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Turkey help?!

post #1 of 26
Thread Starter 
What is the best way to cook a delicious turkey? One that is crispy on the outside and juicy and succulent on the inside? :lips: This thanksgiving will be the first time i'm cooking a turkey by myself. Although i have been my mother's trusty handy "sous chef" :chef: for all of these years the children have decided to retired the old bird (hehe...couldn't resist) and make thanksgiving dinner ourselves! I'm pretty confident that i can repilcate all of our traditional fixin's :D but i'm not sure about the turkey and last year even with my mother's handy work the turkey didn't turn out that good. (but i blame my four nagging aunts who didn't help with the cooking but just nagged about it ALL DAY!:mad:) we usually have about 20 people for thanksgiving and by a decent sized bird..so any tips will be great!

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post #2 of 26
Brine it. Then you can do most anything to it.
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
post #3 of 26
How to cook a turkey:

Step 1: get a long stemmed thermometer. no choice - it's a required piece of gear.

Step 2: rip out the pop-up timer and throw it away.

ref: "the best" - no such thing. too many people have too many ideas/theories/backgrounds/childhood memories to even think about defining anything as "best"

best is "what you want"

here's my approach to "roasting things one has never roasted before" - i.e. big birds you don't have the luxury of spending months experimenting with . . . .

slow roast / cook followed by short hi-temp "finishing" aka browning aka "crisp that critter, Scottie!"

de tales:
start with a fresh not frozen bird. some reservations required - enquire!
defrosting a big bird is an event in and of itself - takes days in the fridge - it's not a 2 hour tour.
and finding out the bird is only 30% unfrozen is right cotton pikking uncomfy "on the day"

clean / dry skin / oil skin / salt / pepper / seasonings inside & outside
start the roast in a 325'F oven in a high sided covered pan - no cover? tent with foil. think "keep the moisture inside"

most poultry guides recommend 165'F for dark meat.
absolutely guaranteed to get you turkey leather.

drop each "target" by 15F degrees

bake uncovered until that there long stemmed thermometer _in the breast meat_ is 20 degrees short of your target (there's more to come + carryover)

un-tent; re-tent _just_ the white meat / breast; continue to roast until breast / thigh target temps are reached.

at this point you have a very nicely done turkey.
all you need to do is "make it pretty"

remove turkey, increase oven to 450'F - after oven has heated up, reinsert turkey uncovered to brown - watch carefully.
if skin is even remotely "dry" re-oil skin for max crispness

brining - no question - brining will increase the moisture content of the meat.
question: fresh bird, covered, is it needed?
I don't - take your choice.

timing - oh - yes, nothing specified above . . . .

timing is affected by
actual - not dial - temperature (oven dials are not famous for being "spot on")
stuffed / unstuffed bird
color of roasting pan

which all in all is the beauty of this method

start early
check temps
temps rising too fast - reduce oven
temps lagging, increase oven
temp out of control? turn oven off
really big time out of control? remove from oven . . .

size of bird / etc simply doesn't matter - watch the temperatures, adjust as needed.

watching the temps and how fast it is increasing allow you to tweak the roasting process so the bird is ready at the appointed hour.....
post #4 of 26
Thread Starter 
thank you for the tips..dillbert your post was especially entertaining.:lips:
post #5 of 26
Inject and deep fry. No seasoning on the outside. Fry at 350 for 4 minutes a pound. 10 to 12 lbs ers' work best.;)
post #6 of 26
Thaw bird, loosen skin over the breasts and work butter in under the skin. Lay strips of bacon over the top of the bird ad into a 450 oven for 30 minutes. Lower temp to 325 and cook until the leg feels loose in the socket, once the bacon has cooked out all the fat take it off the bird and munch. Zap the top under the broiler for a few minutes of you like super crunchy skin. Season inside and out before cooking with whatever you like.
post #7 of 26
Good turkey starts with (wait for it) good turkey. Some tips about choosing your turkey include:

Buy a turkey that's been allowed to roam a little. If you can't find one, buy "free range," which is almost as good. Kosher turkeys also tend to be better than run of the mill agri-business turkeys.

Buy the right size turkey. The best tasting, tenderest turkeys are in the 10 - 16 pound range. If your family's too big, and you have the room, better two 14 pounders than one 24 pounder.

Buy a turkey which is natural and not "enhanced."

Roast turkey, no matter how well prepared, is not as good as either smoked or fried. Every year I smoke four 12 - 14 pound turkeys for my family. 2 birds easily feed 20, but 3 come nowhere close to meeting the the "leftover demand."

If there's overwhelming demand for roasting, rather than another method -- you gotta do what you gotta do. Or so I'm told. One of the advantages of oven roasting a turkey is that you can roast a rough mirepoix in the same pan; and use it, the cooking juices, some stock and a little imagination to make a dynamite gravy.

Brining is a way of getting extra moisture into the bird, so when you cook it, it can be cooked through without drying out. Some turkeys are "enhanced." That means, they're already "brined" in a sense, and brining won't really help.

If you want a juicy breast, the best way is to roast the bird breast down for about three quarters of cooking time, then rotate it breast up for the last part. Simple trussing (legs together, thighs tight to the breast, wings tight to the breast) makes a big difference in the final shape of the bird.

Dillbert suggested a slow start and a fast finish, while Mary suggested a fast start and a slow finish. Both methods work, but Mary's a little more forgiving as to timing. Speaking of methods which work, Mary's suggestion of protecting the breast with bacon works almost as well, and is a little easier than the rotation method I use. It's called "barding."

If I understood his post correctly, Dillbert recommended a 150F (165F - 15F = 150F temperature for the thigh. Assuming the temperature is read accurately, this is too low for good textured dark meat, it's likely to result in "bloody," pink-tinged juices. In fact, the breast would likely finish at around 140F, which is very marginal as to safety. In fact, with a factory raised bird, such as a Swift or Tyson, it's unsafe.

155 at the breast, and 165 at the thigh is safe, but marginal for appearance and texture for many people. In fact, most "gourmet" type recipes (Saveur, Gourmet Magazine, etc.,) recommend 160/175 or 165/180 for optimal texture. Brining will ensure the meat is not dry at those temperatures.

Modern food safety practice is to prepare the stuffing outside the bird. One reason is that stuffing must be cooked to at least 155 for safety's sake, and will result in an overcooked bird.

I agree that the pop-out thermometers are set for far too high a temperature (typically 175 or 180 at the breast). The best types are an "instant read" which are available for less than $10, or a digital type with metal probe connected to an outside-the-oven digital readout (these cost less than $20). The digital type allow you to track the temperature during the cooking process.

Proper carving and plating make a big difference too. The best way to carve and present a turkey is not at the table, but in the kitchen. That's because the "right way" is to remove the breasts from the carcass before slicing. Very few people can carve a turkey neatly at the table, and even the best carving-station artist can't carve a breast with the skin divided evenly -- unless the breasts are removed first.

If you want more detail on brining, smoking, trussing, carving or any of the other techniques or points I brought up, I'll be happy to set it out for you. It would be helpful if you had some ideas about what you wanted to do so I can be specific without writing 10 different, detailed recipes.

It's very impressive that you're jumping on this so early.

Happy Holidays,
post #8 of 26
I always cook the stuffing in the bird but I also plant a probe thermometer in the center of it. The stuffing is more important than the bird in my family so making lots is a must!

Munching the bacon is the best reason to use it in my book :lol: I use the same technique when I toss one on the weber which is another way to get really crispy skin.
post #9 of 26
Thread Starter 
thanx BDL! there was a lot of useful information in your post! i will definitely be referencing your post for my turkey day!
post #10 of 26
Turkey stuffing:

Simmer 4 pounds of necks until tender. Pick as much meat off the necks as possible and chop then reduce the stock by half and add a stick of butter. You can cook the giblets also and chop and add to the neck meat

Crush 3 one pound bags of plain bread cubes so you have a 50/50 mix of crumbs and cubes. Place in a large bowl.

Add 2 chopped onions, 3-4 chopped stalks of celery, 3 eggs, and the meat from the necks.

Season to taste with salt, pepper, and sage.

Start adding stock and mixing. You want the mix to just start to hold together when you squeeze a handful.

Stuff some in the bird and spread the rest around the edges in the roasting pan.
post #11 of 26

Poor turkey

I agree with your article 100%, and mostly re. temperatures.
Banquet wise turkey is really butchered. It is cooked, then boned white and dark meat seperate. Then a scoop or square of stuffing set in a 2 inch pan. First dark meat down. then white scraps. then 1 or 2 nice white slices. Then coverered with clean kitchen towel soaked in turkey stock. At service time it is usually placed in oven with the wet towels and more stock to prohibit drying out, made fairly hot placed on plate and covered with giblet gravy. All that nice prep. and roasting for this. Seems like a waste.
post #12 of 26
Thread Starter 
One of my friends who used to own a small restaurant said to make the stuffing wet because it tends to dry out while cooking, but my mom always said to make it a little on the dry side because the juices from the turkey and natural water from the veggies will make the stuffing more moist as it cooks.. which is the right way? :confused:
post #13 of 26
I always go towards a bit dry but I baste with the turkey drippings once a hour.
post #14 of 26
Modern commercially raised and processed poultry carries a high risk of biological contamination. The risk comes not only from salmonella, but from norovirus and other unwanted organisms as well. Anything which comes into contact with a commercial bird must be cooked to beyond 155F, including dressing, or your risking the health of your family. If there are members in the "four verys" (very old, very young, very sick, very susceptible otherwise to food borne illness) you should take the dressing to 165F.

No matter how Mom did it, most modern cooking authorities recommend cooking the dressing outside the bird. There's a "new" method of stuffing which is also gaining in popularity. So you have options.

If you think turkey drippings make a big difference to the dressing (they do), and decide to cook dressing outside the bird, steal some drippings from the roasting pan and add them to your dressing. Or, if you're really serious about the whole holiday thing, roast a duck off the week before and reserve the drippings. You can't beat duck drippings. Similarly, you can prepare turkey or other poultry stock to moisten your dressing.

The new method I mentioned, is popularized by Alton Brown. You partially pre-cook the dressing and loosely stuff it into the turkey while the dressing is still hot. No doubt AB has streaming video available on the Food Network site; and if not, the show will certainly replay before Thanksgiving. I don't do it, I think it's more trouble than its worth, and I make a variety of dressings -- none of which need to be cooked in the cavity.

I'm not making this up, being alarmist, trying to be "right," competing with other posters, or rain on your parade in any way. This is for real. If you want a moist breast, [U}DON'T STUFF stuff. [/U] If you stuff, either partially precook the dressing or prepare for a dry bird. Remember how dry Mom's turkey was? You don't want that do you? The alternative is pushing the food safety envelope -- which is something you don't want to do.

There are other advantages to cooking the dressing separately. It's easier to make "enough for everyone," and using a cook to table piece, it's easier to serve. The turkey cavity can be loosely filled with citrus fruit and herbs for the cook, which will not only scent the meat, but the kitchen as well while the bird cooks. It's easier to time the turkey as well.

And a PS: I forgot to mention in my previous post that you should let the turkey rest at least 20 minutes before carving; and much longer if possible. The best way to rest it is to wrap it tightly in cling wrap or foil and put it in an insulated cooler prepped to hold heat (that is, the remaining space stuffed with wadded newspapers, and towels). You can get your turkey out of the oven (an ideal) 2 hours before service, and have the oven space for something else (like the dressing). Won't that be jolly? It will also make for a juicier bird.

post #15 of 26
I do something similar, but use turkey wings instead I find them easier to work with than necks. Hmmm, I wonder how smoked turkey parts would do for making the stock ( or is that broth ?? ) I'll roast the wings in a fairly hot oven until the skin gets nice and brown, usually in the pot I'll use to make the stock. The roasting imparts some of that roast turkey flavor into the stuffing without cooking it in the bird. I let them cool for a while, cover with cold water, and then do it pretty much the same way. I do often add a handful of sauted mushroom slices. Oh, I usually do the stock a couple days in advance, the kitchen can get pretty hectic on Thanksgiving.

I don't cook the stuffing in the bird anymore, I use a seperate covered casserole. I do, as I've mentioned before, cut up a lemon and an orange into quarters and toss those in the cavity. Using a freshly made turkey broth stuffing from scratch is SO much better than one where the box says "bring X cups of water to a boil and add seasoning packet ..."

Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
post #16 of 26
BDL I find it a bit scary, putting hot dressing in a cold bird. The variation of temperatures makes me worry about contamination. I was always taught keep it cold or hot , no in-be -tween. I have seen many things on the food channel I do not agree with and you must have to.(have you watched them with no gloves) and Flay tasting something from his hands and then back to prep something else this is a no no in any state by any health department.
post #17 of 26
I don't remember exactly how AB did it. (And really don't care that much.) I smoke the turkeys or my family will kill me. So, there's no stuffing the bird. The dressing cooks separately in the oven. But even for regular indoor oven cooking, I like citrus and herbs in the cavity, more than dressing. The bird not only tastes better, I can make as good a dressing outside the bird as anyone else can in. Overconfidence? Probably.

High end restaurants like the ones Flay learned in and owns are a lot more relaxed about food handling standards than the big food service places you worked in. They probably shouldn't be. I don't know if I've said this or not to you, but I'm constantly impressed at how much you know about all aspects of handling volume.

post #18 of 26
Cook's Illustrated did some testing on this with a remote thermometer. They found starting with hot stuffing gets the stuffing out of the danger zone temp wise faster than starting with cold. And it gets the stuffing up to finished temps before drying out the breast. While it may seem counter-intuitive to safety standards, the testing was convincing.

Probably wouldn't work with the low temperatures of smoke cooking though.

I only tried it once. I too think I can cook as good of a stuffing outside of the bird as in. But it requires that I have turkey stock on hand to do it. This means I do a small bird in late October now as a warmup and experimental batch for new things and a carcass to make stock from for the real event. I freeze it until Thanksgiving.

Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
post #19 of 26
Who would smoke and stuff?

post #20 of 26
I don't think any serious smoker would. They would understand the issues.

But from your post where you said you always smoked yours, I thought I would bring up the possibility in case someone inexperienced wanted to try it. An attempt at idiot proofing even though the world seems capable of producing increasingly worse idiots.

Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
post #21 of 26
I have had to explain the no stuffing when smoking to a lot of customers. Even then they don't seem to understand. I still stuff when I do one in the house but thats more habit than anything, I use enough turkey neck stock and meat in the stuffing that it cooks fine by itself.
post #22 of 26
Oh I really liked this thread when reviewing turkey posts to get my Thanksgiving game plan.

I'll be spending Thanksgiving at work instead of at home this year, sometimes that happens:mad:

This is the first year I got a turkey from a local farm, 20lb bird. I plan to do a savory brine and roast it in the oven. I normally start the bird upside down, but was thinking of trying MaryB's barding trick with bacon on the breast. Is the barding trick fine with a 20lb bird or would the timing be too far off because of it's size.

I also plan on making stuffing in a separate dish, stealing some drippings from the bird. After reading this thread I got to thinking...and I'll be roasting a duck today for Thanksgiving dressing. Yum Yum.

Thanks for the ideas!

post #23 of 26
Just as important as how you cook a turkey is how to carve it correctly! You dont want to let some delicious meat go to waste. Here is a How-To carve a turkey video to get you all in the mood and hopefully give you some useful tips.

YouTube - Pampered Chef - How To Carve A Turkey

Let me know if you find this helpful.

Advocate for PamperedChef
post #24 of 26
Don't forget the little things like slitting slots in the bird for garlic cloves. My mom has been doing her stuffing inside the turkey for twenty some years and it has always been delicious. I've grown up with it that way so it would be odd if a bird wasn't stuffed on Thanksgiving day.
post #25 of 26

Cooking the Turkey


Here are some tips on how to cook a turkey. Just try it , maybe this can help you.

30 minutes before cooking remove the turkey from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature. The oil in the fryer should be 350° degrees for optimal cooking and the turkey must be dry when going into the oil. Most turkey fryer recipes call for peanut oil, add this up to the line inside of the turkey fryer. Slowly place the turkey breast side down into the fryer basket. Allow the oil temperature to lower to 300°F and continue frying, it is recommended that you fry for 4 minutes per pound of turkey.
Remove the turkey to a serving platter and season to taste with salt and pepper. Place the bird upside down fro at least 20 minutes so the juices will redistribute to the breast. Flip the turkey right side up and serve with garnishes of choice.

2 whole turkeys
16 oz. bottle Italian dressing
1 tbsp. garlic powder or garlic salt
1 tbsp. onion powder or onion salt
1 tsp. celery salt
1/3 bottle paprika pepper
1/2 can of beer (optional)
3 tsps. poultry season
1 tsp. salt (omit this if using garlic or onion salt)
1 tsp. pepper (black)
1 tsp. pepper (white)
2 tsp. cayenne pepper
4 dashes Tabasco

Wrap legs with foil and-or wire. Mix all ingredients and inject into each bird at least 12 hours before cooking and place in the refrigerator. Deep-fry the turkey using peanut oil, 4 minutes per pound. The oil in the fryer should be at 340 degrees.

And also for the Carving method on your turkey get the best tips here on how to carve a turkey in a perfect way - Turkey Deep Fryer - How to Carve a Turkey
post #26 of 26


I've tried using brines in the past and followed the recipes to a T, however I have not been impressed with the results. The turkey has turned out tender and juicy, no doubt. The flavor of the turkey, on the other hand, is my issue...too salty and the sweetness from the sugar is a little off-putting. Any suggestions for a good brine recipe with sure fire results?
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