For some, preparing the yearly Thanksgiving meal comes second nature – it is a task they have shouldered for many years. However, each year, for a multitude of reasons, preparation of the traditional feast is passed to the next generation.
The following tips on purchasing and preparing a gobbler are for new brides and the person entrusted with grandma’s baster who are attempting the holiday meal for the first time.
The decision to purchase either a fresh or frozen bird is up to the consumer – both are considered to be safe, quality products. However, those who purchase fresh turkeys are limited to the amount of time that they have before they must cook the bird.
Frozen turkeys should be stored at 0-degrees Fahrenheit or below. Defrosting the turkey in the refrigerator is the safest – allow approximately 24-hours per four- to five-pounds.
However, you may also defrost the bird by placing it in cold water. Allow approximately 30-minutes per pound to thaw in this fashion.
Fresh turkeys should be stored at 26-degrees Fahrenheit until purchased by the consumer. Once you have procured your bird, store it in your refrigerator at 40-degrees Fahrenheit and be sure to cook it within the time frame allotted on the package label or freeze at 0-degrees Fahrenheit.
There are a wide variety of turkeys to choose from, some of them offering “extra features” or “conveniences.” These include pop-up timers and self-basting solutions injected into the bird for added flavor.
When selecting the size of turkey best suited for you and your family, cooks should consider purchasing one-pound of turkey per person to be served.
There are several different ways to cook turkeys – the traditional roasted, smoked and a southern favorite, deep-fried.
According to the National Turkey Federation, a turkey should be roasted by the “open pan” method in a preheated, 325-degree Fahrenheit oven until the internal temperature, as registered on a meat thermometer, reaches 180-degrees in the thigh or 170 degrees in the breast.
According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, turkey breasts, drumsticks, wings and whole turkeys are all suited for smoking; however, whole turkeys that weigh 12-pounds or less are the recommended size for “safe” smoking.
There should be a one-inch space between the turkey and the lid of the smoker – generally, a turkey that is broad and flat fits better under the covered smoker.
The time to cook a whole turkey in a smoker takes approximately 20 to 30 minutes per pound. Smokers should be preheated to 250-degrees and charcoal should be added every hour (more if necessary) to maintain 250-degrees.
The turkey is done when a food thermometer reads 180-degrees in the thigh and 170-degrees in the breast.
To enhance the flavor of smoked birds, water in the “liquid pan” may be substituted with wine or apple juice. Chips of water-soaked hardwood or fruitwood may also be added to the “liquid pan”; however, do not use softwood such as cedar, pine or spruce.
To deep fry a turkey, one will need a 40 or 60 quart pot with basket, a burner and propane gas tank, a candy thermometer to measure oil temperature and a food thermometer to determine if the turkey is cooked thoroughly.
In addition, one should only purchase a 12 to 14 pound turkey, as this is the only size that can be deep-fried successfully.
For added safety, a fire extinguisher, oven mitts and potholders are recommended.
Turkeys should never be fried indoors, but on a level dirt or grassy location. One should also avoid frying turkeys on a wooden deck (due to the fire hazard) or on concrete, which can be stained by oil.
It will take approximately 5 gallons of high-smoke point oil to deep-fry a turkey. Such oils include peanut, canola and sunflower. Heat oil to 365-375 degrees – depending on the amount of oil used, this will take between 45 minutes to an hour.
Carefully place the prepared turkey into the basket and slowly lower into the preheated oil. Whole turkeys require deep-frying for approximately 3 minutes per pound. The turkey is done when the internal temperature in the breast reaches 170-degrees Fahrenheit and 180-degrees Fahrenheit in the thigh.