Turkey Mistakes You Can Easily Avoid

Jill Devine
View Comments
(Photo by TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)

(Photo by TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Credit: CBS Radio Jill Devine
Read More

Tomorrow is the big day!  Lots of people will consume so much turkey, they won’t want turkey for a long time!  If you are in charge of making the turkey (I give you mad props because I would not be able to handle it), I found an article on yahoo.com that lists the most popular mistakes people make with turkey.  Read on to avoid any turkey mistakes:

1. Don’t Wash the Turkey

This directive alone will probably shock you. And it holds true for chicken, too. Would you believe it comes directly from the super-cautious folks at the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), a division of the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)? They’ve been advocating sparing your birds a bath for several years.

Here’s why: The moment you run water on your poultry, you start spewing a mist of unwanted pathogens all over the sink and nearby items, such as your dish rack, where clean plates and flatware are probably air-drying. You probably think you are washing bacteria off the bird–but you aren’t. Instead, the easiest and most effective way to eliminate bacteria is to kill them in the heat of the oven. So get that bird onto the rack in your roasting pan, and then dry it inside and out with paper towels.

2. Brining Is Strictly Optional

Brining the turkey was all the rage a while ago, and it still has a devoted following, particularly among those who have the space–preferably a second refrigerator–and a container large enough to immerse the turkey in a liquid brine. Fashions in brine recipes come and go, of course, but if you’d like to try brining, this basic formula will always do the job: For a 12- to 14-pound turkey, stir together 8 quarts water with 2 cups kosher salt in a 5-gallon bucket lined with a large heavy-duty plastic garbage bag and soak your raw turkey, covered and chilled, overnight (10 hours).

3. Consider Deconstructing Your Turkey
If presenting the traditional entire turkey on a platter is a significant part of your holiday ritual–and the meal unthinkable without it–then keep on doing it. But if moist breast meat and perfectly cooked dark meat is more important to you than that brief tabletop cameo of the whole bird, then take a tip from chefs, who’ve figured out how to produce serving after serving all day long on Thanksgiving: Roast your turkey in parts, the white meat separately from the dark meat. Buy just the parts you like, or, if you buy from a butcher, specify that you’d like your turkey broken down into breast, thigh, and drumstick pieces in advance.  Divide the white and dark parts into their own pans and roast on different racks, switching the position halfway through. This allows you to remove the breast when it’s done and let the legs cook longer. The breast meat is moist at 165°F, but the dark meat is better when cooked to a minimum of 170°F, and as high as 185°F if you like yours well done, when the meat practically falls off the bones.

4. Your Oven Needs Plenty of Time to Heat Up
Avoid surprises and help keep your cool by making sure your oven is as hot as it should be. If you don’t already have a good-quality oven thermometer, now is the time to invest in one. Your oven may beep or buzz to indicate it’s supposedly reached the temperature you set it for, but don’t rely on that signal alone. Oven temperatures can actually vary quite a bit (as much as 50 degrees from the number on the dial or panel), so you still need to use an independent and reliable oven thermometer to verify the temp before you put in your turkey.

5. Don’t Stuff the Turkey
An unstuffed turkey cooks more evenly, and faster, than a stuffed turkey, because there’s air circulation within the cavity. Stuffing the bird also poses significant food-safety challenges. The major problem is that the center of the turkey–where the stuffing is soaking up all the juices–is the last place to reach the food-safe temperature of 165°F. That means the meat will be fully cooked before the stuffing’s done, leaving the stuffing unsafe to eat–unless you roast your turkey until the center of the stuffing registers 165°F, at which point the breast meat will be overdone and dry.

6. Basting Is Worth the Fuss
Basting is the most contentious turkey topic. New York Times columnist Mark Bittman believes “basting is a complete and absolute waste of time for turkey. The skin gets crisp from fat, not liquid. Rub the bird with some oil or butter at the beginning to encourage crispness, and you’re done.”  Modernist Cuisine author Myhrvold, on the other hand, is a basting believer. According to Scott Heimendinger, the director of applied research for Modernist Cuisine, his team has found that basting will “heat and dry the food surface more quickly and evenly than either baking or panfrying alone. The result is often a crisp and delicious crust–the very best incentive for basting.”  In other words, the practice of periodically spooning pan juices over the turkey has nothing to do with helping the breast meat stay juicy. It’s all about getting crisper skin.

7. Use the Four-Spot Test for Doneness
When it’s time to check your turkey for doneness, the old method of pricking the thigh and looking for clear juices is not reliable. For instance, a heritage turkey, which requires a significant investment of money, may emit rosy-pink juices even at the USDA food-safe temperature of 165°F.  Between supermarket turkeys bred for buxom breasts and the inevitable hot spots in your oven, we urge you to take the temperature in at least four places: both thighs, as well as the thickest part of the breast on each side. (If you plan to serve the wings to gnaw on, take their temperature, too. No need to check them if they’re destined for soup, though.) Don’t remove the turkey from the oven until all these places register a minimum of 165°F.

8. Let the Turkey Rest After Roasting
When the turkey comes out of the oven, it’s hard to resist the urge to start carving, but resist you must. While your bird has been roasting, the juices have been working their way toward the outer part of the roast. If you slice your turkey while it’s still hot, those juices will keep up their momentum, moving right out of the bird and leaving the meat as dry as sawdust.  Instead, do your turkey and your guests a favor and let the bird sit on a platter for 30 minutes. During that time, the juices will move back to where they belong, inside the meat. And you will gain precious time to make the gravy and reheat the side dishes.

9. Keep Turkey Leftovers Foil-Free
When you clear the table before dessert, focus first on storing the leftovers. A turkey carcass takes up nearly as much room as an uncooked bird, so break it down now. Remove any remaining breast meat or thigh meat in the largest pieces possible–in preparation for sandwiches–and wrap the meat separately first in wax paper or parchment, then in plastic. Separate the drumsticks from the thighs, and save the drumsticks, wings, and any other bones for turkey soup.  Whatever you do, don’t wrap the turkey in foil. The salt and iron in the bird can corrode the foil, leaving smears of aluminum on the meat.

View Comments
blog comments powered by Disqus
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 523 other followers