I spoke with a friend of mine yesterday who is hosting her husband’s family for Thanksgiving this year. They are flying in from the east coast. She was a little stressed out because she had hosted Thanksgiving for the first time last year and the turkey was a little lack luster.
We’ve hosted Thanksgiving for about 30 people at our home on and off since 1995. Even years when we don’t have the dinner at our home, my husband is in charge of making the turkeys, stuffing and gravy. He got the got job because he makes the best dang turkey I’ve ever eaten.
That doesn’t mean he’s content to rest on his laurels. Over the years he’s tried just about every technique Food Network and Cook’s Illustrated could throw at a guy.
He’s brined, stuffed, not stuffed, injected, flipped, stuffed under the skin, basted, not basted…. The only thing he hasn’t tried is frying. I draw the line there.
Over the years, he’s settled on a few easy tips that are tried and true:
- Brining your turkey is essential. There are very slick turkey brine bags on the market today… I checked them out online and I think they look great. I did have visions of that bag breaking open and spilling turkey juice and brine all over, but I actually think these are very well designed. We have always brined our turkeys in a 5 gallon food storage bucket with a tight lid. I remove one shelf in my refrigerator and in it goes. The recipe we’ve used for years is almost exactly like Pioneer Woman’s brine recipe except we’ve never used apple cider. I think we’ll be trying that for fun this year.
- A roasting pan with roasting rack is really nice. Drew cooks his turkey on a rack in a roasting pan. At the bottom of the pan he chunks up a large onion, several stalks of celery with the tops on, several carrots (no need to peel), some bay leaves, and covers it all with chicken stock. All that good stuff at the bottom of the pan is going to mix with the drippings and make the best darn gravy you’ve ever tasted. But if you don’t have a rack and don’t want to make the investment, make it do and cook your turkey on a large cookie sheet, resting on a bed of large carrots. Alternating the direction of the carrots makes a more stable “rack”.
- Drew loves to rub the turkey in melted butter and a mix of sage, thyme and marjoram along with fresh rosemary.
- Don’t stuff. It takes too long to cook the turkey and it’s not all that safe. Drew loosely fills the cavity with chunked up onions, carrots, oranges, and rosemary.
- A roasting thermometer is essential. If you wait for that little pop up thermometer that comes with the turkey… you are going to have very dry turkey. We have, and LOVE, a digital thermometer that goes in the turkey, but has a wire that comes out of the oven. The monitor sits on the stove or counter. It allows Drew to watch the cooking progress without having to open the oven. Plus it has an alarm that goes off when the turkey hits the desired temperature. For us, that is when it reaches 170 degrees if the thermometer is inserted into the deepest part of the thigh. You can also use a good quality roasting thermometer also. You just need to be a little more on your toes so as not to overcook the turkey.
- Last but not least, allow the turkey to rest for a while before carving. Drew covers the turkey with foil and lets it sit for about an hour before he cuts into it. This is partly because we need the oven time to finish the rest of the dinner, and partly because a turkey needs to sit. It stays remarkably warm and keeps its juiciness.
Those are just a few quick tips. My mouth is watering just talking about turkey!