The thought of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner brings to mind memories of a long buffet style table crowded with bowls of gravies, sides, stuffing and desserts, barely leaving enough space for the napkins and silverware. All of these sides were simply teasers, surrounding the star of the evening, a 10-12 pound oven roasted turkey with a bronze finish and shiny, smooth texture. Unbenounced to us, what we saw as a delicious turkey that simply needed to be submerged in gravy, was nothing more than another over cooked Thanksgiving victim.
It seemed normal to roast a turkey in an oven for 8 hours to prevent bacterial growth, unknowingly cooking away all of the natural moisture and destroying what could have been a succulent bird for the evening. If roasting a turkey is an absolute must in your family, here are some ways to prep your Thanksgiving bird for roasting. You will retain maximum moisture while enhancing the turkey’s flavor.
Brine - Brining a turkey is basically marinating it in heavily salted water containing sugar and other seasonings. You may choose to simply add salt, sugar and seasoning to the water, or even a heavily salt based sauce such as soy. This procedure preserves the meat before being cooked creating a moist and tender dish after it has reached the flame.
Sous Vide - The term meaning “under vacuum” in French is a method of cooking by submerging the vacuum sealed item in a 140 degree Fahrenheit bath. Although it will not be fully cooked, this slowly and evenly begins to cook the inside of the bird. Allowing it to sit for hours this way, keeps the interior of the turkey juicier, preparing the bird for its trip to the oven or deep fryer.
Of course you may also choose to marinate or dry rub your bird from the night before. But if you would like to try an alternate cooking method, consider frying, grilling, braising or even going the crock pot method with your turkey.
Smoking - Smoking a turkey takes time and patience, but beats slaving away over a hot stove in a kitchen. Using this method to prepare turkey adds a unique flavor and even color to the flesh of your bird, one that your oven cannot transmit. Place your turkey in a smoker, preferably using fruit flavored wood chips such as cherry or apple, but oak and hickory are fine too. At 235-250 degrees Fahrenheit, expect about 30-40 minutes cooking time per pound.
Helpful Turkey Cooking Tips:
- Use a thermometer to check the turkey’s doneness. It should measure 165 degrees Fahrenheit in the thickest part, making sure to not touch the bone since it is hottest there.
- Never cook your stuffing in the raw turkey, risk of bacterial contamination and undercooking the turkey is possible this way. Always cook separately and stuff the bird after it has been fully cooked.
- Using your hands, gently separate the skin from the meat, but DO NOT tear off, use as a pocket to fill with seasoned butter and fresh herbs for roasting.
- ALWAYS fry a turkey outside. ALWAYS test the level of your oil by filling the frying pot with water, then adding the bird. Remove the bird and measure the amount of water left, this is the amount of oil you will need. Make sure the pot and turkey are completely dry before adding oil. Should not measure more than ¾ full of oil and no more than 10 inches from the top of the pot before adding the bird for frying.
- The bigger the bird you are smoking, the more prone you are to bacterial infection. It is ideal to use a 10-12 pound bird for this method.
- It doesn’t matter which cooking method you chose, allow the bird to rest for at least 15 minutes before cutting into it, this allows the juices to settle and keep the moisture in the meat.