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Guest Post from my husband, our turkey expert.
Well, it is almost Thanksgiving. Everyone is either working hard to pull together the mountain of food required for a proper Thanksgiving Feast, or you are out looking for a new pair of stretchy pants so you can break them in before Thursday. Either way, there is lots to do in the next couple of days. But, if you fall in the first category and are trying your hardest to pull off the perfect holiday meal, or at least an edible one, the pressure is on.
The problem is, if you mess up the stuffing, you may get a comment or two. Burn the rolls? Oh well. Undercook the sweet potatoes? Maybe next year. All these dishes and almost any other can be overlooked, but you cannot mess up the turkey, right? Or the whole meal falls flat. And we cannot have that, not this year. Maybe the new mother-in-law is in town, or this is your first year cooking a turkey, or you are just plain, tired of eating dried out turkey each time... and gosh darn it, this year is going to be different! Well, I am here to help! I love cooking the turkey and I like to think that I am getting rather good at it. So below are my three tips to making a great turkey.
1. Cooking to Temperature is the Most Important!
I like to cook. I am not a chef, but I pride myself on doing a great job when I do put forth the effort. People, from time to time, ask me what the key to cooking whatever meat I am serving at that meal. It doesn't matter if it is steaks, chicken, pork, etc., the answer is the same. Proper temperature. You have to cook the meat to the proper temperature, no higher, no lower. This lets the natural flavors of the food make you look like Chef Ramsey. Not whatever seasoning or sauce you struggled to put together or looked up online the night before. If you overcook or under cook most any type of meat, you can sauce it up all you want, it is just putting lipstick on a pig. Don't try putting lipstick on your pork tenderloin. It is just an expression.
So the same goes for a turkey. For a turkey, my oven has a built in meat probe which gives instant temperatures of the turkey at the push of a button. If you do not have one of those, then you can buy one at any major grocer or on-line. I recommend a cordless type. Not the old thermometer that you stick in the turkey and have to read the gauge by opening the oven. No, make sure you by a cordless type, that you can get readings from without opening the oven and letting the heat out. I don't trust those pop-up indicators that are put in some turkeys. I really have no idea what temp the turkey is at or even if it is working.
Once you have a meat thermometer, stick the probe in the thigh of the bird, running parallel with the body. Make sure you do not punch into the cavity of the turkey or hit bone, otherwise you will receive false readings. You want to be in the thickest part of the thigh, so that when you hit temp, you know the rest of the bird is also ready.
Of course your question is: What temperature do I cook the turkey to? The USDA says to cook poultry to 165 degrees min. I like to cook my poultry to about 155-160 degrees in the oven. I do this for two reasons. First, the thigh is the slowest to cook remember? So if it is really close then the rest of the bird should be spot on, right? If you cook the thighs to 165, then the rest of the turkey is probably at 175 or more and will be already drying out. The second reason I cook to 155-160 is, even after you pull the turkey out of the oven, it's internal temperatures will raise an average of another 10 degrees. I assume this is because the hotter parts of the turkey will continue to raise the temps of the cooler parts. So after about ten minutes, that thigh that read 155 should now read 165. I tend to wait till the turkey is at 160 in the oven just in case, since it is poultry.
Also! just as important! don't cut into the turkey for 10-15 minutes after it is out of the oven. This allows the meat to cool back down and pull those hot juices back into itself. This is a general rule. Whether in the oven, on the stove, or on the grill. Always let the meat rest.
2. CITRUS and HERBS and HONEY, Oh My!
What do you stuff your turkey with? Great Grandma Rose's raisin and rye stuffing? Eh, that works okay. But if you are looking for something different, and a box of stove-top stuffing is good enough, then try some citrus! Quarter up a couple oranges, lemons and onions. Toss this "salad" with a BUNCH of Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. don't forget salt and pepper. Then stuff the cavity of the turkey till you cannot get anymore in. Stand the turkey up with the legs to the sky and dump a BUNCH of honey in too. Then tie the drumsticks together with some thread to help hold everything in. There you go! Now this is not an edible stuffing, but the citrus will go all vapor-rub action on your turkey from the inside along with the honey and herbs. These flavors will really "brighten" up the flavor of the turkey. I love it and it has turned out great every time!
Last tip. Be sure to bag your turkey. What I mean is, you can buy plastic baking turkey bags at your grocer. These things work great and cut the cook time way down. After you have stuffed the turkey, put it in the bag. Be sure to add the required flour and holes in the bag to cook properly and not stick. Directions will be on the box. And since I have the bag, I take the opportunity to throw in any leftover oranges, lemons, onions that I have. I also like to rub butter under the turkey skin and more honey and herbs over top of the skin. I figure cannot hurt right? Then set it all on a roasting rack in a roasting pan and put it in the oven. Set it - but don't forget it! And don't forget to insert the probe! Keep checking that meat probe to make sure the turkey is cooking properly and not to much.
So, there you go! Those are my 3 tips to a fantastic turkey. I hope you have a wonderful thanksgiving. If this list is a bit too late this year, or you are not sure about giving up on that stuffing, then try out my tips later at Christmas or some other holiday. Or maybe on a roast chicken or other poultry. Let me know how it goes over on Facebook.
Don't forget that health happens at home,
Jamison Sills (aka the Husband)