How to Perfectly Prep and Roast Your Holiday Turkey


1. Thaw. Hopefully you started thawing your turkey several days in advance - preferably in the fridge - never at room temp. A defrosted turkey is fine in the fridge for several days, so you might as well start the thawing process a week before the big day. A big 10-20lb turkey will NOT fully defrost overnight. Butterball recommends one day of thawing time per every 4 pounds or turkey. *The faster method is to defrost it in a bath of ice water. I've had to do this at the last minute when my big 15 pound turkey wasn't fully thawed in the center. It's incredibly important it is evenly thawed to ensure even cooking. If you find your turkey is still a bit frozen on Thanksgiving morning, place the turkey (plastic wrapping and all) breast side down in a cold water bath, and swap out the water every half hour. You can use Butterball's website for more turkey thawing tips and to calculate turkey thawing times by the pound.

2. Brine or Season the Day Before. Now I'm contradicting myself here; last year I said I wasn't a briner. This holiday however,  I'm giving it a go. It's basically marinating when you think about it, and that will make for a more flavorful and tender roast. Though to be more specific, brining is marinating the turkey in a salty solution to help the meat retain more moisture during cooking, thus resulting in a more juicy bird. I've made many juicy turkeys and chickens without brining, so I still agree with Bobby Flay in that brining isn't necessary for a moist turkey, besides it takes up more prep time and a lot of space. Though as a means to marinate the turkey with added flavor, it couldn't hurt! In addition to the salt and water, people tend to brine turkeys with added liquids like wine or apple cider. Last year I tried this sweet and savory brine, and it was so amazing! However, if you really don't want to mess with brining, I suggest you do the herb butter rub mentioned below a day in advance, to let the flavor soak in and to make sure the turkey is fully thawed in advance.

3. Rinse and Pat Dry. Whether you've brined or not, rinse the turkey and remove the giblets and neck. If you prep the turkey the day before, it's the perfect opportunity to make some homemade turkey stock using the neck. Then you can have the turkey stock on hand to baste the turkey with and use in the stuffing and any other holiday dishes that traditionally call for chicken stock. You can also use it to make turkey soup or turkey pot pie with the leftover meat. I'll post recipes for my turkey stock and pot pie in the following weeks. After you've removed the neck and giblets, pat the turkey dry as well as possible. You want it nice and dry before you put on a butter rub or spices.

4. To Stuff or Not to Stuff. I always say NO to stuffing the turkey. I don't like moist, mushy stuffing, and stuffing the turkey will run you the risk of overcooking the meat in order to avoid contamination of the stuffing. Most importantly, if you stuff the turkey, you take up valuable cavity space that should always be used for adding more flavor to the meat using fresh herbs and fruits or veggies. I simply cannot, nor will I ever condone cooking the dressing inside a turkey. Though if you must, here are some guidelines on how to stuff a turkey.

5. Stuff the Cavity with Herbs & Fruit. I love to stuff a turkey (or any roasted bird) with fresh herbs and fruits/ veggies to add more flavor during the roasting process. I've stuffed a turkey several different ways. I always start with salt and pepper then add fresh garlic cloves and fresh herb bundles of parsley, sage, and rosemary. Then I either go with roughly chopped celery, carrots, and apples; or I add in roughly chopped citrus fruits. I love to stuff the cavity with oranges whenever I'm using a sweet glaze, like my maple-glazed turkey.

6. Season Underneath the Skin. If I could give you just one tip for flavoring the turkey, it would be this one. It's so important to add flavor under the skin and not just on top. Starting at the tail end, use your fingers to wiggle your way under the skin to separate it from the meat. From here you can add flavor in a number of ways, from compound butter to simple olive oil and salt to a wet rub with spices. No matter how I flavor my turkey, I always use unsalted butter underneath the skin - emphasis on unsalted. As it melts into the meat, it creates a juicier turkey and of course adds flavor. Mix in herbs, spices, or fruit compote to create compound butter. I also rub the butter over the skin, though I heard from Alton Brown on the Food Network Thanksgiving Special for 2013 that the water in unclarified butter can cause an unevenly browned skin (my photo above proves it). To combat this and unsure an even, crusty brown turkey skin, brush the top of the skin with olive or canola oil.

7. Season the Outside of the Skin. It seems simple, but a very important step before roasting the turkey is giving it a good, even sprinkling of salt and pepper. Whether you're basting or glazing, hold off until the spices and oil/ butter have begun cooking into the bird so you don't cause it to run right off the turkey.

8. Pick the Right Roasting Pan. Your roasting pan should leave space around the outside of the turkey, and should be at least 2-3 inches deep (though not too deep). You can use a roasting pan with a rack to keep the thighs out of the basting liquid, or you can place the turkey directly on ribs of celery. I've done it both ways and really have no preference one way or the other. This should go without saying, but make sure you roast it breast-side up. On the other hand, I recently heard a lady say she baked it the wrong way on accident, and it made for extra-juicy turkey breast. I think this year I'm going to start it out breast-side down, then flip it over after half an hour. I will let you all know how that goes! Any of you ever tried it?

9. To Truss or Not to Truss. Another controversial subject when it comes to turkey roasting, trussing involves using twine to tie down the wings and tie the legs together for presentation. A recent study proved that trussing a bird causes it to cook unevenly and in no way creates a juicier bird. It is for presentation purposes only. I like to tie up just the legs, and I simply tuck the wings in to prevent them from burning.

10. How Long to Roast the Turkey.  The average unstuffed 15 pound turkey should only take about four hours, so you really don't need to get up at 4 a.m. Though you do need to let it rest at room temp at least 30 minutes before roasting. Start it off at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 for about 4 & 1/2 hours. You can refer to this turkey-roasting chart, though make sure you use a thermometer and cook the meat until it reaches 165 degrees at the thickest part of the breast or 180 in the thigh. You don't have to cover the whole turkey with foil during roasting, and given that you'll want to baste every half hour, it's a pain in the butt to have to cover and uncover. However, when it's more than halfway done, you can cover just the breast to prevent over-browning. The best advice I've ever heard regarding what to do if the breast is done but the thighs aren't was from Bobby Flay. He says to cut the thighs and legs off and return them to the pan to let them simmer in the oven. I did this last year, and it was so delicious! Before carving, don't forget the very important step of letting the turkey rest. It should rest about 20 minutes before carving, or all the juices will run right on out. You can cover it with foil to keep it warm.

I hope I covered everything and answered any questions you may have about roasting a turkey. If you have any other questions, you can leave them in the comments section, and I'll answer them. Have a happy holiday!


http://www.krisztinawilliams.com/2013/12/my-sweet-savory-turkey-brine-recipe.html
My Sweet & Savory Turkey Brine Recipe >

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