In my opinion, on of the greatest accomplishments one can do (as a cook) is to adequately prepare the Thanksgiving meal, from starters to dessert, all by yourself. I first attempted this my senior year of college. It was Thanksgiving Day. We had a football game that night. My family went to visit my dad's relatives, and I stayed at my house to prepare the meal. I did everything. Baked the turkey, made homemade cornbread dressing, made sides, baked an apple pie, everything. It took me ALL DAY LONG! But at the end of the day, it was quite delicious, and everyone enjoyed it.
So, over the course of the next few weeks, I'm going to blog about my Thanksgiving meal adventures. Many of the recipes are already on the blog from year's past, but I will post again. I hope you enjoy!
First off is the turkey, the most important part of the meal. Growing up my family typically did a fried turkey (prepared by my mother's brother), so I always thought it was intriguing to try baking one. In my lifetime, I have bakes around 4-5 turkeys. I know that doesn't seem like much, but I am still young, and baking a turkey is kind of a big deal!
Your first step in turkey baking is choosing the right bird. You need to plan for 1-2 lbs. of meat per adult, which will leave ample leftovers. I would do 1/2-1 lb. per child. We will use my family as an example for this. We have 7 adults and 2 children in my immediately family. So, I would buy a 16 lb. turkey.
Turkeys, when purchased from your local grocery, are typically frozen. The preferred way to thaw a turkey is in the refrigerator. You can submerge it in cold water, but the fridge is best. The turkey will need about 6 hours per pound to thaw, so a 16 lb. turkey will require about 3-4 days of thaw time in the fridge. Be sure to place it in a roasting pan or large plastic bowl before you place in your fridge. That way you avoid spreading any salmonella.
Now its time to prep the bird!
First, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Remove the turkey from its plastic wrapper, and unhook/unwrap/undo the feet. (They are usually fastened together by plastic, metal, or string. BE SURE TO CLEAN OUT THE INSIDE OF THE TURKEY! You will have a giblets bag, head, neck, etc. inside. You don't want to bake that in there!!! Some people save these things, but they gross me out so they go in the trash at my house! Do what you will...
Give turkey a good rinse, and don't forget to wash your hands and antibacterialize your sink when you are done!!! (Protect from germs!!!) Then place the turkey in a large roasting pan.
Now comes the fun part! Seasoning the bird!!! I use the same herbs that are required for my cornbread dressing. So, finely chop up fresh rosemary, thyme and sage. (About 2-3 tablespoons of each) Run your hand between the skin and the meat, and then rub in between the two layers. Wash your hands really good again!!!!
Take a generous amount of olive oil , a pastry brush and brush over the skin of the bird. Generously! Then rub remaining herbs on outside of bird, along with kosher salt and crushed black pepper.
Now its time to stuff your turkey. I don't think its super sanitary to eat anything inside a turkey, so I usually just put chunks of onion, garlic, celery and bell pepper inside the cavity. Then I toss them when done baking.
The key to baking a juicy, non-dry turkey is liquid. Pour 1 can of chicken broth into bottom of roasting pan to provide moisture while cooking. You may need to add more if it evaporates out. You will need to baste the turkey once an hour by taking a large syringe or baster to draw liquid from the bottom of the pan and squirt all over and inside the turkey. If your liquid is evaporating, then pour in more chicken broth.
A lot of times people use those pop up turkey times to gauge when done. The best thing to do is get a meat thermometer. You need to bake the turkey until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to stick the thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh, and done push it through to the bone. That will affect the temp reading.
A turkey needs to bake about 1 hour per 2-3 lbs. A 16 lb. turkey will probably take about 5-6 hours. Again, it depends on the internal temp of the bird. Check it after about 4 hours in the oven, and see where you are on temp.
Once the turkey is finished, remove from oven and let it rest for about 20-30 minutes before carving. This is when I turn the project over to someone else. I mean...I'm just not fantastic with large knives. I do know you start with the breasts and work your way to the legs. Usually men are pretty good at this kind of thing...that's all I'm sayin....
Finally, you can take the juices from the bottom of the roasting pan to make some gravy. Do you know how to do that? Or do I need to explain it? I'll just let you figure that one out. Its like making any kind of gravy. : )
And there you have it folks....in 800 words or less....how to bake a turkey! Good luck! And no, you don't have to wait until Thanksgiving to try this one out!