Monday, November 16, 2009

Let's Talk Turkey

I need advice. I'm hosting Thanksgiving in a week and I've got about twelve guests coming, two of whom are my parents and it'll be their first Thanksgiving dinner. Believe it or not I'm actually very excited at the prospect, I love Thanksgiving, it's one of my favourite American holidays. Any holiday based entirely around a large meal is alright by me. The problem is Thanksgiving doesn't love me back. Or more specifically, turkeys.

I've hosted Thanksgiving before, and I've cooked turkeys before. I had a dynamite Alton Brown turkey recipe from Bon Appetit magazine that has produced a very tasty turkey twice. I've now lost the recipe and can't seem to find it on the old interweb. I wasn't too phased, after all I've done it before, how hard could it be?

I decided to hedge my bets and cook a practice turkey. It went badly. I cooked another. Even worse. LK has admitted he 'doesn't know if he has another practice turkey in him', so the next turkey I cook will be on Thanksgiving. I'm hoping for third time's the charm, but luck favours the prepared, so here's what I did wrong, and if you have any advice I'm all ears. Specifically, where do you stick the thermometer and at what temperature do you pull the bird out?

Turkey A

Liberally spread with herbed butter both under the skin and above the breast. Blasted with heat for the first 20 minutes, then cooked upside down until the thigh thermometer read 175º.

Problems: The turkey turned out both rubbery/tough yet moist. WTF? As LK said "wow, you sure cooked the hell out of that turkey". Oh, and we also had the minor problem of me cooking the bird with the giblets still inside. In my defence I had taken out the neck thing, done a thorough cavity search (not that thorough it turns out) and concluded like a moron that this particular bird was giblet free. I discovered it wasn't when LK took a scalpel to the bird and produced a plastic bag full of entrails. Yum! I have a feeling that cooked plastic aside, this may have been a good cooking method except that it was a stringy old bird and that's why it was both tough and moist? Am I kidding myself?

Turkey B

After further googling I decided to stick the thermometer in the breast this time and not flip the bird. I even (oh and how stupid was this in hindsight) invited my in-laws over for some practice turkey. I confidently lubed the bird, removed all plastic (genius! this was going to be good!) roasted for 20 minutes, lowered the temperature then removed from the oven when the breast temp said 161º. Of course, this bird's thighs proved to be as red and raw as a North Yorkshire schoolchild forced to do a cross country run in sideways sleet. Now I love my in-laws, and that is why they are still alive. I do not deal well with frustration. *understatement* I was PISSED OFF and my air hostess smile was cracking under the pressure. Of course everyone was lovely, terrified but lovely. Oh my roast potatoes were simply marvelous! The carrots, a revelation! Such a shame we can't stay until the turkey claws its way back to room temperature. So sad to hear about Lucy having salmonella! Must dash!

OK, they weren't that cruel, they manfully ate their way through all the side dishes and then waited a further hour til the turkey re-emerged from the oven. They are family after all, and being family means you have to suffer through your daughter in laws 'cooking'.

Please don't let me kill my guests. In this horrid economy I need all the friends I can get. All I'm asking is for a recipe for the perfect turkey. How hard can it be?


Michelle said...

First, you want to take the temperature in several places. Second, 160 is good, but you MUST cover with foil and then a couple of bath towels in its pan on the counter for 20 - 30 minutes. It's "resting." Resting lets it finish cooking and allows the juices to go back into the meat.

No need to flip a bird. Ha! I slay me. Anyway, put it in the oven breast up and leave it that way.

And this recipe always wows my in-laws...

Good luck!!

mmennen said...

So sorry - but this post is making me want to be a vegetarian! It's no wonder I don't cook, if I had to rely on my own cooking for survival I think I would be super skinny.

But as long as I don't have to help with the actual cooking of an animal, I seem to have no problem eating them. So I will try your turkey if I am in town. My hat is off to you - you are very brave. Best of luck!

FeatherDuster said...

I love cooking turkey! I never flip them over (in fact, have never heard of doing that.)

I'm all for simplicity. I drop the turkey in the pan, rub the skin with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and stuff it in the oven. Toward the end, I usually cover the drumsticks with foil.

And I never, ever stuff them.

Did you use frozen turkeys? They tend to be tougher and stringier. If you want a tender turkey, use fresh, not frozen.

FeatherDuster said...

Me again. lol
What size turkeys did you cook?

Realtor Toronto said...

Yes, what is important is the foil. However, I used to have problems with baking several years ago. It didn't matter if it was turkey or some cake, it wasn't baked equally on the whole surface. The problem was with oven. It baked more intensively just from one side. So, till I have bought new one I had to turn the turkey several times till it was ready.

Good luck,

Carrie said...

Find a turkey with a pop up timer and get a reynolds cooking bag!

Comes out perfect every time!

Anonymous said...

i second the renolds brownin' bag. easy peasy.

Anonymous said...

Get a turkey roaster. You should be able to buy one at Macy's for about $100 or Target for less. They cook your turkey perfectly every single time, no matter how big or small your turkey is. We have one and i couldn't get through the holidays without it!! Plus, it frees up your oven for other dishes. :) It's a very good investment.

Anonymous said...

alyson How much would Gelsons charge to cook a turkey for you? Or Albertsons or Vaughns Then all you have to do is reheat it. Put some chicken stock or water in the bottom of a pan and heat at 350 for 20 minutes. Fluffy

Anonymous said...

It was certainly interesting for me to read this post. Thanx for it. I like such themes and everything connected to this matter. I would like to read a bit more soon.

Elizabeth said...

I just made a turkey last weekend that came out great. I brined it before cooking it, which made it tender and moist (not rubbery at all). Here's the recipe I used

After brining it, I used canola oil, salt, pepper, and spices for the rub. I put the thermometer in the thigh, but not touching the bone. I cooked the turkey (15 lbs) for 3.5 hours at 325 F. I checked on it the last 30 mins to make sure the top wasn't over-browning. I took it out and let it rest for 25 mins. Then I sliced it and we ate it. yum.

Also, when brining make sure the turkey doesn't have saline solution already pumped in it.

I hope this helps.

Elizabeth said...

I forgot to say I cooked it until it reached 180 F.

Mary said...

Is this what you were looking for?

AliBlahBlah said...

Thankyou so much for all your tips - and the links! Mary - I think the Alton Brown link is the gist of what I wanted, but it's not the 4 page article on how to cook a turkey - did enjoy watching the clip though.

I'm SO tempted to believe it's my oven that's the problem, but I think I will combine all your suggestions, particularly the Reynolds bag and see what happens.

I promise I will follow up - even if it's from the hospital!

Hyphen Mama said...

WHAT? I've cooked turkeys every year and never actually used a recipe and now I'm panicking that this year's will flop because I never realized I could mess it up! CRAP!

Last year I did the same cooking of giblets inside the bird, because I could NOT find them... after digging them out of the cooked bird, nobody knew it had happened.

I started using the cooking bags and LOVE it, no foil needed near the end of the cooking and you can kind of see through it to see what the turkey looks like. BUT it seems to help it cook faster, so I usually end up an hour ahead of schedule when I use a bag. I think temp anywhere from 165 to 180 is what the companies suggest.

If it's any consolation, my MIL has been cooking turkeys for 40+ years and she STILL can't get them right. I feel infinitely better knowing I'm pretty new at it and mine are edible and I give it zero thought. I'm so lucky she trained my husband to love food, regardless of the quality it may or may not have.

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Summerlandgirl said...

Wow, think I'm going to have to agree with Anonymous on this one. Gelsons for the bird! I did have to laugh though. Love the post. Never in my life have I heard of flipping the bird over. Love it!

Summerlandgirl said...

Wow, think I'm going to have to agree with Anonymous on this one. Gelsons for the bird! I did have to laugh though. Love the post. Never in my life have I heard of flipping the bird over. Love it!

chole said...

err.... is this it?

Anonymous said...

Loving this post and all the comments. Have absolutely no idea of the best way to cook a turkey, although we once, accidentally (how?),cooked the Christmas one upside down and it came out really moist. You should try finding a Thanksgiving turkey in Kent! Seriously, next year they'll be bulk buying them as my Mum has made a point of lecturing every major food supplier in the county on the joys of having turkey twice a year! x PS hello Spanna!

mccutcheon said...

Uhm... going totally OT here, but I think I promised to tell you the link to my new blog once I started it. I say "I think" because I honestly can't remember.. stupid forgetfulness ;)
however, here it is:

hope the turkey turned out well/digestable. ha! I managed to go on topic again :)