My Top Ten Turkey Tips

So, I know I said that I’ll about the side dishes when it comes to Thanksgiving, but when it comes down to it, you really can’t have Thanksgiving without the turkey!  Unless, of course, you are a vegetarian, or just don’t like turkey, but I digress…

You will find a ton of recipes out there for different kinds of turkey, and I’m sure that they will produce fantastic results.  I’m not going to give you a “recipe,” per se, but some general ideas that you can apply to any turkey recipe out there. 

So, without further ado, here are my top 10 tips for the perfect Thanksgiving turkey!

Ten Tips

1. Equalize it: Take your turkey out of the fridge 1-2 hours before you are ready to cook it.  By bringing the turkey to room temperature, you ensure that it will cook evenly throughout.  If it is too cold, the outside will be perfectly done, while the inside (closest to the bone) will still be pink and under cooked.

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2. Dry it: I always rinse off my chicken or turkey when I cook a whole bird.  Afterwards, it is essential to  pat it very dry with paper towels.  This will ensure that your skin can get crispy and golden.

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3. Stuff it: I’m not going to tell you not to stuff your bird with actual stuffing.  My mom stuffed the turkey with stuffing every year, and none of us ever came down with food poisoning.  However, the food safety police would like to differ.  The problem is, the stuffing may not come up to a safe temperature by the time the turkey is done, and therefore could still be a source for food borne illness.  So, if that kind of thing makes you nervous, don’t stuff your bird with something you will eat.  But DO stuff your bird with something that smells good.  I always use celery, onions and garlic.  Just chop them up and stuff them in the cavity.  Other great options are fresh herbs, lemons, or apples.   

4. Truss it: Use kitchen twine to truss your turkey (basically, to tie it together in a nice little package).  By trussing your bird, you will ensure that it cooks evenly, and stays together.  There are many ways to truss a turkey, but this Alton Brown video  gives a great tutorial.  If you’ve never done it before, it can be a little tricky, but you should get the hang of it quickly. 

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5. Prep it: Rub your turkey down with salt, pepper and something with fat.  Most of the time I use olive oil for the outside, but my mom always covered the outside with mayonnaise.  Yeah, sounds strange, but it always produced great results.  Butter (or even an herb butter) would also be great.  This will flavor the skin, and help it get nice and crispy. And pour  some liquid in the bottom of the pan.  I use turkey broth, which you can usually find this time of year in most grocery stores, or white wine.  Or sometimes both.  This introduces some moisture to the oven and helps to keep the turkey juicy.  It also give a nice start to the gravy you make later on with the pan drippings.  

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6. Skip it!  Skip the pop up timer that comes in the turkey. Just pull that thing right out.  Always use a meat thermometer to test for doneness. 

7. Roast it: The general rule for turkeys (and chickens) is to roast them at 325 degrees for 20 minutes per pound.  But sometimes it may only be 15 minutes per pound.  Tricky birds.  You are really looking for your turkey to reach 170 degrees at the thickest part.  Carry over cooking will take it to safe 180 degree range.  The number 1 reason that turkeys come out dry is over cooking.  I use the 20 minute per pound formula, but start testing it when there is about an hour left in the cooking time.  When it reaches 170, I take it out.  And I always start my turkey off uncovered to let the skin get nice and brown, and then cover it with it with foil when it has a good base color. 

8. Baste it?  To baste, or not to baste?  That is the question.  Honestly, I don’t really see the point in basting.  Some might argue that it keeps the meat moist, or gives move flavor, but I say that the main thing it does it mess with the temperature of your oven.  Every time that door opens, your oven temperature will drop significantly.  I baste the turkey once, and that is when I am covering it with foil (see step above) since the oven is already open. 

9. Rest it. After your turkey reads 170 degrees on the meat thermometer, and you have taken it out of the oven, remove it to a cutting board and cover it with foil.  Let it rest for 15 to 20 minutes so the juices redistribute and don’t just run all over the cutting board when you slice into it.  (Side note: This is the perfect time to make gravy from the pan drippings!)

10. Carve it! Finally!  You have waited all day long, smelling the delicious, mouth-watering aroma of turkey coming from your oven.  All the side dishes are arranged on your beautifully set table.  And all that is left to do is carve the turkey.  You can make a big show of it, present the whole turkey and carve it tableside, or take care of the hard work in the kitchen.  Remove the leg quarters and the wings.  In my family, we just add these whole right to the serving plate (and my brother always-ALWAYS-eats a drumstick).  Then, you remove the whole breast by slicing down the breast bone, and horizontally across.  Slice the breast into pieces and arrange it all on the plate.

So, there you have it.  My Top Ten Tips for the Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey! 

What tips would you add to this list?  

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