Turkey Trauma

I must solicit help from you, my readers. This Thanksgiving dinner is stressing me out! Here are some questions:

– The man who sold my mom the turkey said to cook the turkey 30 minutes per pound. This is a 15 lb bird so that’s like 7 hours. The recipe I’m using is for a 19 lb turkey–here’s the recipe–and it seems like it only cooks for 3 and 1/2 hours. Who’s telling the truth: the man or the recipe? I need to figure out when to pop the turkey in the oven so it’s done when people are ready for turkey. Who can I trust? Who should I believe?

– Should I worry that the brining recipe in the link above is for a 19 lb turkey and not a 15 lb turkey? Should I reduce the quantity of salt?

– It says to rub the turkey all over with 2 Tbs of olive oil, but I just saw the Barefoot Contessa rub her turkey with softened butter seasoned with lemon zest and thyme. Could I do that instead? I’m sure I could, but I just wanted confirmation.

– How do I baste? Do I need a baster? What does it mean? To squirt liquid on top of the turkey? Can I spoon the liquid?

– Finally: can I take my chef’s knives home with me? Obviously not in my carry-on, but in the suitcase I check? Will I get in trouble?

I thank you, my family thanks you and the turkey thanks you for your help.

36 comments

  1. Go with the recipe, that fellow is so wrong. Rub with olive oil, butter, it doesn’t matter. The brine recipe will be fine. About the knives…I don’t know.

  2. Cooking time: Big difference between a stuffed and unstuffed turkey. Oven temperature is also a factor. However, temperature at the thigh joint is the most important indicator of turkey doneness.

    Brining time: I’d just adjust the brining time down slightly.

    Rub: Either way you’re good. Simply rubbing with herbed butter isn’t going to get much flavor into the bird, though.

    Baste: Ah, just pour the stock over. You can use a spoon for the later bastings, but a baster is easier.

    Knives: You can put the knives in your checked luggage.

  3. Spice it any way you like, but use the Alton Brown cooking method. It is foolproof.

    http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recipes/recipe/0,1977,FOOD_9936_8389,00.html

    The 30 minutes per pound is from a guy who wants to make sure it’s not undercooked and people get sick. (which is a good idea, but a bad execution).

    Here are the key tactics:

    1) cover the breast with foil during most of the cooking so it doesn’t dry out

    2) use a thermometer so you don’t overcook ( 161 degrees at the thigh )

    3) cover with foil and let it rest before carving – 20 minutes at least – this is handy in case it’s done really early – just cover with foil and then beach towels – keeps it warm for 2 hours.

    do all of those and it’ll come out fine.

  4. Same as Rae said. I like the Contessa’s method with the herbs and lemons. You really must season it, outside and inside. Turkey really is kind of bland and needs help. I usually do my stuffing on the side, so into the turkey, I throw one lemon cut into wedges, 3-4 garlic cloves, 1 onion cut into wedges, some fresh thyme & sage leaves. (I do the same for roasted chicked). Smells amazing and gives the meat added flavour. The drippings will be super yummy and really make the gravy taste good.

    You can baste with a large spoon. It just means scooping the drippings over the bird periodically to keep it moist and gives it more flavour from all the melted deliciousness at the bottom of the pan. It also helps it brown.

    A good tip for “doneness”, other than a meat thermometer is when the leg is all loose and wobbly from the body. Just remember to let it sit for 20-30 minutes, loosly covered with foil before trying to carve it. You’ll be fine and it will be delicious. Chill. You can’t really screw up turkey, it’s just intimidating because of it’s size and the pressure of the Holiday. Good luck!

  5. Same as Rae said. I like the Contessa’s method with the herbs and lemons. You really must season it, outside and inside. Turkey really is kind of bland and needs help. I usually do my stuffing on the side, so into the turkey, I throw one lemon cut into wedges, 3-4 garlic cloves, 1 onion cut into wedges, some fresh thyme & sage leaves. (I do the same for roasted chicked). Smells amazing and gives the meat added flavour. The drippings will be super yummy and really make the gravy taste good.

    You can baste with a large spoon. It just means scooping the drippings over the bird periodically to keep it moist and gives it more flavour from all the melted deliciousness at the bottom of the pan. It also helps it brown.

    A good tip for “doneness”, other than a meat thermometer is when the leg is all loose and wobbly from the body. Just remember to let it sit for 20-30 minutes, loosly covered with foil before trying to carve it. You’ll be fine and it will be delicious. Chill. You can’t really screw up turkey, it’s just intimidating because of it’s size and the pressure of the Holiday. Good luck!

  6. Cooking time: it seems 30 mins per pound is a “stuffed” calculation. There are many turkey calculators online to help.

    Brine: I wont even make a turkey without brining anymore.. there is such a big difference in taste! Your recipe seems fine, make sure to rinse the turkey well when you remove it from the brine, inside and out. Do not add extra salt on the turkey if you are going to brine.

    butter vs. oil: I use butter.. both under the skin and on the skin. To me it makes the skin juicy and flavorful.

    Basting: I baste with stock and sometimes a little white wine mixed in. I just pour it over the turkey and then baste from the drippings as well. A baster is your friend.

    knives: in your checked luggage

  7. Basting slows down the cooking of the bird (not necessarily a bad thing, particularly for the breast). It lowers the surface temperature when the basting liquid evaporates (aka evaporative cooling). See McGee:

    http://www.cheftalk.com/forums/showthread.php?t=15777

    You also open the oven a lot (again lowering the temp), and it’s kind of a pain to do all the time. It could add flavor to the skin, but the skin will be soggy if you baste right up to the time the turkey is done. Don’t know if any recipes suggest it, but the logical thing seems to baste at the beginning for breast protection and skin flavor, then cover with foil to continue the breast protection (no radiative heating on the breasts) but allow the skin to crisp up (as long as the steam can vent out). Should I should trademark the cooking term “breast protection”? Also see my comments at Megnut’s Turkey Tips post:

    http://www.megnut.com/2006/11/turkey-tips

  8. Good lord, at 30 mins/lb. you will be eating turkey dust! Slather on the butter and/or olive oil & herbs, plenty of S&P inside, tent with foil, baste a few times with a big metal spoon, let it rest under foil before carving. Relax, your turkey will be awesome…and remember, you’re an Amateur, it’s all good. :) ps — one hint from my dad: let everyone admire the turkey (and take a photo) in the kitchen, then carve out the whole breast, slice neatly, and serve on a plate with drumsticks, etc. Too gross and stressful having the carcass on the dining table!

  9. Don’t worry about adjusting the salt in the brining liquid. What we want is for the 15 pound turkey to be brined to the same ratio as for a 19 pound turkey, however, decreasing the quantity of salt in the brining solution will only decrease the quantity of salt overall that the turkey will be affected by. Errr, in simpler words (I swear this makes sense in my head–I think this is proof that I am a complete nerd and wish I could explain it all better): the only thing that you might notice is that there will be a bit more liquid than you need.

    Or if you’re worried, just reduce the total amount of the brining solution that you use, ie, make the total amount of solution and then remove only the amount that is necessary for a 15 pound bird (making sure that the solution is well mixed!~what I learned in lab, ouch). To figure that out, we can do ratios :)

    15:19=x:8qt of H20(and spices)

    Which is about 6.3qt of the H20 solution. And since I’m awful with converting kitchen measurements, for the honey:

    15:19 = x:1 cup honey

    Which is about .8 cup honey.

    Best of luck and Happy Thanksgiving! :)

  10. By happy accident, I discovered that you can get a much juicier turley by cooking it at two different temperatures. Start by cooking the bird at 300-325 degrees for 3/4 of the estimated cooking time, then crank the heat up to 375-400 degrees for the last 1/4 of time. The lower temperatures allows the turkey to slow roast, then the higher temperatures help brown and crisp the skin on the outside. I typically cover the bird during the lower temp cooking, but leave it uncovered for the last amount of cooking. Buy yourself a good digital thermometer, one with an element that you can insert into the bird. You can typically set these to the type of dish you are cooking and they will sound an alarm when the item is done cooking.

  11. Keep your brine proportions the same – that’s the chemistry that makes the magic happen. Use as much brine as you need to safely cover the bird – you could brine your turkey in 40 gallons in a bathtub and you’ll get the same interaction of brine and turkey as you do in a bucket.

  12. 15-20 minutes/lb. at 350 degrees has always worked for me. I also use a meat thermometer — remember to remove the turkey when it’s about 10 degrees less than done, because it continues to cook while resting.

    I’m convinced that the purpose of appetizers is to distract guests while the cook makes last minute adjustments in the kitchen. Since you have some, and since I’m sure you don’t want to rush your guests through their drinks or soup, whatever, you have some extra time built in. I think the ideal formula probably is to pull the turkey out to rest just before the guests are seated, so it can rest during the first course.

  13. I gotta say I never baste and I’ve never noticed a difference between my unbasted birds and birds I’ve had by adamite basters. Although, my bird cooks faster.

  14. The mind boggles at the number of different ways that this beast of a bird can be cooked and served up. And there are probably even more variations on what to do with the leftover meat if its a big turkey. Whilst posting some content on cooking a turkey the other day, I found the following link.

    http://www.easysoutherncooking.com/roasting-turkey.html

    Take a look at what Diane Watkins says, its pretty informative. And happy Thanksgiving from the UK – John

  15. keep in mind salt is the enemy of a juicy turkey; olive oil is recommended over butter, but if you must, then use unsalted butter. I’m trying the ‘brown bag method’ this year, hopefully it won’t burn my kitchen down! see here:

    http://kiddlive.com/brownbagturkey.html

    As far as the knives, depending on the airport, don’t be surprised if they get confiscated, even if you check them. Of course, unless you just like ‘personal searches’, don’t even think of putting them in a carry-on. It woulnd’t hurt to declare them when you check in, then they can safeguard them for you. DHS employee speaking here. ps- the bread was great! Everyone devoured it at work.

  16. Seeing as you are better now with AB’s advice. I would also pile on with those who suggested brine. Brine is king with a bird with so much more muscle than fat.

    Also, I wouldn’t be afraid to take that baby apart and cook parts seperately. That is a big bird you are planning to roast up. Removing the legs and keeping it unstuffed will likely keep your cook time to a minimum.

    Also, tent the breast meat. Take some heavy duty tin foil and cover it after the first hour or so. It will keep it from getting too cooked and being more like dried leaves rather than brown and delicious.

    Good luck. Happy Thanksgiving!

  17. Like Alton says – 161 deg F in the thickest part of the beast. I do that, and never pay attention to time. When it’s done it’s done! Temp of the breast will ensure it’s not dry since it gets dry the fastest.

  18. Ok, check your knives in the luggage. You won’t get in trouble because you can’t get to them. :-)

    Everyone else answered all the other questions so here is my two cents. You could also just mail them to your apartment FedEx.

  19. Knives –

    Check them, but have them in a knife case or tape cardboard around the blades – your checked luggage can (and probably will) get searched, and you don’t need one of the TSA folks stabbing them selves just because you wrapped them in socks or such and you know where they are. Or get knife guards, that’s what I do when I only take one or two

    http://www.chefknivestogo.com/knifeguard412.html

    You also need to let the turkey sit 30-60 minutes when it’s done, so take that into account; though I see Alton says this as well.

  20. Probably not the best thing to do to you when you’re stressed, but I’d like to suggest one more addition to your menu – a really easy one, I promise! My family swears by cranberry sherbet as a nice cool, tart, colorful palette cleanser. I’ve posted the recipe on my new blog at: http://1morebite.blogspot.com/

    And also – don’t worry about the turkey. As long as you don’t let it burn (I tent it with foil) or dry out (I cook mine in water and the butter that melts off the skin), they’re pretty hardy (i.e., I’ve made mistakes before).

  21. Probably not the best thing to do to you when you’re stressed, but I’d like to suggest one more addition to your menu – a really easy one, I promise! My family swears by cranberry sherbet as a nice cool, tart, colorful palette cleanser. I’ve posted the recipe on my new blog at: http://1morebite.blogspot.com/

    And also – don’t worry about the turkey. As long as you don’t let it burn (I tent it with foil) or dry out (I cook mine in water and the butter that melts off the skin), they’re pretty hardy (i.e., I’ve made mistakes before).

  22. Seems like everyone else answered the bulk of the questions, but I thought I would add one point about basting and oil vs. butter.

    – After brining, pat dry, season inside of the cavity and outside, stuff with onions, garlic, carrot, and celery.

    – Make a compound butter (parsley, lemon zest, sage, thyme, etc.) and put pats of it underneath the skin and rub some on the outside of the turkey.

    – Instead of basting, you can melt a stick of butter and pour in a bottle of white wine (Pinot grigio, reisling, something light) and dunk cheesecloth in it. Place it on top of your breast instead of a foil tent. It will keep it moist and impart a nice flavor. Any leftover wine/butter can be used to baste the cheesecloth halfway through. The wine adds great flavor to pan drippings for gravy too.

    Hope this helps!

  23. Buy the best turkey you can find. Skip the brine altogether! If you have to add a lot of flavoring back into the turkey there’s no damn reason to buy that turkey in the first place.

    Slip niman ranch bacon between the breast and the skin. This’ll moisten and flavor the turkey a lot easier than brine. You’ll need about 1/2 lb of bacon.

    Salt turkey, pepper it, scatter thyme and rosmary, some sliced garlic, an onion, carrot, celery along with neck on the bottom of the turkey pan. add a couple cups of water. roast for 1 1/4 hour. The tent foil and roast another 1 /14 or longer. Your 19 lb turkey may take up to 4 hours at the 15-20min/lb suggested above.

    Let it set 30 minutes of course.

    Confession: above instructions from the Nov. issue of food & wine. There’s a variation with dried fruit & muscat dessert wine that I’m going to try out on Thursday.

  24. I use Martha Stewarts method. No brine but you cover the turkery breast with cheese cloth that has been soaked in butter and wine for part of the cooking. I can send you the recipe if you would like.

  25. Don’t worry about the brine, just use the same recipe. It’s the ratio of salt to liquid that is important, not brine to bird.

    I would pack the knives carefully in your checked luggage, so your luggage and TSA employees don’t get sliced. I would go through the trouble of calling the airline to check, and declare them at the ticketing counter. Most airlines won’t care, but you don’t want to end up on a terrorist watchlist (or lose your knives).

    I would use butter over olive oil. Turkeys are traditional american birds that should be made with traditional american fats (hmm… lard? :-0 ).

    Basting kills time, but that’s about it.

    And 30 min a lbs.? That’s crazy talk! I’d go with 15-20 minutes a pound. If you like you can par-cook your stuffing, let it cool, and then put it in the bird. Get a termometer, and you’ll have no worries.

    Are you using a roasting rack? Cover?

    Good luck!

  26. Omigosh – don’t stress over this, have another bowl of matzo ball soup and take a deep breath.

    The rule is about 15 minutes per pound, the guy you talked to must’ve thought you wanted turkey jerky. If you’re that worried about it, get one of those pop-up thermometers at the grocery store (stick it in between the leg and the thigh – thickest part of the bird). The internal temp should reach 165ºF, then take it out, cover with foil and let rest before you carve. While resting the internal temp will go up a few degrees, ensuring a perfectly cooked bird.

    Anyway, you also need to season the turkey well, with oil or butter (but come on, butter always makes it better). I suggest using herbs, especially sage, and any other great aromatics. If you’re not stuffing the bird, throw a bunch of herbs in the cavity (after you’ve seasoned it) and add a chopped onion (skins and all) – again the aromatics.

    As far as basting, a spoon is fine, turkey basters are just able to get more liquid, more quickly.

    To make the day a little less stressful, I suggest you do as much prep work you can before the big day and have a plan as to when you’ll be cooking what. Makes the whole thing run a bit more smoothly… good luck!!

  27. If you’re using sage for your turkey don’t use lemon as the flavors will battle each other like Sumo wrestlers in a bouncy castle.

  28. You’re screwed.

    Only kidding. Take a deep breath, read all of your comments, then take another deep breath. Turkey shouldn’t be this hard. Think of it as a larger chicken.

  29. It shouldn’t be a problem putting your knives in your checked baggage. I’m a cook and when I moved to NY the beginning of this year I had my knives secured in my knife bag in my checked luggage. I called the airline about this and said it was no problem.

  30. I”m sure you’ve already flown there by now. So the knives is a moot point. But I’ve always heard that the rule of turkey thumb is 1 hour for 4 pounds of bird (a bit less if unstuffed). 30 min per lb is nuts. It would be tough and dried out. Also, buy a baster because it’s kind of fun to suck up the juices and squirt them back on. Have fun and take photos as always.

  31. You’re probably into prep by now, but I wanted to offer a tip – instead of water in my roasting pan under the turkey (which I do not baste) I use chicken stock/broth. It makes for a richer gravy in my opinion.

    Also, I “paint” the turkey all over (in & out) with lots of melted butter and then season with salt and pepper before I put it in the oven. Sometimes I pit seasonings under the skin with some more not melted butter.

    Good luck, relax and have fun!

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