Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How to Cook the Perfect Holiday Turkey

When one branch of my family tree started multiplying by leaps and bounds, there came a point where the amount of food we got every Thanksgiving was no longer enough for dinner and leftovers.  (I mean really, isn't the best part having some leftovers to slap together after having slaved over the stove for a day or two?)  So when we would have Thanksgiving at my grandma's up the street, I would make an extra turkey for leftovers.  After they took one bite of mine, it got switched and served first.  My grandma, bless her heart, is old school.  Back in her day, you woke up at 4 am, stuck the turkey in and by the time we were ready to eat the bird was a little less optimum on the juicy front.  All I did was follow directions on the back for the most part and added a little of my own touches.  Those touches make my family's eyes roll back in their heads so why not share that with you and hope your family feels the same?

These first things may sound redundant for ol' pros but trust me, they need to be mentioned.  The directions are your best friend, that's why they're there.  Of course, I tweak mine ever so slightly but the directions on your bird should always be your fall back.  Another thing?  When you're thawing it in your fridge, do yourself a favor and let it thaw in a pan.  You don't want all of that grody food poisoning juice leaking all over your other food now, do ya?

Let's do this!  Preheat the oven to 400.  (Don't worry, this is a temporary setting)

1. If yours comes with a surprise bag o' gravy like mine did, decide if you're going to use it or not and set aside.
2. See that big long thingy?  That's the neck which they thoughtfully jam in the turkey's bum for you to make gravy with or cook up for your weird Uncle Harold.  Don't roast it in the bird and don't think this is all of the goodies, they've left you.
3.  Flip the bird around and in the neck flap is a nice bag o' giblets (organs) just for you!  You'd be surprised how many necks and giblets get cooked every year in those birds!
4.  If you're not going to use any of the "freebies" they gave you, you can do what I do which is put it all (including the washed off plastic wrapper the turkey came in) in a Ziploc bag, roll it to expel the air and throw it away in the garage/outdoor trash can.

Time to make the butter that flavor's this bad boy!

5.  I use fresh herbs in mine which are just parsley and rosemary with 4 tbsp of butter.
6.  If you don't have fresh, you can certainly use dried.  I'd recommend rosemary, thyme, parsley, sage (or poultry seasoning and have some black pepper on hand.)
7.  If you're using fresh herbs, mince them and add your black pepper over the butter.  A couple of shakes of pepper will do.
8.  Add your herbs (fresh or dried) to the top and start mashing it all together.  The more herbs the better as the butter is really second to the herby star!

You might want to put on some Barry White because you're about to get really intimate with Tom Turkey.

9. Run your hand under the skin on the breast making sure not to poke through it.
10.  Gently work your hand back and forth under the skin until you almost reach the neck cavity and making sure you don't dislodge the pop up thermometer.
11.  Grab a slab of herb butter, go back under the skin and rub it over the breast on each side making sure you get front to back to evenly distribute the herbs.
12.  When you're done, make sure you pull the skin back down over the breast meat so it doesn't dry out.

You'll note the herbs under the skin in the top two pics.  If you want to get fancy pants and really impress your family, get some bay leaves then tuck them under the skin with the butter.  Not only does it flavor the meat but it looks really pretty when it's done roasting!  If you have any remaining butter, you can rub it on top of the skin too.

I also like to cut a clementine, nectarine (below) or orange and stuff it in the cavity so it provides some flavored steam as it roasts.  You could also squeeze it in the cavity and leave the rinds inside.

Now it's time to "fit" your bird to save yourself some irritation later.

13.  Since the wings are susceptible to burning to a crisp, make sure you cover them completely.  They will still brown but they won't disintegrate which is a plus.
14.  Get a piece of foil as long as the bird and fold the ends in on one end.
15.  Press the widest part over the front of the neck cavity and tuck it in between the legs as you move back and the smallest part will cover the back of the legs.  Press it all down.
16.  Remove the foil "armor" for later use.

17.  Add about 1 1/2 cups of water to just cover the bottom of your roaster.  (I usually wash out my herb butter container and use that water so there's some butter and herbs that'll steam into the meat as it cooks.)
18.  Put it in the 400 degree oven for 30 minutes.
19.  After 30 minutes, knock the oven down to 325 degrees then add your "foil armor" back to the top of your turkey and bake according to the directions based on what size bird you have.  (IE-  I had a 15 lb bird and it recommended 3-3 1/2 hours so I baked it for 30 minutes on 400 then 3 hours on 325 and it was perfect!)

This is what greets you when it's done...

Herby goodness, perfectly browned skin and moist...IF you let it rest!  Do not touch the bird for 15 minutes!  The juices need to redistribute and if you don't want it to look like a scene from Christmas Vacation and have your turkey implode into a dry heap, you'll leave it be before cutting into it or taking out the pop up timer.

See...worth waiting for.  Hello lover.

Peel back the skin and you've got perfectly steamed white meat and look how that drumstick just falls away!  Let's cut this bad boy up!  (I'm using mine for leftovers but use whatever method you're used to.)

20.  Cut the breast down one side of the breast bone until the knife meets resistance.
21.  Cut horizontally along the bottom in toward the breast bone meeting your original cut.
22.  Remove the breast (try not to eat it all yourself).
23.  Slice into pieces.

I always separate the white and dark meat, it's a preference thing but feel free to do what you like!  Don't forget to save the wishbone to dry it out and pull it for your wish!

Tip:  Sometimes a dry turkey can happen and I have a little trick to "revive" it should it happen.  Get 1 cup of low sodium turkey or chicken broth, the same herbs you used for your butter and add to an 8x8 pan.  When the turkey comes out to rest, put the pan in the oven.  If you should find the turkey isn't juicy enough for you even with resting, pull the pan out of the oven and using a spatula, dip each piece(s) into the broth and put on your serving tray.  If it's just you in there, no one will ever know the difference.  *wink!*

If you have any questions about how much turkey you'll need, conversions, how long to thaw a frozen bird and all of that, you need to check out Butterball's tip page.  It's awesome!

This tutorial was linked up with The Shabby Creek Cottage,  Vintage Wanna Bee, The Winthrop Chronicles, Back for Seconds, Creations by Kara and Lil Luna.
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  1. This is the best turkey ever. The funny thing is that everyone else in your family gets up super early to cook the turkey and they end up with the driest turkey ever and you put yours in at a reasonable time and it always comes out perfectly. MMMM I am so ready for Thanksgiving now!

    1. Thanks homey! We'll barely need to bring any leftovers home between this and tomorrow's recipe in the freezer we can break 'em out on high cal day with grandma's noodles and feast like royalty!

  2. This is very similar to what I do after watching Alton Brown's turkey show and having to cook Thanksgiving for 200+ people with only 4 ovens. I do a little higher temp at the start and overall cooking time is reduced a bit. And in my roasting pan I put the turkey on top of a "rack" of carrots and celery. The turkey has never been dry. I like the idea of orange inside. Mine (Alton Brown's) uses apple, onion and cinnamon. Thanks for sharing this!

  3. That looks yummy. Hubby is the turkey cook in the family and I have no idea what he does to it. It always comes out great though.

  4. I am so trying this. I bought a turkey to have a small thanksgiving lunch at my house the saturday after, and the only way I've ever cooked one is in the crockpot. Crockpot turkey isnt exactly table asthetic, so i'll let you know how this goes!

  5. I get outnumbered every year. We get deep fried turkey. While it is good, it isn't the same. I may get lucky this year because my husband has been unable to find the fryer pan.

    1. I would hide the fry pan and magically find it over the weekend after! HA!

  6. Love the tips! I actually start my turkey out at 450 for the first 20-30 minutes, then drop it down to 325 for the rest - I get a super crispy and juicy bird every time. :D

  7. This is just awesome. I'm telling you, you need to have your own TV show!!

  8. Screw that, I'm not doing it, I'm coming to your house! Looks delicious!

  9. This does look really good, but I have never had the time to do a turkey b/c I still go home and sup with my family. I love ham more, but I guess it's b/c the turkey is never as juicy as I would like it to be. This is definitely something worth trying for when I actually do my own turkey.

  10. We use a very similar technique, but use olive oil instead of butter for the herb rub. It also comes out yummy.


  11. This is all so foreign to me! I'm glad all I have to do is make a bunch of sides. ;)

  12. Your blog today was informative and hilarious. I was laughing out loud! Loved the part about the turkey neck being for weird Uncle Harold. Our turkey neck used to get boiled up for Dad's weird girlfriend, Dona, but now they're both gone, so like you do with your "extras," the neck gets thrown out with the giblets.

    Definitely trying out this method to keep my turkey moist this year, and have got to put on the Barry White music, as I become more than just close friends with old TOM! Thanks for sharing!

  13. Olive oil for me too - I wasn't going to do a turkey this year, now you've got me rethinking my decision . . . .

  14. I make a pretty darn good turkey, but I might have to add some of your tips this year and see if I can't induce some foodgasms!

  15. Great tips! I shared this on my facebook page:)


  16. DUDE, YOUR TURKEY WAS THE HIT OF MY SON'S KINDERGARTEN CLASS TODAY!! Thanks so much for your turkey tips. I am my son's room parent for kindergarten. We just had his Thanksgiving Feast this morning. I made your turkey. Boy was it yummy and so easy to make. We named our frozen turkey Norman, by the way. The only part that grossed me out was putting my hands under Norman's skin and, ewwww groooosss!! Other than that, the snobby rich mommies in the class today asked me over and over again for this recipe!! Thanks so much for making me look good today. YOU ROCK, THANKS SO MUCH, Love Jeannie, Matty (my 5 yr old son) and the turkey, formally known as Norman.

    1. Jeanne, I am SOOO happy to hear that Norman was given the proper send off and you are able to whip out that recipe like a champ to the other moms! Yeah, it's not pretty when you have to get under Norman's skin like that but the deliciousness makes it worth the bit of grody. ;)

  17. So, I commented earlier with no thoughts that I would actually be doing a turkey anytime soon. My mom has been a little under the weather, so since I was trying to direct my sis on how to prepare the turkey, I was tasked with preparing it. I had a few minor issues like the skin on one side coming up, but I must say that it looks very juicy, and the wings are to die for. They're my favorite part. It isn't as visibly appealing as yours, but I'm proud of it. Thanks for a great recipe!


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