It’s the beginning of November and you receive an unexpected request from your mom. She explains that Thanksgiving has become a bit overwhelming for her and asks if you would be willing to take over hosting duties. You agree and immediately begin searching Pinterest for festive centerpiece ideas. As the days pass, you debate over using the China you got for a wedding gift or the Chinet that is on sale at Target. You begin calling relatives to ensure they will be bringing “the usual.” Then it hits you. YOU are responsible for the main feature. YOU have to cook the turkey. You break out in a cold sweat, completely aware that your ability to accomplish this task will make or break Thanksgiving for everyone.
Lucky for you, Louisville Family Fun has you covered! I recently consulted my favorite local meat-cutter, Steve, who just happens to be my father-in-law. He gave me all the details needed to purchase and prepare the perfect Thanksgiving turkey! I’ve been eating his skillfully prepared turkey for a couple of decades and I’ve never been disappointed. I am so excited to have these wonderful tips to share with our readers.
There are a few different options here. The first decision is whole turkey vs turkey breast. If you’re having a small gathering, a turkey breast may be the way to go. For a turkey breast, figure 1/2 – 3/4 lb per person. If you’re having several guests, or you want to provide the option of white and dark meat, you need to buy the whole bird. When purchasing a whole turkey, keep in mind that the yield on a turkey is only about 31% once you remove the bones, etc. You need to purchase approximately 1 lb per person. This should provide about a 6 oz serving per person and a modest amount of leftovers. If you’d like even more leftovers, or larger portions, you can go up to 1.5 lbs per person (butterball.com
has a great calculator here
that even breaks it down by the number of kids and adults.)
The other big purchase decision is fresh or frozen. Purchasing a frozen turkey is more economical. When you see an ad for a turkey sale, it’s almost always going to be frozen turkey. While more expensive, fresh turkey also has advantages. A turkey that has never been frozen, it’s often less dry. Fresh turkey is typically more “natural” as well. Check the label to verify, but fresh turkey usually has less additives, while frozen turkey is often pre-basted, which means it is injected with additives to “enhance” the flavor. The other advantage to fresh turkey, is that you don’t have to worry about thawing time. If you don’t have room to store the turkey at home, ask the meat department if you can purchase and have it held at the store for you until you are ready to bring it home.
If you opt for a frozen turkey, you need to purchase it a week or perhaps even 2 weeks before you intend to serve it. The preferred and safest method of thawing is slow thawing in the refrigerator. Set the bird in a container to catch any juices that may leak out during the thawing process. In the refrigerator, a turkey will thaw at a rate of approximately 3-4 lbs per day. Therefore, if you have a 21 lb turkey, you need to allow 5 – 7 days for thawing in the refrigerator. Once thawed, the turkey should be cooked within 48 hours.
If you have waited too long to slow thaw, you may opt to quick thaw your turkey in cold water. The best way is to carefully clean your kitchen sink, tightly wrap your turkey and submerge it in the sink filled with cold water. You will need to periodically turn the turkey so that it thaws evenly. You also need to drain some water and refill with cold water every 30 mins – an hour to keep the temperature constant. Using this method, a turkey will thaw at a rate of about 1/2 pound per hour. Therefore, your 21 lb turkey should be completely thawed in about 10 – 11 hours. A turkey thawed in cold water, should be cooked immediately. Microwave thawing is not recommended.
Prepping the Turkey:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the outer wrapping around the turkey. Every whole turkey will come with a small bag that includes the liver, gizzard and neck. Locate and remove this bag prior to cooking. It can usually be found inside the cavity, in a hole under the breast or under a flap of skin near the top. You can simply discard this bag unless you intend to cook these parts.
Next, carefully rinse the turkey exterior as well as the cavity to wash away any blood, and then pat it dry. For best results, rub the outside of the turkey with oil and season it with salt and pepper. For an extra savory flavor, you may choose to add chopped celery and onion to the cavity. This is totally optional. *Note, though a fresh turkey has never been frozen, it may have been chilled as low as 26 degrees. If the skin feels slightly hard, this is not cause for alarm.
Cooking the Turkey:
For a fool-proof, juicy turkey, Steve recommends using Reynolds OvenBags. Simply purchase the appropriate size for your bird, and follow the package instructions. Be sure to place the bagged turkey in a roasting pan before placing in the oven. Cooking times are on the box, but using the prior example of a 21 lb turkey, you should allow 3 – 3.5 hours for cooking.
Steve prefers to cook his turkey the day before Thanksgiving. After the roasting bag cools enough for handling, he cuts one corner and drains all of the broth into a deep, wide bowl. Expect up to a couple of quarts. Then he covers and places the bowl in the refrigerator.
He stores the cooked turkey in the refrigerator until the the following day, when he slices it up and places it in a disposable roasting pan. Next, he uncovers the bowl of broth. At this point, the solid fat has risen to the top where it can be easily spooned off and discarded. He then pours some of the broth over the turkey to add moisture. The remaining broth is reserved for use in making gravy. He covers the pan of sliced turkey with foil and then bakes it in the oven at 300 degrees for a couple of hours. Using this method helps ensure the turkey is hot in time for serving and prevents guests from having to wait for the bird to be sliced.
For more adventurous cooks, Steve recommends checking out Alton Brown’s turkey brining recipe. It is wildly popular and produces awesome results!
By guest contributor: Brandy
Photos courtesy of Butterball, Facebook page