It’s the centerpiece of many festive meals. A golden brown, roasted turkey evokes feelings of autumn warmth and is one of the most recognizable symbols of the season. When properly cooked, it is a truly beautiful thing, and the ceremonial carving of the bird is one of the most anticipated moments at any family Thanksgiving.
However, when cooked improperly, the results can be catastrophic, and while turkey is not necessarily difficult to cook, there are a few pitfalls that many novice cooks run into when preparing a turkey.
“Make sure you give yourself enough time. Plan your meal,” said Erich Ogle, director of the MUW Culinary Arts Institute.
Ogle also emphasized that the turkey should only be cooked once it is thawed all the way through, a process that usually takes a few days.
He also advised against stuffing the turkey, since by the time the center of the stuffing reaches 165 degrees, the safe temperature for poultry, the turkey itself will be overcooked. Instead, he recommends cooking the stuffing separately in a baking pan.
For a tastier turkey, Ogle suggests cooking the turkey upside down for the first hour it’s in the oven. This will help ensure that the denser dark meat is cooked through, while preventing the quicker-cooking breasts from drying out.
“Use an appropriate rack and roasting pan,” said Ogle, offering more advice. “Place the turkey in mirepoix (2 parts chopped onion to one part each chopped carrot and chopped celery), and baste every 20 minutes.”
Ogle also suggested placing flavorings in the cavity of the bird. These can include herbs like parsley, rosemary and thyme, garlic, and citrus fruits, such as lemons.
To ensure that the turkey is done, Ogle suggests taking readings with a meat thermometer in the breast and thigh. Both should read 165 degrees. The thermometer should be stuck deeply into the meat, but should not touch bone. A 10-to-18 pound turkey should take about three hours to cook, according to Allrecipies.com.
Once the turkey is taken out of the oven, care should still be taken.
“Let [the] bird rest after it comes out of the oven,” said Ogle. “Gently cover [it] with foil, and let it sit for about 10 to 15 minutes, so the bird will gently cool down, and you end up with a much moister bird.”
Some additional steps can be taken, but aren’t completely necessary. Brining, for instance involves soaking the turkey in a very salty marinade. According to Finecooking.com, this soak should last 12 to 24 hours.
“I have brined,” Ogle said. “I don’t necessarily think it’s 100-percent necessary, but it does help with keeping the bird juicy.”
Barding the turkey, or covering its surface with fatback or bacon, is another trick for a juicier bird. The extra layer of fat helps keep the bird moist as it cooks.
By taking care and following these relatively simple guidelines, even a novice home cook should be able to prepare a memorable Thanksgiving turkey.