The turkey: the keystone of all traditional American Thanksgivings, so much so that they even make them out of soy (what don’t they make out of soy these days?).
A lot of people are afraid of messing up the turkey. You don’t have to be an expert chef to be an expert turkey handler. In this post, I’ll cover the preparation, presentation and provide some tips along the way.
Choosing Your Turkey
If you go turkey shopping, you’ll quickly see that there are many sizes to choose from. How do you know which size to get?
A good rule of thumb is to figure about a pound of turkey per person coming. Some will eat more, some will eat less. Remember, though, that it’s not like people will eat one pound of meat (some will!). You’re counting for the bones and such as well.
So if you’ve got 12 people coming, you’ll want at least a 12 pound bird. That will get you enough meat for dinner, and you’ll probably want leftovers. For 12 people, I’d get at least an 18 pound turkey to keep everyone fed and also have some leftovers.
Clothing Your Turkey
What you want to do is essentially make a dry rub. I like to make large batches to use on several fowl meals, so get a good-sized Tupperware out and just toss in any collection of these ingredients:
- garlic salt
- onion powder
- chili powder (not spicy, unless you’re into that)
- rubbed sage
- ground thyme
- dried oregano
- dried parsley
Use equal parts of everything.
Once you get your dry rub together, you, well, rub it in. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Lift up skin where you can and jam it in there. Be liberal with the rub; you’ll know if you’re using too much.
The minimalist’s poultry rub
Some folks these days read blogs like Zen Habits and ManVsDebt and really get into minimalism. I am definitely heading that way in my life, and sometimes even with my food.
To keep it zen-like, try just using salt and pepper. Very simple, very tasty. When I do it this way, I like to use my salt and pepper mills to season it.
Doing a brine
Another way to prepare the turkey for some extra flavor is to let it soak in a saltwater brine overnight. Doing this make sure the meat is nice and moist and adds some flavor, but it’s only as useful as your pot is big.
To make a brine, use about a cup of salt for every gallon of water. Some folks add a can of beer or some whiskey for extra flavor.
Cooking The Turkey
Everyone gets nightmares of over- or under-cooking the turkey for the big day, especially if you’re new at it. There are even hot-lines you can call on Thanksgiving to get some last-minute tips on roasting the bird.
There are a few techniques you can use that really make it foolproof. Don’t let the fear own you!
1. Make sure you thaw your bird fully!
Nothing will get you down the wrong road quicker than a frozen turkey. These things are huge, and if it’s not fully thawed, there’s a good chance it won’t cook all the way through. We do not want this.
To properly thaw, your turkey will probably need to be in the fridge at least two days. Do not thaw your turkey at room temperature! You don’t want any diseases.
2. Remove the crap before you prep
This one might get you if you haven’t done a turkey before. Most turkeys will come stuffed with their innards put in packets. Make sure you pull that out before you prep the bird and cook it. Melted plastic never helps a turkey taste good.
3. Be careful not to overcook the breast
The white meat of the breast cooks quicker than the dark meat, so it can be tricky to get both cooked well enough without under or overcooking the other.
One trick is to tent the breast with aluminum foil while the turkey cooks (especially if you don’t have a lid that will cover your roasting pan). Another method is to start cooking with the breast side down for the first hour-and-a-half or so and then flipping it over.
4. Cook your turkey completely, but don’t overcook it
The last thing you need is a half done turkey. The second to last thing you need is an overdone one.
Most turkeys will come with a white button that pops up when it’s done cooking. These are handy, but you might not always have one. In that case, you will absolutely need a $2 meat thermometer. Since I started using one when cooking chicken, it’s always come out perfectly.
Your oven should be around 325°F to 350°F to cook. The turkey is done when the depths of the meat are at 165°F.
I found this chart on Whole Foods’ website for cook times:
8-12 pounds – 2 to 3.5 hours
12-16 pounds – 3 to 4 hours
16-20 pounds – 4 to 5 hours
20-25 pounds – 5 to 6 hours
25-30 pounds – 6+ hours
5. Let it rest before carving
Finally, just before you cut, let it sit. This will help settle the juices and make it easier to carve.
My carving secrets as well as a bunch of mostly slow-carb Thanksgiving recipesOnce I learned how to carve the turkey, I never hacked up a fowl again (chicken too).
So I took all those hours of research and put them into a easy-to-read ebook with 17 other recipes perfect for a Thanksgiving that won’t derail your fat loss efforts.
7 side-dish recipes:
- Roasted Veggie and Sausage Stuffing
- slow-carb friendly Green Bean Casserole
- Mashed Sweet Potatoes
- Real Cranberry Sauce
- Roasted Vegetables
- Carrot and Parsnip Casserole
- Fall Beet Salad
- “Paleo” Pumpkin Pie
- Pumpkin Mousse
- Baked Apples
- Apple Almond Crisp
- Pumpkin Bread
- Pumpkin Soufflé
- Mulled Cider
- Pumpkin Shake
- Primal Egg Nog
- Spiced Wine
The sides are like 98% slow-carb (exceptions being some of the starchier carbs like sweet potatoes and beets), but none of them will derail you.
The desserts and drinks are 100% “paleo” – all are grain free, dairy free (except for clarified butter), and the only sugar in them is some honey (and even then, not a whole lot).
This is a great way to put a menu together that will work FOR your fat loss goals instead of against them.
Of course, you could also just call it a cheat day.
But if you want to get a copy of these recipes, I’ve got them up on Amazon in a Kindle e-book!
(This was written by me, but originally featured on Expert Enough and reprinted here with permission.)