The Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey

My mom, Anna was a great cook, but she never mastered the art of “turkey cooking,” and so I spent the first 20 years of my life eating dry turkey. After my Advanced Meat Science course at Florida International University, and a career with Marriott Hotels, I realized my poor mother was guilty of cooking her turkey at too high of a temperature! It is understandable because when you only have one oven in the house, the big bird jeopardizes oven space. As a result some people cook at high temperatures, so they can get all the food done on time for their hungry family who waited all year for this feast.

Don’t fall prey to a dry Thanksgiving turkey!

Here is my foolproof solution for a juicy turkey in 5 easy steps

Please remember that food-borne illnesses strikes thousands of people each year, so proper food handling is a critical concern.

Step 1 – If you are using a frozen turkey, thaw it in your refrigerator a day or two in advance of the holiday, or thaw under cold running water for same day use.

Step 2 – This recipe is for any turkey over 20 pounds. Smaller birds can be roasted the day of, using the same instructions. To make Thanksgiving food preparation a bit easier, I like to start my bird the night before. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. While the oven is heating, remove the neck and gizzards from the turkey. Always check both openings of the birds’ cavity as you do not want a surprise at the end of cooking. This technique also allows for an even cooking temperature throughout the bird. Never fill your turkey with stuffing! Stuffing restricts airflow, causing the turkey to languish in the “danger zone” of cooking for much too long, which can lead to food-borne illness, and a not-so-merry holiday. Keeping these tips in mind, place the bird in a large roasting pan.

Step 3 – In a small dish combine Morton® Lite Salt with garlic powder, cayenne pepper and dry sage, to taste. Sprinkle this mixture generously over the outside and inside of your turkey. Pour about one inch of water in the bottom of the roasting pan. You will use these drippings to make your gravy.

Step 4 – Your oven is very hot now, and all the bacteria has been destroyed. Place your turkey on the bottom oven rack uncovered and roast for 30 minutes at 400 degrees. After 30 minutes, the turkey will be seared to lock in its juices. Turn the oven down to 225 degrees and go to bed. Sleep tight, for when you awake, the turkey will be done and your oven will be free for you to use all day for other goodies. The slow roasting temperature reduces shrinkage for a greater yield and retains the juices in the turkey, where they belong. Open the oven and the red temperature gauge should have popped out of the turkey. You can double-check the doneness by inserting an internal meat thermometer into the deepest part of the turkey breast. A reading of 165 degrees or higher is the preferred temperature.

Step 5 – Once the turkey has been removed from the oven, place the pan on a wire rack, cover the bird with a lid or foil, and let cool. This is also known as letting the roast “setup.” Please be sure to save the reserved juices and strain them to be used for your gravy. After 30 minutes have passed, feel free to breakdown the turkey or let it rest until you are ready for it to be carved. I recommend removing each breast from the carcass with a boning knife. You can place the breast on a cutting board, remove the skin and slice the turkey into thin slices with a slicing knife and place it into a casserole dish for serving, or to reheat gently.

I hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving in every way possible,

Chef John

Entrees, Healthy For the Holidays

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