The basics of cooking a Turkey

The basics of cooking a Turkey

Tis the season to cook the bird and I’m going to make things real simple for those of you who have never done this before. Those who have might learn a thing or two as well.

First off, it’s a Turkey, it’s not a big deal if you plan ahead. That’s why you’re reading this.

Step one: Choose your bird.

Chances are you’ll have a lot of choices in terms of size and type. The cheaper ones are raised on industrial farms and taste like shit no matter what you do. This is going to be one of the few times I tell you to spend the extra money on an organic or free range bird since you only make this once a year and you’re going to be feeding guests.

In terms of size, a safe ratio is a pound and half per person. 8 guests needs a 12 pound bird, 12 people need an 18-20 bird. I doubt any of you will be cooking for more than that and if you do, by all means send photos.

Step two: Brining is divine.

Do not, I repeat do fucking not skip this step. This is going to be the difference between mediocre and holy fuck this is amazing. Think about it, when you’re roasting the bird, you’re cooking it slowly in dry heat and it sucks all the juices out. When you brine the Turkey, you’re filling up the tissue with liquid which offsets what’s lost in the cooking process.

It’s one cup Kosher salt to one gallon of water. Depending on how big your bird is, you might need to make a double batch since you need to make sure the bird is completely covered. If you don’t have a lot of space, you can always use a cooler as long as you thoroughly was it and keep enough ice in it to keep it below 37°. If you do this, add more salt to compensate for the ice melting.

Feel free to get creative with the brine. Add some sugar or maple syrup to add some sweetness or fresh herbs such as thyme or rosemary. This will give your bird that subtle yet noticeable flavor.

Make sure that you let your bird dry for a bit prior to roasting, even pat it down with a few paper towels.

Step three: Mirepoix and the master pan. 

I know my readers and I’m proud of you for cooking a turkey, seriously, send me photos on Facebook. That said, I’m not going to push my luck and tell you to go buy a heavy duty pan, but it would be a lot cooler if you did. Chances are that you will be using a disposable aluminum pan and that’s fine, just make sure it’s big enough.

You’re also going to need to make about two pounds of Mirepoix. A pound of onions and a half pound each of Carrots and Celery. Why the Mirepoix? Because this is what you’re going to put the bird on top of in the pan. While the Turkey cooks and releases its juices, the Mirepoix will cook as well while keeping the bottom of the bird from sticking to the pan. After you finish roasting the bird, you’ll take the juices and make gravy (see below).

Step four: Rub it down.

Some people will say that you can use oil and technically you can but I’m telling you to use butter. Specifically, melted butter with some fresh herbs. Keep it on hand because your going to paint your bird with it a few times. You want a sexy golden brown bird with perfect skin? This is how you get it.

Step five: Slow n low and in the right position.

If you blast it with heat, you’ll burn the outside and the inside will be raw. 325°-350° is what you want.

Another key trick to roasting a turkey is that you need to cook it upside down with the breast down for the first hour and then flip it. This will help the bird cook faster and evenly.

Oh, and forget about trussing it, it’s causes the bird to cook unevenly.

Step six: Buy and use a digital thermometer

They’re cheap, easy to find and eliminate the guesswork. You want to make sure that the bird is at 170° in the thickest part of the bird. Since ovens have hot spots, check a few spots and make sure that you’re not hitting bone since this will throw off your reading. If the juice is pink when you pick it, it’s not done.

For your standard 12 pound bird, you’re typically looking at 3 to 3 ½ hours. Keep in mind, every bird and oven is going to be different so don’t assume anything. The bigger the bird, the longer it’s going to take.

Step seven: Let it rest and let’s make some gravy.

When you’re sure it’s at 170°, pull it out and let it rest on a platter. Now you’re going to make a basic gravy with the drippings which isn’t hard but if you want a thicker variety, you need to make a simple roux.

While the roasting pan is still hot, add about a cup of white wine and then strain the liquid from the Mirepoix into a small pot. Add a large dab of butter and heat until melted and mixed. By all means use cannabutter, just make sure that you inform your guests ahead of time. 

If you want it thicker, mix 2 ounces of flour with 2 ounces of butter in a separate pan and heat on medium til it’s blond or light brown, then whisk it in the pan drippings.

Step eight: Carve, serve and enjoy.

Chances are that unless you’re a Chef, you’re knives suck and this is why you hate cooking. It’s also why you’re more likely to tear the bird than cut it. The point is to use a sharp knife for fucks sake.

Start with the drumsticks at the joint and go from there. The bird is going to be delicious and your friends are going to be thrilled. Don’t stress about presentation on this, you’ve been cooking all day.

In closing…

It’s just a turkey, it’s just a bird. It’s not rocket surgery folks. Thanksgiving is about gratitude, not stressing over dinner. It’s about coming together as family and community and the food is how we come together to celebrate.

Keep the menu simple, plan ahead. Get the bird in the brine by Wednesday afternoon and get your Mise set up for whatever your cooking for the next day. And by all means encourage people to bring food and make it a collaborative effort.

No one is going to freak out if dinner isn’t ready at five sharp, besides, that’s what appetizers are for. Have fun with it, get weird with it and be grateful.

Those of you reading this who don’t have friends or family to celebrate with, it sucks to be you. Seriously, due to being on the road non stop, I’ve often been away from my people during the holidays so I know how much it sucks. Get out of your own head and go volunteer somewhere. You might have to call a few places but I can promise you that doing this is one of best ways to humble yourself while helping those who really need it. That’s the whole point of this, putting aside our differences and coming together.


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