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Thanksgiving Tip of the Day: Prepping your Turkey!
cap, captain miss america
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Turkey!

When I was thirteen years old, I asked my mom if I could watch her make the turkey. I had this sudden and terrible premonition that when I grew up, I wouldn’t know how to cook my own turkey because my mom did it alone every year. And still, after years of turkey-watching, I didn’t really understand it till I did it myself.

Turkey completely overwhelms a lot of people. Now, on my fifth year of singlehandedly stewarding the family bird, I feel confident enough to share a few secrets with you all! There is a lot to know about cooking a turkey, so I’m going to try to do two posts– this one is about PREPPING your turkey, which needs a few days, and later this week, I’ll do one about cooking your turkey.

Note: these instructions are all for roasted turkeys. I have never done a fried or grilled turkey, due to lack of proper appliances.

Fresh or Frozen?

The answer to this should probably be obvious: always buy a fresh turkey. The same way that fresh chicken or shrimp or any meat will be better than the frozen kind, you want a fresh turkey. But fresh turkeys are expensive, and sometimes they sell out or aren’t available in some areas! Or you might have to buy your turkey way far in advance. Here are some tips for those of you who are buying frozen:

–Be careful of sales or free turkey giveaways. Sale turkeys are often last year’s turkeys. That means they will be super freezer-burned. Try to go for the regular priced ones if you can afford them. But if you can afford to buy a whole turkey, or you’re just eating turkey parts (or not turkey at all!), get the free giveaway turkey anyway, to donate to your local soup kitchen or local food drive. They always need more turkeys at Thanksgiving and Christmas!

–You need to start thawing your turkey TODAY. A turkey will seriously take a full day for each five pounds of turkey if you are thawing it in your fridge. So if you have a fifteen pound turkey, you need to start on that sucker today! If you have a twenty pound turkey, you should have started yesterday, but NEVER FEAR:

–You can thaw your turkey in cold water. Here’s how: Get one of those big rubber storage tubs that people store sports equipment and winter clothes in. Clean it out really well and fill it with cold tap water (however cold your tap runs is fine). Then put the turkey in there! You will want to leave it in there for an hour for each two lbs of turkey. So, if you have a twelve lb turkey, leave it in for 6 hours. For a 20 lb turkey, do it for ten. You should do this when someone can be home to watch it. Set a timer. Every half-hour to an hour, change the water– the water temperature will change and you want to keep it as constant as possible.

–You can cook a frozen turkey, but you really want to thaw your turkey ahead of time, so you can do some of the following things: (you will want to do these things to a fresh turkey, too!)

–REMEMBER TO REMOVE THE GIBLET BAG. The giblet bag is a little plastic bag inside the turkey with the heart, neck, and liver in it. Take this out. You can use the giblets to make stock or gravy– I usually sautee the liver and chop it finely with some herbs and add it to the gravy. I use the neck in my stock!

–REMEMBER TO CLEAN OUT THE TURKEY’S INSIDE. Turkeys are full of turkey-goo! Once the turkey is thawed, put it in the sink or in a tub and rinse the hell out of it with cold water– inside and out! Pat it dry with clean cloths or paper towels.

–REMEMBER TO CHECK FOR FEATHERS. Sometimes, there will still be feathers stuck to your turkey’s butt and around the wing-joints and leg-joints especially. Just pluck them out– it is easy to pull them out with your fingers, but it’s pretty common to still have a couple feathers that were overlooked at the farm or on the assembly line.

–Re-wrap and refrigerate your turkey! The easiest way to keep a turkey clean and refrigerated between the time you’ve cleaned it and the time you want to prep it is to put it inside a plastic garbage bag and put it in the fridge. IF it won’t fit in your fridge, put it in a cooler and change the ice packs out frequently. Also, check the temperature outside- if it’s under 40 degrees, you can just keep it out of doors (if you have an outside enclosure like a porch to make sure animals won’t eat it!)

Good, now your turkey is clean and ready for prepping. From this point on, you will do things the same for fresh OR frozen turkeys!

–CHECK THE TURKEY SET-UP. Nothing is worse than having your turkey all ready to go and realizing the roasting pan you have is too small, or that your set-up won’t fit in your oven. Do a test run. With a cold oven, take out all but the bottom rack, and move the bottom rack down as far as it will go. Put the turkey in the roasting pan and put the whole she-bang in the oven. Does it fit? Good! If it doesn’t fit, there are many places where you can buy foil roasting pans very cheaply this time of year and you can try one of them instead! If you’re still really really having trouble fitting it, cutting off the legs and wings and cooking them in the sides of the roasting pan can help. But you don’t want to have a Boxing Helena turkey unless you have to!

–Decide how you want to prepare your turkey! TODAY (Monday) is the day to do this, because some preparations take longer than others. Here are a few ways to prepare your turkey:

BRINING: (Start on TUESDAY)
To brine a turkey, you need to start two days ahead, because you will want your turkey to “recover” from the brine for up to a day. I usually brine my turkey Tuesday night, and then clean it off Wednesday night. I find that gives it enough time.

Use a LOW-SALT brine if you want to stuff your turkey. Many brines have too much salt and the stuffing will taste like salt! For a good stuff-able mixture, you want 1 1/2 cups salt to 8 quarts of water. You can also substitute half the water with juice– Orange juice, Cranberry juice, Pomegranate juice, or Apple cider all work well. Just make sure it has no additional sugar added. Use Kosher salt for this! It works best!

Here’s how to make brine:
Take just one or two quarts of your water or your juice (if you are cooking with juice, definitely use the juice!). Add herbs– peppercorn, mustard, allspice, bay leaves, sage, thyme, and rosemary can all be good. Cook it just till it boils, lower the heat, and stir it for five minutes while it simmers. Then take it off! Mix this with the other water/juice and wait till the whole mixture cools to room temperature.

Now put your turkey in it. There are a lot of ways to do this with a really big pot or a big tupperware, but the best way is with a brining bag, which is a big plastic zipper bag. You can also use a garbage bag and VERY CAREFULLY put the turkey and the brine in the bag, then tie the bag tightly. Put the whole thing inside a roasting pan and put the pan in the fridge!

Leave it overnight! Then on Wednesday, you can take it out, and rinse the turkey off thoroughly. Pat it dry with paper towels or clean cloths. Put it back in its roasting pan and leave it uncovered in the fridge. You may want to put a cloth or some paper towels under it to catch the rest of the brine.

BUTTERING: (Start on Wednesday)

This is the hardest and squickiest but also the most decadent thing you can do to your turkey. Take about a pound of butter and put it in your food processor with whatever herbs you want to use–pepper, sage, thyme, rosemary, oregano, allspice, whatever. If you like your turkey sweet, add a little brown sugar. You can also add uncooked fatty sausage, ham, or bacon to the butter, if you want to be really extravagant. Now food process the whole mess until it is a nice paste.

You are not going to put this on top of the turkey! No! instead, you’re going to turn the turkey so the cavity is facing you, and very very carefully lift up the skin. Don’t tear it– but once you get it up, you’ll see that you can literally slide you hands around INSIDE the turkey skin. It is pretty awesome. Take a handful of the butter mixture and rub it all around inside the turkey skin. Keep repeating this until as much of the butter has been squeezed inside the turkey skin. Spread the extra inside the turkey cavity. Then put your turkey in its roasting pan and refrigerate it uncovered.

SALTING and HERB-RUBBING (Start on Wednesday)

These are the quickest and easiest ways to prepare your turkey. They can even be done first thing Thursday morning, if you are really pressed for time or forgot to do something to your turkey!

They are pretty much what you expect. Salting a turkey is the quick version of brining, herb-rubbing is exactly what it sounds like. The two are more or less the same thing, but one is the low-sodium version if you can’t use a lot of salt.

Basically, take a bunch of dry spices (you can get these in the spices section) like thyme, sage, oregano, paprika, cinnamon, allspice, parsley, black pepper, lemon rind, curry, whatever you like (don’t mix ALL of these together!) and mix them up in a little bowl. You’ll need a total of about 1/4 and 1/2 cup to cover a turkey. If you want to salt your turkey, mix up 1/4 cup kosher salt with your chosen herbs. Now sprinkle it all over your turkey! Make sure you get some inside the cavity, too!

Put the turkey inside a garbage bag or put it in its roasting pan and cover it with plastic wrap. Refrigerate it till you are ready to cook it!

That’s all for the prep steps. I’ll be back later this week with cooking instructions!

Mirrored from Antagonia.net.


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Have you brined with a vegetable stock? I've never cooked a bird before, and my mom never brines (AND significantly overcooks her turkeys,) so I'm lost in a sea of differing opinions. I wouldn't be stuffing my turkey, but I would want some drippings for gravy.

Also, I should say that this post is AWESOME. Thank you!

No, I have never brined in veggie stock,but I would imagine it would be like brining with juice-- just make or buy unsalted veggie stock if you want to stuff it.

If you want drippings for gravy and are afraid it will be too salty: buy a turkey leg! You can buy fresh turkey parts at most grocery stores this time of year and a turkey leg will make you plenty of drippings to make your gravy. Another way to combat the saltiness would be to thin the drippings with unsalted chicken or turkey stock from the store.

Brilliant! Thanks so much!

Very informative post! Imma memory this sucker. Thanks!

I'm trying to do all your tips, but my mom is nagging me so hard about how I don't know how to do it and obviously your tips are wrong, that I'm just trying to get her to leave me alone... so basically I'm losing a day. Should I even bother brining at this point? Or should I just go straight to buttering and salting/herbing?

Yeah, you can totally brine it now! Just take it out of the brine tomorrow evening and pat it dry and it will be perfect!

Okay, awesome! Thank you again for answering all my stupid questions! I feel like after this year the idea of cooking won't give me such terrible anxiety.

Oh, totally! No sweat, I totally understand. The first year you do it it is super scary, but after that it is a lot easier!

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