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Cooking Turkey Tips

Helpful hints to ensure a gorgeous, golden, and perfectly cooked bird.

Everyday Food, July/August 2006

Choosing a pan
If you make turkey and other roasted meats frequently, you should consider investing in a sturdy stainless-steel pan that will last a lifetime. Heavy stainless performs much better than lightweight aluminum, and distributes heat evenly. And it won't sag under the weight of a big roast. Look for a rectangular pan just big enough to fit your turkey, with medium-height sides (about three inches) and strong handles you can rely on. A pan with a nonstick surface will not allow foods and meat juices to brown and caramelize. Some pans come with racks; if not, you will need to buy one.

It is best to thaw turkey in the refrigerator, where it's too cold for harmful bacteria to grow. Use the bottom shelf, in case of drips. Place the turkey, breast side up, in its original wrapper, onto a rimmed baking sheet. Plan ahead to allow a full day for every four pounds of turkey being thawed.

Getting Ready
Remove neck and packet of giblets (heart, liver, gizzard) from the inside of the body cavity. (You can use them in the stuffing, or add all of them, except for the liver, to gravy or stock.) Rinse the turkey inside and out under cool running water, then pat dry with paper towels. Place it breast side up in a roasting pan before stuffing, and leave it out about two hours, until it comes to room temperature. Kitchen hygiene is especially important when handling raw poultry. Use a separate cutting board, and be sure to wash your hands and utensils with hot soapy water after handling to avoid contaminating other ingredients.

To avoid creating an environment favorable to harmful bacteria, stuff the turkey just before putting it in the oven, not ahead of time. Fill the cavity loosely, since stuffing will expand as it heats and will not cook evenly if it is too packed, providing another opportunity for bacteria to grow. Once the turkey is filled, secure the neck flap by pulling down the skin and fastening it with skewers or trussing needles.

Once the turkey is stuffed, tie the legs together with cotton kitchen twine; finish with a bow that will be easy to undo later. Wing tips should be tucked under the body so they don't burn. Rub the bird with oil or butter, and season as desired. Begin basting after the first hour of cooking.

The bird is ready when an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 180 degrees and juices run clear when meat is pierced. Stuffing should reach 165 degrees. Remove roasting pan from oven, and set on a heat-resistant surface. Tent turkey loosely with foil, and let it rest for half an hour before removing stuffing and carving so that the meat juices can be reabsorbed.

When the meal is over, cool turkey completely before covering with plastic wrap or transferring to an airtight container. It will keep refrigerated for three to four days and can be used any way you like, in soups, sandwiches, rice and pasta dishes. Gravy, turkey in gravy, and stuffing will keep for a day or two if refrigerated.

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