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Oct 10, 2007 06:30 PM

Turkey tantrum

So, I have cooked a few turkeys before, but have often been a guest a thanksgiving dinner bringing whipped potatoes, roasted root veggies or such.
I am about to have a mini meltdown at the number of recipes for the perfect, juicy turkey.

I have ordered an 8 lb and a 20 lb free range fresh turkey and want to know from you seasoned (no pun intended) cookers:

1. Should I be doing the America's Test Kitchen recipe
OR the
Martha Stewart with wine and cheesecloth recipe

I am going to do a traditional stuffing in the big one, then do a giblet stuffing in the other.

2. We never get enough gravy from the drippings. Should I be roasting more wings, necks, etc and then throw them in a pot with celery, onion and carrots and simmer to make a stock?

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  1. OMG the wine and cheesecloth thing! I forgot about that. I think I did that like, ten years ago. And, it really was not memorable other than it was such an odd way to do it. I can't vouch for ATK. I usually brine the bird beforehand and leave it at that. (Although I did, one year, have the turkey turn out too salty, which everyone tells you won't happen.)

    1. 20lbs???

      **insert stunned look here**

      "Baldrick, I want a turkey so big it looks like its mother was rogered by an Omnibus"
      (Black Adder Xmas Special)

      13 Replies
      1. re: purple goddess

        I always get a 25 to 30 lb turkey from the local farm for Thanksgiving. (I'm pretty sure they come even bigger) We need those leftovers!

        And yes, you have to cook the giblets and neck to make extra stock for the gravy, otherwise there will only be a dribble for everyone.

        I miss Black Adder!

        1. re: purple goddess

          We used to get one not for the leftovers but just to feed all the people that were at our house!!!

          1. re: purple goddess

            Don't be stunned. My uncle always gets the most gigantic turkey he can get his hands on for holiday meals. I don't think we've cooked one smaller than 25 lbs for 20 years, and some years, they've been as big as 30 lbs.

            As for gravy, you need to cook the turkey in a giant pan where you can reserve all the run-off, but also need to have broth ready to the side (with those giant turkeys, we make at *least* a quart of gravy, if not double that).

            1. re: DanaB

              Tell me the best way you make your broth (roast parts first?) please

              1. re: itryalot

                Smoked turkey wings and necks are where I start, can be done days ahead and frozen. The smoke flavor omes through nicely.

                1. re: Scrapironchef

                  Scrapironchef - I forgot about that! I did that last year and it was so very good! It was smokey, but not overwhelming. Thanks for jogging my memory.

                  1. re: danhole

                    I use the green peppercorn gravy recipe from a food network show a few years back. The beauty is being able to make it a day or two in advance in large quantities, one less thing to worry about on the day.

                    The recipe -

            2. re: purple goddess

              My former company used to give out Thanksgiving turkeys in the 20-23 lb range. They were a bit absurd.

              For the gravy, I make stock from the giblets and neck, and make a TON of gravy.

              1. re: manraysky

                You get 8.5 ounces of edible meat per pound of turkey. That means a 20 pound bird has around 10.3 pounds of edible meat. A typical portion is supposedly 3 ounces of meat, but at least in my family, it was more like 5 ounces. So let's say 4 ounces per person (roughly speaking) at the main meal, then another two or three per person from nibblings later in the afternoon or evening. So a total of roughly 7 ounces of turkey per person on the day of the meal (some people will eat more, some less, this is a rough average). If you have fifteen people over (which was typical for my family when I was younger) for an entire day with turkey being served at noon and an informal dinner of leftovers that night, you're going to use up six and a half pounds of turkey. That leaves right around four pounds of meat for leftovers the next few days. That seems like a very reasonable amount of leftovers to me.

                I still get around an 18 to 20 pound bird, even though we usually only have four of us on Thanksgiving any more. But I also send a lot of the meat home with the other couple we have over, because the wife really loves turkey. I make turkey broth from the carcass (no salt added, it's brined bird), and I have sludge for days after the event. :) I love turkey leftovers and a smaller bird wouldn't give me the huge bunch of lunches and dinners the following week. :)

                If I'm going to be cooking a huge feast, I may as well make the effort worth it and stretch the whole thing out so I don't have to cook as much later. :)

              2. re: purple goddess

                Yes, we LOVE turkey and that is after the appetizers and first course. That is why we have a uhaul parked outside our door! :)
                Leftovers (hot turkey sandwiches, especially, and turkey soup) are what we enjoy too. Plus, there is never enough stuffing in small turkeys and the pan cooked one is just not the same.

                1. re: itryalot

                  If you add a well-flavored turkey broth to the stuffing when making it, and steam it instead of baking it (a la english puddings) it will be just the same. :) And much safer. :)

                  1. re: Morganna

                    Steam in in a bain Marie type of style (pan in a pan)?

                    1. re: itryalot

                      With english puddings you put the mix into a heavy stoneware basin, tall, round, and fairly deep, and angled. You cover the top with a damp, clean kitchen towel, then tie it round the top with kitchen string. Then you put it in a big pot of hot water, on top of something so that it isn't sitting directly on the bottom and plonk on a tight lid. It steams for several hours until cooked all the way through.

              3. Wow. I came here to post similar questions!! I think I have decided on Alton Brown's turkey, but the recipe says to take it out of the oven when the probe in the breast reads 160 degrees. I have have had my share of dry turkey, and I certainly don't want to serve one, but at 160 degrees will it be fully cooked in the breast and dark meat after resting? I plan to do a trial run before the big day, just want to know what I'm getting into. Part of me thinks I should just buy an outdoor fryer for the turkey and I could free up valuable oven space and still have a great bird.

                4 Replies
                1. re: jules127

                  I'm such a turkey ho' . I've made this one too. I totally trust Alton's temps because he is a stickler for food safety. (As evidenced in his book IJHFTF) I seem to recall that if the breast is around 160 then the thigh will be around 180. I might not be spot on. He is assuming some residual heat bringing the temp in the breast up to 165, I think. If you are concerned about dryness, brine, brine, brine.

                  1. re: jules127

                    I have been doing Alton's recipe for a very long time now. It always comes out wonderfully, though every once a while, the thighs aren't quite cooked all the way through. I have always assumed this was because my thermometer was off, so I've compensated by cooking it until like 165 in the breast instead of 160.

                    But brining, god I never make a turkey without brining it now.

                    1. re: Morganna

                      Me too -- I do his recipe every year now and we really like it. I haven't had any trouble with it being underdone -- but it could be a problem if your pan is too small and the heat can't circulate around the thighs.

                      Brining makes the most unbelievable difference. I do make extra turkey broth (sometimes a day ahead) to so there is plenty for gravy. I think this year I'll even buy some turkey wings or legs ahead for extra rich stock.

                    2. re: jules127

                      I'll be doing Alton's bird for the fifth time this year, I've always had a moist bird using his temps. I use two probe thermometers to monitor both thigh and breast temps and cover the preast with foil if it starts to cook too fast. I set my alarms about 5 degrees low and let the bird coast up until it's done. I'm blessed with a double oven so it goes in the bottom on the setitandforgetit mode until the thermos beep.

                    3. OK, this is going to get me stoned on this board, but I always use one of those Reynolds turkey bags and have great results.

                      For good gravy, simmer chicken broth with the turkey neck and wing trimmings along with the celery, etc. Then you have plenty of stock to add to your drippings.

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: dalaimama

                        jfood uses the turkey bags for brisket all the time, but found they kept too much moisture in the bag and the sking did not crisp.

                        do you keep it on for the entire time or do you remove with 30-45 minutes left to crsip the skin?

                        1. re: jfood

                          I have only done the cooking bag thing once, with a turkey, and I was instructed by the organization I was making it for (they were VERY specific) to open the bag and let it brown/crisp up at the end.

                          1. re: jfood

                            Cut it open for the last 30 minutes or so.

                          2. re: dalaimama

                            We generally use the bag, because Mike likes them. If not, we pour a bottle of beer over the turkey and cover it with foil, except for the last half hour.

                            I have NEVER cooked stuffing inside a turkey. Neither has my grandma, who is as far as I'm concerned the expert. She usually cooks her turkey ahead, so she has the broth to use for the dressing, and then reheats it closer to dinnertime.

                            1. re: dalaimama

                              For years I took a brown paper bag, slit it down the side, slathered it with butter and used it to tent the turkey. Then someone freaked out and thought I might burn the house down so I had to learn to baste. My mother always cooked our turkey under a bag in a gas oven and we never had a problem, but there are some things you can't argue with and fire prevention is one of them. It always produced a perfect moist turkey - we removed it for the last hour or so so the bird would brown up.

                              1. re: ginnyhw

                                I think the cheesecloth soaked in wine and butter has the same effect and is safer.

                                1. re: itryalot

                                  Farenheit 451-that is the Ray Bradbury book on bookburning and also the temp at which paper burns. Turkeys cooked in a brown paper bag at 350 will not burn the house down. (Just a lttle fact I learned on this board and vaguely remember reading in high school english class).

                              2. re: dalaimama

                                I won't stone you. I use the bags (been doing so for two years now). They are great to use. I do, however, open the bag during the last 45 minutes for additional color and crisp.

                              3. They have changed the rules about the temperature that a turkey needs to be taken out at. Here is an interesting link. It says 165, but I guess it would depend on the size of the bird.

                                Always have extra stock on hand for gravy. That's what the bag of goodies in the turkey's cavity are for! I also use chicken stock. I do have a wonderful recipe for a herbed roast turkey that all my family loves, but we also love our turkey fried.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: danhole

                                  Off subject a little. Should I buy a probe to keep in the turkey's breast? I don't know how to calibrate one and I currently only have an instant read thermometer.

                                  1. re: jules127

                                    Yes, a probe thermometer is really important when you're roasting turkey. If you have to keep opening the oven to test the temp, it's going to take forever to roast. :)

                                    1. re: jules127

                                      If you have a restaurant supply place nearby, they usually will calibrate it for you for free

                                      1. re: jules127

                                        I LOVE my probe thermometer; get it soon at Wm-Sonoma, they ofter run out near the holidays. I always prefer a Butterball and always get 14 lbs or less -- that way you are getting a HEN, which I like better, breast is not stringy. Let rest. I like to use damp (rung out) cheesecloth that you soak in 1 stick of melted unsalted butter. Before cheesecloth goes on, I make a paste of 2T soft butter, 2T olive oil, 2T ground white pepper, 2T salt, 2T paprika. After you wash (cold water) and dry thoroughly with paper towels (use VIVA, they don't shred) wipe all of turkey with this mixture.Pour 2 cups of water and 2 cups of broth in pan. (As you baste, lift up cheesecloth some so it does not stick.)
                                        Halfway thru, I gently heat 1 cup dry white wine and 3 oz.brandy and pour over turkey -- makes the gravy great. I go to a temp of 175. You could make 2 14lb turkeys. This recipe is from a wonderful grocery store in San Francisco that is now kaput -- Petrini.

                                        1. re: walker

                                          This sounds great; do you cover for most and then uncover near the end?

                                          1. re: itryalot

                                            I don't cover at all, just the double folded cheesecloth that I keep basting and lifting up now and then so it doesn't stick.
                                            Last year, I tried a different method from "Chef Marc" - heard him on KGO radio. He believes in high temp, no salt, no stuffing. LIke 450 to 500 degrees. Like he said, it was great. I cooked 2 (one after the other) 13 lb turkeys --each took less than 2 hrs. But, by the second one, lots of smoke coming from the oven and fire alarm went off even tho I had vent on and front door open. I had to get my cleaning lady to come the next day to clean the oven. My daughter really liked this turkey, wings were nice and crispy but I think I'll go back to my original recipe because I like to stuff the bird and it makes a good gravy. The high heat method does not make juices for gravy. When you heat the white wine and brandy, the recipe says do not let it boil, just when it starts to simmer I take it off and pour over turkey.