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Let’s Talk Turkey: A Thanksgiving FAQ starring your main course

Nov 04, 2011 05:00PM ● Published by Arden Haley


Despite all the delicious dishes served at the Thanksgiving table, the turkey stars. Because of this, buying and preparing a turkey can be quite intimidating to everyone, no matter how many time you’ve done it. We’re here to say that, whether you’re a seasoned cook or Thanksgiving newbie, there are answers to all your tricky turkey troubles.

Question: How much turkey should I buy?
Answer: Consider how many people you are feeding and how much you want leftover at the end of the meal. Three-fourths to 1 pound of turkey per person allows for two helpings for each guest with a little leftover. For extra leftovers, purchase a turkey that allows 1.5 pounds per person.

Question: How can I defrost my turkey in time?
Answer: Every four to five pounds of turkey requires 24 hours to thaw. Therefore, a 12-pound bird will take three days, while a 16- to 20-pound turkey needs five days. It’s best to thaw the turkey in the refrigerator.

Question: What do I do if I didn’t thaw the turkey in time?
Answer: Head to the grocery store to see if you can purchase a fresh turkey. Alternatively, buy a fresh turkey breast — as long as everyone is OK with white meat only — which will cook rather quickly when compared to a full turkey. As a last-minute resort, purchase two or three large oven-roaster chickens that weigh between six and eight pounds.

Question: How do I know if the turkey is cooked?
Answer: The magic number is 165 degrees (though cooking to 170 degrees ensures that the turkey is completely safe). Before you even start cooking the turkey, make sure your kitchen thermometer actually works. It’s not a piece of kitchen equipment that’s used very often. Submerge the thermometer in boiling water. If it registers 212 degrees, it’s accurate. If it doesn’t, purchase another thermometer.

Insert the thermometer into the turkey between the meat of the leg and inner thigh. Don’t allow the thermometer to touch the bone because it will give you an inaccurate reading. Once the thermometer reads between 165 and 170, the turkey is ready to leave the oven.

Question: Why can’t we measure by time?
Answer: In short, everyone’s oven is different. We can approximately say that a 6- to 8-pound turkey will take between 2.25 and 3.25 hours in a 325-degree oven – but that’s a big difference in time.

Question: What do I do with the stuff inside the cavity of the turkey?
Answer: Before you cook the turkey, remove the neck and giblets from the cavity of the bird. You have two choices: Keep these parts to flavor the gravy or just throw them away.

Question: How should I season the bird?
Answer: Everyone has different tastes – saying to season the turkey one particular way is like telling you to order pepperoni pizza all the time. What if you don’t like pepperoni? However, make sure you about a ½ cup of seasoning per 12 pounds of turkey. Classic seasonings include oregano, rosemary, and thyme. A fun southwestern seasoning uses toasted cumin, chilies, and chipotle peppers. Use your imagination.

Question: What do I do if I don’t have a rack for my roasting pan?
Answer: It’s important to keep the turkey off the bottom of the pan so it 1) doesn’t get burned, and 2) doesn’t slide around. If you don’t have a rack, use heavy-duty aluminum foil rolled into a cylinder and bent into a circle so it looks like a halo of foil, and place the turkey on top.

Question: How do I get the skin perfectly browned?
Answer: Does it get better than crispy, brown skin on the turkey? If you loosened the skin when you seasoned it – perhaps to put butter directly on the meat – the turkey’s skin will brown more quickly because it’s cooking from both below and above the skin. Create a tent of aluminum foil and cover the turkey with it when you first put it in the oven. Halfway through, remove the foil to allow the skin to begin browning.

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