It’s that time again, Turkey Day! Cooking a Thanksgiving feast gives me so much joy. Nothing beats turkey leftovers. Over the years I’ve learned some tricks I’m happy to pass on; I know it can be stressful cooking for large gatherings. For me, there’s a certain nostalgia about cooking a stuffed turkey. I have fond memories of waking up early and helping my mom and dad prepare the turkey for Thanksgiving and sometimes over the Christmas holidays as well. I was usually in charge of chopping parsley and grating cheese for the stuffing. I looked forward to being part of the prep even though back then my part was small. I loved seeing my parents work as a team. My responsibilities have grown since then, and every year I prepare a four course Thanksgiving feast. I know my dad would be proud to see I was following in his footsteps. Now we have Elowyn, and it’s our turn to make sure she has a stress-free association with Thanksgiving cooking! I hope that one day she too feels like a pro in the kitchen excitedly preparing to host friends and family.
Hint the First
Dry-brine your bird! Nothing beats a dry-brined turkey. It’s juicer, it’s more tender, don’t doubt science and give dry-brining a try. I promise you won’t regret it! I included a dry-brine recipe and step by step instructions in a previous post.
Hint the Second
Give your turkey a good fatty rub before putting it in the oven. I use garlic or maple butter depending on the flavour profile I’m going for each year. Get right under the skin and massage the butter into the meat. Don’t forget to coat the skin as well!
Hint the Third
Add some liquid into your pan. A dry-brined turkey will result in saltier drippings than usual so adding some liquid to balance it out is a good idea. I use a combination of 1 cup of chicken stock and 1 cup of apple cider. This makes for a tasty gravy when the turkey is ready!
Hint the Fourth
Make an epic stuffing. This will ensure your bird infuses with delicious flavours. I make two versions of my stuffing each year, one traditional version with chicken livers and a vegetarian version for those who aren’t fans of liver. Personally I highly recommend the chicken liver version; it’s delightful but to each their own. I have included both recipes in my previous post.
Hint the Fifth
Cover that bird! When it’s stuffed and ready to go in the preheated oven make sure it’s covered either with aluminum foil or the lid of your turkey roasting pan. This will ensure it creates a nice steam bath while it’s cooking (to lock in moisture) and will keep the skin from drying out and burning.
Hint the Sixth
Don’t guess with the temperature. Use a meat thermometer to make sure you cook the turkey to the optimal internal temperature specifications. The center of the stuffing, the breast meat and the thigh meat should all reach a minimum temperature of 165ºF. Remember juices should always run clear! Cooking times for stuffed turkey can vary for a variety of reasons that’s why it’s more accurate to use a meat thermometer. The following guide gives you a rough idea though:
Stuffed Turkey Guidelines
8 to 12 pounds…………….3 to 3-1/2 hours
12 to 14 pounds……………3-1/2 to 4 hours
14 to 18 pounds……………4 to 4-1/4 hours
18 to 20 pounds……………4-1/4 to 4-3/4 hours
20 to 24 pounds……………4-3/4 to 5-1/4 hours
Too bad the above guide is of no use to me. My turkey is off the charts this year weighing in at 32 pounds, four pounds heavier than Elowyn! I expect it to take anywhere between 6-8 hours to cook depending on how much stuffing I cram in there.
Hint the Seventh
Slow and steady wins the cooking a stuffed turkey race. Lower temperatures are your friend. I cook my stuffed turkey at 400 for the first 30 minutes and then bring the temperature down to 350 for the remaining hours. I would go even lower to 325 if I trusted my oven, but it’s not the strongest so I go with 350 (which is likely closer to 330).
Hint the Eighth
Baste your bird! After the first two thirds of cooking time we baste our bird every 30 minutes ensuring it stays moist and that the skin doesn’t burn. The exception is for the last 30 minutes when we cook it uncovered and without basting to allow the skin to brown nicely.
Hint the Ninth
Be patient. Let your turkey sit for at least 20 minutes before carving. This allows for the redistribution and re-absorption of juices before the meat is sliced. If you want your meat to be as moist and flavourful as it I can be I urge you not to skip this crucial step!
Hint the Tenth
Don’t forget gravy and cranberry sauce! For the gravy I use one can of turkey gravy and mix it with 1 cup of turkey drippings over low-heat on the stove top for a few minutes. Another option is adding 1 tsp of corn starch per cup of turkey drippings and heating it up the same way. For the cranberry sauce my Mulled Wine Cranberry Sauce version is a little different than what you may have had in the past but my guests rave about it!
Have fun with it! Over the years I’ve tried many variations. I’ve made bacon criss-crosses along the top of the turkey. I’ve gone heavier on the maple in the maple butter rub mentioned in hint two. We had a Cajun turkey one year with a spicier dry-rub. Make it your own! And if you have kids, I encourage you to try involving them in the turkey prep. It always made the holiday extra special for me that my parents included me.
PS Happy Thanksgiving!!!