Turkey Tips: Time to Get Cookin’

In our last article we talked about the different types of turkeys that are available to help you make the best choice on Thanksgiving. This is where the rubber hits the road: preparing and cooking your turkey for the big day.

But before we dive in, a word about defrosting

If your turkey is frozen, you need to think about defrosting it way before it’s time to slide it in the oven. According to the National Turkey Federation, you should allow approximately 24 hours for every four to five pounds of bird weight for thawing in the refrigerator. This method is the safest and will result in the best finished product. For a 16-20 pound bird, this is 4-5 days. Unless you want your Thanksgiving to be memorable for food borne illness, resist the temptation to save time by defrosting at room temperature on your kitchen counter.

And a word about fresh turkeys

According to the USDA, turkeys to be sold fresh are quick-chilled to 40 °F or lower, but must not go below a temperature of 26 °F. Fresh turkeys should be refrigerated and used within 1 to 2 days from purchase.

Time to brine?

Brining a turkey is a popular method to increase moisture of the meat. It involves submerging uncooked the turkey into a flavored salt solution, which, through the power of osmosis, traps flavor and moisture into the meat at a molecular level.  This is a great way to ensure the breast meat will remain juicy while the leg and thigh portions finish cooking. The downside is that the meat’s overall saltiness is increased. There are foodies who both champion and deride the technique. But if you decide to brine your bird, here are links to some recipes.

Note: If the recipe calls for kosher salt, use kosher salt. Table or sea salt is more powerful and using it as a substitute will result in an overly-salty finished product.

The Pioneer Woman Cooks has an excellent brining recipe that contains multiple flavor elements, sweet brown sugar and apple cider combine with savory aromatics.

Martha Stewart’s Turkey Brine utilizes whole spice berries and seeds, as well as a whole bottle of dry Riesling! Who are we to argue? In Martha we trust.

The thought of a maple-infused turkey sounds like a delicious way to counteract the salty flavors of brining. If it sounds like a good idea to you too, then check out this formula from BHG.com

Bon Appetite’s Malt-Beer-Brined Turkey with Malt Glaze puts a spin on brining that adds richness to the mix with malt syrup and stout beer.

What if I don’t want to brine?

We totally understand. Finding the refrigerator space, not to mention a bucket big enough to hold a 20-pound turkey, can be a challenge. Here are some non-brining recipes that pack a flavorful punch:

The simple route

Los Angeles  Times writer Russ Parsons touts a simple salting technique that in his words produced “the be-all, end-all turkey recipe.”

Go deep

A relatively new and increasingly popular method for cooking a turkey is outdoor deep frying. Practitioners of this method rave about the reduced cooking time, freed-up kitchen space, and the fact that it gets the men out of the house while the turkey bubbles in its oil Jacuzzi. Frying rigs generally go for about $100.

And for sheer enjoyment, check out Alton Brown’s delightful Rube-Goldberg contraption to maximize safety during the deep frying process.

The best of both worlds

If presenting a giant roasted bird in all its intact glory is less important than ensuring both the light meat and dark meat are cooked perfectly, do what many professional chefs suggest: Butcher the turkey beforehand, separating the breast meat and the leg-thigh portions, and apply different cooking techniques for each. In this case, a brined, roasted turkey breast, and legs and thighs cooked confit-style (slow cooked in duck fat). You can worry about the caloric consequences later. Read more from Chow.com.

Do you have any turkey cooking tips to share?