November 03, 2010

Tips, Tidbits & Tricks: The Turkey, pt. I

Unless you are a vegetarian, vegan, or don’t like turkey (like my mother), the centerpiece of any Thanksgiving feast is the bird. Which can be tricky. White meat cooks faster than dark meat, the skin doesn’t always crisp, you forget to remove the giblets. And on and on and on.

There is a LOT of advice out there on the best ways to handle a turkey. So much so that the first year I roasted one I made a chart of which source recommended which temp, cooking time, to baste or not, to brine or not. I finally ended up with a complicated combination of techniques and methods and I cannot possibly remember what I did. Helpful.

But what I can do is round up and condense all there is to know about turkey and give it to you on a silver platter. [Pun intended.]

Choosing a turkey

Factors to consider:

  • How many people are you feeding?
  • Do more prefer dark or white meat?
  • Do you want leftovers?
  • Would you prefer a ham?

If you answered “yes” to the last question then you are pretty much just wasting your time reading this.

- A good rule of thumb is one pound of turkey per person, which allows for Thanksgiving deliciousness, leftovers, and the stuff you don’t eat (giblets, bones, etc.).

- If most people at your table prefer white meat over dark, a great choice is to buy one or two turkey breasts rather than a whole bird.

- Many small farms are now raising heritage breeds of turkeys that are more flavorful and juicy than supermarket birds. Check out or search for farms in your area that offer these breeds. You might have to order early though, so you better get on it.

- Pop-up timers and other gadgets are a waste of money. If they pop up at all, you can be sure that you have already overcooked your turkey and your Thanksgiving is ruined. Just kidding. But you will have dry turkey.

I have my turkey. How do I store and thaw it?

Fresh turkey: store at around 40 degrees F. No need to defrost since it is not frozen.

Frozen turkey: store at 0 degrees F or below (aka keep that turkey frozen). Thaw in the refrigerator. Allow 24 hours per 4-5 lbs. to thaw, meaning it is going to take a whole lot longer to thaw than you think. You need days.

Whew…that’s a lot of turkey! Tomorrow we’ll look at brining, seasoning, cutting, and more. In the meantime, here's a map of Turkey for you to be looking over.