2012 Thanksgiving Guide: The Turkey

If there is one food that is absolutely expected on Thanksgiving it's turkey.  It's the star and the highlight of dinner!  If you have never cooked a turkey before you could find it a little daunting and overwhelming.  However, it's really not as difficult as you may think, I promise!  I have a recipe to share, along with some questions you may have answered.  We'll start with some general questions you may have.

How big of a turkey do I need?

I love leftovers.  Like, it's one of my favorite parts about Thanksgiving!  I would plan on at least 1 pound of turkey per person, plus a few pounds extra for leftovers.

Uhm, fresh or frozen? Tom or hen?

Fresh or frozen are both generally the same.  You will get a cheaper price on a frozen turkey, especially if you are a smart shopper.  You will have to allow plenty of time to let your turkey thaw before cooking!  Don't forget this!  If you get a fresh turkey it will not be frozen, so you won't have to worry about thawing.  It will also be free of any solutions that may have been injected in it.  They will also probably ask if you want a tom or hen.  The only difference is in general toms will be the larger turkeys, and hens the smaller.

What do I need to do with the turkey before cooking it?

If you haven't handled a lot of raw meat, or whole bird carcasses, make sure you pull on your big girl pants Thanskgiving morning!  Once your bird is thawed you will need to stick your hands in it's cavity to remove the neck, heart, and other bits and pieces.  It may seem gross, but we've been doing this since the beginning of time.  It's natural!  You can cook the neck and other bits if you want to make stock, or some add them to their stuffing.  Or you could give your pets the bits and let them have their own feast!  You will want to give your bird a nice rinse, although the high temperatures while cooking will kill any bacteria.  If you are planning to brine your turkey, I have instructions and a recipe below.  You will clean the bird and cavity, and then brine for at least 24 hours.  Right before the bird goes in the oven some put butter and seasoning in and on the bird.

What is brining?  Do I have to do it?  Is it worth it?

Brining is magic.  It can keep your turkey from getting dry during cooking, it tenderizes the meat, and flavors it.  A brine is a salt, sugar and flavoring solution that helps flavor your turkey.  The salt in the solution actually changes the structure of the meat.  It allows it to swell and absorb both the liquid and flavorings added.  Brining is something that a lot of people haven't heard of, or don't understand.  You don't have to do it, but I strongly suggest you give it a try!  I find it completely worth the extra effort, and would not even consider of a Thanksgiving without it!  If you are leery about it, make the brine recipe below in a smaller quantity (at least half if not less) and brine a whole chicken in it.  Cook it, and you will not believe the difference!  The only thing I would caution is using a brine can cause your drippings to be very salty.  This means if you use drippings for gravy, you could be in for a very salty surprise.  This is one of the reasons it's a good idea to only brine turkeys that are fresh, with no saline solutions injected.  In the past I have not had this problem, and I have used frozen turkeys that had solution added.

How do you cook your turkey?

A lot of people put their turkey in the oven, and baste every few hours.  My family and I have cooked our turkey in a completely different way!  We always buy and use a turkey oven bag.  It's a bag that locks in all the steam from the cooking process.  We also always, always, always cook our turkey breast down.  This keeps the turkey from getting dry.  And better yet, no need to baste.  Just put it in the oven and let it go.  You will not have a picture perfect turkey sitting on the table, but you will have the most delicious, succulent turkey you've ever tasted.

(Do you have any other turkey questions, feel free to ask!)

Ok, so about this brining stuff, the last few years we've bought our brine from the store.  They've been fairly expensive (at least 8 dollars), and I've seen recipes floating around.  So, I looked around on the internet and found two brine recipes that sounded great, and decided to test them out.  I cut a whole chicken in half, and brined it separately and then my husband and I did a blind taste test.  The recipe that beat out the other was The Pioneer Woman's brine recipe!  Both my husband and I tasted the other brine and thought it was great, but then we took a taste of PW's and it was about three times better!  Without further ado, here it is!

This is all you need to transform your turkey from dull to delicious!  Brown sugar, salt, apple juice, peppercorns, garlic, rosemary, oranges, and bay leaves.  Simple, simple, simple!

You'll want to dismember your rosemary some.  Then just give it a nice rough chopping.  If you were going to be eating this you'd want to avoid all the thicker rougher stems.  Being as this won't be eaten, it won't be a problem!

Next take your garlic (of which I did extra!) and smash it, take the skins off, and then give it a nice rough chop.  It doesn't have to be perfect, this is all for flavor not presentation.

Take your orange, and cut off the peel.  Eat the yummy insides.  Toss the peels into the pot with your garlic, rosemary, bay leaves, peppercorns, salt, sugar, apple juice and water.

Take your brine concoction to the stove, and bring it to a boil.  Stir and let all the sugar and salt dissolve, and take it off the heat.  Put it in the fridge and let it cool.

Once your brine solution is cool, pour your brine into a brining bag.  (It looks like a very large ziplock)  Add your turkey, seal and walk away!  Halfway through the brining you should flip your bird.  You want to brine at least 1 hour per pound, but you can brine longer if you would like.

Click here to go to The Pioneer Woman's website for the brine recipe!

We're nearing the end of this Thanksgiving series.  I have just a few more posts and we'll be done, so if you have any questions feel free to ask!  If you want to save this for later you can use the "pin it" button next to any button to pin it to pinterest.

More in this series:

2012 Thanksgiving Guide:  Being a Good Host
2012 Thanksgiving Guide:  Menu Planning
2012 Thanksgiving Guide: Setting the Tone
2012 Thanksgiving Guide: Fun for Kids
2012 Thanksgiving Guide: Recipes and Time Management
2012 Thanksgiving Guide: Tips and Tricks
2012 Thanksgiving Guide: Resources and Reminders

No comments: