Talking Turkey with Turkey
By Charles Lam
Turkey is a notoriously difficult animal to prepare. Thanksgiving turkeys tend to weigh in between 15 to 20 pounds, taking forever to cook through and the thighs and the breast need to be cooked to different temperatures and everyone is deathly afraid of undercooked fowl. This often leads to dry breast meat ruining everyone’s meal, requiring diners to pile on the gravy and the cranberry sauce.
On a day when your hosting skills are directly related to the quality of the food, dry turkey can be a nightmare.
Luckily, there are easy methods to ensure that your turkey turns out perfectly fine.
Trusting the Truss
Trussing is a technique commonly used when cooking birds and involves tying the legs of the bird together and bringing them closer to the breast.
Though trussing might be reminiscent of some bondage video, it is actually very effective in helping the turkey cook evenly.
Moving the legs closer to the breast concentrates the majority of the meat into one area, slowing the temperature increase and making sure the thighs don’t reach their doneness temperature before the breast does.
To do a simple truss, take a length of twine about four times the height of the turkey. Tie the two legs together and, with the remaining length of twine, tie a loop along the spine of the turkey, making sure to bring the legs as close to the breast as possible.
Protecting the Boobies
Turkey breast tends to over cook the easiest, owing to the sheer mass of the meat and the tendency for white meat to lose moisture super quickly.
To combat this, start cooking the turkey with a foil shield over the breast area. This blocks the direct heat from radiation of the heating element, protecting the top layers of breast while the interior of the turkey warms up, looking the meat from the inside.
To crisp the skin over the breast, remove the shield and turn your oven to broil for a few moments once the turkey is mostly cooked.
Don’t Stuff the Bird
Do not put stuffing inside your turkey. Nothing goes into the cavity except for some aromatic vegetables. If there’s one step anyone can take towards a better-cooked Thanksgiving dinner, this is it.
Though there’s nothing prettier than slightly toasty stuffing overflowing from your turkey the presence of stuffing inside of the actual turkey disrupts the cooking process.
The stuffing seals up the cavity, preventing hot air from filling the turkey and slowing the cooking process from the inside. This, in turn, requires a longer cook time, which dries out the outer layers of meat.
It’s also important to keep in mind that, because the turkey releases juices as it’s being cooked that are absorbed by the stuffing, the stuffing also needs to be cooked to a safe temperature further elongating oven time.
Bringing on the Brine
The ultimate stop all in dry turkey, brining your bird may take some proper planning, but it is the easiest way to insure a moist bird.
Soaking your turkey in a solution of one cup of salt per two gallons of liquid between eight and 12 hours before cooking helps hydrate the meat. Because the concentration of salt in the brining fluid is higher than that of the protein cells, water diffuses across the cell membranes, bringing with it any water-soluble flavors present in the brine. In addition, the salt helps denature the proteins, creating a matrix that helps hold in moisture during cooking.
This keeps the turkey moist during cooking and gives you a larger margin of error.
After brining, be sure to dry off the turkey with paper towels to ensure skin crisping.
Moist turkey is an achievable goal for any young cook. Take this year to impress your family and show them how Thanksgiving dinner should really be done, because now it’s time for you to start hosting.