In my family, we are always trying to get creative in the kitchen when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner. Often we’ll incorporate less traditional side-dishes into our meal to keep things interesting, but regardless of the accompaniments, there’s always a turkey on the table.
Coincidentally, though we’ve always cooked a turkey, every year it seems we forget exactly how to best cook a turkey – the tips to keep it moist and juicy, how to prepare it for roasting, how to give it the best flavor, and how long it needs to cook for. There are so many pieces to consider when cooking the perfect turkey, it’s almost impossible to remember them all! This year in an attempt to have the best turkey ever, I’ve compiled a list of essential tips and tricks, plus a few fun ideas for proving your turkey finesse, and wowing the entire family.
Let’s start with the basics. Every turkey is different, and every family’s tastes differ, so you need to know first how to handle and prepare the turkey that’s going to grace your table. If you’re using a frozen turkey, be sure to defrost it completely before starting work with it.
To begin, there are a few options. You can brine your turkey ahead of time, helping it to keep its moisture as it cooks – it’s a simple trick that makes worlds of difference, but can be time consuming. If you’re going to brine, just be sure to plan it out ahead of time – some recipes (like the one above) have you brine overnight!
You can also fill the bird with stuffing, and I usually find that a combination of coarsely chopped veggies (carrots, onions, and celery) works best. You can even tuck chopped fresh herbs and garlic (and maybe a few slabs of butter?!) under the skin of the bird if you’re feeling fancy, which lends great flavor with minimal effort. Just keep in mind – your turkey will cook more evenly if it’s not too densely stuffed, so if you’re stuffing, do so sparingly!
Another fun idea to try when preparing your turkey is to make an edible rack to rest it on. This means you won’t have to worry about the hassle of using (and cleaning) a traditional roasting rack, plus your leftover pan drippings will be enhanced with wonderful veggie flavors, and will be the perfect base for homemade gravy! To make an edible rack, simply stack whole carrots and celery stalks crisscrossed on the bottom of a roasting pan, and lay your turkey on top of that.
So now you’ve either stuffed your bird, or prepared it for cooking. As a general rule, you should plan on 20 minutes per pound in a 350 degree F oven for a defrosted turkey, and 10 to 15 minutes per pound for a fresh one. Before popping the bird into the oven, coat it with vegetable or olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Then, cover with aluminum foil to prevent too much browning. For even roasting, make sure to truss your turkey too.
For best results, roast your turkey according to the times above, but about 45 minutes before it’s finished remove the tinfoil so it can get nice and golden all over. Cook until it reaches 180 degrees F (to get the best temperature reading, insert a thermometer between the leg and the breast). Once it’s finished, let it sit and cool for at least 15 minutes before cutting. And voila! You have a perfect turkey.
Now that you’ve got the basics down, and are headed for a really stellar turkey, here are a few more fun tips and tricks to consider.
Brush the skin of your turkey with white vermouth about 15 minutes before it’s done cooking. The sugar in the wine will brown the outside of your bird beautifully, and make the skin taste divine.
Save the carcass, and make homemade stock! When you’ve eaten all of the meat, just place the carcass, along with any veggies and herbs you’ve got laying around, in the bottom of a large pot and fill it with water. Boil away until you’ve created a flavorful and fragrant stock and then use immediately or store in the refrigerator.
Don’t let those pan drippings go to waste! Collect all of the drippings from the bottom of your pan once the turkey is done cooking, and incorporate them into some fantastic gravy to accompany your turkey and various side dishes.
And if you’re feeling outrageously crazy… go for a Turducken. I’ve never tried one of these myself, but I’ll be pretty darn impressed if you do!
Taryn Collins is an Owner Services Specialist at FlipKey. She enjoys traveling, being outdoors, being active and trying new things, and she loves baking. When not writing for the FlipKey blog, Taryn spends the majority of her time photographing and writing for own my personal baking blog.