On the day before the Big Day, you may find that you have some last-minute questions about how to tackle the 14-pound turkey that you might have brining or curing or defrosting or simply waiting in your refrigerator. Luckily, Yankee Magazine food editor Amy Traverso is ready with some expert answers.
What size turkey should I buy?
Figuring on 1¼ pound per person will get you enough meat for the meal, with leftovers.
How long will it take to thaw in the refrigerator?
Estimate 24 hours for every 5 pounds, so two days for a 10-pounder, three days for a 15-pounder, etc.
Help! It’s Wednesday, I just bought my bird, and it’s still frozen!
Leave the turkey in its wrapper and put in a large container (a lobster pot is good). Fill the container with cold tap water and let it sit for 30 minutes. Dump out the water and refill. Let it sit another 30 minutes. Repeat until the turkey is thawed, then roast immediately or transfer to the refrigerator. It’ll still take about 30 minutes per pound (or six hours for a 12-pound bird), but it’s faster than the refrigerator method and, most importantly, it’s safe.
Can I brine or dry-cure my turkey while it defrosts in the refrigerator?
Yes. Isn’t that great? You’re multi-multitasking. Just use a lighter brine solution (about ½ cup kosher salt per gallon of water, plus sugar and spices). If you’re dry-curing, use the standard recipe.
How cold does my turkey need to stay while brining?
Should I truss?
No. Well, OK, if you really like the look of a trussed turkey, you’re welcome to tuck the wing tips under the breast and tie the legs together. But the legs will cook faster if you just leave them alone, and this helps ensure that the breast meat won’t get overcooked while you’re waiting for the legs to catch up.
How do I get crispy skin?
At least six hours before roasting, let the bird sit, uncovered, in your refrigerator. This dries the skin, which causes it to crisp up in the oven.
What about stuffing the bird?
I don’t. In order for stuffing to be safe to consume, it must reach 165˚. But stuffing a bird slows down the cooking, which increases the chances the breast will dry out. I cook mine in a casserole dish.
But I love the way the stuffing tastes when it cooks in the turkey! I sympathize—but there is a middle path, courtesy of Melissa Clark of The New York Times: Most turkeys come with a flap of skin from the neck. Normally, you cut it off and discard it, but you can use it to flavor your dressing. Just chop up the skin and scatter it over the dressing before you put the dish in the oven. As it cooks, the fat and juices will drip into the stuffing, giving it delicious flavor. And when it comes out, you’ll have turkey cracklings to enjoy.
What about basting?
Don’t bother. It doesn’t add flavor, and it makes the skin flabby.
What temperature should I use?
Most cooks swear by a low-and-slow approach, starting at 450˚ but then dropping the temperature to 325˚ after 30 minutes. You’ll need to estimate 12 to 15 minutes per pound, including that initial 30-minute blast of heat. What really matters the most is that you pay close attention to the temperature of the meat, and take the bird out as soon as it’s ready.
When is it ready?
When an instant-read thermometer inserted into the breast (all the way to the bone) reaches 160˚. You can also measure the thigh, inserted to the thickest part but not touching the bone—it should read 165˚.
Do I really need to let the turkey rest after it comes out of the oven?
YES. This is essential for juicy meat. Let the turkey sit, tented with foil, for at least 30 minutes.
Amy Traverso is Yankee Magazine’s senior food editor and cohost of the TV show, Weekends with Yankee (weekendswithyankee.com). The above article was originally run in the Fall 2018 issue (Vol. 1, #4) of Yankee Magazine’s Our Vermont supplement.
More from Amy Traverso: Blue-Ribbon Deep-Dish Apple Pie