The central part of any Thanksgiving meal is the turkey. The golden-brown bird placed on the table for everyone to pick at is the best part of the day.
If holiday movies are to be believed, then cooking a turkey is an all-day affair that requires we baste every thirty minutes and we’re awake all night, but that’s not necessarily the truth anymore. It’s a lot less complicated than it looks, but it can be a bit overwhelming for novice cooks.
Cooking a Turkey is Simpler than That
It doesn’t have to be such a daunting process and turkeys actually don’t take as long to cook as most people think, although they taste better when they’ve been cooked slowly. They retain more of their moisture when they’re cooked on low heat for a longer period of time, but it’s not necessary and there are many options for keeping the bird as scrumptious as possible. Here’s a basic guide to cooking a turkey to perfection.
A Few Basic Steps to Cook a Turkey
First, you’re going to want to make sure the bird is defrosted because you attempt to cook it. Cooking a turkey while it’s still frozen will make for a watery taste and you’re not going to be able to manipulate it as well. Now, you don’t want to put a frozen turkey in the microwave, you want to let it defrost naturally. Your best bet is to put it on a platter in the fridge and let it naturally thaw out, but if you don’t have that kind of space for several days, you can also try 24 hours in a sink full of cold water.
The next step is that you rinse the turkey, remove the innards, and make some decisions. You’ll have to reach inside the cavity and pull out the giblets (the heart and liver)and the neck. The neck can be tossed into the trash (despite cousin Eddie’s request in Christmas Vacation) but here’s the first of your decisions; some people cook the giblets and consider them to be a delicacy. That’s your choice. Next, you’ll rinse off the skin and the inner cavity, removing any excess blood that pooled during the thawing process. The next decision you’ll need to make is what you want to do with the inside of the bird. Do you want to stuff it with bread stuffing, fill it with aromatics, or just tie it off and leave it empty?
If you’ve made the decision to stuff your bird, you may want to dry him out a little on the inside with a couple of paper towels, but it’s not necessary. If you’re using traditional rules, use your stuffing to completely fill the cavity, tie the legs together so nothing dries out, and you’re almost ready. If you decide you want to forego that regular stuffing and fill it with stuff to infuse the bird with flavor, feel free. Use garlic, lemon, spices, etc. to feed the right amount of flavor into your turkey and once again, tie the legs together.
Now you’re going to want to use something to coat the bird. Some people stuff pieces of butter under the skin, some people coat the skin in olive oil, and some people use nothing at all, but coating the skin will help retain moisture in the turkey. When you’re finished with this step, it’s decision-making time and you have some options here.
You’re ready to cook your bird now, and it’s up to you how to get it done. If you chose not to put anything inside the turkey, you could deep fry your turkey, but that requires prior preparation and at least three gallons of oil. You can also cook the bird according to the instructions on the packaging, which is still lower and slow, but not slow enough that you’ll be up all night. Pay attention to how long your bird needs to cook to get to a hundred and sixty-five degrees and make the decision from there.
Baste Your Turkey; If you Desire
When it comes to basting, some people do it and some people don’t. Some people tent the turkey with shortening coated parchment paper and some people use cooking bags. Whatever your choice, your turkey is going to be delicious and your family will be impressed with your skills!