When the turkey is the star of holiday meal, you want to get it right. We’ve got you covered with our tips for a perfect holiday bird.
Step #1: Be Choosey About Your Turkey
A great Thanksgiving meal starts with a quality bird. Take your time and be selective at the meat counter. If they’re available, a fresh turkey is your best bet. Since fresh turkeys are harder to come by than frozen turkeys, it’s okay to go with a frozen bird instead.
Two of the key things to look for when shopping for a turkey are the size and the amount of added solution. We prefer to cook two smaller turkeys rather than one large turkey. The smaller birds cook faster and tend to be juicier and more tender. Also, check the label for the amount of solution added to the turkey. The lower that number is, the better because the solutions are usually salty. Preparing a turkey with less added solution gives you more control over the flavor when it’s time to brine the turkey or add injections. Look for turkeys in the 12 to 16-pound range with less than 10% added solution.
Step #2: Go for the Spatchcock
When it comes to trimming the turkey, we prefer the spatchcock method. Spatchcocking the bird calls for cutting out the backbone with poultry shears and butterflying the turkey for cooking. Because the turkey cooks flat on the grate or pan, it cooks faster than a whole turkey.
Spatchcocking also allows the white and dark meat to cook to their ideal doneness at the same time. The white meat shouldn’t go past 165ºF internally or it will start to dry out. The dark meat in the thighs and legs can and should be cooked to 175ºF – that’s where the meat is at its best. The spatchcock method wins at getting white and dark meat to their proper internal temperatures at the same time.
Step #3: Brine for Flavor
There are several ways to add flavor and moisture to your turkey, and brining and injecting are our favorites. While brining takes longer, it’s very effective at hydrating the turkey, especially the leaner white meat. Brining also gives you uniform seasoning throughout the bird. Use a briner bucket to keep your turkey submerged in the brining liquid while the bird takes on the flavorful brine solution.
Injecting is the quicker way to add flavor and moisture to the meat. This is ideal if you choose to cook a larger turkey, as the injection can penetrate the deepest parts of the bird immediately. Injecting also allows you the opportunity to add butter, fruit juice, maple syrup and other fats or flavors directly to the muscle. Keep in mind the injection will be concentrated in the areas where it is administered rather than spread evenly throughout the bird.
Step #4: Season Your Turkey
When it comes to seasoning your turkey, the possibilities are plentiful. Choose a flavor profile that suits your palate and complements the flavors in your brine or injection. Whether you choose your favorite sweet barbecue rub, a savory all-purpose seasoning, or even just salt and pepper, make sure to apply it underneath and on top of the skin. Sliding a hand underneath the skin to release it from the meat will let you season the meat directly. It’s a simple step that adds significant flavor!
Step #5: Cook the Turkey
Hot and fast? Low and slow? Cooked in a smoker, oven or grill? So many choices. There are no wrong answers here, but there are trade-offs.
Turkey meat loves soaking up smoke flavor, so a low-and-slow smoked turkey is a great option. To fully render out and crisp the skin of the turkey, you will need to cook the bird at a higher temperature for part of the time. This is why you’ll often see turkey recipes that call for cooking at a high temperature for the first 30-60 minutes before reducing the heat to finish.
The most straightforward option is cooking your turkey at roasting temperatures (325ºF-425ºF) from start to finish. Consider your heat source and how it affects the moisture level. If you’re cooking with wood, charcoal or wood pellets, your fuel source is adding moisture to the cooking chamber while the turkey cooks. If you’re using gas or electric heat, be it in a grill or oven, the fuel will remove moisture from the air so add a water pan to the cooking chamber to increase the moisture level.
Follow our five tips for your best Thanksgiving turkey yet, and enjoy the feast with your family and friends.
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