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Turkey, dressing, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, jellied salad and, last but not least, pumpkin pie with whipping cream? For some reason, we also always have Brussels sprouts with cheese sauce. That is Thanksgiving dinner in our house.
I cannot even count how many turkeys we have cooked over the years and even though the number is in the high double digits, I never can conceive why each and every time I cook a turkey I worry about cooking time, stuffing and gravy. It’s like you forget the most basic rules of the perfect stuffed turkey dinner from year to year.
I found these turkey cooking tips on 4 different sites and combined them together; everyone seems to have a different idea on how to cook a turkey!
First, pick your perfect bird – there are lots of choices out there. If you prefer a traditional fresh or frozen bird, pick the healthiest-looking one in the weight range you need. And, remember, fresh may not necessarily be better than frozen; frozen turkeys are snap-frozen just after butchering. Figure on 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of turkey per person and add a few pounds for bones.
Pre-salting is the key to a juicy bird. Remove the giblets from the turkey and refrigerate them for later use. Pat the turkey dry using paper towels. Sprinkle two tablespoons of kosher salt and one teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper liberally all over the turkey, spreading a little in the cavity and being sure to season the back, the breasts, and the meaty thighs. If you've never pre-salted before, this may look like too much salt, but it's not. As the turkey sits in the refrigerator, the salt will gently permeate the meat, improving the water holding ability of the muscle cells so that, when cooked, the meat stays juicy yet does not become overly salty. Arrange the turkey on a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet, and refrigerate uncovered (this dries the skin, which helps it turn crisp during roasting) for one to two days.
Create a natural roasting rack for your turkey by layering carrots, onions and celery on the bottom of the roasting pan. Lifting the turkey off the base of the pan helps to increase hot air circulation around the whole bird so that it will get crispy all over. And the vegetables add great flavour to the gravy.
Chances are, the Thanksgivings of your childhood featured a stuffing cooked right in the cavity of the turkey. Go ahead and use your family recipe, but we suggest you cook the stuffing in a separate pan. Cooking the stuffing in the turkey can provide fertile ground for the growth of harmful bacteria. In addition, a stuffed turkey will take longer to cook, which could result in drier white meat. Instead, loosely fill the turkey with aromatics such as onions and herbs, and cook the stuffing separately.
Remove the turkey from the refrigerator about two hours before roasting to take the chill off; this also helps it cook more evenly. Before putting it in the oven, make sure the skin of the turkey is as dry as possible, then rub it all over with butter or oil. For even moister meat, place pats of butter under the skin. Heat the oven to 450°F. Tuck the wings behind the neck, and tie the tips of the drumsticks together with kitchen string. Arrange the turkey breast-side up on a rack in a sturdy roasting pan. Slide the turkey into the oven, immediately lowering the heat to 350°F. The first hint that the turkey is ready will be the tantalizing aroma that fills the kitchen; you can count on its cooking for about 13 minutes per pound. To be sure, pierce the meaty part of a thigh with a sharp knife, and check that the juices run mostly clear with only a trace of pink—don't wait for them to become completely clear, a sign that the turkey is overdone. To double check, insert an instant-read thermometer into the thigh, careful not to hit bone; it should read 170 degrees.
When the turkey is done, grab both sides of the roasting rack with oven mitts to lift and tilt the turkey, and let the juices pour from the cavity into the pan. Set the turkey aside, tenting it very loosely with foil, to rest for at least 30 minutes while you make your gravy and put the finishing touches on all your side dishes. It is at this point in my house when I find my children hovering around the turkey looking for a nibble of crispy skin; can you blame them!?
However you cook your turkey, you know it is going to be absolutely perfectly wonderful.
Have a safe and