I adore Thanksgiving and all the feelings of warmth that surround it by way of feasts, family, friends and a four day weekend. My husband and I both grew up in Maryland, and our families still live here too. We make the rounds during the holidays, visiting both sides of the family. It’s not that they wouldn’t understand splitting up the sides, visiting one for Thanksgiving and the other for Christmas, rotating yearly. But when they each live less than 45 minutes away it’s hard not to want to see them both, despite super full bellies and exhaustion from running around a 30 mile radius.
So why not just offer to host the Thanksgiving dinner at our house, you wonder? Well, in the pecking order of hosting Thanksgiving dinner, I am about four down on the list. (Not to mention our house is way too small to effectively host more than, say, 10
or four people.) But, I have managed to prepare a few Thanksgiving dinners myself anyway, for our neighbor friends who weren’t able to travel home for the holidays, and also for family birthday dinners – none of which were actually on Thanksgiving, but that doesn’t matter. Thanksgiving food is satisfying enough to eat more than once a year!
When I talk to friends about preparing the gigantic spread, the thing that seems to really freak them out the most is roasting the turkey. How long should I cook it? Is it done? What about carving?
Look no further! You don’t have to be a culinary genius to prepare a simple (and super delicious) turkey. Here are five Thanksgiving turkey tips and tricks to help YOU prepare a bird that your guests will remember forever. (In a good way.)
5 Thanksgiving Turkey Tips and Tricks
- Give your turkey enough time to thaw in the fridge if it’s frozen. That means 24 hours for every four to five pounds. Also? You will want to set it on a baking sheet so that if the turkey releases any water as it thaws, the rest of your refrigerator doesn’t get a shower. Not that I’ve had that happen or anything.
- Season the skin well – over AND under. I season my turkey just like I season my roast chicken. Nothing fancy, but a few small extra steps go a long way to making that bird juicy (and the skin crispy). Create a salt and herb butter compound and slather that under the skin, after you gently slide your hand between the skin and the breast to create a pocket. On top? It’s simple. Make sure to pat it dry with a paper towel first, then use generous amounts of olive oil, salt and pepper. Seriously, feel like you’re going overboard with the salt, like a couple tablespoons’ worth – it does a lot to help whisk the moisture away from the turkey’s skin and make it extra yummy and crispy, while still leaving the meat moist and juicy.
- Make dressing, not stuffing. What’s the difference, you ask? Stuffing cooks inside the bird, and dressing cooks outside the bird in a separate baking dish. If you fill the turkey with stuffing, it can take a lot longer to cook the bird (about twice as long), and it’s really hard to be 100 percent certain that the stuffing’s cooked all the way through to a safe temp. Instead, fill the turkey with halved onions, herbs, garlic cloves, and maybe a few lemon and orange slices – you don’t have to serve them, but the aromatics while cooking, and the scent they’ll leave in the turkey meat far outweighs any sort of stuffing.
- Consider using a roasting bag. They sell these roasting bags in the same isle as sandwich baggies, and let me tell you – they really do work. And, despite my reservations, the turkey still came out with browned skin! But, if yours does not, you can take the turkey out of the bag when it’s done cooking and throw it back in a super hot oven – like 500 degrees hot – just until it browns a little more, about 10 minutes (but keep an eye on it).
- When it’s done, let the bird rest before carving. The bird looks awfully good when it comes out of the oven, doesn’t it? Aside from a little pinch of meat to test how delicious and juicy your masterpiece turned out, leave the bird alone for about 20 to 30 minutes before cutting into it. Wondering about the best way to slice? I love this video from Alton Brown, host of “Good Eats” on Food Network: How to Carve a Turkey.
PS: You know your turkey’s ready to come out of the oven when a thermometer inserted into the thigh reads 165 degrees and the juices are running clear. I know your meat thermometer says 180 degrees for poultry, but remember: while the turkey rests on the counter, it will continue to cook – if you pull it out of the oven at a higher temperature reading, your bird will overcook and then become dry. You don’t want that.
Want more Thanksgiving tips? Be on the lookout for next Tuesday’s post when I talk about how to make the perfect homemade turkey gravy to go along with last week’s creamy mashed potatoes.
About Liza Hawkins
With her down-to-earth approach to food, and a dash or two of snark, Liza enjoys eating, reading, cooking, dining and writing on a daily basis. By day, she's an insurance professional, by night she gracefully (or not sometimes) barrels through life keeping up with her blog (a)Musing Foodie, other freelance writing jobs, non-profit work, Twitter and Facebook, her kids, her husband, and whatever else happens to fill her plate. Read her blog here: www.amusingfoodie.com