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Some Thanksgiving Turkey Suggestions Needed..........

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Normally we have Thanksgiving at my inlaws along with my parents etc. however this year my parents will be in FL and my wife and I are spending T-day at our log cabin in the north woods (our usual weekend location) and we’ll probably have some friends over for dinner as well. It should be fantastic…….cold weather, woodstove going, football on TV and quick hunt with the dogs in the morning etc.

Here’ s my question………..

I roast several chickens per year and I have no problems with chicken……however I’ve never done a turkey. My MIL brined a home raised turkey (42lbs mind you) last year and it was outstanding, however due to the brine, the gravy from drippings would not come together and separated horribly (I believe there was a reaction to the acid in the brine etc.).

So I would actually line to avoid brining the bird altogether…………..I’m thinking of about a 15-20lb bird (whole) and stuffing the cavity with fruit, ions, herbs like I normally do with chicken. What is the best way to keep this bird from drying out? Foil? Injections? Low heat? Basting?

I’d love to hear how people approach this.

Thanks

Steve

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  1. We had a heritage turkey last year and it was wonderful unless people don't like dark meat since there is no really white breast meat. It was closer to eating duck and we will have one again this year. It costs a lot more but felt it was worth the money. I think the easiest way to handle a standard turkey is to cut part way through the breasts before it goes into the oven so you can easily cut them off when they are properly roasted, leaving the rest in the oven until it too is done. Of course, you don't have a pretty bird to show but it lets everything cook to the proper temp without drying out.

    1. I cook turkey every year without brining, and it is marvelous. I buy a fresh, naturally raised bird. I baste it with butter ( start with cheesecloth dipped in butter over the breast.)I sit it on top of veggies, I Start at 425 for 10 minutes, make sure the bird is room temp. Turn down to 325, bast every 15 minutes for first hour, roast 15 min per pound or until it is 165 at thigh ( i really do 160).
      I have always found this method to create a moist, tender bird.
      I prefer to stuff the bird with bread or wild rice stuffing, but your plan sounds fine.

      3 Replies
      1. re: magiesmom

        Interesting, the cheese cloth idea is interesting to me……..at what point do you remove that?

        When I roast chickens I normally use a roaster pan with a rack, so I’ll be rocking that with the turkey as well. Anyone put anything in the bottom of the pan? I’ve thrown some apples and onions in the pan before to add some additional flavor to the drippings but I’m not sure I’ll do that with the turkey, especially if I stuff those items in the cavity.

        I was also figuring on using the hot oven for X mins then lower to 325ish as well.

        Since turkey tends to crumble a little easier if not left to rest long enough, how long does everyone let a bird rest prior to carving? My inlaws tend to hack the bird into chunks of meat vs. pretty slices (which tastes just as good btw) and I always grew up with pretty slices so I would prefer to have a resting plan as well to avoid crumbling……..how long?

        If you do the 15min per pound timing, is that with the cavity stuffed to the hilt with stuffing?

        1. re: River19

          I take the cheesecloth off about an hour before the turkey is done so it can brown. I do now use veggies instead of a rack and I puree them into the gravy if they are not burnt.

          I rest for about one half hour as I make gravy, finish veggies, etc., tented with foil .

          recipes say 20-25 min/ pound stuffed. I find 18 minutes/pound stuffed usually works, 15 unstuffed, but the natural never been frozen birds can cook quickly. Unstuffed I would estimate 15 ( including the initial time at higher heat) but check even an hour before you expect it to be done. there is a lot of variation in birds, in my experience.

          1. re: magiesmom

            magiesmom,I have always done the cheesecloth, too, exactly the same method as you described, with the high temp first. I had no idea anyone else did it that way! I love the idea of using veggies instead of a rack. Thanks! I am definitely going to do that this year.

            I told this story once before, but my mother used to use my dad's (very well washed) old cotton boxers, rather than cheesecloth. I don't do that. Though the sight of a turkey with blue and white striped boxers on while lounging in the oven was something to see.

      2. I've brined in years past, and I've also gone the fresh local turkey route. The fresh turkey was good, but expensive, and tasted no better to me than inexpensive frozen birds prepared in a way to preserve moisture. Lately, I use a technique called barding. I believe the origin was from the era of wood burning stoves, or some other heating method that was less easy to control than today's modern oven. If you take 1/4" slices of salt pork and cover the turkey with it, and wrap it with cheese cloth to hold everything in place, it would protect the bird from uneven heating and drying it out. You also prick the skin under the salt prok so the fat works it's way into the bird to keep it moist and juicy. You could even do this with bacon if you wanted to infuse some of the smoky bacon flavor. I don't, because that's not the flavor I'm going with my more traditional menu. Anyway, my turkey always comes out great, and I don't bother with fresh turkeys or brining anymore.

        2 Replies
        1. re: egbluesuede

          Do you remove the pork at some point to let the skin brown or do you leave it on the entire cook time?

          1. re: River19

            oh yeah, I forgot to mention that. I do remove the port and brown the skin at the end. Otherwise the skink would stay white and gummy looking. Essentially, the pork is just basting the bird in fat to keep it moist while cooking. I use aromatics inside the bird for variable flavors.

        2. We should clear a couple of things up first.

          If your gravy didn't come together it likely had nothing to do with the brine. Probably it was an improperly made roux. We'd need to know exactly how you made the gravy to know why it didn't work, but acid content wouldn't have anything to do with it.

          But secondly, there shouldn't be any acid content in a brine. Brine means salt. Acid would be in a marinade and you shouldn't do that to a bird.

          The best way to keep your bird juicy is to brine it. Period. Brining adds water to the bird that wasn't there before.

          If you don't want to brine, get an injected or basted bird. Many people don't like these but they do come out juicy if you don't overcook them. Or get a Kosher bird, which has been pre-salted. Even Cook's Illustrated says these are good alternatives to brining a bird.

          You can make your bird retain more of its existing juices by salting or "dry-brining" (many purists hate this term) a day before roasting. Some of the salt will migrate into the meat by osmosis and will hold on to the moisture within. Don't do this with a Kosher bird.

          Finally, do not overcook the bird, which most recipes would have you do. The white meat is done at 150F and the dark meat at 160F. Remove the bird when it hits these temps and let it sit for 20 min or so; the temps will rise about 10 degrees and be perfect when you carve.

          Roast breast down at 325 for about 15 min per pound -- always UNstuffed -- for small birds (15 lbs); 12 min per pound, roughly, for larger birds (20 lbs and up). This is rough timing only; use a thermo to be sure. You can turn breast up for the last hour to get some nice browning if you wish, but it isn't necessary unless you are presenting the bird whole for photographic purposes before carving.

          I always buy the cheapest frozen Turkeys I can find; usually they are free with a minimum purchase this time of year. I prefer natural, unbasted/uninjected but I adapt to whatever they have. They always come out perfectly moist, flavorful and juicy. I have wasted money on heritage birds and every type of expensive Turkey you can imagine and it's all about the preparation.

          4 Replies
          1. re: acgold7

            Also, an interesting post.

            As for the gravy, I wasn’t near it, not sure what they did to it, I know they used some lemon juice in their brine but the remainder I don’t remember. I was more involved as the bartender  and making the side dishes along with cutting the porketta…..they also serve a porketta for Thanksgiving, and it is outstanding.

            I’m on the fence on the whole brining thing. I still may go that route however.

            As for the temps, I always cook meat with my digital instant read thermometer, I hate relying on times for more than a rough guide.

            I’m probably looking at 20lb bird give or take, so probably something like 4-5hours cook time is my guess.

            Breast down? Really? Never done a bird breast down before. If you take care to not dry out the breast and watch the temperature, why go that route?

            Thanks

            1. re: River19

              The juices settle in the white meat and stay there as it cooks. Works perfectly. My mom always did it this way and now there are many recipes out there suggesting this like they've just discovered it. Works great.

              Breast up, juices end up in the pan. More gravy that way, less juice in the meat.

              1. re: acgold7

                Perfect. Thanks, that might be something I try.

                With the crowd I'm cooking for, they will be happy with whatever I roll out.

                I'm not too worried about “juice” for the gravy necessarily as my wife likes to have buckets of gravy available (plus I use the extra for pot pies with the leftovers)…..since she wants a decent amount I always start my gravy from the giblets and neck and make a stock and add pan dripping to it along with shallots etc. So this breast down technique might be the ticket I’m looking for…….

                Thanks

                1. re: River19

                  I'm a gravy fan too and I always make the stock the day before with all the stuff you mentioned as well... can't ever have too much gravy.

          2. My wife decided to have a t-day dinner about two weeks ago and did the upside down breast cooking and it came out phenomenally juicy , was wonderful except the breast skin was not that wonderful crispiness that we either love or hate...I am going to try it this way and then attempt to broil it for a few minutes right side up to brown the skin...I have always done the brining for two days before cooking and loved how it came out, but this upside down breast cooking worked even better for a moist turkey

            3 Replies
            1. re: ROCKLES

              Did you brine it when you cooked it with the breast down or was it juicey enough without brining?

              Here's the thing, since we are cooking T-Day at our cabin, that means we are driving up Wed night......I would prefer to not have a cooler full of brine rolling around.......especially the way my wife dirves !!!!!

              1. re: River19

                I usually do the brining two or three days before and then let air-dry in the fridge, seasoned, for a day or two to let the skin dry so it'll get crispy and crackly. I season with herbs and spices (but not usually salt) beforehand as well so the spices penetrate during the drying time, but this is optional.

                1. re: River19

                  no she did not brine it and it was even more juicey than brining.

              2. I'm a little confused about the idea of brining making the turkey juicier. It seems to me that what it does is make it "wetter." To me, meat that's juicy is that way because it has more fat that melts and adds flavor. Except for the salt, which might add flavor, I don't understand why having more water in a bird is better. I'm sticking with the heritage turkey because it actually has more of that flavorful fat.

                2 Replies
                1. re: escondido123

                  Wetter, juicier and higher moisture content are all the same thing. Salt helps the meat retain moisture, so the meat is juicier. Salting helps the meat retain the moisture that is already there while brining draws in additional moisture, which is retained while cooking. Doing neither allows the meat to lose more moisture.

                  More fat helps as well, of course, but don't discount the presence of moisture in the juicy factor.

                  Take dry, overcooked white meat next to moist, properly cooked white meat and tell me which is juicier. As there is no fat marbling, the only difference is moisture content, i.e. water. Brining prevents the former by giving you a wider latitide to keep the latter.

                  1. re: escondido123

                    Brining has been scientifically shown to increase the juicyness of the flesh. It is on a microscopic level, escondido, and does not have to do with fat ratio.
                    Cooks Illustrated explains this well, but unless you subscribe you cannot get there on their website. Essentially, brining (salted water - often with other flavor enhancers added), forces the molecular structure of the cell walls of the protein - in this case turkey meat - to absorb water, and then, as it heats up and sets, to firm up and not be able to release that moisture - hense, it does not lose 'juice' to the pan or air, etc., but stays locked in the meat. Voila - moister, juicier turkey:)

                    I salt-rub (aka dry-brine) my turkey, as it is less awkward. ALSO use the breast down then flip method IF I am doing an un-stuffed smaller bird. Flipping a 20+ lb. hot, stuffed turkey is a danger game I avoid.

                    I do the salting several days out, wipe it off the day before and put a flavored butter under the breast and leg/thigh skin and rub on top, and leave that the last overnight to flavor the flesh. Generally, I put an orange and an onion in my cavity, along with some thyme and rosemary and make dressing on the side.
                    Bird always comes out very well, moist, great flavor.

                  2. I have wet-brined, dry-brined, had fresh turkeys, frozen turkeys, cooked upside down, covered with cheesecloth, covered with bacon, etc.... Family favorite is always cheap frozen with herbed butter under the skin, s&p on top. This year I am trying a Kosher turkey per friend's suggestion; heard it's juicier/moister.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: sillysully

                      Agree! I just get the cheap birds, butter under the skin. I also baste (because it is fun), shooting the juices up the "leg pits" and it always turns out moist and fabulous. I never bother with brining, because the frozen cheap birds are already brined. I put lots of veggies and some citrus in the cavity.

                    2. Thanks for all the suggestions......

                      I'm leaning towards the herb butter under the skin, veggies and apples in the body cavity, cook the bird breast side down for the first 2/3 of the time then flip to brown the skin for the last portion of the time. I’ll be monitoring the temps with my instant read thermometer (never cook meat without it)………

                      The rest of the menu will be pretty straight forward, sometimes I find with too many things being passed around, you fill up before you can really enjoy the core meal you sit down for.

                      Pumpkin martinis, wine and some fresh growlers from the local brewery….

                      Appetizers will be:

                      Cheese plate from local cheese market (aged gouda, blue cheese, goat’s milk cheese selection, cocoa cure salami made by M. Batalli’s father and sliced apple)
                      Sliced Seared Woodcock breast crustinis with red wine and mushroom sauce, served with a dollop of goat cheese
                      If I run out of woodcock, or fail to “secure” some additional woodcock I will go with crabmeat stuffed shrooms instead……..

                      Dinner:
                      Turkey
                      Stuffing with apples, sausage, dried cranberries, shallots etc.
                      Smashed taters (absolute requirement)
                      Brussells sprouts with bacon and vanilla (trust me, it’s good)
                      Homemade bread (good crusty stuff)
                      Cranberry sauce
                      Gravy……..boats of gravy…..

                      Pie for dessert (my wife is on dessert patrol)

                      I think that will work……

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: River19

                        What time should I be there?

                        1. re: acgold7

                          Figure drinks start about 1pm after I come back from a quick morning hunt with the dogs, apps somewhere soon after and dinner around 7ish as my friend will be deer hunting at his camp during the day and I promised him we'd wait until he came back. His girlfriend will be with us, worst case scenario, I dine with some beautiful women.....it could be worse :-)

                          1. re: River19

                            Sounds like a textbook perfect Thanksgiving. Good luck with the cooking and please let us know how everything comes out.

                        2. re: River19

                          um, brussel sprouts w/ bacon and vanilla - really? I WANT that recipe! SO is so adverse to brussels that he gets upset if I peruse them in the market!

                        3. Like many other posters here, I'm a fan of frozen turkeys. I've done the locally raised and store-bought fresh turkeys, but I've never had the success with those that I've had with the frozen. One year, I even called the Butterball hotline to ask why I preferred frozen over fresh (I thought I was doing something wrong). The nice lady on the other side of the line said that in their taste tests, frozen consistently won out over fresh. She said that's because of the flavorings injected into the frozen turkey to keep it moist.

                          I've followed both Alton Brown's method of cooking turkeys and the Perfect Roast Turkey from "Thanksgiving 101". I am a diehard stuffing-belongs-in-the-bird girl, so I prefer Thanksgiving 101's method.

                          Edited to add: Good luck flipping a 20lb turkey. I might reconsider that tactic for safety's sake, especially after having a couple pumpkin martinis!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Christina D

                            If we could handle moving around a hot 42lber last year, the 20-25lb turkey will be easy :-)

                            Plus, where's your sense of adventure...........

                            I have a plan......we'll flip that thing......but yeah.......the martini flow may have to be moderated correctly to properly execute the plan......

                          2. I'm a serious proselytizer of low heat. I think it's widely and tragically under-appreciated. The best thing, in my opinion, is to bake the turkey at 450 until its about 100 F inside, or until the outside is as brown as you want it, and then to cook it at 250 for many hours, until the connective tissue starts to break down but the turkey still holds together (for presentation purposes, I wouldn't want to serve pulled turkey). You have a good hour or two where it's just right. Lots of liquid will pool in the bottom of the pan, which will make you think that you've made a horribly dry bird, but actually it just isn't evaporating out of the pan as much due to the cooler oven. It's good to keep an eye and siphon out some liquid now and then, so the bottom of the turkey doesn't get soggy (save it, though!). Although the turkey is hotter than 165 at the end of cooking, it makes a much moister bird in the end than the normal methods. I think this is because, in a very hot oven, the temperature gradient is larger- you're losing a lot of moisture as steam. A slow oven gives the heat time to redistribute, so less boiling/evaporation.

                            A word on gravy: I've had it separate because the fat to flour ratio is too high. My preference is to start with a butter/flour roux, and to add enough flour to the butter so that it's paste, thick enough that I could scoop it out of the pan with a fork if I wanted to, and cook until light brown. Then remove the fat from the turkey drippings and use just the solids/liquid. If you have significant fat left in the stock, you throw off your ratio. A turkey baster is probably the easiest way to do this. Whisk in the drippings/stock until it's the right consistency, and salt to taste. If it's too thin, you can also crank up the heat and let some moisture boil off.