Domestic Details: 12 Tips for Roasting the Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey
Thanksgiving is almost upon us, and I’m sure you’re all kicking your domesticity into high gear for the big day. While many of you seem pretty confident in your side dishes, I feel like there’s a lot of anxiety surrounding the turkey. I get it. Turkeys are fat and scary, and some of you may be roasting one for the first time. Good luck with that.
Psych! You can relax. Roasting a turkey is actually pretty simple. Choose a recipe that you feel comfortable with, make sure you leave yourself enough time, and have some fun with it. I know, that is much easier said than done, and there are probably several of you cursing me through the computer right now for being incredibly laissez-faire about this. So, in the hope of putting your mind at ease and preventing any major poultry disasters this Thanksgiving, I’ve compiled some foolproof tips and tricks for roasting the perfect bird. Booyah.
12 Essential Tips for Roasting the Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey:
1. Make sure you buy the right size bird. A good rule to follow is 1 pound per person, or 1½ pounds if you like leftovers (which everyone does).
2. Give yourself enough time to defrost. If you can, I urge you to buy a fresh bird and pick it up the Tuesday or Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Fresh is just better, people. However, if you must go the frozen route, you are going to need 1 day of defrosting time for every 5 pounds of turkey. So, if any of you plan on roasting a frozen 20 pounder, you should put that bad boy in the fridge on Saturday, capiche? NO, YOU MAY NOT JUST LEAVE THE TURKEY TO THAW ON THE COUNTER WEDNESDAY NIGHT. Didn’t you read my post on defrosting?
3. Say yes to brining. This requires a little planning, but it is SO worth it. Turkey meat has a tendency to dry out, so brining it with either a regular brine or a dry-brine will keep the bird juicy and prevent overcooking. Don’t be intimidated by the terminology, friends. Dry-brining literally means rubbing a turkey with salt a few days before the feast. In case you need inspiration/instructions, I recommend trying this regular brine or this dry-brine recipe. For the record, you should never brine a frozen turkey. Frozen birds are injected with moisteners that have salt in them to maintain moisture levels when they defrost. No need to brine a “kosher” turkey either, as they have already been rubbed with salt.
4. Unwrap your turkey the night before. Leaving your bird uncovered in the fridge for 8-10 hours before cooking dries out the skin, which will give it that beautifully browned, extra-crispy exterior that we all dream about.
5. Don’t bother with trussing. Trussing is a shitshow, and your turkey will actually cook more evenly un-trussed. If you are cooking your bird with stuffing (you really shouldn’t, but we’ll get to that), you can go ahead and tie the legs together with kitchen twine.
6. Rub the skin with plenty of butter. Before roasting, lube your turkey up with a generous coating of butter if you want delicious golden skin. It’s the one time I’m going to tell you to use shameless amounts of the stuff. Not olive oil, not “Earth Balance,” BUTTER. Live a little.
7. Do not overstuff your turkey. A turkey cooks most evenly when the cavity is only loosely filled. In fact, it’s actually best to cook the stuffing separately from the turkey and fill the bird’s cavity with aromatics (onions, garlic, herbs, etc.) instead. The problem with cooking the stuffing in the cavity is that it needs to reach 165 to kill bacteria, and by that time, your meat will already be overcooked. If you must have stuffing soaked in the turkey’s juices, just pop it in the cavity when you take the bird out of the oven, it will still absorb just as much flavor without compromising the meat. Cool? Cool.
8. Elevate the turkey. In order to avoid a soggy bottom and get your bird nice and browned all over, place the turkey on a roasting rack in the roasting pan. If you don’t have a rack, don’t panic, you can make a foil snake. Alton Brown can teach you how to do this.
9. Stop opening the oven door! I know you’re going to be tempted to check on your bird, but opening the oven door reduces the oven’s temperature, which means that the turkey will take longer to cook, and it will dry out more easily. Bad! I know you’re thinking, “But Serena, I need to baste it constantly!” No, you do not. Basting is a myth. Yes, it does make your skin color a little bit more evenly, but it adds absolutely zero flavor/moisture to the meat itself. Fact.
10. Remove your turkey from the oven when the thickest part of the breast reads 155-160 degrees on a thermometer. (I highly suggest investing in a probe thermometer with a digital base for this.) This may sound early to you, but the temperature will continue to rise to about 170 degrees once you take the bird out of the oven. Most pop-up turkey thermometers are set to pop-up at 180 degrees, which will yield seriously overcooked meat. Gross.
11. Let your turkey rest for at least 30 minutes before carving. Resting the bird loosely tented with aluminum foil allows all of the delicious juices to redistribute, giving you the most tender meat possible. Your turkey can actually sit for up to an hour without losing too much heat, so you’ll have plenty of time to finish the gravy and sides.
12. Always make sure to carve your turkey with a very sharp knife and remove the thighs first. The former will make your life easier, and the latter will give you more space to maneuver when slicing the breasts. Take a look at this tutorial if you need some extra carving help.
Happy Thanksgiving, friends! May this year’s turkey be your best one yet.
Domesticity is all in the details, friends. Bow to your sensei.
*If you have a burning question that you’d like featured on a future edition of Domestic Details, don’t hesitate to contact me or leave it in the comments. Help me help you.
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