Thanksgiving turkey tips: Cooking the juiciest, tastiest turkey ever

Cooking turkey
A sage roasted turkey in Concord, N.H. This turkey recipe uses minced fresh sage to softened butter, which then is rubbed both under and over the bird’s skin.AP

When it’s time to talk turkey, few people have as much to say as Rick Rodgers. The author of the cookbook “Thanksgiving 101” (plus dozens more) and former spokesperson for one of the country’s biggest poultry companies, he’s cooked more than 500 gobblers in his long career. Read on for his tried-and-true tips for roasting an unforgettable turkey.

Related: How to dry-brine a turkey and why you should do it this Thanksgiving

ping for turkey

1. Rodgers has strong feelings about what kind of turkey to buy: “One word: fresh,” he says. “Defrosting a frozen turkey is a pain in the neck. It takes a full 24 hours to defrost every five pounds. I don’t have enough room in my refrigerator to defrost a turkey for five days.”

2. Beyond buying fresh, Rodgers says there’s no need to splurge on anything fancy—unless you’ve got a specific reason for doing so, like religious dietary laws. “Keep in mind who you’re cooking for,” he says. “Will they appreciate the heritage bird you spent twice as much to buy?”

How to stuff your turkey safely

3. Rodgers takes a somewhat controversial view of stuffing, deemed for years a food safety no-no: “I have never not stuffed a turkey in my life,” he says. “It’s perfectly safe to stuff a turkey—the USDA has changed their stance.” Sure enough, the government agency no longer advises against stuffing the bird.

4. To stuff your bird safely, don’t combine wet and dry ingredients until just before you spoon it in, and be sure to stuff loosely—around 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound of turkey. And keep a meat thermometer handy, since you’ll need to make sure the stuffing reaches 165°F during cooking.

Cooking turkey

5. Just as your choice of turkey matters, so does your choice of roasting pan. Rodgers says to go heavy, which won’t buckle under the weight of the bird, and dark, which will absorb the heat of the oven and make richer drippings for gravy.

6. If you’re not stuffing the turkey, Rodgers suggests filling the cavity to flavor the meat. Before roasting, roughly chop and insert an onion, a carrot, a rib or two of celery, and a granny smith apple, plus sprigs of fresh parsley. (You’ll remove and toss all of it before serving.) On the outside, rub softened butter mixed with dried thyme, sage, marjoram, rosemary, and celery seed.

7. To ensure moist white meat and completely cooked dark meat, Rodgers offers his favorite piece of advice: Cover the breast tightly with foil—don’t just tent it—to slow the cooking in that area. “I call it a foil brassiere,” he says. Remove that brassiere for the last hour of cooking, to let the skin brown nicely. “Baste it a couple times to bring the dark pan juices over the breast, like you’re painting the breast.”

8. In keeping with his colorful, anatomical descriptions, Rodgers says, “I tell people to put the thermometer at the panty line of the turkey—where his little butt is meeting the top of the hip joint, that’s the meatiest part.” When the thermometer reads 165°F, the turkey is cooked.

Serving turkey

9. Just because the thermometer says the turkey’s cooked, that doesn’t mean it’s ready. Let the turkey stand for 30-45 minutes before carving. “The longer the turkey stands out, the juicier it’s going to be, and the more time you have to heat up your side dishes,” Rodgers says. A large bird should stay hot for an hour or more.

10. Once the turkey’s carved, spoon a little bit of turkey stock over the meat just before serving. “It makes the juiciest turkey you’ll ever eat,” says Rodgers.

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