So you’ve decided to take on perhaps the greatest challenge for every Thanksgiving dinner – roasting the Thanksgiving turkey.
The turkey is the centerpiece of Thanksgiving, and the last thing you want on your table is a dry, overcooked bird.
Preparing a turkey can be a heroic feat in itself, with the process taking as long as four days!
Fear not, we’ve compiled some simple rules to roasting a moist and flavorful Thanksgiving turkey.
Rule #1: Thaw Your Bird.
For a 14 to 16 pound turkey, you’ll need to thaw your frozen turkey two to three days in advance in your refrigerator. Check thawing instructions to make sure you safely thaw your turkey. Do not find yourself on Thanksgiving morning with a rock-hard bird!
Rule #2: Brine Your Turkey For Moisture and Flavor
Brining your turkey the night before is the best way to get a juicy, flavorful bird. You’ll need a cleaned out, completely thawed turkey, with no added seasonings before you begin the brining process. You’ll also need a large pot or clean bucket to submerge your bird in the refrigerator overnight.
There are many variations of brine ingredients, but a basic recipe includes water, salt, brown sugar and black pepper. You can also cut up fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme or tarragon.
In the morning when you’re ready to place your bird in the oven, rinse your turkey and pat dry.
Rule #3: Don’t Stuff Your Turkey
Despite what mom may have told you, we’re going to go against tradition and say that stuffing your turkey is a bad idea. The stuffing won’t get completely cooked in the turkey cavity and if you want to cook the turkey to a safe temperature (which we highly recommend), parts of the bird (i.e. the coveted breast pieces) will be dry and overcooked. If you must have stuffing in the turkey, cook the stuffing separately and then spoon it into the turkey cavity when the turkey is done. We won’t tell!
Rule #4: Give Your Turkey a Good Rubdown
Using your chosen turkey recipe, you’ll want to generously rub your turkey with seasonings inside the cavity with your chosen herbs and spices. Rub butter underneath the skin to keep the meat moist and juicy. Rub your butter and seasoning all over the outside of the turkey.
Rule #5: Keep Your Bird Moist While Roasting
There are several ways to keeping your turkey moist while it cooks in the oven. First, make sure your turkey’s legs are tied with kitchen string or plain dental floss. Also, you will want to place your turkey on the lowest rack away from the heat source. Some recipes call for cooking the turkey breast side down so that the turkey breasts stay moist throughout the cooking process. Others call for continual basting throughout the few hours of slow roasting in the oven. Once your turkey is finished (175°F for the thighs and legs and 165°F for the breasts), let it sit for 15 minutes outside of the oven, but loosely covered with foil, before you bring it out for the moment of truth – turkey carving!