5 Clever Hacks for Cooking a Better Turkey
Consider these tweaks when roasting your bird this Thanksgiving.
In many ways, roasting a turkey isn’t much more complicated than setting your oven and putting in your bird. It’s a simple process, one that leaves ample time for you to attend to other things: sides, desserts, family. What you want, whatever your favorite football team or mashed potato recipe, is a juicy, flavorful turkey. Here are a few minimally taxing tricks that will help you attain just that.
Good cooking begins before the kitchen. This year, think about upgrading the turkey you buy. At the very least, stay away from the frozen aisle. There are big-ticket proteins that can taste great out of the freezer, like flash-frozen fish. Poultry, however, seems to always be better fresh. But not all fresh turkeys are created (or raised) equal. If you can, try to find a bird from a smaller farm or ranch. The massive, industrial turkeys that tip the scales at 20-plus pounds don’t pack as much flavor. Also, you don’t have to get your turkey weeks before the big day. If you buy yours a few days before, it’ll be fresher.
When cooking many things at once, you’re going to want to free up brain space. One of the best ways to do that come Thanksgiving is to entrust your measurement of turkey doneness to technology. If you don’t own a meat thermometer, it’s a great investment. And “investment” is misleading, because you can find a meat thermometer for $10. Once your turkey has been cooking some time and you begin to suspect it’s within 20 minutes of doneness, take that turkey pan out and deploy the thermometer. When it registers 165 degrees, take your turkey from the oven and proceed to the next tip. (Note, too, that legs may reach 165 before the thicker parts. If this is the case, slice off the legs and cover them early—if you don’t plan to present a whole roasted bird!)
The most effortless way to compound turkey flavor is to wrap your turkey once it’s out of the oven. Tent aluminum foil over your turkey, making sure it is fully covered, so that no steam can escape. And then: just wait. Set the table. Pour a drink. Wait 20 to 30 minutes. Under the foil, the juices that would leak out your turkey if cut too soon are now setting in the bird. They are locking in and turning to flavor. As with grilled steak, a proper rest builds surprising flavor. If you’re worried about your turkey getting cold, don’t. A weighty, foil-covered turkey will stay warm for a long time.
Depending on how you serve turkey, this tip could come in handy. (If you carve directly from the turkey to people’s plates, skip this one.)
So at last, it’s time to carve slices from your finished turkey and arrange them on a platter. But before you do, spoon a very shallow pool of turkey drippings from the roasting pan to the platter. These drippings will keep your turkey—a lean meat prone to drying out—nice and juicy as it sits on the table.
This isn’t a suggestion to ditch your classic gravy recipe. There’s nothing quite like a thick, hot dressing made from the bird’s flavorful drippings on a chilly holiday. But it is well worth considering other sauces for your turkey in addition to gravy. Sauces herbaceous and bright with acid can lift what can feel like a heavy meal, especially when you heap seconds onto your plate. A ramekin or two of gremolata or chimichurri can go a long way, and vanish fast. These sauces are built to highlight and freshen meat, and doubly so if you’re looking for something to slather on a steaming dark meat piece with crispy skin.