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Turkey for Dummies

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Here's how much of a dummy I am -- bought a turkey and didn't realize it would take me 3-4 days to thaw! (Yeah, can you tell I've never done this before?) Mom's out of town so I'm turning to the wise cooks of CH for help!

OK, so I'm cleaning out the fridge, putting the turkey in today, and planning to cook it when I'm home Saturday. Can someone point me toward some online resource that can help me through the basics of cleaning it out, any advance prep/what to do while it's cooking? Do I need to brine it or something while it's thawing? Should I just thaw it in cold water in the sink? (I seem to remember my mom doing it that way. . .)

It's a 12-pounder, and just a disclaimer, I'm pretty novice. My family loves Stove Top and I prob wont' make any homemade stuffing if I don't have to.

Thanks for all your help! I love the info I find on this board! :-)

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  1. Well,my dad would thaw it in our ice chest we would take on picnics and two days or so before thanksgiving.To save this step you sometimes can buy at the supermarket fresh turkeys that are refigerated,not frozen.
    No my dad didnot brine our turkey or any of our meats.
    Butterball the turkey people have a website and can give you advice and information.Think they even have a toll free number you can call for help.
    Yes you can use Stove Top stuffing.The package should tell you how many boxes you need to stuff a turkey.In fact they make a turkey flavour stuffing.
    He would take and wash the giblets then put them into a pan with a cup or two of water and cook them.This liquid he added to his homemade stuffing.You could add this liquid to a package of turkey gravy mix.And you could cut up the giblets (gizzard,liver,etc.) and add them to the gravy if the family likes that.He's been dead 10 years,so there are a few things I have forgotten he did.
    Also,the juices should run clear when you check the turkey for doness,and the turkey drumstick should move freely as well.That's what daddy would do to see if it was done .
    Good luck.

    1. Brining will improve the turkey enormously. I would not roast a turkey any other way. To brine you need to make a solution of 1 cup kosher salt (or 1/2 cup table salt) to 1 gallon water. I like to add a 1/2 cup of sugar per gallon of water as well. For a 12 lb turkey you'll need at least 5 gallons, perhaps more. I add some herbs and spices to the brine, usually peppercorns, bay leaves, juniper, some Italian herbs.

      When I do our Thanksgiving turkey which is usually around 20 lbs, I use a cooler and keep it on the deck because it's cool outdoors. I don't know if your fridge is big enough for a 12 lb turkey plus brine. If not and you're not in a cold area, you might have to use ziploc bags of ice cubes to keep it chilled. I brine our turkey for at least 1 day. You could probably get away with around 10 - 12 hours. Pat it dry and allow it to airdry in the fridge for a few hours before roasting so the skin will crisp up in the oven.

      3 Replies
      1. re: cheryl_h

        Important note: the brine must be chilled BEFORE you put the turkey in it. NEVER brine a turkey with room temperature water.

        1. re: Karl S

          Yes indeed! I make up the brine solution using less than the amount of water so for 6 gallons, say, I'll dissolve 6 cups of kosher salt in a gallon of room temperature water. Then I top it up with cold water from the fridge. If it's not cold enough I use the ziplock baggie with ice to chill it further.

          1. re: cheryl_h

            I heartily agree that brining will make the turkey baking process a lot more painless, and the end result will be worth the extra work. And yes, icy cold brine is a must.

      2. If you aren't cooking until Saturday, you don't need running water to defrost. Just let it sit in the fridge until then.

        Check the turkey packaging to see if it has an added salt and water solution, the commercial ones often do. In this case I would not brine it. If you want to brine, then you have to wait for the turkey to be defrosted first, then brine overnight. It does make a moister turkey, but is a hassle.

        If you aren't going to stuff it your turkey will cook much faster. I prefer it unstuffed. Here's a guide to cooking a juicy turkey from Fine Cooking magazine. They do it unstuffed, and there are optional brining instructions.
        http://www.taunton.com/finecooking/th...

        1. I checked the package and the turkey is "butter basted" with a 6% butter solution. I have no idea what that means, but I don't have room to brine it nor a big enough cooler (and we're in the midst of unseasonably hot weather here in Fla., so outside's not an option). Anyway, turkey's in the fridge. I found some other threads on here with some great info, and I think I'll use Alton Brown's foil breast "armor" to prevent overcooking. I'm also going to see if I can find a probe thermometer (as my oven is old and finicky).

          Maybe for Tgiving I'll commandeer my mom's fridge for brining. ;-)

          I will definitely not stuff the turkey -- I've got some apples that need to go, I think I'll put them inside with some peppercorns and poultry spices.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Covert Ops

            I don't roast the whole bird, as no one in my family cares about seeing the thing carved at the table and we always have dark meat left over. I roast just the breast, bone-in. Lots easier to manage & no danger of overcooking, since it's just the breast. Try it some time. If you're feeding a crowd, it is easy to do two or three at the same time.

            1. re: Covert Ops

              Don't brine a Butterball turkey!! I've called the Turkey Talk-Line and they don't recommend brining a Butterball.

              Only untreated turkeys should be brined.

              1. re: Scagnetti

                Butterball sells turkeys that aren't pre-treated. I have brined many a Butterball myself. You need to read the label to find out if it has been injected.

            2. Are you going to tell us how it went? You are right not to brine that particular turkey. I recco'd Fine Cooking because they are very reliable and the recipes and methods are well tested, unlike some other sources. I don't find Alton reliable, but enjoy the show. Since that is a method, rather than a recipe, perhaps that is a good call.

              1. OK, my turkey report:

                The package indicated my turkey was "butter basted" with a 6% butter solution. I had no idea what that meant but it seemed to indicate I shouldn't brine it. (It was Archer Farms, the in-house brand of SuperTarget, which is generally high-quality IME.)

                So I left it in the fridge for a few days until thawed, then followed Alton Brown (bc I worship him in all his nerdiness). I cooked an apple for 5 mins in the microwave because I had one lying around, and stuffed it inside. (Also -- my turkey contained no giblets! Just a bit of half-thawed mushy stuff I scooped up. I had to call my mom to ask what giblets looked like, and apparently mine was giblet-free.) I also poured some apple juice into the pan (because I was out of chicken stock).

                Before I put the turkey in, I sprayed it with Pam, sprinkled it with some dried thyme, rosemary, sage, etc. and then molded a piece of foil on the breast to get the shape right, then took the foil off and roasted it for half an hour at 500 degrees to brown it. Then I put the foil on the breast, threw it back in and lowered the heat to 300. (I had meant to put it on 350, but the dial is wrong on my oven and I was brain dead and added wrong, so it took about an hour longer than I anticipated.)

                I pulled it out after about 3 hours, when the thermometer in the breast read 160. The popup timer never popped, BTW -- because it was in the breast, and aren't those supposed to go in the thigh? Oh well. DS wanted a leg, and when DH went to cut it, the bone pulled right out. So I guess it was done. :-)

                Turkey could have been more flavorful -- haven't tried skin yet though -- but it was VERY juicy. DH proclaimed it a rousing success. So in the future I'll have to think of ways to make the meat more flavorful (or maybe just buy my turkey elsewhere?) but the actual roasting came out great. Never cooked with a meat thermometer before -- never will without it again. :-)

                Thank you hounds for all of your help and moral support! :-)