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Beginner to Thanksgiving -- Accidentally bought capon!

I live at a college dormitory, and my floor is having Thanksgiving together, and we decided to buy two smaller birds instead of one big one, for shorter cooking time. However, I wanted to try brining the bird and read that you should avoid pre-brined birds or birds injected with saline solution, and I got so intent on finding one that met this description that somehow I did not notice until I got home that I actually purchased capon. -_- I had assumed Capon was a company name, like Butterball.... Luckily someone else purchased the second bird, and it actually is a turkey.

Anyway, I'm stuck with it now, and I did some research on capon, but I still wanted to brine it but wasn't sure how to go about it properly. This was 35 dollar bird (for 8-1/2 pounds) so I really don't want to screw it up if possible. I've actually never cooked a whole turkey before either, so this is all a new experience for me.

It's a minimally processed capon, with the giblets included. I kept reading that for turkeys, you have to remove the giblets and neck. Is this true for capon too? Obviously I'll remove the giblets, but I wasn't sure if there was anything else I needed to do, or how to even remove the neck. Is it attached and you cut it off or something?

Also, I had wanted to try a wet brine, but all that was left at Williams-Sonoma was a dry brine, and it has the following ingredients:
Kosher salt, sugar, garlic, black pepper, rosemary, lemon peel, French thyme, Indian fennel, Dalmatian sage, red pepper, safflower oil (to prevent separation), bay leaf.

So I'm going to dry brine it, but I read online around that dry brining is more effective when done longer than wet brining. For a 8-1/2 pound bird, how long would I want to dry brine in the fridge for maximum tastiness? Is 24 hours too short? I can do longer if I thaw the capon in cold water for 4-5 hours today (it's still extremely frozen in my fridge) and then after it is thawed, starting the brining.

Also, would I season the capon again before roasting it, after washing off the brine? I know I would NOT add any more salt, but I wasn't sure if I should add other seasonings like garlic or pepper or rosemary or thyme to the bird before roasting, or if after the brine, that would be overkill. Also, I know you rub the brine inside the cavity and on the outside of the skin, but seasonings right before roasting are rubbed under the skin, right?

Next, I've been reading that the bird is juicier if you cook it breast side down, but I've never cooked a whole bird, so I don't know that this means. Does that mean the legs are sticking up in the air, or facing down in the pan? And it says to check the bird temperature and make sure it's 165 degrees in the thigh when done... is that the legs? Do I just stick my digital thermometer in one of the legs? I'm not sure where the thigh is...

Also, I'm not stuffing my bird, but the bird did come with the giblets included, as mentioned above. Do I cook those in the pan put next to the bird? We're using the drippings to make turkey gravy, so I wasn't sure how added giblets would affect taste. I was planning on putting a few stalks of celery and some onion and carrots at the bottom of the pan, so I wasn't sure what to do with the giblets. Also, would I put anything inside the cavity of the capon as well? I'm not stuffing it, but I know sometimes people put a little thing or two in there for flavor?

Also, do you have to baste capon? I was going to do the tented foil method, uncovering it the last 30 minutes, because our oven is a little screwy and tends to brown things too fast before the outsides can cook, so I think this will help prevent that somewhat. And should I flip it breast side up near the end at all?

Some sites say to tie the legs together before cooking with twine. What does this do for the bird? Does it make a difference if I do it or not?

Sorry for all the questions! I'm just so new at this and was not even sure how using capon instead of turkey would affect everything. @_@ I'm so nervous. This is my first Thanksgiving where I'm doing most of the cooking, and we're having 15 guests coming, so I want everything to go smoothly.

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  1. Well I will say that the accident will probably turn into good fortune. My parents have recently been specifically buying capon for holiday occasions, something more common for Italian heritages.

    I don't know specifically how my mom prepares it but I know that she doesn't brine it and it still turns out very juicy compared to turkey. You may be able to skip the whole brining stage but I am sure someone with more experience will respond shortly.

    1. I'm not typically a briner either.

      you tie the legs up so they stay closer to the body of the bird and don't 'flop' around plus cook more evenly cause otherwise they can tend to get overdone. it's easy enough to do, ask your meat butcher for some twine and they'll give it to you, simply tie the legs up and against the body.

      basting is always good cause it ensures the skin gets the moisture and fat it needs to have the best outcome.

      do you have a thermometer? check it in a few places and take it out [then tent] before it reaches the 180* because the bird continues to carryover cook after it's out when covered. you want a juicy bird and if you let it get to 180/185 before you take it out, turkey jerky could occur :(

      giblets and veg, yes to both in the bottom of your cooking vessel. chop up the veg you want to use, season that nicely as well, salt and pepper, and the giblets in there too. add chicken broth or veg broth or water to the bottom of the pot, it cooks off but the veg will help a great deal with a good base for gravy that is essential.

      1. You are lucky. Capon is better than turkey. Unless you need the size of a turkey, and can afford capon, capon is the best choice....

        1. Remove the neck and gibbies. Tie the ends of the drumsticks together with kitchen twine (makes it easier to handle) and brine for about 10 hours.
          Basic Brine:
          1 gallon water
          3/4 cup Morton's Kosher Salt
          1/2 cup sugar

          As the bird is now seasoned there is no need to add further seasoning to it before roasting.

          Remove from brine and rinse thoroughly and then pat dry. Rub the bird all over with melted butter and put breast-side down in a well greased V-rack over a roasting pan. Roast at 450 for about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and carefully (don't tear the skin - seriously, this is important) flip the bird over and return to the oven with the drumsticks facing the back wall (dark meat takes longer to cook and it gets more reflected heat this way). Drop the oven temp down to 375 and roast until done. This should take in the neighborhood of 2 hours. Don't open the oven to baste - just leave it alone and it will take care of itself.

          Check the capon's temperature in the thigh which is the part of the bird that the drumstick attaches to. Make sure you are deep in meat and not touching bone. Pull the bird when the temperature reads 165-170 degrees.

          Let the bird rest for 15 minutes before carving.

          Options would include putting onions and herbs in the cavity and/or putting coarsely chopped onion/carrot/celery in the bottom of the roasting pan to flavor the jus.

          1. To answer some of your questions:

            1. The neck and giblets will be in little baggies, stuffed inside the body cavity (so, all detached, no work required on your part). Once the bird is defrosted, just pull them out.

            2. The brining mixture you bought at WS will be fine as long as you like the flavor of all the herbs in it. If I were you, I'd thaw the bird today in cold water and rub it with the mixture, then wrap tightly in plastic wrap. On Wednesday, uncover it and allow it to air-dry in the fridge until you cook it on Thursday. I wouldn't rinse off the brine/rub, but I also wouldn't use any other seasonings - you have a lot going on in that rub already.

            3. The breast-down method works well. Once you get the bird out of the packaging, you'll see what it means - when the breast is down, the legs will be pointing up and will splay out a bit. The thighs are the big "haunch" looking things that attach the legs to the body. You want the breast meat to be cooked to 165ish, but the dark meat can actually take a lot more cooking without getting tough, so I would test both breast and thigh, and pull the bird when the breast is at 165. You can always remove the breasts and return the rest of the carcass to the oven to cook further. A foil shield over the breast for part of the cooking time will also help the breast cook slower.

            4. You can cook the giblets either in the same pan as the bird or on the stovetop separately, or you can roast them ahead of time, whatever you like. The liver is the giblet that many people dislike in gravy - it can make things bitter - so you may not want to include it. You don't have to put anything inside the cavity but you can if you like (an onion, a lemon, whatever). This will flavor the drippings more than it will the actual meat.

            5. You don't have to baste any bird. Basting serves no purpose other than to moisten the skin, which will prevent it from crisping properly. If you go to the trouble of brining and air-drying your bird, the last thing you want to do is reintroduce moisture. The skin has plenty of its own fat, which will render beautifully.

            6. Tying up the bird's legs, or "trussing" the bird, is optional. Some people like it because it makes the bird look prettier to carve. Personally, I never bother. I feel that it keeps the skin around the legs and thighs from getting crisp, and since crisp skin is the best part of any bird, I want as much of it as I can get. I also prefer my dark meat more cooked than my white, and leaving the bird untrussed lets more hot air circulate around the dark parts.

            Hope that helps - let us know if you have follow-up questions!

            1. STOP! No, don't bring your capon. It doesn't need it. Capon is a much juicier bird than turkey and has a lot of fat (fat = flavor). I am making a capon for the holiday as well, as this year there will only be 6 of us and I don't want a ton of leftovers. I hate to scare you, but I am not sure a 8 lb. capon will be enough for 15 people.

              Rather than brine the capon, I strongly suggest a butter rub with some herbs prior to roasting. Here is how I am planning to do ours, this has worked beautifully in the past, BTW. In a large roastng pan with shallow sides, put in some chopped onions, celery and carrots. You can chunk it and it doesn't have to be perfect, this will help form the base for your sauce or gravy. Either use a V-rack or flat rack. Insert into roasting pan. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Use about 1 1/2 sticks of unsalted real butter, leave out for 4-6 hours till it's really soft. To the butter, add salt, pepper, some paprika and a combination of 1 cup fresh herbs of your choice (I like tarragon, parsley, sage). Reach under the skin, no this is not a typo, under the skin, and with your knuckles separate the skin from the flesh. Give the capon a good massage with the herb butter all over the flesh. Lay the capon breast side down. Insert a whole onion and cut up lemon for additoinal flavor into the cavity.

              Whether to truss or not is your choice. If you truss the legs, be sure to use cotton or some materials that won't melt in the oven. I like trussed legs because they protect the breast from drying out. Lay your upside down capon into a preheated oven for 30 min. Lower oven heat to 350 degrees. Carefully turn the bird over breast side up, baste well with juices and roast another 30 min, baste again. Total cooking time should be about 2 to 2 1/2 hours, or 175 egres. Important to let capon rest for 20 min before carving. Hope this helps!

              8 Replies
              1. re: Diane in Bexley

                There is no reason not to brine a capon. Yes, it is much more flavorful than turkey, but it will still benefit from the seasoning that a dry brine will provide. The chemical reaction between the salt and the meat will also allow the bird to draw the other flavors from the rub farther into the meat, creating a bird that is seasoned all the way to the bone instead of just on the surface.

                1. re: biondanonima

                  You get the same effect, seasoning all the way tot he bone, with a butter massage and it has the benefit of browning, without the mess of brining or taking up a lot of precious fridge space. What you describe is not a brine, but a dry rub. Brining involves salt and some kind of liquid.

                  1. re: Diane in Bexley

                    The topic of whether a lengthy salt rub should or should not be referred to as a "brine" has been debated all over these boards this Thanksgiving. Call it whatever you will, but it is not the same thing as a dry rub, which is generally applied to meat just before cooking and is not nearly as high in salt. The dry-brine technique is not messy nor does it take any extra fridge space, because there is no water involved. I call it a "dry brine" because rubbing a bird with salt (or a high-salt rub, which I assume is what the OP bought at Williams Sonoma) and leaving it for several days ends up creating a super-concentrated brine, when the salt dissolves in the bird's natural juices. If you wrap the bird tightly in plastic wrap, that super-salty liquid is held close to the bird and is eventually reabsorbed in the same way a traditional brine would be.

                    In my experience, a dry brine is a much better carrier of flavor than any type of butter mixture, which really only flavors the skin and the very top layer of the meat. The butter is not soaking through the meat all the way to the bone, and therefore whatever was added to the butter isn't either. Butter isn't necessary for browning when the skin is properly dried, but it can always be added to a dry-brined bird if desired.

                2. re: Diane in Bexley

                  Hopefully we're okay meat-wise. We're having my 8-1/2 pound capon, as well as a 10 pound turkey, and a LOT of sides.

                  Okay, I'll truss. I'll probably steal my roommate's 100% cotton thread and double thread it, as I looked all over Safeway for twine and it was not to be found.

                  I'll have to consider whether to brine or not because of mixed answers on here, but my main hope with a dry brine is that the flavor of the spices would permeate all of the meat, not just the surface.

                  I don't have a rack/any way to get a rack, just a disposable roasting pan. Is it okay if the capon sits in its own juices with the veggies/giblets on the side? If this is the case, would I still put the water or broth in, or is this not something you do when not using a rack?

                  1. re: megwini

                    Since you're using a disposable roasting pan, be sure to use a solid roasting pan/cookie sheet underneath it for support. The disposable is not strong enough to support the bird and all the scalding hot pan juices when ready to come out of the oven.

                    1. re: DuchessNukem

                      If you don't have a cookie sheet to put underneath, buy two disposable roasting pans and nest them. Duchess is right, the single pan could collapse just as you are taking your beautiful bird out of the oven.....

                    2. re: megwini

                      I am a BIG believer in using the veggies to keep the bird out of the drippings. I put lots of carrots and celery and onions to make a bed and let my bird lie on it. Also STRONGLY agree with putting a baking sheet under the disposable pan. Even if you have to buy a baking pan. Those aluminum deals look like the perfect solution but are just a twitch away from all your work on the floor.

                      Good luck, enjoy, and a bit of advice from my wise friend Russ: "do your best but have fun; there's always pizza if things go wonky." Those words (spoken decades ago when *I* was in college) have transformed me into a relaxed entertainer. Hope they help you too.

                    3. re: Diane in Bexley

                      Big AGREE don't brine! I love capon and have made it several times for festive occasions. It is always juicy and delicious. I just use butter and garlic, salt, and herbs pulled under the skin.

                    4. Had one last question. I wanted to do the cooking method where you start at 450 degrees to kill off any bad bugs, then lower the temperature to 250 degrees for the rest of the cooking process. I think my oven runs hot judging by how our baked goods turn WAY darker than they should before the inside cooks, but I'm not 100% sure and wasn't able to find an oven thermometer at the grocery store. Would it be safe to have it at 375 for an hour and then lower it to 250?

                      Also, for some reason these 10 pound birds are not defrosting well in our fridges. The turkey-turkey has been in the other guys' fridge now for almost 2 days and it's still primarily solid, even though the internet says a 10-pound bird should be quite defrosted after 2 days. So for ours, I tried putting it (still wrapped in its original packaging) in a bucket with cold water running over it for 90 minutes Tuesday evening, and later realized the water wasn't as cold as it should have been (it was in the low 60's) so for probably the last hour it was slightly in the danger zone, but since it wasn't too long, I think it is okay.

                      But BECAUSE of this, I do not want to let the capon rest on the counter for an hour before cooking it on Thursday, as many places suggest, so as to not risk extra bacteria. So how does putting a cold bird in the oven affect cooking time? I know it's not ideal but just think this would give me more peace of mind. So assuming the bird is going in cold, I will be tenting it with foil, and I want to cook it hotter at first then lower it to 250, I'm wondering how to calculate the approximate cooking time for an 8.64 pound bird.

                      1. How did it turn out? Hope it went well