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10 turkey cooking commandments, part 1


Image: jdolenga/Flickr.com

Part 1 of 2.

In my thirty one years of living I have cooked approximately 17 turkeys under all types of conditions. There have been highs, such as cooking and carving five turkeys for my graduate student group’s thank you dinner for faculty.

There have also been some lows, such as my sister asking me if we could just leave the turkey out on the counter overnight since there was no room in the refrigerator.

Due to my undying passion for cooking up a succulent bird, matched only by my excitement for purchasing local birds raised, slaughtered and dressed by real live humans, I am often asked questions about how to successfully cook a turkey.

In order to do birds far and wide justice, I provide you with the 10 commandments of cooking an amazing turkey.

1. Thou Shall Brine Thy Bird

There is no way around this one. Find yourself a good clean, sturdy container and give that bird a good salt water bath for 24 hours. Some may claim superiority from a particular spice blend added to the brine, but the salt is the key factor. Osmosis works folks; make it work for you. Putting the brining container someplace where “you won’t forget where it is” only to promptly forget where it is one month later — like I do — is optional.

2. Thou Shall Purchase and Cook Two Smaller Birds Rather Than One Enormous Bird

I have yet to understand why waking up at 5 a.m. to put a huge bird in the oven is a road people go down. By the time a large bird is fully cooked all the way through, the breast is just this side of sawdust. If you are going to feed a huge crowd, go with two 20 pounders, not a 35 pound behemoth. This will also make the next commandment more feasible…

3. Thou Shall Thaw Completely Thy Bird

It can take several days to fully thaw out even a smaller (20 pounds or less) sized bird. If you plan on purchasing a frozen bird and haven’t gotten one purchased at least a week before T day, you are setting yourself up to fail. Thawing your bird in the fridge is the best bet and don’t forget to account for the room it will take up in the fridge, lest you find yourself embarrassed by your sister in a future blog post.

4. Thou Shalt Not Stuff Thy Bird

This item runs afoul on two fronts, food safety and meat quality. Have you ever seen a kitchen sponge swollen with food borne illness? Well, that is the purpose stuffing serves. Tossing in some onions, celery, carrots and herbs is acceptable. Stuffing it with a bread mixture you plan to serve guests is not. On the meat quality front, it is possible to cook the bird until the stuffing reaches a safe internal temperature, but that will result in an overdone bird, which I cannot endorse.

5. Thou Shalt Not Rely on Pop-Up Thermometers

Ensuring the bird is fully cooked to the proper temperature is probably the most challenging part of cooking a bird. A po- up thermometer will lie to you and make a fool of you. Get a good solid meat thermometer and check at least two places, deep in the thigh meat but not near a bone, to get a proper reading. Leaving the thermometer in the meat can also lead you astray since hot juices can pool around the probe giving an incorrect reading.

Read part 2.


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