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Thanksgiving turkey -- overrated?!

I brined a fresh, free rangin' turkey for Thanksgiving and basted in the last 1/2 hour with maple syrup (I cooked at 400 for two hours-ish), per the recipe from the current (Nov 2007) issue of Gourmet magazine. It was good, I think, and my friends all liked it very much. This was my first turkey, and I think it was a real success. BUT... it just didn't knock my socks off. I've enjoyed farm-raised roasted chickens much, much more. Next year, I might blaspheme and roast two chickens rather than cooking a turkey! What do others think: is turkey overrated?

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  1. It all comes down to personal preference. I think you just don't like turkey that much. Turkey certainly isn't the first thing to come to mind when I think of overrated foods. If anything, turkey gets a bad rap because of how often it's badly prepared.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Humbucker

      If you don't like turkey, it's overrated.

    2. I'm with you - I like chicken MUCH more than turkey...but my traditional family could never abandon it, so I just stick to all the yummy side dishes.

      1 Reply
      1. re: cate_cooks

        Turkey, chicken, it's all good.

        The bottom line to me is, you just haven't found the way you like it yet. I never liked turkey growing up. That is, until I met Mrs. Sippi. The first US thanksgiving I enjoyed the turkey was smoked. I reluctantly tried some and was very pleasantly surprised. It was good. And not dry. My mom is the old school type, stuff the bird and baste it constantly. All that extra time in the oven is a killer.

        So keep trying. Maybe for you it's smoked. Or maybe it's deep fried. Who knows, maybe you need to "Set it and forget it." Sooner or later you'll find a way you like it.


      2. I usually think turkey on T-day is overrated, except this year I kind of missed it after eating the world's driest ovenstuffer. Cook and eat what you like.

        1. jfood loves turkey and chicken. he eats chicken probably 175 dinners a year. turkey is great on a 5 time per year cycle and like everything else needs to be prepared properly. most people overcook both their chickens and turkeys.

          likewise jfood loves the dark meat on both. there is so much flavor in the dark meat and usually is cooked to the temperature that jfood likes. until recently the chestnut stuffing was always the highlight of the meal, but alas, a new nut allergy sorta killed that theory. now jfood focuses on the turkey as the centerpiece and really likes it.


          4 Replies
          1. re: jfood

            I'm with JFood on the dark meat. Dark v. white is like two different foods on the same animal. I love when I can get turkey thighs at the market and cook those by themselves in a great braise, maybe adapting a Marcella Hazan recipe. They make great chili too. Smoked turkey legs are good for seasoning beans and greens instead of ham hocks if you don't eat pork.

            I cook whole turkeys several times a year because they're an easy way to feed a crowd. Economical, simple and most people prefer the white meat for some reason. The white meat is good for casseroles and soup so it never goes to waste at my house.

            I have never liked sweet flavors with turkey and wonder why so many recipes use sugar or maple syrup in brines or as bastes. Maybe the American taste for sugar or people thinking it helps with browning. Turkeys brown fine without it. Perhaps the maple syrup basting was some food writers' ideas of a way to add regional flair to Thanksgiving. I think the same holds true with sweet stuffings but they are less important to the flavor of the bird itself.

            IMO turkey is far tastier with savory seasonings rubbed well onto and under the skin several hours or a day before and allowed to marinate. Liberal use of olive oil under the skin plus the fat in the turkey itself allows you to skip the basting. Opening the oven door to baste causes the temperature to drop and creates a less than ideal roasting environment. The turkey should do perfectly well without basting if it's properly prepared for roasting. If anything, it will brown too fast and you'll have to open the oven door quickly to tent the breast with foil for the last few minutes.

            1. re: jfood

              The thigh is the best part of the bird.


              1. re: Davwud

                It's the best part of MOST birds, far as I'm concerned, but turkey thighs are just a great big meaty treat. Braise'em, bake'em...and I think they make even better confit than duck.

                My wife and her family, for whom I cook the main part of the T-Day feast every year, regard white meat as being fit only for sandwiches, so we have to have a four-legged turkey. Works for me!

                1. re: Will Owen

                  I'll tack on that white meat, for me, is merely a vessel for gravy. It is hard to beat an open-faced turkey sandwich w/ liberal graviness.

            2. We love turkey.
              However, through the years we have served lobsters, duck, Guinea hens, and pheasant just for a change. Each has been accepted enthusiastically by my long suffering family. But, turkey still remains the sine qua non for Thanksgiving. The trick is to get the best you can buy and pay attention to the seasoning and roasting temp & time.
              BTW: I never baste the turkey, nor do I stuff it.

              1. I seriously considered doing Zuni chicken this year but then decided on ham and rib roast. Cost a lot more, though! I can get Bell and Evans turkey at less than $2.00 a pound but the rib roast was...expensive.

                1. Turkey's OK. I'l have a plate. But I prefer smoked or deep fried. And if turkey is so great why don't we eat it once a month? I'd rather have chicken and it makes a better soup stock anyway.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: crippstom

                    You can eat it once a month. They are always available... For some reason, people think that paying $1.29 a pound instead of 10ยข a pound is a rip off...but how much do they pay for hamburger???

                    I like to practice for Thanksgiving..and I also like to make soup...and I like cold turkey sandwiches....

                    1. re: crippstom

                      People don't have it more often because their brains are stuck in gear. They associate it only with the holidays and so do stores. It's an economical meat that is really good if you know how to cook it which most people don't since they do it only once a year under stress. Then they serve the same damned corny things with it like there's a rule or something.
                      Why not roast one for hot turkey sandwiches and leftovers for lunches and casseroles and soups? Or have the butcher cut it in half and only cook half now and freeze the other half for later. Smoke one for a picnic? Fry one for a Super Bowl Party?
                      The supermarket has them on sale every now and then and I grab them when I can. They're a great buy. Great gumbo from the carcass and stock.

                    2. A thanksgiving turkey to me is merely a flavoring and delivery device for the dressing that cooks inside of it. Commercial turkeys, even those raised free range and organic, are tasteless critters that are possibly more suited to the deli case or sold disassembled.

                      I roasted a wild bird a few years ago, but my family doesn't like the gamier taste or the darker meat.

                      Modern chickens, like many other poultry, (and most modern meat sources) seem to have had the flavor bred out of them

                      I am on the verge of becoming a vegetarian because of the aforementioned flavors, health reasons and I cannot morally justify to myself the idea that another sentient animal dies so I can ingest a preferred protein source. I doubt I will ever become a complete vegetarian or vegan (I love cheese), but I eat far less meat than I used to and I don't miss it.

                      1. I love turkey and would make one a month if my husband would let me. He's not willing to take on the liability of me in the kitchen that often though ;-)

                        A freerange, healthily fed turkey with loads of herbs and butter under the skin, roasted. And I agree, again, with MakingSense, savoury flavours all the way, no opening the oven door.
                        Dark meat for eating fresh, white meat for making turkey salad for sammies. All good.
                        I think I am the only person the world who doesn't like chicken breasts. Though chicken thighs roasted or stewed are pretty good too.

                        1. Turkey is Thankgiving, and Thanksgiving is Turkey!! Honestly, it is the only time of the year that I ever make a turkey, and I can't imagine not making it, or was the case this year, not having it at someone else's house. Sooooo good!

                          1. I've always liked turkey, dark meat especially.

                            This year I cooked another Diestal 'natural' turkey and it was much stronger than other Diestals that I've cooked. Very gamey. I liked it but others thought it a bit strong. We did our normal Tobin James salt-and-pepper slather with olive oil on the Weber. The skin is tremendous!

                            I, too, roast many chickens throughout the year. Love it! One of my comfort foods.

                            1. I do not think that it is overrated. Each year my wife does a different variation on the bird. We've done deep-fried (with some interesting sidebar stories), and each was injected with different seasonings and great. This year she also did a brined fresh bird, though with applesauce - just fantastic. A few years back, she did a Zinfandel turkey, that rocked. One year it was a chipotle rubbed turkey, and it came out top-notch.

                              What might be overrated, is doing the same "family" recipe year in, and year out. However, if the result is a wonderful bird, that everyone loves, why mess with success?

                              Now, I like turkey, so I might well be biased in favor of it. Could be that I've just had too many great ones.


                              1. Turkey is for Turkeys!
                                There is only one reason people don't make more turkey at home or more restaurants don't offer it on their menus: they don't really like it that much depsite whatever protestations they make.

                                Me, I like it for the drippings. The best part of the meal is the fresh turkey gravy. but if you don't like it that much, then I believe you are not alone. Go ahead and make something else for Thanksgiving. Many out there have adopted a different tradition.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: Steve

                                  Oh Steve, you're getting to be a curmudgeon in your old age, almost like me. Do it for the tradition. Anyway, turkey is good if you don't ruin it by overcooking, the way most of them are (and some view that as a tradition too). And I think the reason so few are cooked except on T'giving is that the darned things are just so big.

                                  Get a small one. Brine it, don't brine it, "dry brine" it, whatever. Put stuff under the skin or don't. Stuff it or don't. Rub butter on it or don't. I've tried 'em all and I don't think any of it matters all that much. Just put it in a really hot oven, tent the breast about half-way through, and otherwise forget it until it reaches 163 in the thigh. Then take it out and leave it for a while. You'll be a happy camper.

                                  1. re: johnb

                                    Oh yes, we do a Turkey every year. But like I said the meat is not really the best part, it's the drippings that count. I tried brining once, the drippings didn't come out how I like them, so I don't brine.

                                    BTW, I cook the turkey breast side down (propped up a bit using balls of aluminum foil) except for the last 30 minutes, when I let the turkey brown. No basting, tenting, or any other work involved. I collect the drippings when I flip the bird, so I that's when I make the gravy. We get a 14/15 lb. bird, and I guess the flipping might be harder with a 22 pounder.

                                    Also, I've done a vegetarian Thanksginving more than once, and it doesn't bother me at all since the sides are my favorite part anyway.

                                    1. re: Steve

                                      Did you apply any butter or anything else to the bird before putting it in the oven on its breast?

                                      1. re: conniemcd

                                        Yes, I buttered it before putting it in the oven. Plus I used some salt and pepper. Good question.

                                2. Maybe not overrated, just...meh.

                                  1. A turkey that is cooked correctly, no matter what recipe/technique is used, is a wonderful experience. We love ours deep fried, but I also have a herb recipe for turkey that is very good, and a smoked turkey is a real treat.

                                    The problem is that too many people over cook turkey. They changed the guidelines a year or two ago, and now recommend that you take it out when the temp. reaches 160 - 165 in the meatiest part of the thigh/leg and breast. But can I convince someone who swears they have been doing it the "right" way for years? NO! So we suffer through another dry bird and no matter how much gravy you put on it it just isn't good. I like white meat, but it gets dry much faster. It's pretty bad when you can't choke down the turkey crumbs! And please people - let the darn bird rest!

                                    On the plus side, I don't over eat!

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: danhole

                                      This one nails it on the head. When the turkey is cooked correctly, it's fantastic. Period.

                                      I think too many people have eaten way too many overcooked turkeys in their lifetime, and have a certain aversion to the meat simply because they have never had it properly cooked, moist and delicious before. I recall eating turkey growing up and hating it. I can't even begin to explain what a revelation it was to have properly cooked, moist and tender turkey meat, finally! It was heavenly.

                                      My T-giving bird this year was grill-smoked with apple wood, in a gas grill, right around 325 degrees. I rubbed shallot and sage butter under and over the skin and filled the cavity with chopped granny smith apples, onions and garlic. I fill the roasting pan with broth and baste regularly, then cover when it's browned. The meat was smoky and so meltingly tender; even the white meat. And the flavor was amazing.

                                    2. I think I'm done with the traditional Thanksgiving meal. I never liked it as a kid and I don't like it now. I've tried free range, heritage, special recipes, smoked... and never taken more than a few very unexciting bites. I was going to try deep frying, but I don't think it'll be worth the effort most likely.

                                      1. I highly recommend that you try doing either a duck or a goose next year. The flavor is much better, and there's no dry white meat. I often had duck/goose growing up as my family is Eastern European. I've roasted duck with root veggies (carrots, parsnips, salsify) and pears, and served with the regular thanksgiving goodies. This year, we did a big roast goose with a chestnut stuffing and some homemade sauerkraut. Not sure I'll ever go back to turkey!

                                        1. There's no RULE that you have to have turkey.
                                          There's some historical evidence that the first Thanksgiving was in Virginia in 1619 more than a full year before the one at Plymouth. Early influential historians all lived and wrote in New England so they ignored that. The Virginia settlers who celebrated that first feast were also wiped out by the local Powhatan Indians in 1622, so the holiday didn't take root.

                                          It's believed that their meal likely included roasted oysters and Virginia ham, things that appear on many Southern holiday tables alongside turkeys.
                                          We could just drop the turkeys. Ham goes better with most of those favorite side dishes anyway. And I'll never pass up roasted oysters.

                                          1. I never really cared for turkey until I started cooking them for myself. The key for me is to start with the BRINE. Two or three days in a large cooler in the fridge and I am set. Water, kosher salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, wine or apple juice, bay leaves, and citrus have all made it in there. Rub the ol bird down with oil and/or butter. Away we go! BTW, I always tent the breast with foil for a while to keep them from drying out.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Its Still Mooing

                                              My late father always did the turkey.He didn't care much for smoked turkeys.
                                              He never brined his at all and probably didn't even know what it was.
                                              I know he would tent the bird with aluminum foil,and don't recall what all he did,but it was good.The white meat was not dry at all.He prefered the dark meat and sometimes even would buy turkey thighs to roast at other times of the year.
                                              There is a brand of turkey we would get from Utah.He thought these mormon turkeys were good.They did have a good flavour and roasted nicely.Don't recall the brand.
                                              I think it depends on the turkey really.How they are raised and the diet they are feed.
                                              They raise alot of turkeys around Cuero and Gonzales,Tx. by me.
                                              But I don't think we ever had a Texas turkey.H.E.B. Grocery Stores may get their turkeys from local Texas suppliers,since you can buy from them under the H.E.B.
                                              Label,fresh as well as frozen and they also make already cooked turkeys.
                                              We usually got just a 10 or 12 pounder for the five of us.
                                              I think one time we did a goose,which my dad stuffed with apples and onions.Or maybe that was for Christmas.
                                              Yeah, alot of people have eaten badly cooked turkeys.For our Thanksgiving dinner here at work,one of the ladies roasted a turkey.To me the breast was dry.
                                              Nothing like my dad's cooking at all!

                                            2. I like turkey fine, but my mom and I agreed that the turkey is probably our least favorite of all of the Thanksgiving options. I'm excited to make the turkey every year, but I'm much more excited to EAT the dressing!

                                              1. Yup, and I've felt the same way ever since I was a kid. Invariably bland, dry and served with all kinds of off-putting fare (sweet potato casserole! green bean casserole! soggy dressing! boring gravy! ambrosia! pumpkin pie! cranberry relish! from cans!) in a vain effort to compensate for its utter lack of appeal. Brining may help ease the diner's pain but can't hide the fact that the bird itself is beyond redemption.

                                                7 Replies
                                                1. re: carswell

                                                  No one told me about the rules that you had to serve that crap with turkey! Did not have a single one of those things which I loathe.
                                                  Oh wait. Take that back. I actually like proper, well-made Ambrosia but my younger family members who grew up in the North think it's odd at dinner so I don't serve it because I can't eat all of it.
                                                  Properly cooked turkey can be delicious. Problem is that so few people have any idea how to do it.

                                                  1. re: MakingSense

                                                    I've been eating roast turkey -- often prepared by excellent cooks (including myself) and professional chefs and, in recent years, often made with free-run, organic birds using benchmark recipes (e.g. Alice Water's) -- for more than half a century and I've yet to encounter one I'd characterize as delicious. "Invariably bland" and "utter lack of appeal" cover it, as far as I'm concerned. Can see no reason to choose it in preference to goose, duck, pheasant, guinea fowl, quail, partridge, capon or chicken. If I never eat another roast turkey, I'll die a happy man.

                                                    1. re: carswell

                                                      I feel that way about MOST roast turkey myself, especially Waters' recipe. Don't like sugar in it. Period. I've had far more bad than good over the same amount of time as you. Most people simply can't cook it. Doesn't matter what kind it is - supermarket frozen to fancy free-range heritage.
                                                      But I have had really, really good ones. Unfortunately too few and far between.

                                                      1. re: MakingSense

                                                        I wasn't responsible for the bird at the Alice Waters turkey dinner but it wouldn't surprise me if those who were cut back on the sugar. In any case, at the table the problem wasn't the sugar or the salt or the cooking, it was the turkey. Perhaps you and a few cooks of your acquaintance are the only people in the world who know the secret to making a really, really good roast turkey and I and the cooks I know are clueless but I really, really doubt it. This I don't doubt: roast turkey sucks.

                                                        1. re: carswell

                                                          The sugar is in the brine. Depending on which version of her recipe (which keeps changing) that is used, it varies up to as much as an amount equal to that of the salt. <Shudder.> But she's famous and I'm not.
                                                          It may well be that you just don't care for turkey. All well and good. There are some things that each of us holds in low esteem. I have my own list of things I can go the rest of my life without ever having on my plate again.

                                                          1. re: MakingSense

                                                            "The sugar is in the brine."

                                                            Please. I wasn't suggesting it was sprinkled on before roasting or at the table. The version of the recipe that was used (though, again, it may not have been followed to the letter) called for equal amounts of salt and sugar. While the resulting bird did have the pickled flavour I associate with all brined meats (am not a fan of brining), it didn't taste particularly sweet or salty, just boring, pointless, like every other roast turkey it's been my misfortune to encounter.

                                                            "It may well be that you just don't care for turkey."

                                                            Turkey, especially the dark meat, can be perfectly acceptable, albeit never exciting, in other preparations. And, of course, personal preference plays a role in this. Still, I think it is possible to make a very strong case that turkey is an intrinsically uninteresting bird for roasting and that it enjoys a high profile due to a quirk of history (or pseudohistory, as the case may be) and its impressive size, not because it tastes good. And that, to me, is the perfect definition of overrated.

                                                            1. re: carswell

                                                              I probably should put on my Nomex flame-retardant gear before saying this, but I shudder every time I read all the recipes for basting turkeys with brown sugar or maple syrup published each year. I'm not even a fan of fruit sauces on game birds. I think they do much better with savory sauces. Small turkeys are also much more flavorful.
                                                              Decent seasoning can't possibly get into the flesh of those mutant monsters. I've had good wild turkey so I won't write off the entire category. In general though, I'll cede the argument. It's not my favorite in general.
                                                              The dark can be terrific in some Italian recipes. But we're off the topic of the Generally Boring Roast Turkey.

                                                              So you think it's all sentimental attachment, huh? Because it was First Runner-Up as National Bird? The National Loser?

                                                2. I dont think so,

                                                  For Thanksgiving, and maybe one other time during the year a well cooked turkey with stuffing is a treat.

                                                  I also like ham, and Prime Rib on Thanksgiving, but I would be disappointed if there was not a turkey on the menu as well.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: swsidejim

                                                    For those of you who ask 'If it is so good, why don't they serve it in restaurants every day?' They do. Go to any diner anyday and order turkey and stuffing. You'll get it.

                                                    For those of you who ask 'If it is so good, why don't we have it every week or month' Perhaps you didn't notice but turkeys weigh on average 15 pounds and up. Do you cook 15 pounds of chicken every Sunday?

                                                    No, just because someone or some few or some many do not like some popular or well-thought-of food, does not mean it is overrated.

                                                  2. Hi all. After reading all the posts, I've concluded (which I was well on my way already, hence the original post) that turkey is overrated. For me. But, I'm willing to try one more time.

                                                    The New Plan: I will, budget allowing (I'm a grad student), buy and cook a heritage bird, just to double check this, perhaps this winter, since turkey is on the brain. But, unless the heritage bird is really yummy and worth the $5 a lb. they were charging for it at one of the Minneapolis co-ops I called, next Thanksgiving it's gonna be something else: a duck or two, a goose, or venison... something local that is not turkey, because really, turkey? Meh.