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Turkey Day 2013: Lessons Learned

  • m

It's over. Right now you're probably thinking: never again. Or maybe it was so successful you want to do it all over again soon.

I'm somewhere in between. The feast was great. Everyone raved and competed for leftovers. But by the time I sat down to eat, I was not hungry. Price to pay for slaving for two days, cooking, tasting and worrying. Though seeing the family huddled together, being thankful and loving, was well worth the trouble, even if I ended up not eating much.

Lessons learned for me: (FYI: Turkey was dry brined for 3 days, left to air dry for 24 hours. Herb butter under the skin and all over. Started at 425 breast side down for 45 min).

- Buy small, make two if needed. I had to work with a 23-lb monster with "50% extra breast meat". Difficult to handle/flip.
- Rotate during roasting. It ended up cooking unevenly (one side cooked faster than the other). I forgot to rotate it during roasting, so when I took it out at 155, the other side was still at 140!
- Stuffing is not worth it. The uneven cooking was probably partially attributed to the stuffing inside. We had extra stuffing baking separately with some homemade turkey broth and a couple of eggs, and with some drippings added. I honestly thought it tasted just as good. Ended up mixing it with what came out of the bird.
- Butter roux beats turkey fat roux (for me at least). Convenient, and less of that greasy turkey taste. I realize this is a matter of personal preference.
- Stick to rubbing with butter. I added some olive oil to the butter, so the bird browned beautifully, but a little too fast.
- Dry brining really works. The meat (and there was a lot of it) was perfectly seasoned. Even though I had to cook it far longer than I ever had to before because of the uneven cooking, most of the breast meat remained moist. Although to be honest, I had better results with smaller birds cooked using the same technique.

I am thinking that for my next turkey roasting adventure, I will slow roast, covered in foil and then uncover and up the temperature for the last couple of hours. No flipping. And if someone insists on stuffing, I am handing them over the entire task.

At the end of the day, it was a success. But I am ready for some Asian takeout.

How was your Thanksgiving? And what are your lessons learned?

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  1. I don't have a lesson learned but an unusual occurrence.

    For the first time this year I made turkey stock ahead of time. On T day I reheated it - it tasted fine - and threw in the neck from the turkey. When it came time to make the gravy the stock had a burned flavor. ?? Nothing burned in that pot whatsoever. I went ahead and made the gravy. Still had an off flavor. Added a cup of white wine (which I don't normally do) and that solved the problem.

    Did the stock just over reduce? Is that what really rich turkey stock tastes like? Or did the neck put in that flalvor? Those are the only two things I can think of...

    And, I'm sorry, mazwe about your not wanting to eat. I get that feeling often when making something that takes all day to cook. Strangely not at T day, though. I suppose because I do it in pieces.

    3 Replies
    1. re: thymetobake

      Was there garlic in the stock? sometimes it can take on an off bitter flavor if cooked for a while.

      1. re: fldhkybnva

        Nope, no garlic or anything else. The stock was made with turkey thighs and necks only. There wasn't even salt in it until it hit the gravy stage.

      2. re: thymetobake

        Lesson learned- a bunch of gizzards and a couple of skinned necks gives you a stock that will not thicken. No matter what.

      3. For your unevenly cooked turkey, if it fits you can try sticking it in legs first.

        1. My biggest lesson - stick with what works -

          Turkey - low and slow, guaranteed success

          Rolls - I bought a few dozen rolls from a local bakery which were really not what I was looking for. Next year or for Christmas I'll probably make my own

          2 Replies
          1. re: fldhkybnva

            Another lesson learned along the lines of this same theme - I usually make traditional sage sausage stuffing. This year I thought I'd try biscuit stuffing and while it was nice to try it, I really didn't like the use of biscuits in this sort of dish so won't be doing that again.

            1. re: fldhkybnva

              I've found over the years, if I gonna try something "new", I better make the "old' as well for the first year

          2. Lessons Learned:

            Low and slow is the way to go.
            Make more gravy.
            Be more specific with MIL about types of pies to bring.
            Don't brown the marshmallow topping under the broiler.

            13 Replies
            1. re: tcamp

              2 more things I did right:

              As long as you're roasting garlic for the mashed potatoes, roast some extra and freeze in a sheet for use on weeknights.

              Do the potatoes early and keep warm in the crockpot. So nice not having a big pot steaming up the kitchen in the final hour.

              1. re: tcamp

                The potato in the crockpot worked well. My guests didn't love it because I didn't add garlic and because I didn't add enough sugar. This is what happens when you try to mesh two groups. If I were to do that again I would just make two kinds.

                  1. re: LindaWhit

                    That's what I'm wondering? Were they sweet potatoes?

                    1. re: LindaWhit

                      My in laws put sugar in regular mashed potato.

                      My personal guests wanted garlic.

                      1. re: melpy

                        Huh. I've never heard of anyone doing that. (The sugar in mashed potatoes, that is.)

                1. re: tcamp

                  I have to laugh about your comment about being specific about telling MIL what pies to bring. One Thanksgiving, many years ago, we had the meal at my brother's house. My mom informed me that SHE was bringing the pies, in particular my favorite - Blueberry! That's all I could think about for weeks. When we were kids, all seven of us would roll out dough and make great pies, all flavors, apple, pumpkin, blueberry, cherry, even mince.

                  So when dessert rolled around at my brother's house, I was anticipating delicious blueberry stuff when mom brought out an armful of generic, cheap pies from the local supermarket. None of us knew until then that after her kids were all grown, mom had decided to stop baking. In her opinion these pies were just as good as homemade because "they were what the restaurants serve."

                  We learned very quickly to not only be much more specific, but to also let mom take a break from pie "baking," and let her pick out a nice champagne instead.

                  1. re: TrishUntrapped

                    I think she's earned the privilege! I know my Mom at this point would be thrilled to just bring champagne or wine. And after raising six kids, she deserves it.

                    1. re: coll

                      Oh yeah, mom paid her dues letting us all roll out pie dough in the kitchen. All that flour and mess...

                    2. re: TrishUntrapped

                      my MIL has never made a pie in her life. She buys several at her retirement home and brings those and, in truth, they are pretty good. Since I don't care much about dessert and she does, the pies are her contribution. A few weeks prior, she asked me what I liked and I told her apple or another fruit because I don't like pecan and am lukewarm about pumpkin. She brought pecan and pumpkin! I had a sliver of pumpkin and a huge dollop of whipped cream.

                        1. re: tcamp

                          If she's like some of my family, she asked, heard "apple blah blah blah pumpkin blah blah blah pecan" and figured she'd pick from those. Of course, it's also entirely possible it was intentional... ;)

                      1. re: tcamp

                        Same with the onions on the green bean casserole. Trust me.

                      2. I will have to read up about roasting a turkey low and slow. It sounds promising and, after cooking 25 T-days, it's always good to have something new to try.

                        We plan to eat between 1-2PM. I wonder if we'd be able to get a L&S turkey on the table that early...

                        11 Replies
                        1. re: rainey

                          I think there was a convert on another thread after cooking 30 T-days. Most of the turkeys roast in 4 to 5 hours, although a long resting period is also usually recommended. My approach is wake up since I have to anyway to feed the cat at 6 or so and plopped it in the oven. Then I go sit for the next few hours because it's very hands off.

                          1. re: rainey

                            My 18 pound bird cooked at 475 for 30 minutes, then 6 hours at 250. Then a rest. So to be ready by 1-2, you'll need to get started early but doable.

                            1. re: tcamp

                              I used to always put it in at 475 for a half hour or so, then down to 325-350. This year I was a little crazy, and I had the vegetables in at 350 right up to turkey time, so I just stuck the bird in without changing the temperature. I remembered reading here that it was a good idea. Well it came out wonderfully, and really not much difference timewise. I also forgot to baste it (did I mention I was crazy) and it came out juicy and delectable. Set it and forget it, that's my new motto!

                              1. re: coll

                                I haven't basted in decades whether I take the bird goes from the fridge directly to the oven, gets wet brine for 24 hr or dry brined for 3 days. It just doesn't need it and you lose so much heat and interrupt the process every time you open the door.

                                1. re: rainey

                                  I know everyone here always says that, but you know, old habits are hard to break. Just broke this one though.

                                2. re: coll

                                  I'm thinking it mostly doesn't matter. Based on the responses here and on the poll I took of 31 people who went hiking yesterday, everyone was happy with their homecooked birds, whether low and slow, wet brined, dry brined, regular temperature, supermarket, organic farm-raised. So who knows!

                                  1. re: tcamp

                                    Maybe why turkey bacame the namesake of Thanksgiving, so easy to cook and not wreck it.

                                    1. re: coll

                                      After making my 1st Thanksgiving dinner, 2,000 miles from my Mom, I called her, saying "you were shamming us all those years!" She'd put the bird in about 7 a.m., act like it was a huge responsibility, waaaay overcook it, and come dripping with sweat from the kitchen about 4 p.m. Roasting a turkey isn't a big deal! Just an overgrown chicken. (Mom actually laughed. Reminded me of that old Rice Krispie Treat ad, where the "baker" throws some flour on her face, looks wiped out, before opening the door from the kitchen, holding her Treats, to all the oohs and ahhs of the family.)

                              2. re: rainey

                                When I used to cook for a larger group (family) I always got up@0600 to get that bird stuffed and in the oven bright and early.....everyone started arriving around 1100 and by 12:30 all the magic happened:)

                                1. re: rainey

                                  On our Weber 26-3/4" charcoal kettle grill, cooking indirect, a 20 lb turkey (unstuffed) will roast in two hours flat.

                                  1. re: EWSflash

                                    About what temp? Did you use wood chips? What kind? Did you season the turkey all?