Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Turkey Tips

Tomorrow is the big day, so here are some tips for handling the bird. If you don't know how to thaw, prep and cook a turkey, this may be too late. However in my house, I'm not cooking just carving:

The Art of Manliness

How To Cook and Carve a Thanksgiving Turkey Like a Man

Posted: 20 Nov 2008 11:37 PM CST

46900970_88f1106f2d How To Cook and Carve a Thanksgiving Turkey Like a Man

Image from Vermont Ferrett

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and that means one thing- turkey. Preparing and carving a turkey for loved ones at Thanksgiving is definitely a manly task (cooking in general is a manly task). It involves roasted flesh, sharp knives, and popping joints. So impress your friends and family this year by cooking up a juicy and delicious bird. After you’ve cooked it, earn extra man points by masterfully carving it with a sharp knife. Carving a turkey is a rite of passage every man must go through. But if you don’t do it right, you’ll just be left with a mangled mess of meat.

To help guide us through cooking and carving our Thanksgiving turkey, we brought in our friend Karl Engel. Karl is the head chef of the award winning BBQ and grilling team Pigcasso. Follow Karl’s instructions, and you’ll soon be cooking and carving a Thanksgiving turkey like a real man.

How to Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey

Pick the right turkey. The first step in cooking a turkey is picking the right turkey for the job. With turkeys, bigger is not better. The best size turkey is between 12 and 16 pounds. Anything larger than 16 pounds and you’ll get tough and chewy meat. So stay away from the big 22 pound Tom turkeys. If you’re serving lots of people, get more than one medium size turkey.

Thaw it. Before you throw your turkey in the oven, it needs to be completely thawed. The best way is to let it thaw slowly in your refrigerator. Thawing your turkey in the fridge isn’t a one day affair. Depending on how large your turkey is, it could take days before it is completely thawed, so plan ahead. Below I’ve included a chart with the typical time required to thaw a turkey based on how much it weighs.

Time Required to Thaw a Turkey
8 to 12 lbs.
2 to 3 Days
13 to 16 lbs.
3 to 4 Days
17 to 20 lbs.
4 to 5 Days
21 to 24 lbs.
5 to 6 Days

What if you don’t have a week to thaw the bird? A little hack from your grandma’s kitchen will get that turkey thawed in no time. Get a large tub of COLD water. Make sure the turkey is wrapped up in a leak proof package. Place the turkey in the tub. 30 minutes per pound of turkey is required to thaw your turkey using this method, so if you have a 15 pound turkey, it will take approximately 7 and 1/2 hours. Make sure to change the water every 30 minutes to keep it cold.

Clean it. Next you’ll need to clean out the giblets and neck. Most frozen turkeys have the giblets and neck in a nice little package stuffed inside the turkey in the back cavity. Just stick your hand in there and pull them out. You can save the giblets for gravy or you can toss them. Rinse out the bird under cold running water.

Brine it. Turkey by nature is a dry meat. Cooking only makes it drier. In order to keep the juices in the bird where they belong, you’ll need to brine this bad boy. You have two options for the brine: a wet or dry brine. You can find a good recipe for a wet brine at Alton Brown’s website.

Our friend Karl likes to do a dry brine. It gets the job done just as well as a wet brine and isn’t as messy. Here’s what Karl uses for his dry brine mixture.

  • 2 cups of kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup of ground black pepper
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons of dry herb mix.
Mix this all together and pack the turkey inside and out with the brine mix. Place the turkey in a pan, and let it sit in the fridge for at least one day while packed in the brine mix.
After a day, take the turkey out of the fridge and rinse out all the brine.
Butter it. Get some melted butter and wipe the outside of the turkey with it.
Throw it in the oven. Place the turkey in a wide, low roasting pan. Set the oven for 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook it about 15-20 minutes per pound. So a 12-14 pound turkey will take between 3 hours and 3 hours and 45 minutes. However, you should always use a meat thermometer to check when your turkey is done. Place the probe between the leg and thigh. The thermometer should read 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Baste it. During the first hour of cooking, don’t do anything with the turkey. After the first hour, baste it every 30 minutes with some melted butter mixed with chopped up sage and rosemary. When the bird is done, it will have a nice mahogany colored skin. Again, check the thermometer to see if the inside of the bird is at least 165 degrees.

How to Carve a Thanksgiving Turkey

Our friend Karl Engel was kind enough to star in a short instructional video on how to carve the turkey. Watch it, follow his instructions, and you’ll have the best looking turkey platter in the neighborhood. I’ve also included the instructions in text format if videos aren’t your thing or if you need to check back later about specifics.

Let the bird rest. After you take the turkey out of the oven, you want to let it rest for about 20 to 30 minutes before you start carving. If you start carving too early, the juices from the bird will run all over the place and your turkey will dry out. Also, letting the turkey rest and cool will reduce the chances you’ll scald yourself with delicious but molten hot turkey juice.

Separate the leg and the thigh from the body. Take a sharp knife and cut the piece of skin in between the body and the leg. Once you have some separation, grab the body of the bird in one hand and the leg and thigh of the turkey in the other, and start pulling them apart to expose the joint that holds the leg to the turkey. You know you’ve reached it when you hear a pop. Carve around the joint until you don’t get any resistance. Pull the leg and the thigh away from the body of the turkey all in one piece. Repeat on the other side.

nov-16-2008-vid00058_1 How To Cook and Carve a Thanksgiving Turkey Like a Man

Separate the leg from the thigh. Holding the drumstick, stand the thigh and leg piece up on its end. Take your knife and cut between the drumstick and the thigh bone. When you meet some resistance with the thigh bone, move you knife around it a bit until you don’t get any resistance. Make the final cut and separate the drumstick from the thigh. Place the drumstick on the platter so the kids can start fighting over who has dibs on it at dinner time.

nov-16-2008-vid00058_2 How To Cook and Carve a Thanksgiving Turkey Like a Man

nov-16-2008-vid00058_3 How To Cook and Carve a Thanksgiving Turkey Like a Man

Cut the thigh meat. You’ve got some great meat on the thigh bone. Don’t let it go to waste by just hacking away at it. There’s one bone in the thigh meat and your goal is to separate the meat from the bone. Grab the end of the thigh bone, and take your knife and carefully start scraping the meat away from the bone. If you’re really careful you can take the thigh meat off in one piece. But if you need to separate it in two pieces when cutting it away from the bone, it’s no big deal. Once you get the meat separated from the thigh bone, you can carve it up for your platter.

nov-16-2008-vid00058_4 How To Cook and Carve a Thanksgiving Turkey Like a Man

Separate the wing from the body. Our next step is to separate the wing from the body. The wing is attached to the turkey by a ball joint. Cut the the area between the wing and body until you get to the joint. Once you get there, grab the wing and pull it away from the turkey until you hear a pop. Once you hear that pop, take your knife and start cutting through the tendons and ligaments surrounding the joint until you separate the wing from the body. You can serve the wing whole on your platter. Repeat on the other side.

nov-16-2008-vid00058_5 How To Cook and Carve a Thanksgiving Turkey Like a Man

Carve the turkey breast. You have some options on how you carve the turkey breast. The traditional way is to carve small slices off the side of the breast. There’s nothing wrong with this way, but it does tend to dry the meat out. Also, if you get the wrong kind of knife, you can tear the meat and it won’t look as good when you serve it.

Another way you can carve the breast meat so that you maintain juiciness is to cut the entire breast off the turkey and then carve it up into smaller slices. Here’s how you do it. Find the breastbone in the middle of the turkey. Pick which breast you’re going to carve first, and make a cut right next to the breastbone on that side.

nov-16-2008-vid00058_6 How To Cook and Carve a Thanksgiving Turkey Like a Man

Continue carving down the side of the breastbone. It helps to use your hands to peel the breast away from the bone as you’re cutting. Keep making small slices with your knife until you can separate the entire breast from the turkey.

nov-16-2008-vid00058_7 How To Cook and Carve a Thanksgiving Turkey Like a Man

Once it’s off, grab your large carving knife and slice the meat against the grain starting at the small point of the breast. You can make the slices as thin or as thick as you want. If you don’t think you’ll eat the entire breast, just cut what you’ll use, and wrap the rest of the breast in plastic wrap. It will stay nice and juicy for later.

nov-16-2008-vid00058_9 How To Cook and Carve a Thanksgiving Turkey Like a Man

Your Final Product

Happy Thanksgiving. It’s time to feast. I’ve got dibs on the drumstick.

nov-16-2008-vid00058_10 How To Cook and Carve a Thanksgiving Turkey Like a Man

 How To Cook and Carve a Thanksgiving Turkey Like a Man

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