Five Steps to a Perfect Turkey -- Good for Eating and Throwing

Categories: Food News
turkey in the pan.jpg
Photo by Flickr user KS Girl

Dead turkeys are aerodynamic disasters. I chose to prove this many Thanksgivings ago by hurling one at my sister as she ran screaming down the stairs from my Brooklyn apartment after a fight. It was cooked, it was in a broiling pan, and I was unable to get a clean hit on my sister. Later, we ate mashed potatoes for dinner.

I learned something important about myself that day, standing in the hallway, screams and door slams echoing, turkey meat splattered all over the stairwell: I don't like to see meat animals die in vain. And that poor turkey had been killed three times: once at the turkey plant, once when it glanced off my sister, and once, most
importantly, when I cooked it; that bitch was dry as a bone. So that day I made a simple pledge: "On the graves of my forefathers," I swore to myself, "from this day forward, any turkey that I try to brain someone with will be moist and succulent. And easier to aim and throw."

And, this Thanksgiving, I'm going to share what I've learned about how to make a turkey that won't choke your in-laws or drive your kids out of the house when you offer them leftovers.

1. Put Down that Frozen Hunk of Bird

Tasty turkey starts with bird selection, so always buy fresh, not frozen. Freezing draws moisture out, so you'll be at an immediate disadvantage. Fresh turkeys need to be purchased much closer to T-Day (two or three days ahead, at the most), so your options may be limited. Frozen birds, if you have to use one, should be defrosted in the fridge, and that can take four or five days for a real fat boy.

And while we're on the topic, too big a bird can be hard to cook evenly and keep moist, so resist the temptation to buy the one that looks like a Buick. Besides, they're tougher to throw. Instead, figure on about a pound and a quarter of bird per person. A bit more if, like me, you're happy hoovering leftovers for days.
trussed and stuffed.jpg
Photo by Flickr user skeptict
Well trussed, but are you sure about that bacteria stuffing?

2. Hosing Down Your Stuffing

For years, I stood by the stuffed bird technique because of the awesome flavor and juiciness it gave the breading. Unfortunately, it can also give the breading a healthy dose of live bacteria, and it actually makes it harder to cook the bird evenly. Thankfully, I've hit on a solution: I make my stuffing in a separate pan, but I hose it down liberally with fat and juices that I draw from the turkey pan while it's cooking.

3. Drop that Bird in the Bath

Here's where things get interesting. The best way to guarantee a juicy bird is brine. It plumps the breast and changes the muscle tissue in the meat, causing it to swell up and retain moisture -- just like your mother-in-law's ankles, except not gross). Now Mr. Turkey can drop some water weight in the oven and still stay plenty juicy.

To brine your bird, you'll need a bucket big enough to hold it submerged in liquid but still able to fit in your fridge. The big-box home supply stores have buckets in the paint department that are cheap and work well. For the brine mixture, dissolve a cup of kosher salt and a cup of brown sugar in two gallons of cold water. From there, experiment: I like to add some peppercorns, a bunch of peeled garlic, a few bay leaves, and some allspice. I've heard about, but never tried, adding juniper berries, allspice berries, and fruit to the brine. Hell, I've even heard whisperings of a cult that mixes Coca-Cola with salt to make a brining solution.

Clean your turkey and remove the giblets. Submerge it in the brine, cover it, and refrigerate it for at least 12 hours but not more than 24.

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Photo by Flickr user bluemagoo
The bacon is optional. The basting isn't.

4. Cook the Sumbitch

Preheat the oven to 400, or 350 if you're working with a bird over 18 pounds. Remove the turkey from the brine, rinse well in and out, then pat dry. Perform a loose truss -- for instructions on how, check a cookbook or your local dominatrix.

For the first hour of cooking, do one of the following: cook it on a v-rack in a roasting pan breast side down and uncovered. This technique causes juices to pour into the breast and help juicinate it. If that sounds just too wacky, tuck the wings underneath and put it in the v-rack breast up. Slather the skin liberally with softened butter, tent loosely with foil, and put it in the oven.

After the first hour, flip the bird breast side up or remove the foil, baste with about a half cup of chicken stock and return it to the oven. Continue basting every 20 minutes with pan juices. Roast until internal thigh temperature is 165 degrees. Remove from the oven and cover loosely with foil while you make your gravy.

5. Serve, Preferably with a Can-shaped Condiment

Dish up your turkey with apple and raisin stuffing and a big vat of smashed spuds. Oh, and cranberry jelly -- I like it right out of the can and unsliced, a big gelatinous red tube complete with cutting guides. And now that you've cooked the turkey right, just beware that if you throw it at a family member, you'll have major-league juice cleanup.

Bradford Schmidt is The Meatist. He's also author of the blog Bone in the Fan. He lives in northern Palm Beach County and doesn't condone the act of throwing whole turkeys.

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