Monday, October 7, 2013

Making Your First Turkey

With Thanksgiving around the corner, that means turkey time is around the corner. The turkey idea is kind of scary if you've never cooked one before. But it shouldn't be. This is a basic guide for your very first time, and as you get more comfortable with it, you can experiment and play! There are sooo many different opinions and ideas on how to cook a turkey. So I'm going to give you the easiest way with the best results possible. But do keep in mind that this is not the only way and you might be better off calling your mother-in-law because whether you want her advice or not you score brownie points.

Here's the thing. I've made a whole lot'a turkeys in my day. It's not a "just for Thanksgiving" kind of meal for this household. I plan for them rather often because their leftovers feed for days! :).

 Fresh or Frozen?
This really is up to you, but the "fresh" turkeys are usually not even technically fresh. Frozen turkeys are usually frozen immediately after being butchered, whereas "fresh" turkeys have been sitting around for many days after the processing, trucking to the store and then sitting in the store until purchased (although I am sure there are locations where you can buy an actual super fresh turkey, but they'll be cost a significant amount more.) I would suggest with it being your first time to save yourself the money and go with frozen.

To brine or not to brine?
With this being your first turkey, the stress and amount of work outweighs the results so I'm going to say no. I do not brine my turkeys. A lot of people insist that you need to brine your turkey the day before cooking. It is said to make a juicier turkey and bring out the flavors more. However, extensive studies have shown that turkeys that have been brined vs. turkeys that have just been salted before cooking, just turned out more watery and less flavorful. The salted turkeys were tender and juicy. Salting is not even completely necessary to create a juicy turkey, it can just be used as more of a buffer in case you over cook, but I have a psycho salt tooth so an excuse to go nuts with the salt is fine by me ;).

However I will say that if you feel that brining your turkey will indeed make a significant difference, I would suggest seeking out advice from Alton Brown. I'm sure he has a brining secret that will make you weak at the knees:).

Now about defrosting. You'll want to keep your turkey in the freezer up until about two days before you plan on cooking depending on the size of your turkey (consider this for your guide). Never defrost your turkey at room temperature. Instead, clear out a space in your fridge and place your turkey on a cookie sheet or something that will catch the juices. If you're planning on salting your turkey, apply a liberal amount of kosher salt over your turkey and lightly cover it with plastic or cheesecloth.

Preheat your oven. Enough said?

TAKE OUT THE BAG INSIDE. This is so easy to forget. After you've taken it out, look inside to make sure it's cleared out in there. You'll want to make sure the neck and gizzards are removed (they're usually in the bag, but just in case they aren't...check).

The gravy packet. Most frozen turkeys come with a gravy. You'll want to use this later, and I'll post more about it below for the most amazing gravy you'll ever find anywhere ever ever.

Stuffing. You'll wonder if you should use a stuffing. Don't. The thing about stuffing is that the turkey tends to cook faster than the stuffing does and it soaks up all of the uncooked turkey juices. So you are left with the choice between overcooking your turkey to make sure the stuffing is safely cooked, or eating cold stuffing with raw turkey juices. Hmm..I'll take my stuffing on the side. Feel free to play around with it, but wait until you're comfortable handling a turkey first.

Butter. Butter butter butter. Paula Deen has kind of annoyed the heck out of me for years but the woman knows what she means about butter. Sometimes it just takes things to the next level. I've always just grabbed a stick of butter, cubed it up and shoved those cubes in all kinds of crevasses of that bird. I'll slide some underneath the skin, too. Salt and pepper it some more if you'd like.

Now, my little trick. But first an embarrassing story. One day I went about making a turkey (I hadn't had much experience) and thought multiple times about how it looked kind of funny. I cooked it anyway. When it came out I was like what the crap there is like no meat on this thing. And that's when I realized I'd cooked it upside down. Best mistake of my life! Cooking it upside down made all the juices flow down to the bottom and keep it all nice and moist. So having it upside down and then flipping it for the last hour or so for it to brown is my advise for you.

Covering. You can never use too much tin foil to cover that beast. I layer it and seal it tight like a mad woman! (If you plan on doing "the flip" make sure to keep it uncovered after you've taken the tin foil off for that last hour)

As for the gravy. There are 3 important parts to it. The gravy packet that came with your turkey (if yours didn't, your gravy will still be amazing without, don't worry), McCormick brand brown gravy (1-2 packages) and the cooked juices from your turkey. Heat up the gravy packet first and add in the first package of brown gravy mix. As it thickens up, slowly pour in the turkey juices until it has reached the desired consistency that you like. If you've added too much and it ends up watery, add more of the brown gravy mix. If it ends up too thick, just add more turkey juices. Find a nice balance between those. The finishing touch will be SALT. Nobody else that I know makes gravy this way and they wonder why their gravy is gelatin-ee, colorless, flavorless or all of the above. Trust me. Do it. You'll thank me later. I will post a separate recipe for this gravy soon, so until then rely on this as your recipe :).

So, aside from flipping it over when there's about an hour left, that's it. Salt and butter, baby. It will turn out great, no need for fancy shmancyness on your first turkey. Just get use it and then play as much as you want!


  1. This post is awesome! Great information. I'm pinning this one for sure!

    I shared your Fresh Basil and Tortellini Pasta Salad on my blog today! That salad is GOOD. Everyone loved it!!

    1. I'm so glad you liked it! It is definitely a fav around here! Thanks for spreading the love!!