t forget to wipe down surfaces, and well as faucets, handles and anything you might touch while dealing with the bird.
- Rest the bird for about 30 minutes before carving to lock in juices.
- Brining the bird: The easiest method is to submerge the bird in salt-water bath (28 cups of water and a cup and half of salt) the day before (and keep it refrigerated). If you’re a Martha Stewart fan, you might consider adding a few bay leaves, peppercorns, coriander seeds, garlic and a bit of dry white wine. The biggest trick? Finding a container big enough for Mr. Turkey. A large oven-roasting bag may save the day.
These two products are guaranteed to help the stressed-out chef on the big day:
- A true chef shuns any thought of a disposable pan, and this sturdy number will cook your bird evenly, and will hold up for many years. All-Clad Stainless Steel Everyday Roaster with Roasting Rack, $159.99, macys.com.
- Invest in a decent thermometer, and you’ll ensure the bird is cooked through. OXO Digital Instant Read Thermometer, $19.95, crateandbarrel.com.