Y'all, it's time to talk turkey. Many of you will be spending T'giving at home and cooking for the first time. Turkey can be intimidating, so gather 'round. I got you. +
First, turkey does not have to be dry. People overcook turkeys like it's their job and then bitch because the turkey tastes like a rug. Don't do this. +
We're going to walk through the SIMPLEST possible recipe for roasting a turkey. It's not even a recipe; it's a method. A few things to know: 1. You will not be able to make gravy from this turkey but that's okay.
If you've never cooked a turkey, then gravy might be a bridge too far. 2. If you're getting a frozen bird, GET IT TODAY. If it's over 12 pounds, I'd stick it straight into the fridge, NOT the freezer.
Already got one in the freezer? Stick it in the fridge now. Over the last three years, I've had turkeys that vary from 13.5-17lbs and they all need days to thaw.
This is a good time to mention food safety tips. Do not thaw on the counter. Do not thaw in the sink. And for the LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY DO NOT THAW IT IN HOT WATER. Google is your pal.
Clear space in the bottom of the fridge, put it in a pan with a rim--to catch any juices as it defrosts--and shove it in the fridge. Yes, it's a pain, but it is safe and this means Thursday you'll have a thawed bird.
If you forget this step and your turkey is in the freezer on Thursday morning? Chalk it up to experience and order Taco Bell.
Now, it's Thursday and like a good little chef, you've got a thawed bird. What next? You have to math. First, check the weight of the turkey. (It's printed on the tag.) And decide what time you want to eat. I'll give you times based on our preferred dinner time of 5pm.
5pm is the perfect T'giving dinner time because you can have a lazy morning to watch the parade and then eat your dinner and STILL have time for a tiny before-bed snack of a wee turkey sandwich on one of your leftover dinner rolls.
YMMV, and that's fine. Here's what you need to know: this method needs 15 minutes per pound of turkey. Or one hour for every four pounds. Do your math and make a schedule. DO NOT PLAN TO PULL THE TURKEY OUT AT THE TIME YOU WANT TO EAT.
Turkey needs time to hang out and cool just a little before you carve it. (Otherwise, the juices just run all out to hell and back and the turkey is a little too dry.) So, plan on taking it out about 30 minutes before you want to eat.
My turkey always comes out by 4:30 and sometimes before, and that's fine. As long as the gravy is hot, the meat doesn't have to be smoking. So, you know what time to take it out, and based on your math, you know how long it will need to roast. Rough out your schedule.
You see what time you're supposed to put that turkey in the oven? Add an entry one hour before. This is the time you will take the turkey out of the fridge. SO many people miss this step and it is crucial. Ice cold meat in a hot oven is not a good idea.
Again, one hour before you're going to stick the turkey in the oven, take it out and let it rest on the counter. NOT DIRECTLY ON THE COUNTER BECAUSE RAW TURKEY IS NASTY. Leave it in the pan you were using to hold it in the fridge.
This is a good time to mention that our family tradition is to make a cheese plate (charcuterie board if you're fancy) and open a bottle of rose while we putter with getting the turkey ready. You want a light lunch. Just don't touch cheese with nasty turkey fingers.
About half an hour after taking your turkey out of the fridge, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. ARRANGE YOUR OVEN RACK NOW WHILE THE OVEN IS COOL. You'll probably want to remove the top rack altogether and lower the other to its lowest setting.
When that's done and the oven is heating, get your supplies ready. You need your roasting pan--I use foil disposable pans, just put a cookie sheet under, a little kitchen string, a metric crap ton of salt, and more paper towels than you can imagine. That's all.
If you can bribe someone to help with the promise of cheese and rose, it's nice to have an extra pair of hands, but I've wrestled plenty of turkeys on my own. YOU CAN DO THIS. It's time.
First, cut the plastic wrap off your turkey. (BTW, I buy Butterballs, but I've bought organic fancy turkeys that cost as much as my first car and cheap knock-off supermarket turkeys and I can't taste the difference.)
When you cut the plastic wrap off, it will be full of bloody juice. It's gross. I'm sorry. You'll just have to deal. (I keep a big bowl next to where I'm working for corralling the nasty bits, but you can just open the trash can and bung things right in.)
Some people wash their turkeys at this point. This is a disgusting practice and you should never do this unless you want to spray raw turkey blood germs all over your kitchen. Just pat it dry with a wad of paper towels and get on with your life. You don't want a wet turkey.
This is when it's handy to have the trash open nearby because you can just throw the nasty paper towels away. Now you're going in. There are two cavities in a turkey. One is the neck--up at the top between the wings.
The other is at the bottom, between the drumsticks. You're going spelunking in both. People who are experienced in the kitchen will use what you find inside those cavities to make gravy. These are not our people. First, one cavity has a bag of goodies. DO NOT LOOK INSIDE.
Just throw that little bag away. If there's a lot of juice inside this part of the turkey, pat it dry and throw out your paper towels. The other cavity has something...different.
Look, this is Turkey 101 and I'm assuming you're all new here, so I'm going to be honest. You're going to find something bony and long. You're going to pull it out and it's going to remind you of something. It's not what you think it is. You will have fun pretending it is.
It looks like a peen, okay? It's not. It's the neck. But it's ridiculous looking and enjoy laughing at it because prepping the turkey is a lot of work and you should have some fun. Oh, and then throw it out.
Now put the turkey in the roasting pan. You don't need anything under it. Some people get fancy and roast it breast side down for part of the time and then flip it over. These people are courting 3rd-degree burns. Don't flip your bird.
Put it in the pan breast side up. How can you tell? It will look like a cartoon turkey with the drumsticks sticking up. At the top is a little flap of skin. Just tuck it under. See the wing tips? Pull them in and up and tuck them under the top.
You want the wing tips tucked around the top and underneath so they don't burn. The drumsticks get tied together with a small piece of kitchen string. NOT FLOSS. If you don't have kitchen string--just plain unbleached cotton string, leave it. Your bird will sprawl but it's fine.
You tie the drumsticks to keep things tidy and help the bird roast evenly, that's all. You can still get a perfectly delicious turkey without tying the 'sticks together. Now comes the fun part.
Pour salt into your hands--lots of salt. Far more salt than you think. Pack it onto the turkey. All over. There should be salt all over the turkey skin. You don't want heaps of extra salt although a little is fine. Just press handfuls of salt all over it.
Now GO WASH YOUR HANDS. WITH SOAP. It should be about time to put the turkey in the oven. You've already arranged the racks, so it will be easy. TURN THE TEMP DOWN TO 375. WALK AWAY.
That's literally all you do until it's time to take it out. You don't baste it. You don't keep looking at it. You don't make a sacrifice to the turkey gods. It's fine. It's cooking away while you finish off the cheese plate and get on with making the rest of the food.
When it's finished, you take it out and let it rest, maybe with a kicky tinfoil tent if you like. Most of the salt will fall off when you carve, but the skin will be golden, DARK GOLDEN BROWN, and very crisp.
The meat will be succulent. BUT--AND I'M WRITING THIS IN ALL CAPS BECAUSE SOMEONE WILL TEST ME--THE DRIPPINGS ARE INEDIBLE. You cannot make gravy from them, so don't try.
Now, did you waste the innards? Yes, you did. Is there any point to turkey without gravy? No, but you are new and turkey is hard and gravy is harder and you did an impressive thing. YOU MADE THE TURKEY.
Can you buy perfectly decent gravy from a jar if you have to? Yes. Stop shaming people who are new to cooking or don't have the skills/ability/physical stamina to do everything from scratch. Not every damned dish has to be like grandma made it.
My own grandmother got up before dawn every T'giving to start baking pies and was popping Valium before the damn turkey got carved, so it's FINE to outsource if you want.
This is also the year to try a different time if T'giving lunch doesn't suit you. Try breakfast--turkey tacos!--or a midnight supper. Whatever makes you happy. There's too damn much stress associated with holidays ESPECIALLY now. Nobody needs that shit.
If this method is too basic for your skills--awesome. Then this thread wasn't for you. If it's too hard, honey, don't sweat it. Make some toast and call it a day. Order in. Do whatever makes you happy. Life is either too damned short or too damned long to stress about turkey.
Final note: this method works great for chicken if you don't want a big bird.
Folks, you don't have to justify your turkey choices to me or anybody else. Doesn't matter if you brine, deep fry, BBQ, or roll that feathery bitch in glitter and call it a disco ball. Just have a healthy and happy day, 'k?
P.S. A jar of Thai red curry paste is your best pal with leftover turkey. Whisk a spoonful into broth--veg, chicken, whatevs. Add chopped turkey and chopped veg: broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, green onion, snow peas, bamboo shoots. Anything. Throw in noodles if you want.
This soup is FLEXIBLE. It would be great with baby corn or sweet peppers or shredded carrot. Eat it hot and it will scald your sinuses but it's a great antidote when you are tired of reheated leftovers or turkey sandwiches.

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More from @deannaraybourn

1 Sep 19
So here's a tale from the family vaults for you. In 1904, my 3rd-great uncle decides to kill his estranged teenaged wife. Goes to her parents' house, shoots her as soon as she comes to the door. While being apprehended, he shoots at the sheriff (and misses).+
He's sentenced to life in prison and shipped from South Texas to Huntsville to serve his time. Only he gets a little tired of prison life and decides it's not really for him.+
So he works his way up to supervisor of the prison farm work detail and slides on out of there one day. He makes his way to Oklahoma where he slightly changes his name and buys a farm.+
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