A Simple Turkey, a retrospective

Hop down to the recipe

Last year's perfect turkey, dark meat platter

If you’ve never bought a turkey before, it can be overwhelming to try to understand all the differences between them. There are plenty of guides, but there are so many of those too, it’s hard to know what will be best. In my family we have always chosen frozen kosher turkeys, but even if you don’t keep kosher there are plenty of good reasons to choose a kosher turkey. This cuts down the options a bit, which in this case, is a good thing.

Last year's turkey getting a feather inspection

My favorite reason is that kosher turkeys, like all koshered meat, have already been brined. This results in saltier meat that is more likely to retain its moisture during cooking. Sure, you could brine any turkey yourself, but if you live in a tiny New York apartment like I do, you probably don’t have room for the equipment to do it right. And besides, I have enough other dishes to worry about on Thanksgiving, I’ll take the occasional shortcuts where I can find them. If you start with a kosher turkey, then you’ve got all the flavor you need inside the meat before you even start.

Our turkey from 2008, rubbed down with seasoning. Probably a bit too much seasoning, actually.

When shopping for a turkey for Thanksgiving, see if your regular grocery store has any kind of holiday special going on about a month before the holiday. Stores will often have promotions that give away a turkey, or discount a turkey, if you spend a certain amount at the store over a certain period of time. This can help reduce the cost since a kosher turkey will be slightly more per pound than an non-kosher one.

2006's turkey getting a flip with ziptop bags over oven mitts.

Preparing and Cooking the turkey

Makes enough turkey for 8-10 people, plus leftovers

Prep time from fridge to table: Approximately 6 hours

Equipment:

  • Roasting pan
  • Tin foil

Ingredients:

  • 14-16 lb kosher turkey
  • 1-2 tbs paprika (mix in hot or smoked if desired)
  • 1 tbs freshly ground black pepper
  • 2-3 tbs kosher salt
  • olive oil
  1. If the turkey is frozen, defrost for at least 4 days in the refrigerator before you plan on cooking it. Defrost by putting the whole turkey, wrapping and all, into a big bowl or watertight container, and putting the whole thing, uncovered, into the fridge. This way, any loose liquids or condensation can drip into the bowl and not all over the rest of your food.
  2. Once the turkey is well thawed and the day to cook it has arrived, put the bird in the (freshly scrubbed clean) sink, and open up the wrappings. Rinse with cold water, inside and out. There may be a packet of extra goodies in the cavity, or a neck, or both. Remove these and save for another dish or for stock-making.
  3. Kosher turkeys tend to have more feathers left on the wings and tail than the average Butterball because of the way they are processed, so it’s a good idea to inspect and remove any that you find. A clean pair of tweezers usually does the trick. Once you are satisfied with the cleanliness of your turkey, dry it off with some paper towels and put it into your roasting pan. It’s probably a good idea to clean out your sink again at this point.
  4. Mix together the dry seasonings in a bowl. Rub the turkey inside and out with olive oil. This will help crisp the skin and help the seasonings stick. If you have a kitchen helper, have them shake the seasonings over the turkey while you rub it into and under the skin. Make sure to cover every spot of the turkey with some of the rub. Any excess seasoning can be left in the cavity.
  5. Face the turkey breast down in the roasting pan. Cover with a tent of aluminum foil.
  6. Put into a 350 degree oven with a timer to check on it in 2.5 hours.
  7. Take the turkey out of the oven and prepare to flip it. One of the most successful ways we have ever flipped the turkey has been to cover oven mitts in clean plastic produce bags, plastic wrap, or gallon sized ziptop bags, and just picked up the turkey and turned it over in the pan. This way you’ve got a good hold on it (remember, it’s hot!) and you don’t tear into it the way tongs might. I’ve seen “turkey flippers” in fancy cookware stores, and I suppose those could also work, but our method has always served us well. However you do it though, flip it so that it is breast up.
  8. Before putting it back in the oven, you can salvage some of the liquid from the bottom of the pan for the gravy, stuffing, or even the mashed potatoes depending on how you like them. Much of it will evaporate in the last hour of cooking, so it is best to collect it now.
  9. Return the turkey to the oven without the aluminum foil tent and let it roast for one more hour.
  10. At the end of the hour, the flesh on the legs should be pulling away from the bone and the skin should be crisp and brown. Remove the turkey from the oven and cover it back up with the foil tent to rest for an hour.
  11. Once the turkey has cooled down enough to touch, you can carve it. I like to separate white meat and dark meat onto different platters, but you can, of course, organize the perfectly carved turkey however you prefer.

Cooked this way, you’ll barely need gravy because all of the meat will be moist and flavorful on its own. Not that I’d ever pass up gravy, I just put it on my mashed potatoes instead.

2005: My first turkey, right before being flipped (tin foil tent was removed for the photo).

One year ago: Bacon Waffles (you can use any kind of bacon for these!)


About this author:  I'm a New Yorker who would rather cook than go out to restaurants. Sometimes I think I may be in the wrong city for that. Then I remember the exotic ingredients I'd be hard-pressed to find if I lived somewhere else. My cooking style is an eclectic range of everyday-American, Italian, middle-eastern, with extensive forays into Japanese cuisine, and some pit-stops into Indian and African cuisines. I love to try my hand at recreating dishes I taste. While I enjoy most anything with a flavor, from high cuisine to instant junk food, I have a soft spot in my belly for home-style cooking no matter the geographic or ethnic origin. Read more from this author...


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