Preparing Your Turkey: A Thanksgiving Survival Guide

Preparing Your TurkeyIf it’s November, you know we’re going to be talking about how preparing your turkey. Because most people only cook a turkey once a year, it can be a challenge to get things just right. And there are so many ways to prepare a turkey.

We have put together this Thanksgiving Survival Guide to answer the questions that may come as you think about preparing your turkey for the big feast.

How Big a Bird?
The first questions you should be asking are, “How big of a turkey do I need?”, and “What will actually fit in my oven?” As a general rule, you should plan on one pound of turkey per person. This should cover dinner, and leave you with a few leftovers. If you require a lot of leftovers, a pound and a half per person should be sufficient.

If you are planning to have a large number of people for Thanksgiving and are ordering a large turkey, you want to make sure that it will fit in your oven with sufficient room to roast. If it gets too close to the top element it will burn. If you’re uncertain it will work, you can always go with two smaller turkeys. Smaller birds cook quicker, and will ensure there is enough for everyone—including leftovers.

Spatchcock or Splay
Another option for large birds (or any turkey) is to spatchcock or butterfly the turkey. This flattens the turkey, so that it will not only fit in your oven, but your cooking time will be much faster. Spatchcocking also allows for more even cooking so that your light and dark meat are both juicy. The only drawback is you don’t have the drama of bringing a perfectly roasted turkey to the table. You can spatchcock a turkey yourself, or ask our butchers, they will be happy to do it for you.

Check out this New York Times video to see how it is done, Spatchcock a Turkey.

Another option instead of spatchcocking is to splay your turkey. Splaying your turkey just means that you cut the legs so that they lay flat in your roasting pan thus making them cook faster.

See how to splay a turkey here.

To brine or not to brine? That is the question. Most people have an opinion one way or the other about brining your turkey. Frankly it just comes down to preference. Brining can make for a very juicy turkey but you can achieve the same thing without brining too. You just need to keep an eye on the turkey as it cooks.

If you choose to brine, we recommend K. L. Keller Brine Mix.

Roasting a turkey is not particularly difficult. Where most people get in trouble is making sure that it is cooked all the way through. Our friends at Diestel suggest the following guidelines for cooking your turkey

1. Use a 325º F oven. We would encourage you to check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer throughout the roasting time to be careful not to over-roast. The internal temperature typically increases more rapidly during the last half of roasting.

2. There is no need to turn the bird while roasting as it will brown to a rich, golden color. A foil tent can be placed loosely over the turkey during the last hour of roasting to prevent over browning.

Suggested Roasting Times
*Please note that suggested roasting times may vary. If the turkey is not stuffed, decrease the roasting times listed below approximately 30 minutes.

Weight             Roasting Time
6-10 lbs.          approx. 2 hrs.
10-12 lbs.        3 – 3 1/4 hrs
12-14 lbs.        3 1/4 – 3 1/2 hrs.
14-16 lbs.        3 1/2 – 3 3/4 hrs.
16-18 lbs.        3 3/4 – 4 hrs.
18-20 lbs.        4 – 4 1/2 hrs.
20-22 lbs.        4 1/2 – 5 hrs.
22-24 lbs.        5 – 5 1/4 hrs.
24-27 lbs.        5 – 5 1/2 hrs.
28-30 lbs.        5 1/4 – 5 1/2 hrs.
30-32 lbs.        5 1/2 – 5 3/4 hrs.
32-34 lbs.        5 3/4 – 6 1/4 hrs
34-36+ lbs.      6 1/4 – 6 1/2 hrs.

Making Gravy
For truly marvelous gravy, heat (do not boil) 1 cup white wine. Pour this over your turkey halfway through the roasting time. When the turkey reaches the desired internal temperature, (165º F measured at the thickest point of the thigh) remove it from the oven. Cover and let stand for at least 15-30 minutes before carving.

Piedmont Grocery Turkeys
Our turkeys are chilled for freshness. Prior to bagging our turkeys are chilled in ice (not re-chilled water), in small tanks. Each tank of turkeys receives fresh, clean ice water. Once in a bag we hold our birds in refrigeration as cold as possible without freezing. While the USDA allows turkeys to be label fresh when held as low as 26º F, we chill only to 28º F.

Chilling is our only way of maintaining its wholesomeness since we do not use preservatives or additives. Chilling can result in a cold, firm turkey we term “crusted” and that we feel is ideal for you to take home to your refrigeration, allowing transportation time for that last minute stop. In preparing for your oven, a firm turkey will easily soften by merely submerging the turkey, in its bag, under cold running water.

Nylon Truss
Diestel Turkeys come with a nylon truss, and here is how to handle it. The nylon truss is oven and microwave safe and can withstand oven temperatures of up to 450º F.

To remove the truss just lift the ring and pull it up and over the end of the drumstick. To secure the truss, hold the drumsticks together, lift the ring and pull it over the drumsticks.

Once your turkey is cooked and has rested, it’s time to carve. Letting the turkey rest before carving is essential. Carving a turkey too soon can lead to dry turkey meat, and slices that fall apart.

Because of it’s size, turkey can be difficult to carve. For a great carving tutorial look here.

Troubleshooting a Dry Turkey
Sometimes no matter how hard you try, the turkey is dry. If your turkey does come out dry, here are three methods for hiding dry turkey meat from Epicurious.

1. Ladle warm broth over the platter of sliced turkey to make it look—and taste—moist. But don’t overdo it. You don’t want your turkey to drown in broth.

2. Dried-out turkey doesn’t just lack moisture. It lacks, well, fat. Luckily, Carmellini has a fix for that. “I would add some butter to the gravy and brush that mixture over the top,” suggests Carmellini. Now that’s sound advice.

3. Or you can combine the broth and gravy like Nate Waugaman, the chef of José Andres’ America Eats Tavern in McLean, Virginia. He mixes equal parts gravy and stock, seasons it, and then pours enough of this thinned-out gravy over the dry turkey slices to rise half way up the meat. He then covers the pan with foil and pops it in a 200°F oven to warm it through. “It’s important that the liquid is not too thick so that the breast meat is able to absorb it,” said Waugaman.

When it’s all said and done make sure you pack you leftovers away the right way.

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