Okay. We'll admit it. We're already thinking about Thanksgiving.
Our favorite food holiday will be here before we know it -- and with it all the usual questions. How should we cook our turkeys? Should we brine our turkeys? Should we eat goose instead? Invariably the subject of deep fried turkey will arise, and we'd just like to be sure that you don't burn your house down when you try. That's why Sam Sifton and Bon Appetit got together in this video (beautifully filmed by Matt Duckor), demonstrating the safe, proper and delicious way to deep fry a turkey. (Spoiler alert: it involves a grappling hook.)
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Symptom: I Don't Know When My Turkey Is Done
This is the million-dollar question. How do you not make a fool of yourself at dinner by serving an overcooked or undercooked bird? There is an easy tell-tale way of determining if and when the bird is done. <strong>Remedy:</strong> Take its temperature! Now isn't that easy? Just insert a meat thermometer into the area where the thigh and breast meet -- it should register <strong>160 degrees F</strong> when it's removed from the oven, and <strong>165 degrees F</strong> after it has rested. If you've stuffed the bird, take the temperature of the stuffing (160 to 165 degrees F also). You can also make an incision where the thigh and breast meet -- if the juices run clear, not red, then the bird is done. Whatever you do, don't rely on those plastic pop-up timers that are stuck in the bird -- all they do is let you know your bird is dry and overcooked (most of them don't pop up until the temperature reaches 180 degrees F!). One great gadget for perfect turkey-cooking is a probe-style thermometer, which you can leave in the bird, leading out a wire to a display that will signal once the bird is done.
Symptom: My Turkey Is Dry And Flavorless
Unfortunately, turkeys tend to be a very lean bird in the first place. Previously frozen turkeys tend to lose their moisture when you defrost them, leaching out all the liquid that would otherwise make them flavorful. <strong>Remedies:</strong> Brining is the best answer. A brine is basically water seasoned with salt, herbs and/or spices -- use it to add flavor and moisture to your bird. It may take a little extra work, but brining a turkey overnight allows the bird to absorb all the flavor out of the brine. Then just discard any remaining liquid and pat the turkey dry before preparing it for the oven. Basting is the second-most important thing you can do to keep the turkey from drying out. After the turkey has been roasting 1-1/2 hours, begin basting the turkey with a hot stock flavored with wine and herbs (you won't have any drippings yet). Once the bird begins to give off juices, use those drippings to brush the bird with periodically, about every 30 minutes. Eventually, you'll get great-tasting pan drippings, which you can use to make gravy. Be sure to stop basting at least an hour before the turkey is done to prevent soggy skin. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/27/how-to-baste-a-turkey_n_984000.html">Watch this video for more on basting.</a>
Symptom: My Turkey Is Not Brown Or Crisp, But Pale And Flabby
A beautifully browned bird is impressive and tastes pretty amazing. If you're having trouble getting a golden brown skin, there are a few things you can do. <strong>Remedies:</strong> Before you put the bird in the oven, rub the skin with soft butter or olive oil -- lots of it. This will help the skin brown better and it will make it taste good. Also, don't forget to baste the bird. Another unique method that helps produce a brown skin is the cheesecloth method. Basically dip the cheesecloth in your basting liquid and drape it over the bird. During roasting, baste the bird as usual -- the cheesecloth will turn almost black. Remove it once the turkey is done and you will be left with the most glorious crackling skin in a shade of mahogany.
Symptom: I Don't Know What To Do With The Innards
Don't forget to remove the gizzards, heart, liver, kidneys and neck from the turkey cavity. You don't want to roast the turkey with the innards inside (especially if they're in plastic bags!). <strong>Remedy:</strong> Don't throw away the innards. Use them to make stock, which in turn can be used for moistening stuffing or for gravy. Some people choose to roast or saute the giblets and neck beforehand and then make a stock from the roasted meat. This will give you a much deeper flavor. Make sure not to roast the liver or include it in your stock -- liver will turn your stock cloudy. Chop the liver and add it to the stuffing, if you wish.
Symptom: I Don't Have Enough Pan Drippings To Make Gravy
This should never be the case if you're basting properly. This might occur when you're roasting just a breast and not the entire bird. <strong>Remedy:</strong> Make a stock out of the giblets and neck. Use the stock for moistening the stuffing and for making gravy. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/27/how-to-make-turkey-gravy_n_983914.html">See this video on how to make gravy.</a>
Symptom: My Turkey Is Cooked Unevenly
An unevenly cooked turkey is almost always a result of not trussing properly -- or an oven that doesn't cook evenly. <strong>Remedy:</strong> Large poultry should always be trussed (i.e. tied up). All the technique requires is tying up the turkey with kitchen twine. This ensures even cooking because it pulls the wings and legs toward the body of the bird, preventing them from splaying outward. Just think how much of a difference it makes aerodynamically -- the hot air in the oven can circulate easier when there are no lanky wings or legs in the way. There are a few different techniques for trussing, but this one is the best method. Watch the video above. If you believe your oven doesn't heat evenly, try rotating the roasting pan a couple of times during cooking. And use an oven thermometer to tell what the temperature is. The oven should be set to between 325 and 375 degrees F.
Symptom: My Turkey Is Undercooked
Turkeys come in all shapes and sizes, which means each one will have a different cook time. Choose the bird that's the best fit for the size of your gathering. <a href="http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/holidays/guides/turkey.php">Click here to see a guide.</a> <strong>Remedies:</strong> Do not rely on just looking at the exterior of your turkey to tell that it's done. You should always take its internal temperature by sticking the thermometer into the thigh, just between the thigh and the breast (make sure the thermometer doesn't touch the bone!). The temperature should register 160 degrees F. (Don't forget to take the temperature of the stuffing -- it should also register the same.) Take the turkey out and tent it with foil for about 15 to 20 minutes for a small bird and 20 to 30 minutes for a large one. This period of resting allows the juices to redistribute in the bird (and also allows the temperature to come up a few degrees, preferably to around 165 degrees F).
Symptom: I Can Never Get A Good Slice When Carving The Turkey
Carving tableside is impressive, but it's not the best way or place to carve a turkey. You really need a carving board and a good carving knife. <strong>Remedy:</strong> Place your bird on a sturdy carving board with a trough to catch all the juices. Start by remove any trussing twine. Begin by removing the leg, the wings and the breasts. The meat should be sliced across the grain on a diagonal to make eating easier. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/16/how-to-carve-a-turkey-thanksgiving-steps-photos_n_784258.html#s183203">See a step-by-step guide on how to carve a roasted turkey here.</a>
Symptom: My Turkey Is Still Frozen When I Want To Roast It
This is a problem -- you might want to reschedule dinner. Previously frozen turkeys need to be properly defrosted in the refrigerator before roasting. <strong>Remedy:</strong> A turkey dinner needs some pre-planning. A large turkey needs lots of time to defrost -- you can't just take it out of the freezer the night before. Plan on 24 hours of defrosting in the refrigerator for every 4 to 5 pounds, so a 12-pound turkey will take about 3 days. Make sure to keep the bird in its packaging and defrost on a deep plate to catch any drips. If you're rushed for time, there's a quicker method. Defrost in a water bath -- place the turkey in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes. Each pound will take approximately 30 minutes to defrost, so a 12-pound turkey will take 6 hours. You can use the microwave to defrost small birds, but it might end up unevenly defrosted and you'll need to cook the bird right away after defrosting.
Symptom: I Don't Know Whether To Stuff Or Not To Stuff My Turkey
Stuffed turkey is traditional, but that doesn't mean you have to stuff your bird. Many people actually prefer stuffing or dressing baked separately from the bird. It can actually develop a nice crust instead of the soggy mess that results from cooking it inside the bird (and if you have a vegetarian on-hand at your dinner, he or she will be a happy camper). <strong>Remedies:</strong> If you've chosen <em>not</em> to stuff, know that the bird will roast faster, but don't leave the cavity empty. Add some herbs, maybe half a lemon, and/or an apple -- these aromatic ingredients lend the bird lovely flavor. If you've chosen to stuff the bird, make sure you do it just before the turkey goes into the oven, otherwise, if done to early, the stuffing will absorb bacteria from the cavity. Make sure to pack the stuffing loosely -- do not compact the mixture or it won't cook properly. Take the temperature of the stuffing, not just the bird. The temperature should register between 160 and 165 degrees F.
Symptom: My Turkey Is Burning
It's just about an hour away from turkey dinner, and you notice something -- a charred smell perhaps. When you open the oven door, you find your bird is starting to burn. Eek! <strong>Remedy:</strong> Aluminum foil is your friend. If you notice that the turkey is browning too quickly, tent it with aluminum foil to redirect the heat away from the skin. You might have to pick off some extra-black skin, but at least you've prevented a disaster. Some cooks like to prevent this altogether by roasting the bird tented with aluminum foil during the first half of cooking time. Another method is to roast the bird upside down (with the breast down) for the first half of cooking time and then flip it over onto its back to finish roasting.
Symptom: I Don't Know Whether To Go With Fresh Or Frozen Turkey
The difference is not just in the way it's sold -- fresh turkey will also taste different from a frozen turkey. <strong>Remedy:</strong> Choose the bird that best fits your preferences and your time constraints. You'll need to defrost a frozen turkey days in advance, whereas you can cook a fresh turkey right away, but its taste will be different. Fresh turkeys are typically chilled to 26 degrees F. You should cook your fresh turkey within 1 to 2 days of purchasing. Fresh turkeys are often free-range and/or organic. They will taste a bit more wild or gamey, and the texture will be tougher than that of a conventionally raised bird. Turkeys that are frozen are typically of the mass-produced variety. Their flavor and texture will be more to everyone's liking -- mild flavor and tender texture. The only downside of a frozen turkey is that during defrosting, it loses much of its natural juices and thus its flavor. So brining is pretty much a necessary procedure if you wish to have a flavorful frozen turkey.