Thanksgiving is just a week away, and that means it is time to really think about the star of the show – the beautifully roasted turkey! Cooking for a holiday crowd can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. With a little know how, you can have a successful and delicious Thanksgiving.
How Big is Big Enough
When shopping for a turkey, consider the number of guests you will be having for dinner. You will need about 1/2 pound of turkey per adult dinner guest (go with a pound per person if you want leftovers or if you do 2 rounds on the same night). Expecting more than 30 people for your Thanksgiving feast? Consider buying 2 smaller birds, or a whole turkey and one or two additional breasts to cut down on your overall cooking time.
No matter what size bird you purchase, make sure you have a pan that is large enough, and that you are able to comfortably lift it in and out of the oven.
Place the frozen turkey, in its original packaging, on a rimmed baking sheet (to catch any juices that may leak) and put it in the refrigerator. Plan on 5 hours of defrosting per pound of turkey – so a 18 pound bird would need to be defrosted for about 4 days. Add an extra day to be safe.
If you are short on time, or refrigerator space, try a cold water bath.
Place the packaged turkey in a large pot or 5 gallon bucket, breast side down. Then place the bucket o’ turkey in the bathtub or a laundry basin and run cold water into it. Once the bucket is full, turn the cold water down to a trickle. The constant motion of the water will speed up the thawing process more so than leaving it in standing water. This defrosting method takes approximately 30 minutes per pound – so the same 18 pound turkey would be defrosted in only 9 hours.
Brine your Turkey
A brine adds moisture and flavor to poultry and helps to keep it from drying out. A turkey can be a serious investment in time, so you want to make sure it is perfect, especially if you’re entertaining. Whether you grill, smoke, fry, or roast your turkey, you should use a brined bird. The trick to brining a bird is to make sure you use the proper ratio of water, salt, and sugar. Even with more than 1/2 a cup of salt in the brine, your turkey will not be salty! If this is your first time brining, check out Alton Brown’s recipe on Food Network, and then play around with adding additional flavors.
In my opinion, even more important than brining your turkey is cooking it just until it is done. So many places tell you to cook a poultry for 15 minutes per pound for an unstuffed bird, and 20 minutes per pound when stuffed and roasting at 350. Instead of cooking your turkey for an a specific amount of time, cook it to the proper temperature. My method of choice is using a probe thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh while roasting. Set your thermometer to alert you at approximately 165 degrees. Then check the other turkey thigh to make sure it is really cooked all the way through. If you stuffed the turkey, it should also reach 165 degrees to be safe. Once everything is at temperature, take the turkey out of the oven, tent it with some foil, and allow it to rest for at least 20 minutes before carving.