Thoughts on Cooking Turkey

Craig McCord

Craig McCord › Craig possesses 23 guitars and cannot play any of them. He likes fresh grilled sardines with a ...

turkey-before
 

Cooking turkey sounds easy, but a lot of factors come into play to make it, shall we say, challenging.

I am not a chef.

I am not an expert at cooking turkey.

I do, however, have some practical experience that may be valuable as we enter this turkey cooking season.

So here goes.

Buy a quality bird

First, one cannot cook a tasty bird without starting with a tasty bird. Buy the best turkey you can afford. We like heritage breed turkeys.

Seek out a local producer. He or she knows their birds well and may have some tips on how to cook their particular breed. It’s worth the search.

Brining

If you have purchased a quality bird from a reputable farmer, chances are you do not need to brine. Now I have really stepped in because the great debate about turkeys is to brine or not to brine. There are claims and counterclaims on both sides of this argument.

You will do what you think is best, but at our house we do not brine.

A couple of days ahead of cooking, we salt the bird, cover it with a tea towel, and refrigerate. I’ve seen this called dry brining. The reason it works is because salt draws moisture out and flavors the bird. The flavor and seasoning is then drawn back into the meat.

Bring your turkey to room temp

Another thing that is sometimes overlooked is bringing the turkey to room temperature before cooking. I have been guilty of this in years past.

Put this on your Thanksgiving morning to do list: remove the turkey from the refrigerator at least two hours before roasting. A cold bird into a hot oven will guarantee uneven cooking. As an added bonus a room temperature bird will also cook faster.

One cannot cook a tasty bird without starting with a tasty bird.

Prepping the bird

This is the easy part. I rub unsalted butter all over the bird–salt and plenty of fresh cracked pepper. For the past couple of years I have been introducing another lipid by placing a layer of bacon on the breast section to keep things moist and to add flavor. This really works and what’s better than bacon?

You want your oven’s heat to be able to go all the way around the bird to ensure even cooking. So, elevate the bird on a wire rack or on a bed of aromatic vegetables–onions, celery, and carrots work well for this step. The reason for this is that you don’t want Mr. Turkey sitting in his own juices, because your turkey’s bottom will do more braising than roasting. Raise the bird!

Into the oven

I have found that starting the turkey in an oven at a fairly high temperature, say 400°- 450°F for the first twenty or thirty minutes and then lowering the heat to around 350°F for the remainder of the cook time is a good way to ease the turkey into its cooking time.

Cooking times are determined by lots of things–bird weight, stuffing or not, your oven’s idiosyncrasies, and the altitude at which you are cooking. So I could copy and paste a chart here, but I won’t because your particular cooking situation is unique. You know your oven way better than I do.

Most of us like to baste our turkey. We do at our house. Good tip from thekitchn.com: when it’s time to baste, remove the meat from the oven and shut the door. It’s important to to retain your oven’s heat.

Let it rest

Most of us can tell by looking when our turkeys are done. If you want to double check for doneness insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of a thigh. You’re looking for 170°F.

When you’ve determined your turkey is done, tent it with foil and let it rest for at least thirty minutes. This allows the meat juices to be re-absorbed by the bird. It is almost impossible to produce a moist turkey without letting it rest. This is important.

Have a happy turkey day

Being a self confessed non-expert, these are some thoughts, tips and observations that I hope help you prepare a turkey that you and your family will enjoy.

Give us your best tip on preparing a turkey.

Photo credit: Craig McCord