The bird is the most important centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal, and cooking a turkey to moist perfection can be stress-free with proper planning and a few easy tricks.
Step One: Buy the bird. Make sure that the turkey you choose (a.) fits in the oven; and (b.) is the appropriate size for your group. For novice cooks, visit butterball.com and fiddle with their myriad of calculators and estimators. It is very helpful.
Step Two: Thaw the bird. This frozen brick of fowl is going to need a while to thaw in the fridge. Put your bird in the refrigerator on Sunday so that it is ready to go on Thursday. Never try to thaw your bird on the counter. This can invite some unwanted pathogens into your Thanksgiving meal that could mean spending Black Friday in the hospital…not good.
Step Three: Pour on the flavor. Make a compound butter of rosemary and shallots that will be used as the “slather” (this is a southern term for the stuff that you baste the bird with). Combine one stick of room temperature salted butter and one stick of room temperature unsalted butter in a bowl. Add finely chopped fresh rosemary (about 4 tablespoons) and one finely chopped large shallot. Thoroughly mix the herbs into the softened butter. Place the compound butter in a covered dish and stash in the fridge until Thursday morning.
Step Four: Prep the bird. On the big day, take the bird out of the refrigerator, remove the plastic covering, the giblet pack and give the bird a good rinsing, inside and out. Pat the outside of the bird with a paper towel to dry. Thoroughly salt and pepper the cavity of the bird. (both ends). Cut an apple, a medium onion, and a lemon into quarters. Place the fruit and onions inside the large cavity of the bird. This makes the breast meat fragrant and keeps it moist. The legs can be trussed with some clean butcher’s twine to keep these items inside the cavity,.
Step Five: Slather the bird. Take the compound butter out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature (about an hour ahead of time). Gently loosen the outer skin from the flesh of the breast with your fingers. Be delicate, the skin should stay intact so it can do its job of holding the compound butter and herbs against the flesh of the meat. Once the skin is loosened, pack the compound butter under the skin to the degree that you can easily reach. Smooth any left-over compound butter on the outside of the bird.
Step Six: Roast that bad boy (if it’s a tom turkey). Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Set the oven rack to the lowest position. Place the turkey on a bed of sliced onions and carrots in a 13 x 9 pan. Roast the bird at 325 degrees until it reaches an internal temperature of 185 degrees. Roasting time varies on the weight of the bird. (Check butterball.com or the turkey packaging for cooking time charts) If you want a golden, perfect bird, fat needs to come in contact with the skin during the roasting process. Every 30 – 45 minutes, baste the bird with the juices that collect in the bottom of the pan, paying particular attention to the areas that haven’t browned yet. If the top starts to brown too quickly, place a small tent of foil over the area to prevent further browning.
Step Seven: Cook thoroughly. Invest in a meat thermometer and roast the turkey until the internal temperature is 185 degrees in the thickest part of the thigh. This is the temperature target for an unstuffed bird. The fruit and onions do not count as “stuffing”.
Step Eight: Rest makes best. Let the turkey rest for at least 20 minutes before carving. The juices in the bird redistribute and stay in the meat, instead of running all over the carving board. Carve and enjoy.
If you get stuck, send your Thanksgiving meal questions to Connie Hanner. Email email@example.com and put “Thanksgiving Examiner” in the subject line.
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