Saturday, December 10, 2005


I heart turkey. I especially heart my father's smoked turkey. It is just so good. But since I don't own a smoker, I had to roast mine in the oven. I should say for the record that technically I only "assisted" with cooking the turkey this year. There are two keys to cooking a good turkey in my mind:
- don't over cook it
- help it be moist

To not over cook the bird, there are several things you can do. First, fully thaw your bird. Even if your turkey is not "frozen", if it is not fresh it should be placed in your fridge for several days before cooking. If it is frozen, it should be in there for 4-5 days before cooking so it can fully thaw. Remember, its a 20lb block of ice, it takes a long time to thaw.

Next is to monitor your bird. I own two probe thermometers, the type where you put the probe in the bird and have a wire running out to the monitor which either sits on your kitchen counter, or has magnets to stick to the front of your oven. These work great! I highly recommend getting one. Also, I might get in trouble for saying this, but don't shoot for the temperature that the food processor recommends. I have to say you are responsible for your own food, so if you are not comfortable with this, cook it to a higher temp. I took the turkey out of the oven when the probe in the breast read that the bird had reached 174 and the probe in the thigh said 166ish. The breast meat was a little over cooked, the thigh meat might have been a little underdone. About 30-45 minutes into cooking we placed foil over the breasts, but it fell off. If we had done a better job perhaps it would have slowed the breast cooking a little.

The other test I did was "shaking the leg". The leg's joint with the thigh will become loose when it is cooked. This is my mother's method for telling doneness which she learned from a friend. It seemed to work, but I had the termometers, so I used them.

Finally, prep your bird right. Before cooking, remove the bird from the packaging. Remove the bag of giblets and bits from the cavity and fully wash the bird, inside and out, and make sure there are no internal bits stuck to the inside of the cavity. DO NOT remove the device holding the legs together. You can remove one leg from it, but you should reinsert the leg for cooking. Once washed and dry, its time to prep your bird.

You also need a pan to roast the bird in. Both times I've roasted a turkey, we've used disposable aluminum pans from the grocery store. They work well and make clean up easy. However the first time we didn't not put anything underneath the bird. By the time it was done, the bottom half inch of the bird was poached in the bird's own juices. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't the best presentation either.

This time I brought several racks with me to my friend's house. Unfortunately I do not own a pan which fits my racks. The one specifically for roasting.. well.. I burnt stuff in the bottom of the pan once and threw the pan away but still have the rack. The other is designed more for a sheet pan, not a roasting pan. We ended up balanacing the sheet pan rack on top of the roasting pan. It worked well, but we had to be VERY careful removing the bird from the oven.

If you do not have a rack to put the bird on, buy some extra onions and apples. Cut them into large pieces and line the bottom of the pan with them. Place the turkey on top of the fruit, and it should keep the bird from stewing in its own juices.

There are many ways to cook a bird. Slow and steady is how I describe. I've also heard to start the bird in a 500 degree oven for 15-30 minutes, and then turn it down. Or the opposite, start in a ~325 degree oven until the last 15-30 minutes and then crank it up. I've heard to start with the foil on till the very end, but I like to start with the foil off. So many ways, but in the end they probably all produce good turkey.

Roast Turkey:
1 Turkey, thawed, rinsed, and dried
1 stick of butter, room temperature, or good amount of olive oil
garlic (minced) or herbs or other seasoning of your choice
2 onions
2 apples
2 oranges
sage, rosemary

Preheat your oven to ~325.

Mix the butter/oil with garlic or herbs (herbs de provence would work nicely). Rub this all over the bird, and if you want to, seperate the skin from the meat starting at the neck and working over the breasts. Smear the butter/oil between the skin and meat.

Liberally salt and pepper the bird, including inside the cavity. Finally cut up the oranges, onions, and apples into large wedges and place enough inside the cavity to fill it, but don't over stuff. Also place the sage and rosemary inside the cavity with the fruit.

Place your probe thermometer into the breast meat if you are using one. Make sure it goes deep, but do not touch any bones as they will give you a false reading. If you are not using one, I highly suggest using an instant read thermometer, but the leg shaking method works well too.

Take a piece of foil and shape it so that it covers the breast and only the breast of the turkey. Remove it and place it somewhere safe for use later.

Finally take each wing and pull them slightly away from the bird, then twist and push the wing tip under the bird. This will keep them from over cooking. Your bird is now ready for the oven.

Place the bird into the oven. Cook for about 30-45 minutes before placing the foil over the breasts. The skin should be browned before you do this. Cook until it reaches the desired temperature. For a 20lb turkey, it takes about 4 hours.

Once done, CAREFULLY remove the bird from the oven, and place somewhere to rest. Let it rest for 10 to 15 mintes before carving. I leave carving for you to figure out, or perhaps another post.


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