Lots of us are trying to cook a great Thanksgiving dinner from home this year due to the current Covid situation. Zoom is how we are chatting with the grandparents and the turkey might be a tad smaller due to the lack of guests. However, it doesn't matter how many you are cooking for, you want to make sure that your turkey isn't still frozen in the middle when it's time to serve it.
Here are some tips I discovered while doing research for myself!
Figure on 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of turkey per person.
To buy the right size turkey for your party, simply tally up the turkey-eating guests. Add a few pounds on for bones and you've got your turkey weight. For example, 8 people will require a 12 to 14-pound turkey.
Cook the turkey on a rack of vegetables.
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 flavor to the gravy.
Brining keeps it moist.
Brining is an easy, sure-fire way to a moist and flavorful turkey. A typical brining solution contains water, salt, sugar and a variety of spices and aromatics. Just be sure to follow a trusted recipe so you get the right proportion of each.
Keep the stuffing on the side.
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.
To tie or not to tie.
To help ensure that poultry cooks evenly, many professional cooks like to truss their birds, which is just a fancy term for tying them up. While it's not a necessary step in cooking a terrific turkey, it can be fun to show off your culinary skills at home. Simply tuck the wings of the turkey under the body and tie the legs together with kitchen string to create a tight package.
Rub the turkey with butter or oil.
Before putting it in the oven, make sure the skin of the turkey is as dry as possible, and then rub it all over with butter or oil. For even moister meat, place pats of butter under the skin.
Skip the basting.
Basting means more oven door opening, resulting in temperature fluctuations that can dry out your bird. Instead, keep your turkey moist by brining it or by rubbing it all over with butter or oil.
Invest in a good meat thermometer.
Check for doneness by inserting an instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of the turkey around the thigh, avoiding the bone. At 165 degrees F, it's done. The turkey will continue to cook as it rests, so the temperature should rise another 10 degrees or so out of the oven.
Give it a rest.
To lock in juices, tent your turkey with foil and let it rest for at least 15 to 20 minutes before carving. Be sure you don't cover the turkey too tightly as you don't want the bird to steam under the foil.
Other things you can do are:
Got a big crowd? Roast two smaller turkeys(12 pounds or less) instead of one large one. Smaller turkeys fit better in the fridge and roasting pan, plus they cook more quickly and evenly. Plus, it lets you experiment with two different types of preparations.
Know your turkey terms:
Fresh: A turkey may be labeled “fresh” only if it has never been chilled below 26°F. (Turkey meat, according to the National Turkey Federation, doesn’t freeze at 32°F, but at a temperature closer to 26°F.)
Frozen: Turkeys chilled below 0°F must be labeled “frozen.” Or, if they’re sold already defrosted, you may see “previously frozen” on the label. Most turkey producers agree that freezing adversely affects the texture and taste of the meat.
Hard-chilled or not previously frozen: Turkeys that have been chilled below 26°F, but not below 0°F can’t be labeled fresh, but they don’t have to be labeled frozen either. If a turkey isn’t labeled as either fresh or frozen, it’s most likely in this category. This type of bird may also be identified as “hard-chilled” or “not previously frozen.”
Organic: The USDA’s National Organic Program requires that turkeys labeled as “organic” be certified by a USDA-accredited certifying agency. A certified organic turkey will have been raised on 100% organic feed, given access to the outdoors, and will never have received antibiotics. The use of hormones in the raising of all poultry is prohibited, certified organic or not.
Kosher: A kosher label may only be used on poultry that has been processed under rabbinical supervision. The turkeys are grain-fed with no antibiotics and are allowed to roam freely. In addition to being individually processed and inspected, kosher turkeys are soaked in a salt brine, which gives them their distinctive savory character (so don’t choose a kosher turkey if you’re planning to brine it yourself).
Self-basting: A self-basting turkey has been injected with or marinated in a solution of fat and broth or water, plus spices, flavor enhancers, and other “approved substances.”
Free-range: By USDA definition, “free-range” simply means that the birds have access to the outdoors. But what really affects the quality of the meat is how crowded the birds are, not whether they can go outdoors. Some of the best turkeys are therefore not technically free-range, simply because the uncaged birds don’t roam outdoors.
Premium brands: Premium-brand turkeys are an increasingly important market for holiday birds. Companies like Murray’s, Bell & Evans, Jaindl, Maple Lawn Farms, Koch’s, Willie Bird, Eberly’s, Empire Kosher, Diestel, and others sell turkeys based on their reputation. Most of these producers claim that the difference between their turkeys and others lies in the quality of the feed their birds get. Most often, there are no animal byproducts in the feed and usually no antibiotics. Most of these birds are raised without being caged. The lack of animal fat in their diet and the fact that the birds can move around freely mean that the turkeys grow more slowly than factory-raised birds, so the meat has a chance to develop a richer flavor and denser texture.
Natural: The term “natural” simply means “no artificial ingredient or color added, and minimally processed.” The term makes no reference to the way the turkey was raised.
Heritage breed: Over 99% of the turkeys sold in supermarkets are a single breed: the Broad-Breasted White. But some small farmers focus on raising other breeds that have otherwise been edged out of the market. Some of the more common heritage breeds include the Narragansett, the Bourbon Red, and the Jersey Buff. Heritage breed turkeys tend to have darker, more flavorful meat and less breast meat than supermarket turkeys, and are generally available directly from the farmer or through other local sources. For more information, see the Heritage Turkey Foundation.
Invest in a good pan. The best pan for cooking a turkey is a heavy-duty roasting pan with about 2-inch sides. High sides prevent the lower part of the bird from browning and can make basting difficult. Heavy-gauge metal helps keep the drippings from burning. Look for a stainless-steel finish on the pan’s interior: nonstick makes for easy cleanup, but the dark color does make drippings more prone to burn. See our top roasting pan picks for 2011.