Before today, I have never known how to cook a turkey, but I wanted to blog about it in time for the holiday season, so I did my research. I looked at dozens of turkey recipes. I studied what Martha Stewart, Alton Brown, Bobby Flay and Epicurious say about the art of cooking a turkey. I read forums and interviewed friends and family that I know are good cooks. The result was...
Well, before I give you the answer, let me say this: My goal was to have the juiciest of turkey recipes. Most cooks would pick just one or two techniques, but being the crazy person that I am, I wanted to use them ALL. (More is better right? Well, maybe.) I knew I was taking a risk. I knew this would either yield me one of the best turkey recipes EVER or that I would over-do it and it would backfire on me in a severe way. THE RESULT: I am happy to say I succeeded. My wife was beside herself with turkey meat joy. Since she is my harshest food critic, this was good news. I did not use ALL the methods I read about, but I did use most of them. Let me discuss them with you here:
BRINING A TURKEY: This is where you soak the turkey in a salty solution for 12-24 hours. The turkey is supposed to soak up moisture, thus making a moister turkey. This is one of the methods I used.
LETTING THE TURKEY SIT UNCOVERED IN FRIDGE FOR 12 HOURS: I learned about this method from my friend Pat (who is an excellent cook and way better than me). Supposodly, if you let the skin of the turkey dry out a little, it will hold in moisture better. Makes sense to me. This is another method I used.
LETTING THE TURKEY SIT OUT AT ROOM TEMP. FOR 2 HOURS PRIOR TO COOKING: I have no idea why this makes a moist turkey, but I did it anyway. What did I have to lose? It's not like I had to sit and stare at the turkey during those two hours. I left the turkey and went about my business. So yes, I added this method to my list.
SLATHERING THE TURKEY IN BUTTER OR OIL: Makes sense to me. I used this method too.
AROMATICS: Many cooks theorize that stuffing your turkey (with stuffing, of course) dries out the turkey because the bread crumbs suck the moisture out of the meat. They get no arguments from me. It seems like a no-brainer. It makes great stuffing, because the stuffing is infused with turkey juices, but it also makes a dry turkey. (SIDE NOTE: stuffing a turkey is also an infection hazard. Raw turkey is like raw chicken - bacteria infested. You should follow specific steps to prevent infection. You could cook two turkeys if you want that flavorful stuffing. One for the turkey, one for the stuffing.) So instead of stuffing the turkey with dressing, I stuffed it (loosely) with a mixture of celery and onions. This is called aromatics. The moisture from the vegetables moistens the turkey meat from the inside.
INJECTING THE MEAT WITH MELTED BUTTER: This is another tip I got from my friend Pat. I always think butter is a good idea, so I used this method, too. Plus, an injector only cost $2.
CREATE A MANTIGON UNDER THE TURKEY. I had never heard of this term before I did my turkey research. With this method, you take chopped raw carrots, celery, onion and ham, mix it in melted butter and place it under the turkey. The moisture from this steams the turkey from the outside. I used this too.
DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN WHILE THE TURKEY IS COOKING: This theory speaks against the traditional basting method, but it makes sense to me. If you continually open the oven door to baste, you let out heat and moisture. This increases cooking time and dries out the turkey. I bought a remote thermometer that...
sat on the outside of the oven. I never had to open the oven. Once it reached the optimum internal temperature (which I will talk about later), I took the turkey out. The thermometer only cost $16 at Target, and it alarmed when the turkey hit the right temp.
TAKING THE TURKEY OUT AT THE RIGHT TIME: The proper internal temp. for a perfect turkey is 165 degrees. Because of this, many people make the mistake of taking their turkey out when the turkey's temp. reaches 165 degrees. This is a mistake, because the turkey still keeps cooking after you take it out of the oven. You should take the turkey out once it has reached 155 degrees and its internal temp. will rise to the right temp. of 165 while sitting. Make sense?
COOK THE TURKEY - BREAST DOWN: Even though I believed this would have made my turkey meat juicier, I did NOT use this method. In theory, this method allows the juices of the turkey to drip down into the breast - making juicy meat. The downside to this method is that the breast doesn't get browned for that classic turkey look. You can turn the turkey over half way through the cooking process, but if you remember, I do not want to open my oven at any cost. Since I wanted a crisp brown looking skin, I skipped this method. I gave a little to get a lot. Besides, I was using 500 other methods anyway.
TENT THE TURKEY UNDER FOIL OR ROAST THE TURKEY IN AN OVEN BAG: Trapping the moisture surely makes a juicy turkey, but this prevents a brown crisp skin. I opted against it. Well now, let's get cooking.
Planning Out the Whole Process Will Save You Time and Frustration. It will help guide you smoothly to the end.
The first step in planning is to know each step and how long they take. Here is a spread sheet showing this.
Now work backwards, starting at the time you want to eat. Let's say you want to eat at 5 PM Thanksgiving day.
When you work backwards, it will look like this. Now you have a plan. You know when to do what. NOTE: You don't have to be exact with your times. For example: If you don't want to start brining the turkey at 11:30 PM, do it at 10 PM and let it brine an hour or so longer. No big deal.
How to Thaw the Turkey.
I took this right off the USDA's website.
How to Brine a Turkey.
16 cups chicken broth
3 tablespoons pepper corns
1 cup coarse salt
5 bay leaves
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
1 large onion, roughly chopped
16 cups water
5 lb. bag of ice
Even larger pot (or cooler)
Large kitchen trash bag
Combine 16 cups chicken broth, 3 tablespoons pepper corns, 1 cup coarse salt, 5 bay leaves, 2 celery stalks, roughly chopped, 2 carrots, roughly chopped, 1 large onion, roughly chopped in a large pot and cook over medium high heat until salt has dissolved. Let mixture cool to room temperature.
Line a very large pot (I used a canning pot) or a 5 gallon cooler with a plastic garbage bag. (The bag was my wife's idea for easy clean-up. Smart, isn't she?)
Place turkey at the bottom, breast side down.
Dump in the broth mixture, 16 cups of water and 5 lbs. of ice.
Tie up your bag.
Put it in the fridge for about 12 hours. (NOTE: There are no perfect time frames here. Depending on your schedule you may only have 11 hours. This is okay.)
Rinse off your turkey, inside and out.
Pat the turkey dry, inside and out.
How to Prepare a Turkey.
1 bunch celery
1 large onion
1/4 – 1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 sticks butter (1 cup)
2 stalks celery (in addition to above)
2 large carrots
1 large onion (in addition to above)
1 lb pork meat
1 stick butter (in addition to above)
Let the turkey sit, uncovered in the fridge for 12 hours. The skin will slightly dry and toughen, making it better to hold in moisture. This is a secret method by my friend Pat, who I mentioned earlier. He says this is important.
Next, let the turkey sit out on your counter for two hours, to bring it closer to room temperature.
Loosely stuff your turkey with roughly cut onions and celery.
Rub your turkey with salt and pepper, inside and out. Oops. I was supposed to rub oil on first. Doesn't matter. It will work either way.
Rub your turkey liberally with oil or melted butter.
Melt 2 sticks (1 cup) of butter and inject it right into the turkey flesh with an injector ($2 at almost any store. I bought mine at Target).
Chop, coarsely, two stalks celery, 2 large carrots, 1 large onion, and 1 lb. pork meat. Mix in a bowl with 1 stick butter, melted. Place in the bottom of your roasting pan under the rack.
Place turkey, breast UP, on rack.
How to Cook the Turkey.
Place turkey on BOTTOM rack in your oven. Insert your thermometer probe into the leg of the turkey (not the breast).
The probe stays in the turkey leg, but the wire comes out of the oven and the actual thermometer stays on the outside of the oven. Set the alarm on the thermometer for 155 degrees. Cook the turkey at 450 degrees for 30 minutes, then turn it down to 300 degrees for the remainder of the cooking time. Do NOT open the oven during the cooking time. I repeat, do NOT open the oven during cooking time. It will let out heat and moisture.
Again, temperature is what determines when the turkey is done, NOT time. BUT, here is a list of average times, based on the weight the of the turkey: 12 - 14 lbs = 3 to 3 1/2 hours, 15 - 16 lbs. = 3 1/2 to 4 hours, 18 - 20 lbs. = 4 to 4 1/2 hours, 21 - 22 lbs. = 4 1/2 to 5 hours. 23 - 24 lbs = 5 to 5 1/2 hours. More than 25 lbs. = you're out of luck. I don't have a clue how long you should cook it. Once the internal temp. reaches 155 degrees. Take the turkey out of the oven and let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. While it is sitting, the turkey will be cooking further. The internal tempurature, during that ttime, will rise to the desired 165 degrees. Now eat and enjoy!