Growing up, I would listen to the adults talk about how difficult it was to cook a turkey. They described it as labor intensive and stressful. The end result of this stressful, labor intensive turkey didn’t always go well either. Quite frankly, I always thought turkey was a plain, boring, dry meat that I would prefer not to eat other than for tradition sake. When it became my turn to break into the Thanksgiving Rite of Passage, I was terrified. After doing a little research and experimenting, I discovered that cooking that bird is quite easy; even for a novice. My turkey always turns out beautifully brown, moist, and full of flavor. I had no idea what I was missing out on. So today I am sharing with you Five Tips to Cooking a Perfect, Juicy Turkey! Now you can “Gobble, Gobble” a beautiful, moist, flavorful turkey too!
First Tip is to COMPLETELY THAW YOUR TURKEY!
You can buy a fresh turkey and alleviate some of the stress, but odds are you are going to buy a frozen turkey. You must give yourself adequate time for thawing out your turkey. If you cook a half frozen turkey in the oven, you will have a nightmare in the kitchen. TRUST ME!! It will not cook evenly and the frozen part probably will not cook to a done temperature at all. Thawing your turkey out is probably the most crucial part of cooking your turkey. There is NO buying a 20lb turkey the night before Thanksgiving, then waking up that morning to cook it for lunch or dinner. It takes 24 hours for every 4lbs of turkey, so keep that in mind when purchasing your turkey. If you don’t have the time or the room in your refrigerator to thaw the turkey for days, you will need a smaller turkey.
You can also cold water thaw it. Butter Ball says: Thaw breast side down, in an unopened wrapper, with enough cold water to cover your turkey completely. Change water every 30 minutes to keep the turkey chilled. Estimate a minimum thawing time of 30 minutes per lb.
Second Tip is to BRINE YOUR TURKEY.
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I had never heard of brining a turkey. My grandmother never brined her turkey. My mother never brined her turkey. And my husband’s mother never brined her turkey. Then years ago I came across a magazine called Cuisine at Home. This magazine is BRILLIANT for giving fantastic tips, how to’s, and recipes. I love, love, love this magazine. I have learned so many cooking techniques from it. In particular, my favorite Issue No. 36 December 2002 has fabulous recipes and instructions for cooking a turkey breast. I have used this issue so much, the articles are colored in food stains, and the pages have become wilted from use. No worries, it is not so damaged that it can’t be still used. I have adapted the recipes for cooking my whole turkey. SO… In this magazine, I found this wonderful brine recipe.
Why brine? It enhances the flavor of your turkey and most importantly, it keeps that bird moist!!! If you brine your turkey, you almost can’t mess it up…. I did say ALMOST. Brine your bird for at least 2 hours. I often brine my bird overnight.
- ½ cup kosher salt
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 2 cups hot water
- 2 cups apple juice
- 4 cups ice
- Dissolve salt and brown sugar in hot water.
- Stir in apple juice and ice.
- Submerge turkey in brine for 2 or more hours.
**This recipe is for an 8lb turkey. Adjust and double to the size of turkey.
Third Tip is to use a MEAT THERMOMETER.
Look, you are dealing with a BIG bird and estimating baking time based on the size of that bird. Key word is ESTIMATING. Your bird may cook slower or faster then planned. The only way to know it is exactly the temperature you want is to use a thermometer. If you use a thermometer, you can stop cooking it the minute it reaches perfection. People will argue about what temperature you want to cook the bird. I have seen everything between 165 degrees to 185 degrees. We don’t take chances in our house. I have a convection oven and I cook it until it reaches 180. My bird has always been fully cooked and fully juicy. You can cook it to the temperature you are comfortable with. Keep in mind it will cook a little more as it rests, which brings me to my fourth tip.
Fourth Tip is to LET IT REST.
Resist any temptation to carve the turkey the minute it comes out of the oven. You have to give it time to rest. Resting allows the juice in the meat to redistribute evenly. If you carve it too soon, you will lose some of that lovely juice. Also, resting allows the meat to firm back up a bit, allowing it to be easier for carving.
Fifth Tip is to BASTE YOUR TURKEY.
See that pretty brown color of my turkey? All of my turkeys look this way. Do you know why? I lovingly baste them. I slather them up in an AMAZING butter and maple syrup recipe I found in that same issue of Cuisine at Home. I start basting my turkey about the last hour of cooking every 15 minutes. It makes that skin a beautiful color and it makes my turkey taste WICKED GOOD!
For the Baste:
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup of melted butter
Mix butter and syrup together. Baste the turkey the last hour every 15 minutes.
So follow these tips. Allow yourself plenty of time to cook the turkey. And save plenty of room in your belly to eat it, because you will want seconds and thirds!! Enjoy!!
Check out my dressing recipes to go along with your turkey! Granny Moore’s Dressing, Pumpkin Chorizo Dressing, and Individual Bread Dressing with Pears, Bacon, and Blue Cheese.