Happy Sunday! I realize that this is an odd day for me to post a blog, but it seems reasonable that on the final weekend day before Thanksgiving you might be online in search of last minute thanksgiving tips, tricks, and recipes. I know that even as an insane planner myself, there are usually some loose ends to tie up, and what’s a better time to do that than a lazy Sunday?
So today we’re talking turkey. So if you’re here for the sides, sorry this isn’t your day. But feel free to check out this killer vegetarian friendly stuffing recipe, these incredibly easy butternut squash drop biscuits, or an amazing make ahead brussel sprout and apple salad in the meantime. Oh, and mashed potatoes are on deck tomorrow – specifically my no elbow grease required, 5 minute, easiest ever mashed potatoes, so stay tuned for that.
But back to turkey! I’ve tried a lot of different turkey recipes over the years. My childhood turkeys were usually cooked in an giant oven-safe plastic bag along with a bottle of white wine and a stick of butter. This particular method resulted in a delicious tasting bird, but also one that looked, well, kind of gross – think turkey soup out of a bag. Other years I’ve spatchcocked, grilled, and been witness to a fried turkey (though have never been brave enough to do it myself). I’ve brined, injected, basted, and one time even went the fully cooked route via Whole Foods (which was honestly pretty good). And I still can’t say that I’ve exhausted all avenues out there when it comes to turkey cookery.
While the experimentation phase is not entirely behind me just yet, I have settled on a few things that work for when faced with a seemingly intimidating, raw, poultry beast, and I’d love to share them with you.
Turkey wisdom – an unfinished list:
- If you can, pre-order a fresh turkey in the appropriate weight range for the number of guests you’ll be feeding. You can figure about 1-1.5 pounds per guest. Pre-ordering seems a little bougie, but it means you know you’ll get exactly what you need, and on a day where there are so many moving parts you want to keep unexpected variables to a minimum.
- If you end up getting a frozen bird make sure you start defrosting it (in the fridge) a few days in advance. 12-16 pound birds need 3-4 days to de-ice, so plan accordingly. Trust me, I’ve definitely woken up Thanksgiving morning to a frozen bird, and it’s NOT a good feeling.
- If you plan to brine or pre-treat your turkey in any way, don’t buy a kosher or sodium injected bird. Just take a look at the ingredient list. If it has more than one item (turkey), then it’s probably been injected with a salt/sugar solution.
- Do plan to brine your turkey the day before. My personal preference leans towards a dry brine (this just means pre-salting your turkey and letting it rest overnight), because it’s less hassle.
- Invest in a decent instant read digital meat thermometer. The little red pop up timer (if your turkey even has one) is NOT TO BE TRUSTED. If you wait for that thing, you’ll definitely have a dry-as-a-bone bird, and nobody wants that. Instead, throw down the cash (as little as $25 and as much as $100) for digital version. Honestly I use mine multiple times a week, and it has paid for itself many times over.
- When you get that digital thermometer this is how you use it: Plunge the probe into the thickest part of the breast meat – it should register 155-160° F. The thickest part of the thigh should come to 165-170° F. These temps will continue to rise 5-10 degrees once the turkey is out of the oven. Test early, test often, and test in multiple parts of the bird to be safe.
- Use butter. I feel like this doesn’t need an explanation – but in case you’re like “uh what?”. Butter is tasty, it promotes browning, and you probably have a lot of it on hand anyway.
- Cook your turkey on an elevated surface. If you, like me, registered for a roasting pan with a roasting rack, this is your time to bust that baby out! But if you’re minus one roasting pan, no worries. A wire cooling rack set in a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet makes for an excellent turkey roasting device. If you’ve got a pan but no rack to speak of, just take several feet of heavy duty aluminum foil and crumple it into a sturdy, long snake. Coil it into your cooking pan or vessel of choice and there you have a perfectly workable (and bonus – disposable) roasting rack.
- Don’t baste. Basting is a crock of S*!t, IMO. It doesn’t really keep the turkey any moister and continually dousing the surface of the bird with moisture can make for uneven browning. To avoid a dry bird, keep a slightly humid cooking environment by maintaining a low level of liquid in the bottom of the roasting pan at all times. Water, stock, wine all work here. This also makes for much easier cleanup.
- But do GLAZE. This is the centerpiece of your table – glaze it with something yummy, buttery, a little bit sweet. It will not only add flavor, but also give you the burnished, golden brown bird of your dreams.
- Carve the turkey IN THE KITCHEN. Sure, bring it out for its beauty shot on the table so everyone can ooh and ahh – ie: bask in your well-earned glory. But then take it back to the kitchen while people start passing around side dishes and topping off their beverages. That way you can carve without an audience (which is intimidating as hell) and can steal a couple of the best bits for yourself.
So now that you’re armed with some (but surely not all) tips for turkey success, go forth and roast away. And remember, if all else fails gravy fixes a multitude of sins.
And if you need a last minute recipe, take a gander at my orange and honey roasted turkey. It’s to the point, delicious, and absolutely picture perfect.
Happy almost Thanksgiving!
Orange and Honey Roasted Turkey
This is a simple roasted turkey with a twist, which means it’s easy for you but crazy impressive for your guests.
- Prep Time: 10 Minutes (plus 24 hours chilling time)
- Cook Time: 3 Hours (depending on the size of your bird)
- Total Time: 3 hours 10 minutes
- Yield: 6-10 Servings
- Category: Dinner
- Method: Roasting
- Cuisine: American
1 12-16 lb turkey, fully defrosted
1/4 C kosher salt
2 tsp black pepper
3 T brown sugar
2 T orange zest
5 T unsalted butter, softened
For the glaze:
1/4 C honey
2 T soy sauce
3 dashes Worcestershire sauce
3 T unsalted butter
1 T finely chopped rosemary
Juice of 2 navel oranges (about a 1/3 C)
Remove any giblets from the inside of the turkey and set aside for gravy.
Rinse bird under cold, running water and pat dry thoroughly with paper towels.
Place bird on a wire rack placed over a rimmed baking sheet or a roasting rack set inside a roasting pan.
In a small bowl combine the salt, pepper, brown sugar, and orange zest.
Rub this mixture all over and inside the bird, making sure to get some underneath the skin of the breast meat as well as the thighs.
Transfer the bird to the fridge and let rest, uncovered for 24 hours.
The next day, take the bird out and let rest at room temperature for an hour, before cooking.
Preheat your oven to 400° F.
Spread half of the softened butter underneath the skin of the breast meat. Spread the rest over the surface of the bird.
Place the bird in the oven with the legs facing towards the back of the oven and pour 1/2 C water into the bottom of the pan (maintaining this level of liquid throughout the entire cooking process).
Roast for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the glaze by bringing all ingredients to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil for 5 minutes, or until glaze thickens slightly. It will not be very thick though.
Turn the oven temperature down to 300° F and apply a layer of glaze to the turkey.
Continue glazing the bird every 30 minutes, while maintaining a level of liquid in the bottom of the pan, until the bird registers 155-160° F in the thickest part of the breast, and 165-170° in the thickest part of the thigh meat. For a 13 pound bird, my total cooking time was just over 3 hours.
If you’re worried that the bird is browning too quickly, spray a sheet of aluminum foil with non-stick spray, and place it spray-side-down onto the top of the bird.
Keywords: beautiful turkey recipe, easy holiday entertaining, thanksgiving turkey