Turkey 101

Just in time for Thanksgiving! Theottomanempire is pleased to welcome its first guest contributors. Michelle and Lisa are co-authors of the blog Simply Bliss – a blog about all things blissful. Below they tell us how to cook the perfect turkey. Enjoy!
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I remember the first time I hosted a Thanksgiving dinner when I was new to the wonderful world of the domesticated, I nervously obsessed over cooking a turkey and probably made my husband crazy with my obsessive turkey research that year. Why did this cause so much trepidation and drama in my household? Well, we all know that the centerpiece of any Thanksgiving dinner is of course the turkey. Whether you’re about to host your first Thanksgiving dinner or you’re an old pro, we all have the same goal in mind: creating a bird with crisp, bronzed skin, juicy meat and flavourful pan drippings — the hallmarks of a perfectly cooked turkey.
But sometimes, just sometimes, the culinary gods are just not in our favour and these qualities become unachievable. The turkey is dried out (read: overcooked!) and even if you think your desserts can make the Martha in anyone swoon — your pumpkin pie will not save the evening. It just won’t. I think I tried that one year — and failed miserably. So, how does one make everyone happy and create the Adonis of Thanksgiving poultry that even your mother-in-law and the pilgrims of yesteryear would be proud of?
Well, here are some tips that Lisa and I have been adhering to for T-Day in our households. Here’s hoping some of these will save you from a Thanksgiving Day disaster.
Size does matter. It’s the first question you will ask yourself when preparing for T-Day. How big should this bird be, you ask? The general rule is for a turkey that is under 16 pounds, figure 1 pound of turkey per person. For larger birds 16 pounds and heavier, figure a bit less since there’s more meat in proportion to bone. Here is a chart that should help you decide on size.
Turkey Weight (in pounds) Average Servings Ample Servings with Leftovers
12 12 8
14 14 9
16 16 10
18 20 12
20 22 14
Choose the right bird. Fresh. Frozen. Organic. Free-Range. Premium-Brand. It is so mind-boggling deciding on the type of turkey to buy at the market. Even though most people will profess that fresh organic turkey’s are best, most times they would have to be pre-snagged or ordered at your local market weeks in advance and many of us don’t have the time or our minds are just not in sync with the day T-Day falls. We are not all on the (butter)ball. It happens. But alas, frozen is fine! There is nothing wrong with the frozen variety bird from your local grocery store. Just keep in mind defrosting protocol as you do NOT want to be responsible for a guest falling ill from a salmonella-infused bird.
To stuff, or not to stuff. Speaking of salmonella, we are both in the camp NOT to stuff the bird. Whether it’s cooked inside the turkey or out, stuffing must reach 160°F to kill bacteria and make it safe to eat. But by the time it reaches that temperature inside the bird, the breast meat is at a much higher temperature and therefore becomes overcooked and dry (by experience anyway). That’s why we don’t recommend stuffing the bird. Instead, cook the stuffing separately. It will save you a headache or being labelled as the turkey-making leper. Not nice.
Wine. Not brine. Count us in the school of thought that thinks turkey brining is just a fad. I know a lot of people speak highly of soaking the whole turkey in a salt solution, but we just don’t see the necessity of it. If you want to ensure moist meat — just don’t overcook it. Quality of meat product and cooking technique are probably more important and will save you precious time and avoid that extra step.
Truss it. Or not. Yes, it’s important to have the perfect tasting bird, but it doesn’t hurt to have an attractive one at that. Tying the turkey’s legs in place helps the turkey hold its shape while roasting, which in turn allows a nicer presentation on your table. The goal!
Baste it. Then turn it. Now if you decide to truss the bird’s legs as you are into the whole turkey aesthetic, keep in mind that this may increase the likelihood that the breast meat will overcook before the leg meat is done, which is why basting is vital! Moistening the bird with broth or other watery liquids slow down heat transfer, because the surface cools as the basted- on moisture evaporates. Also we find it important to roast the bird breast side down for at least half of the cooking time. It also exposes the thigh meat to direct heat, resulting in more even doneness overall. At that point the bird must be turned breast side up to allow nice crispy breasts. Or if the household becomes chaotic (it is allowed to during the holidays) and you don’t have the time to do ‘the flip’, keep the breast right side up, however shield it with foil for the last half of the roasting time.
The roasting pan and other helpful tools. The best tool above all is to own a heavy-duty roasting pan with about 2-inch sides. High sides prevent the lower part of the bird from browning and can make basting a bit difficult. A roaster rack, baster, and a trusty thermometer are also nice to have in your turkey accoutrements.
The temperature. While some cooks like to blast the turkey with high heat like 425°F for 30 minutes or so and then reduce the temperature, we think a low, steady temperature of 325°F from start to finish is more carefree and a lot easier. Here are the cooking times for various sized birds.
Ready to cook weight
Cooking time
8 to 12 lbs. 2 3/4 to 3
12 to 14 lbs. 3 to 3 3/4
14 to 18 lbs. 3 3/4 to 4 1/4
18 to 20 lbs. 4 1/4 to 4 1/2
20 to 24 lbs. 4 1/2 to 5
Also to note the high-heat method may save you in the total cooking time, but it’s one more thing to remember on a very hectic day. In turn, this will allow you more time to mingle and….
Rest. It’s finally done. You can now celebrate with that bottle of Riesling you have been eyeing the whole afternoon. It is time for you…and the perfectly roasted bird to have a well-deserved rest. A turkey that sits at room temperature for at least 30 minutes after roasting tastes juicier. As the turkey rests, the meat cools down, ideally to about 130°F, the proteins in the meat firm up as it cools, so it becomes easier to carve and is better able to retain its juice in every slice.
If all else fails, call the Turkey Talkline created by the lovely folks at Butterball: 1-800-BUTTERBALL or email them at talkline@butterball.com. Yes, this really exists!
We would love to hear your turkey making tips and secrets!
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Written by Michelle Cusack-Romano and photo by Lisa Crispo from www.simplybliss.ca, a Toronto-based blog dedicated to life’s simple pleasures.
Michelle is a wife, mother, writer, former roomate of Christopher Gillis, amateur cook, wine lover, cognizant shopaholic, and visionary sidekick to her handy home renovating husband. She started this blog with friend and professional photographer Lisa who is passionate about her craft, a red wine snob, health freak, social butterfly, a serious dark chocolate fanatic and is one of the few who actually loves her job.
Our goal is to keep you up-to-date on the various stylish snapshots in time of the things we love, our inspirations, our pleasures and the way we live.

One thought on “Turkey 101

  1. Pingback: Turkey 101 (revisited) | simply bliss

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