With only two days until Thanksgiving you still have time to learn a few tips that will help you cook up a killer turkey. I know that I said the side dishes were my favorite part of Thanksgiving but I can’t resist roasting a turkey. Sure, you can toss it into the oven with some salt and pepper and it will taste just fine but a little extra effort can make a difference in the flavor department. From the type of turkey you choose to a quick brine or robust seasoning blend, here are five tricks to help you roast the best turkey ever.
The turkey is a BIG DEAL, right!? There are many hilarious movie scenes based off a botched turkey ruining Thanksgiving dinner. With that being said, I am all for being honest…cooking an amazing turkey can be really overwhelming. How long will it take to cook? Is it done enough? Is it too dry? Is it flavorful? Ugh. Here is some advice. Kick all that stress and anxiety to the curb (read more on that here) and take a deep breath. Then, once you are calm, you can follow one or all of these tips to simplify and flavorize (it’s not a word, I know. I like it though) your holiday bird:
- Quality. This is my number one cooking tip. If you want the end result to be amazing, you have to start with amazing ingredients. The gold-standard? I pastured, organic turkey. I know, this is hard to come by. If your options are limited you can at least opt for a fresh bird as freezing a turkey compromises the meat texture and the thawing process jeopardizes the flavor and your cook-time. If possible, use a local farmer or butcher. You’ll thank me. If you have a frozen bird, no worries. The most important thing you can do is give it time to defrost; if you haven’t started thawing, you should start now!
- Brine it. Brining is a process that consists of soaking the whole bird in a salt water solution for about 6-8 hours. This process helps lock in the moisture and helps flavor the meat all the way down to the bone. Try this DIY brine or opt for a kit with similar ingredients. Don’t forget the brining bag which will make your life a whole lot easier. That, and clear some fridge space for your bird.
- 1 cup kosher salt or sea salt
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 6 garlic cloves, rough chop
- 1/2 cup aromatics (rosemary, thyme sprigs, whole coriander seeds, whole peppercorns, hot peppers or hot pepper flakes, fennel seeds, bay leaves, lemon or orange zest removed in strips)
- Simmer the ingredients with about 4 cups of water to dissolve the salt and bring forth the flavors of the aromatics. Pour the mixture into your brine bag with another 2-3 gallons of water. Add the turkey and make sure it’s fully submerged. Let rest, refrigerated, for 6-8 hours.
- Season it. One of my favorite tricks when cooking chicken or turkey is getting the flavor under the skin and you are going to need some butter. Yes, butter! I use a grass-fed, pastured butter and give myself full permission to reap the benefits of it’s goodness when it comes to dressing my turkey. I also tuck herbs and spices under the skin so the flavors really permeate the whole bird. Try this herb oil which is a well-loved favorite in our house. If you want a more exotic bird, try this Moroccan Spice Rub. It tastes delicious with root vegetables.
- Switch up the temperature. Starting the bird around 400 degrees, for about 20 minutes will help lock in flavor and crisp the skin. Then lower the temperature to about 375 and cover the bird for the remaining time, giving it a nice even cook throughout. Curious about cook times? Plan for 15-20 minutes per pound at a cooking temperature of 375. If you stuff the bird, the cook time will be closer to 20 minutes per pound. I usually time my turkey to finish at 20-30 minutes before mealtime as it needs to rest and this gives you a buffer if it isn’t quite cooked.
- Let the bird rest. Yes, After it’s done cooking, let it rest in the pan or on your carving board for about 20 minutes to allow the juices to distribute back in and throughout the meat.
Are you ready to roast the perfect holiday turkey? Let me see! Post a picture to your Facebook or Twitter and be sure to tag me @KatieCavutoRD so I can see all your beautiful birds! Still feeling overwhelmed? Ask me questions in the comment section below.