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.