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Thanksgiving Turkey help!


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Initial post: Nov 17, 2008 4:35:30 AM PST
Nanciejeanne says:
I only make a whole turkey on Thanksgiving, so I am not that experienced with it. I do defrost and handle correctly (like bleach the surfaces it touched) but mine is never great. It is good, but not as juicy as I would like. We get a free Butterball each year (usually 18-20 lbs) so suggestions such as "get free range" or "get a fresh one" or "brine it", won't really work in my situation.

The last few years, I have switched to using cooking bags which have seemed to improve it (and the cleanup) but the legs seem to always overcook before the rest is done. Should I tie/truss it? (I usually don't). I don't stuff the cavities with stuffing, only halved lemon and celery. Is 10 minutes per pound correct?

I do have a thermometer, but it doesn't seem to read a consistent temp. It is one that you put in and the little "reader" sits on the counter. But sometimes it will register as done, but you can smell that it isn't. Then the temp will drop. Is this just some liquid stuck on the probe or something?

So any help you can give me to make a better frozen Turkey (and keep the legs from drying out) would be great!

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 17, 2008 6:11:59 AM PST
Via B. says:
I apologize in advance for likely not being very helpful.

My every experience with Butterball has been terrible. I think that, in general, that brand just makes for a crappy turkey. The only good turkeys I've ever made have been very high-quality (expensive, but well worth it!) Every half-hour, I go in and brush the whole of the turkey (what I can reach without turning it over, that is) with olive oil. Other than that, I don't do much except sprinkle dill on the top of the skin; I don't know if the dill makes a difference, but it's how I've always done it, and I'm not willing to risk stopping. My turkeys are always juicy and tasty. It's actually the only meat I eat, now (which is another reason I go for higher quality/free-range, but that's a different subject :).

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 17, 2008 7:32:32 AM PST
K. Bird says:
Hi Nanciejeanne,
Here's how I do it. Roast it on a rack in an uncovered roasting pan at 325F for about 15 min. per pound; it will be faster in a convection oven. Reserve the neck to for the gravy. Before you put it into the oven, remove and reserve the wingtips, rub it all over inside and out with butter and season it with salt, pepper, and paprika. Then cover it with cheesecloth to keep it moist. Melt 1/2 c butter and add 1/2 c olive oil for basting. Baste every 30 minutes throughout the cooking time. You can baste right over the cheesecloth. The Butterballs usually have those little pop-up buttons to tell you when it's done, but you can also tell it's done when the meat starts to pull away from ends of the leg bones.

Delicious Gravy: While your turkey is roasting, place the wingtips and neck in a pot with 4-1/2 C water, 1 large onion, 2-3 carrots, and 2-3 ribs of celery. Simmer this until the turkey comes out of the oven. Strain it off and use the broth as a base for the gravy. Collect all the browned bits and 1/2 C of the turkey drippings into a sauce pan. Stir in 1/2 C flour to make a roux and slowly add the broth until thick and bubbly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Happy Thanksgiving!

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 17, 2008 1:47:14 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 17, 2008 1:47:46 PM PST
NO NO NO! Do not rely on those pop-up buttons! They don't always work!!!

I would recommend getting a new thermometer...

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 17, 2008 5:50:46 PM PST
Nanciejeanne says:
Thanks for the help.
I don't think Butterball has those poppers, Honeysuckle Whites do, though. I wouldn't rely on them. I do not baste since it is in the bag. Does opening the oven that frequently lengthen the cooking time (since your oven has to regain its temp?)

I should indeed get a new thermometer, thanks absolute.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 17, 2008 7:09:58 PM PST
I cook a Butterball every year and it comes out moist and delicious. I cook it in a large roaster oven - not the roaster pan that goes in the oven, but the roaster that is an oven itself. I wash the turkey, remove neck and all giblets, leave the legs trussed with the plastic bands that it comes in and rub the turkey with butter. I place it in the roaster with about 1 inch of water in the bottom of the roaster. Put the lid on the roaster and set at 350. No basting required, because the steam inside the roaster keeps the turkey moist. I use the cooking times in the Butterball instructions as a general guideline, but I can tell it's done when the meat begins to fall off the bones. I usually cut into the breast to be sure. Please note that this will not give you the lovely golden brown turkey to set on the table and look wonderful, but it will be moist and delicious. The meat will be falling off the bone in most places. I always cut it up immediately when done, place in a pan, cover with foil and sit in a low oven. Then I make stuffing in the roaster with the turkey drippings. My mother made turkeys this way for as long as I can remember. I have had turkey cooked many other ways, including fried, but I believe this is the tops when it comes to moist turkeys. If you don't have a roaster oven, I think it would be worth a try to place the turkey in a roaster pan with water, put the lid on and place it in the oven. I hope this has been helpful. Good luck and Happy Thanksgiving!

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 17, 2008 7:39:21 PM PST
L. Siefert says:
You didn't explain why "brine it" isn't a possibility -- I have brined my turkey for the past 5 years and I think it has made all the difference -- I follow the brining recipe from Alton Brown http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/good-eats-roast-turkey-recipe/index.html. I also follow his instructions for searing the turkey in a 500 deg oven for the first 1/2 hour -- this really does seal in the juices and you end up with an awesome turkey. Regarding the thermometer -- make sure it isn't touching bone, that can throw it off.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 17, 2008 9:55:20 PM PST
E. McKechnie says:
I'd donate the Butterball to charity and buy a frozen, pre-cooked Diestel brand turkey. It's a little pricey, but it's already been brined and cooked. You reheat it in the oven in it's plastic wrapper and it's flavorful, moist and gorgeous.

Regarding the thermometer, you can buy digital meat thermometers with a temperature probe you leave in the meat. Set it for the meat you're cooking and it'll beep when it's done. I was introduced to it by Alton Brown, bought one and am not going back!
By the way, AB suggests you not baste. It doesn't make the turkey any better but slows teh cooking down because you're opening the oven door all the time and letting the heat out.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 18, 2008 5:15:26 AM PST
W. Fincher says:
I didn't see that anyone mentioned wrapping the legs in aluminum foil to keep them from drying out. Also, I don't think the brand really matters. The cheapest birds I've bought have been some of the best. Slow cooking, and keeping it covered as much as possible seems to be the most beneficial to me. Just my opinion.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 18, 2008 8:55:09 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 18, 2008 9:00:23 AM PST
Nanciejeanne says:
I didn't think you can brine an already frozen commercial (like Butterball)turkey. Aren't most of them (not fresh) already brined?

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 18, 2008 8:57:22 AM PST
Nanciejeanne says:
That is like the one I have, E McKechnie, it is made by Polder. I know you can't get the probe wet inside, and I have a feeling I may have done this since it doesn't work correctly. Maybe I inadvertently touched a bone. I may have to check it in boiling water or something. Is there a way to check them?

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 18, 2008 9:07:39 AM PST
I buy the cheapest frozen turkey I can find. Generally, 18 - 20 lbs. I do not stuff my bird. I simply rinse it out with salt water, re-tie the legs back up, rub as much of the turkey with butter as I can while its in my roasting pan, through a tin foil tent over top (do not tighten the tin foil) and put it in the oven on 350 for about 2 1/2 hours. Then I pull it out, remove the tin foil, rub on more butter, then back in the oven to finish cooking. A 18 to 20 lb bird should be done in about 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours. When my bird is done, I pull it out of the oven, cover it well with tin foil (tighten it down) and let it sit for at least 1/2 hour. I've cooked my birds this way for over 20 years and have never had a bad one. Good luck!

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 18, 2008 5:38:20 PM PST
L. Chu says:
I just hate turkey. But I love food. Last year I finally figured out a way to make a turkey that I could eat. I've blogged it here: http://chusonchow.com/?p=241 I would be very interested in learning what others think of this method, should anyone try it. If you don't have Spanish smoked paprika, you probably have just enough time to order it before you need it.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 18, 2008 9:04:13 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 18, 2008 9:07:50 PM PST
Hear & Now says:
Brine, baby, brine.

Brine that bird. Hot and moist. Get a big bucket. 2 cups salt, 1 cup sugar. Dissolve in 2 gallons water. Throw in some spices - rosemary, sage, peppercorns, whatever. Submerge the bird...add some water to ensure coverage. Put in fridge. Let set overnight. Wow. Best bird you'll ever make.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 19, 2008 1:04:53 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 19, 2008 1:34:49 PM PST
K. McWhorter says:
PERFECT TURKEY
This has been a charmer for me for years.
First - at the grocery store, when they say "paper or plastic" - say paper because you need the bag.

Preheat oven to 450 - as hot as you can get it.

Butter bag inside with butter. You can use oleo or lard, but butter tastes better.

Put bag in roasting pan and place defrosted turkey in bag. Fold the opening of the bag closed. If you use a themometer - which I recommend - pierce it through the bag into the turkey. Do not use a baking rack in the pan - the turkey should sit on the bottom of the pan.

Put turkey in oven and lower temp to 325. IMPORTANT step - do not skip.

Slow roast until themometer is 180 or more.

The turkey is self basting - drippings are soaked into the bag and drip back onto the turkey. For some reason, the paper sack bastes the turkey but plastic cooking bags don't work as well.

The high heat seals in the juices - so the turkey is moist (one year we went out to a movie and it cooked extra long - it was so moist, we couldn't carve it - it literally fell apart!). The low heat keeps it from drying out - the bag bastes it. Because it's slow roasting, end time can be extended a bit if needed.

Because of the juices, the turkey is golden brown.

I've had no problem with the paper sack in the oven - just be sure it doesn't touch the heating elements.

Use a paper sack that just fits the turkey - too small and the bag might stick to the turkey (although that rarely happens) and too large and all the juices soak up in the bag with nothing left to drip on the bag.

I've used this method for about 20 years and it always works.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 19, 2008 1:31:06 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 19, 2008 1:31:38 PM PST
Fresh or frozen, if the label says it is has been 'enhanced', then you should not brine...don't brine kosher birds, either

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 19, 2008 7:42:21 PM PST
Take a close look at your Butterball "gift coupon". The one I get is actually a check and you can use it to buy anything. It's made to look like a coupon so the grocery clerks may take some persuading, but it really is a check and you can use it to buy whatever you like.
Most people complain that the breast of a turkey dry out before the legs are done. If you have the reverse situation you may be able to cash in with your current recipe. My secret is to buy as small a turkey as you can. Anything under 13 pounds is about right. The smaller birds are usually hens and they have a better meat to bone ratio. Also I cook my birds on the bottom rack. The top of an over is usually hotter. If the breast is close to the top of the oven it will receive the reflected heat from the top of the oven and cook even faster. I use loose a foil tent for the first 2/3rds of the cooking time. Don't wrap it tight our you will have a steamed turkey. Good luck.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 20, 2008 8:57:11 PM PST
SandyCB says:
I've cooked turkeys for 20+ years, and I've enjoyed every one of them. The key is to cover the bird with foil until about the last 30 minutes, at which point you remove it and let the skin turn a lovely brown. You can use butter or oil on the turkey or my mother's method, which was to drape slices of bacon over the breast. The bacon continuously bastes it. The result is a delicious bird, but not a classically beautiful one if you are trying to impress, as the browning won't be even underneath the bacon (which is crunchy and absolutely delicious and worth fighting over). I've had great success with frozen birds, including the cheap no-name grocery store brands. I usually cook mine at 325 or 350 degrees and use an instant read thermometer to test for doneness. Start checking at least 1/2 hour before the earliest time on the chart printed on the turkey wrapping, and let the turkey rest before you slice it -- you will get a juicier bird.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 21, 2008 12:34:59 AM PST
Trust Me says:
You don't brine a Butterball because they are already injected with a brine solution and "butter." My family likes the Butterballs. Brining is great for many meats, especially pork because it is not so lean.

One of these days I'm going to get a plain turkey and brine it, just to see how it comes out. Who knows, I might convert! I always am too timid to do it for Thanksgiving because it is the big meal of the year!

The trick with the thermometers are to make sure they are positioned correctly. If you don't trust the reading, move it to another spot.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 21, 2008 7:10:34 AM PST
Nanciejeanne says:
Thomas, I never thought about the reflected heat from the top of the oven! Never. I know that if something is too close to the sides it happens, but I never thought about the top. I do not usually move things to the bottom because I thought it would be too hot there, but I think you are right. THANKS! I do think much of my problem is that the legs are just jutting out there and getting cooked too quickly. I need to tie them. Either I will move it down or flip it upside down (I have never done that!)

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 21, 2008 8:10:33 AM PST
Thomas is correct about the heat in the oven reflecting off the top of the oven. It comes up the sides from the vents along the bottom edges, up the side walls, and meet at the top center, then down. Now we know how the heat travels, apply the turkey to that heat. The backbone, thighs, and wing joints are the hardest to cook. Ready, turn your bird over, so the hardest parts to cook are in the path of the heat. The highest amount of fat is in the dark meat, and under the skin of the back bone. Since it's on top, the heat releases the fat and it self bastes. You'll need a rack in the pan with enough water to keep the juices from burning. Replace your thermometer. Breast should be 180. Rest for 30 min. One other thing. It's easier to remove the wish bone before cooking. this makes it a snap to carve. Get as close to the breast bone, slice down, and follow the ribs. The breast half will come off in one piece, slice against the grain.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 21, 2008 9:34:57 AM PST
V. Schreiner says:
Carol Ann: about how long does it take for a 25 lb. turkey to roast in an electric roaster? I'm using it for the first time this year and i'm a little nervous! Val G.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 21, 2008 1:56:27 PM PST
Nanciejeanne says:
I never have used one, but there are electric roaster directions on the internet. The times seem to be similar to conventional ovens. It is about 13-15 minutes per pound. Some seemed a little older with the former USDA 180 degree designation. It has been 165 for a couple of years. Here are temperature and timing charts from USDA
http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Lets_Talk_Turkey/index.asp

You may want to look around for browning tips on the internet because it appears that the roaster is different.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 22, 2008 1:32:08 PM PST
Last year I cooked a 20 lb. turkey in the electric roaster in about 3 1/2 hours. My advice would be to shoot for that time, then check on it. Don't be nervous. It will be wonderful!

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 22, 2008 10:08:24 PM PST
Kim G. says:
I have cooked only Butterball turkeys in the oven for the past 12 years until last year when my husband bought me an electric roaster oven. BEST investment ever!!!! My very first turkey that I ever cooked was 36lbs. That was a lot of turkey. Now I cook anywhere from 20-22lb turkeys. I always always always use the cheap pop-up timers. I put one in the breast and one in one of the legs. I wash my bird in the sink then cover it with salt, pepper, lots of butter, and paprika. Then I put about a cup of water, a can of chicken broth and a beer (usually MGD) in the bottom of the pan. You can not taste the beer at all after it is cooked. I baste my turkey every 1/2 hour and it's done in about 4 to 4 1/2 hours. Nice and juicy every time. I stuff my turkey with stuffing though too. I cook it at 325 degrees the entire time. When the poppers pop and the skin pulls away from the legs, it's done. I always tie my legs too on my bird to keep them away from the sides of the cooker and from burning.

I hope I helped. Good luck and Happy Thanksgiving!!!!
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