The turkey is the star of Thanksgiving and the easiest component to mess up. Overcook it and it's dry. Undercook it and you've got a pink disaster, both esthetically and health-wise.
There are many types of turkeys: fresh, frozen, kosher and heirloom, to name a few. And even more ways to cook the big bird: roast, grill, smoke, deep-fry. To brine or not to brine, that's the question, unless you are in the middle of a baste/no baste argument. .
When it all comes down to T-Day, the most crucial factor is to cook the turkey to the proper temperature. If you do this, no matter what type of turkey you've purchased, the meat should be delicious.
So buy yourself an instant-read thermometer — and use it. The turkey is done when the breast meat reaches 160 degrees and the dark meat is 165 degrees. Cooking continues for a few minutes after the turkey is removed from the oven, so if you take it out about 5 degrees shy of the mark, you should be good. Tent loosely with foil and let rest for about 30 minutes before carving. The following tips should help even more.
Tackling the turkey three ways
Fresh turkey: Remove a 12- to 14-pound turkey from its wrappings. Remove giblets from the bird's cavity. Wash the bird inside and out, if you wish. Drain; pat dry.
Season cavity with ½ teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. (Loosely pack the bird with stuffing, if you like.)
Place the turkey in a roasting pan, preferably on a rack; roast in a 325-degree oven until thermometer inserted in thickest part of inner thigh reaches 165 degrees, about 3 to 3 ¾ hours. (When cooking stuffing inside the bird, make sure the stuffing reaches 165 degrees. A stuffed bird will take 3 ½ to 4 hours.)
Brush the glaze over the bird about 1 hour before it is scheduled to be ready. Glaze again 30 minutes later and then 15 minutes later. Remove turkey to a cutting board; let rest at least 15 minutes before carving.
Frozen turkey: Thaw the bird in its wrapping in the refrigerator. A 12- to 14-pound turkey will take three to four days to thaw. Place the turkey on a tray or pan to contain any liquid that may drip from the bird. For a faster thaw, submerge the bird in cold water and soak 6 to 8 hours, changing the water every 30 minutes.
Roast and glaze the turkey according to the directions given for a fresh turkey.
Ready-to-eat turkey: Even if you buy a complete Thanksgiving dinner from a supermarket or other source, the turkey will have to be heated. To do this, place the turkey in a roasting pan. Heat in 250-degree oven until hot, which can take up to 2 ½ hours, depending on the size. Read the directions that come with your package. Glaze the turkey according to the directions given for a fresh turkey. See accompanying glaze recipes, which will work on any type of poultry, not just turkey.
Information from the Chicago Tribune was used in this report.