Hey folks! I’ve had quite a few questions about turkey both via email and on Facebook, so I thought I’d let you all in on a few turkey tips and tricks that I’ve used to help make that Thanksgiving bird extra delectable.
Frying Your Bird
First, of all… I’ll say it… my favorite turkey is a fried one. But frying a turkey is not an easy task at all. I fried two last year and though they were absolutely delicious, I think we’re going for the traditional roasted bird this year. If you do decide to fry, here are some tips to consider:
- DO NOT USE TOO MUCH OIL. It will boil over and catch fire and you’ll be celebrating in the ER not in your dining room. Thing is, it’s tough to know how much oil to use being that all birds are different. Start by placing your turkey in your frying vessel and pour enough water in the pot to just cover the turkey by about 1 inch. Remove the bird and mark the water line. That way you’ll know how much oil to use to fry your turkey. If the line is higher that two-thirds up the side of the pot, you need to get a bigger pot.
- SLOWLY lower the bird into the oil. I mean slow. Like, slower than “as slow as Christmas.”
- MAKE SURE THE TURKEY IS COMPLETELY THAWED AND COMPLETELY DRY. If you’re starting with a frozen turkey, you’ll need to allow up to 4 days (depending on size) for it to defrost in your refrigerator. Dropping a frozen bird into a vat of boiling oil will send that bird flying. DON’T DO IT. Get your hand up in there and make sure it’s thawed completely. Also, before you drop your bird, make sure it’s completely dry. Get some paper towels and pat that sucker down completely. Pretend you’re one of the TSA workers at the airport with the new pat-down rules and give that bird a good once over. Make sure it’s completely dry. Trust me, you’ll only make this mistake once.
- A fry thermometer is your friend here. You’ll need to keep that oil below 400 degrees to keep it from scalding and getting a nasty flavor.
- You’ll want to fry the turkey about 3 minutes for every pound. The turkey will come out dark brown, don’t be alarmed. If you’re still not sure about it’s doneness, and remember we’re talking poultry and salmonella here, get a meat thermometer and check the bird’s temp near the inner part of the thigh. It will need to read about 160 degrees when you pull it out. Once it’s out of the oil it will continue to cook and the carryover heat should bring it up to about 165 to 175 degrees.
- Use a brine! It will help keep your turkey moist and give it GREAT flavor. See below…
Brining Your Bird
If you’re talking roasted turkey, or any turkey for that matter, I strongly suggesting brining your turkey. It helps keep the bird moist and gives it great flavor. And though it sounds like lots of work, it’s really not too bad in the end. There are TONS of brine recipes out there, but my favorite is from Food Network’s Alex Guarnachelli. There’s a lot involved here, but hey… it’s Thanksgiving and if you’re like me, you only cook a whole turkey one time a year. Might as well make it memorable!
- 6 quarts tap water
- 1 pound kosher salt
- 1 cup molasses
- 2 cups honey
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon dried red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon dried sage
- Large bunch fresh thyme
- 2 heads garlic broken into individual cloves, unpeeled
- 5 pounds ice cubes
- 14 to 18-pound turkey, cleaned, innards removed
- 1 pound unsalted butter, softened
- 2 lemons, zested
- In a medium pot, bring 3 quarts of the tap water to a boil over medium heat. Put the kosher salt in a large bowl and slowly (and carefully!) pour the boiling water over the salt. Stir to blend.
- Add the molasses, honey, soy sauce, red pepper flakes, sage, thyme and garlic to the salt and water mixture. Stir to blend. Add the remaining 3 quarts of cool water. Add the ice to a cooler or bucket large enough to hold the brine and the turkey. Pour the brine over the ice and use a large whisk to blend all of the ingredients.
- Submerge the turkey, breast side down, in the brine. Make sure the cavity of the bird fills with the liquid as you are submerging it. Cover the cooler and allow the bird to sit in the brine overnight or for about 12 hours.
- Remove the bird from the brine and dry it thoroughly with thick (absorbent) kitchen towels. Take care to wipe inside the cavity as well. Discard the brine. Whisk together the butter and the lemon zest. Gently lift the skin covering 1 breast of the turkey and spread half of the butter right on the meat under the skin. Repeat with the other breast. The butter will add extra moisture and richness as the bird roasts.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Arrange the turkey in a roasting pan fitted with a rack. Put on the lower rack of the oven and roast until the internal temperature of the turkey taken from the thickest part of the thigh reads 170 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer, about 3 1/2 hours. Remove the turkey from the oven to a cutting board or serving platter and tent with foil. Allow to rest for 15 minutes before carving and serving.
General Turkey Tips
- Plan ahead. It takes up to 4 days (depending on size) in some situations to thaw a frozen turkey in your fridge. You’ll need to start that about Monday if that’s the case. Plan on about 24 hours per 5 pounds. If it’s a 20 pounder, then you’ll need 4 days.
- If you are brining, be sure to keep your turkey chilled below 40 degrees. So you’ll either need to make a place big enough for it in the fridge or keep it in a cooler and keep ice on it. You’ll just need to devise a way to keep it in the cooler on ice without watering down the brine. That might be using a fancy brining bag that you put the turkey and the brine into and then pack ice around it or you can fill Ziplock bags with ice and float them in the brine to prevent the brine from getting too watery.
- Using a meat thermometer will allow you to get the bird done throughout without over cooking it and getting it dry as dust. A roasted bird should measure about 170 to 175 degrees when tested near the inner thigh.
- If you’re baking your bird, the cook time will depend on whether your bird was fresh or frozen. Defrosted turkey will require about 20 minutes per pound in a 350 degree over, while fresh turkeys will require only about 10 to 15 minutes per pound.
- Tent your bird if you’re roasting. Making an aluminum foil tent over the breast portion of your bird will help keep it from drying out. Remove it about 45 minutes before it’s done to allow the breast to brown.