If you’ve ever spent the day before Thanksgiving or Christmas poring over websites on how to cook the perfect turkey dinner – I know exactly where you’re at. You think, “this is the year, this time around I’ll cook the very best turkey anyone has ever tasted”. Then reality sets in, you read a million cooking websites, all with slightly different information, and you slowly but surely get overwhelmed.
The following tips are my own personal tips. There’s nothing overly complicated, it’s all relatively straightforward, and it results in a bird radically flavorful, juicy, and crispy on the exterior. I follow this every last time, I’ve never tasted better, even in high end restaurants.
I tend to look for something in the 10-14lb range. This year I went right in the middle with a 12 pounder. The general rule of thumb says you will get 0.75lbs of meat for every 1lb of turkey. Remember bigger isn’t always better. The bigger the bird, the longer the cook time, and the more risk of things drying out. I’d say if you must have metric tonnes of turkey leftovers, go with two smaller birds than one massive one.
Selecting the perfect turkey is key too, don’t necessarily reach for the cheapest frozen turkey you find. However you decide to cook your turkey, the most important factor for me is the product you choose to cook. A top of the range organic bird will most always beat a frozen mass produced turkey. Speak to your local butchers or specialist markets here.
In the picture here, I am using a product prepared by a top of the line boutique butchery in my local area; it’s a fresh premium turkey that you have to order ahead each year, and it doesn’t come cheap. I don’t eat that much meat these days, so when I do, I am happy to splurge on the very best. Speaking of which…
This turkey in particular was brined for several days by the butcher shop. From there it is rubbed in herbs and compound butter placed under the skin in several key points on the breast.
If there’s one single prepaparation I’d recommend it’s this. Brining your turkey will have a profound result on the final product – there’s genuinely nothing better. Sure it adds a little saltiness but it also brings an explosion of flavor. Once you’ve tasted a brined bird, you won’t go back, I certainly won’t. The butter under the skin really does make a decent impact on the final cooked bird too, keeps things juicy.
I am far too lazy/fearful to brine and butter my own turkey, so I rely on the local butcher who do an amazing job. You can of course do this yourself very very easily at home. There are plenty of sites online that go over brining.
The timing and temperature
When it comes to cooking the turkey, I take it out of the fridge an hour before cook time. I fill two sandwich bags with ice cubes, staple them together, then place over the turkey breasts like a saddle. The theory is that this lowers the temperature of the white meat, while everything else comes close to room temp. The idea is that the breast then cooks a little slower than everything else, and doesn’t dry out.
350F, 13mins per pound, simple. You’ll hear a lot about starting high, then lowering, I think that’s all nonsense; and debunked by some more scientific cooking sites out there.
I loosely wrap the turkey in foil and cook it wrapped up for the first half the show. At the half way point I take it off. This effectively stops the skin from browning too quickly. Also as the fat drops from the bird into the roasting pan, it won’t smoke too much.
When you do remove the foil, I add some water to the roasting pan; again this will stop the drippings from smoking. I like to check every so often so make sure this hasn’t evaporated, adding a little more if it has. You don’t need to put a lake of water in there, but this trick really helps eliminate smoke entirely.
Hi I’m Stuart, professional food writer and long time eater. You can find my writing at places like Gastronomic SLC, Visit Salt Lake, The Salt Lake Tribune, Utah Stories, Utah Now Online and many others.
As well as writing extensively about restaurants for more than fifteen years, I’m endlessly curious about that product on the shelf. Is it any good I wonder? If you’re like me, wonder no more. Follow along on Instagram too!