The holidays are here and for many of us that means hosting family and friends for a turkey dinner (or lunch). There can be a lot of pressure on the host to find and prepare the perfect turkey, so we have come up with a few tips to make sure you have the perfect bird.
Make sure you get a large enough bird to feed everyone. If you are hosting a bigger group, getting a bird in the 20 pound range seems like a good idea. In reality these birds are so large that they do not cook evenly and are much harder to work with. Instead, buy two smaller birds in the 14 pound range. If you are hosting a smaller gathering, a smaller bird will work just fine. You always want to make sure you have enough meat (plus who doesn’t like leftovers?) so plan on 2 pounds per guest. Using this ratio a 12 pound bird will easily feed a group of six.
Thawing your turkey is an important step and should never be rushed. Make sure you purchase your bird far enough in advance to allow it to thaw in the refrigerator. Most birds will take 48 – 72 hours to fully thaw. When thawing in the refrigerator place the frozen turkey in a pan to catch any water or drippings. If you must rush the thaw a bit you can place it in a bucket of cold water, but make sure and change the water often enough to keep the temperature under 40º at all times. Harmful bacteria starts to grow at 40º and you don’t want to take any risks.
Clean the bird thoroughly once it is fully thawed. Pull out the giblets and reserve them for gravy if you would like, and then rinse the bird under cold running water and pat it dry with paper towels all over (including the inside). This will achieve several things. First, most turkeys have been pre-brined in a saltwater solution so you want to rinse it off well before cooking. Second, it will give you a nice dry surface for your prep. Finally, it will make sure any contaminants from butchering and packaging are rinsed off before you cook it.
Clean your prep area before you begin and clean it often as you prepare your turkey as well. Most turkeys carry harmful bacteria but when your preparation area is safe and clean you run little risk of making yourself or someone else sick. Having a good bleach spray or wipes and paper towels is recommended as bleach is guaranteed to disinfect any area that raw turkey may have touched. Don’t forget to also wipe down the sink where you rinsed the bird to make sure any contamination from this step is taken care of.
If you follow these tips, you will be ready to safely prepare a delicious turkey. In our our next blog post on the perfect holiday turkey we will look at the pros and cons of brining vs. injecting, whether or not to stuff your turkey, what rubs are best for a smoked turkey and how to prepare and smoke your bird on whatever grill you have.