Jarret Hughes has held numerous cooking positions at cafes, diners, and family restaurants.
He takes a "keep it simple" attitude toward cooking, preferring olive oil to truffle oil.
Jarret strives to inform readers about the history of various foods while offering professional
advice regarding food purchase and preparation.
"Please pass the gravy." This was the most common request at grandma's house every
Thanksgiving. I'm not quite sure how grandma used to cook her turkey, but legend
has it that she would start roasting it at 3:00 AM on Thanksgiving Day. That would
have been fine, if dinner was served at 7:00 AM. Instead, dinner was at 1:00 PM and
grandma left the oven on "warm" all morning. The turkey was drier than cotton candy.
Every year at the dinner table, grandma would say, "The turkey came out a little dry
this year." Everyone just smiled and asked for more gravy.
With a little knowledge and preparation, your roast turkey will be fantastic. Nobody
will even notice if the gravy is missing from your low-carb dinner table!
Selecting a turkey
Unless you can order a fresh turkey from your butcher, you should buy a frozen bird.
Some people think they can go to the grocery store two days before Thanksgiving and
pick up a large, fresh turkey. Usually, they are disappointed to find that all of the
decent fresh turkeys have been sold. These fresh-seekers are stuck buying frozen
turkeys with very little time left to thaw them.
There is practically no difference in taste between fresh and frozen turkeys. I've
had wonderful tasting fresh turkeys and I've had horrible tasting fresh turkeys. The
same can be said for frozen birds. Therefore, save yourself the aggravation of hunting
down a fresh gobbler and buy frozen.
The only complication with buying a frozen turkey is that you have to thaw it prior to
cooking. As long as you keep in mind that it takes several days to thaw a turkey, you
won't have any problems.
Turkeys should be thawed in the refrigerator. A good rule of thumb is one day of thawing
time in the refrigerator for every 4 pounds of turkey. That means a 20-pound turkey will
take approximately 5 days to thaw in the refrigerator.
Turkeys can also be thawed using the cold water technique, but this is an incredible pain
in the rear. This method entails submerging the turkey in cold water for several hours until
the turkey is thawed. The water must be kept very cold and, thus, must be replaced with fresh
water every 30 minutes to help prevent bacteria growth. A 20-pound turkey will take at least
10 hours to thaw using the cold water method. Never thaw a turkey on the kitchen counter!
It makes no difference whether you buy a hen (female) or tom (male) turkey. The amount of meat
and the proportions of white to dark meat are the same for both sexes. The only difference is
that toms have the potential to grow much larger than hens. It is rare to find a hen over
Cooking the turkey
There are several cooking methods for turkeys: roasting, deep-frying, smoking, and grilling.
Since roasting continues to be the most popular, I'm only going to focus on this cooking
One of the advantages to roasting a turkey is that it makes the house smell good! Many people
only roast turkeys once or twice a year, which makes the smell that much more special. It's
this smell that signals the beginning of the holiday season, by invading our nostrils and
filling us with a sense that all is right with the world.
The major disadvantage of roasting is that it takes up a lot of oven space. And if three
casserole dishes are waiting for the turkey to come out of the oven so they can go in, the
entire timing of the meal can be thrown off. So, plan carefully!
Even though it requires a little extra work, I would suggest that you brine your turkey prior
to roasting it. The brining process makes turkey moister by increasing the amount of liquid
inside the meat cells. To make a turkey brine, mix one gallon of water with ½ cup of table
salt in a large pot, or clean five-gallon bucket. The pot/bucket needs to be large enough to
hold both the brine and the turkey. Also, make sure you have enough space in your refrigerator
for the container! Place your cleaned turkey into the brine so that the entire bird it submerged.
You will probably need to make more brine, depending on the size of your turkey. At this point,
you can add other spices to the brine or keep it as just water and salt. Garlic, onion, and herbs
(thyme is a good one) can add some zip to the turkey. Personally, I don't like to add many spices,
but feel free to add anything you desire. Soak your turkey in the brine for 6 to 10 hours in the
refrigerator, turning once to ensure even brine distribution. When it is time to roast the turkey,
simply take it out of the brine and rinse it off with cold water. Be sure to rinse all of the
brine off before patting the turkey dry. Do not reuse the brine.
If you don't want to fuss with the brining process (or just don't have room in your refrigerator),
you can still roast a great turkey! Whether you use the brine or not, follow these simple steps:
- Preheat your oven to 325° F.
- Clean your turkey thoroughly under cold water. Don't forget to take the packet(s) containing
the neck, gizzards, etc. out of the turkey's body cavity before cooking!
- Grease your turkey evenly with oil (canola works well) or clarified butter. This will
help give your turkey a nice brown color. You can use regular butter, but be aware that the
outside of your turkey may have freckles where the milk solids collected.
- Stuff your turkey, but not with stuffing! I don't endorse putting stuffing in turkey.
Stuffing a turkey will increase the cooking time and it will also increase the probability of
getting sick from undercooked stuffing. And you don't need another thing to worry about on
Thanksgiving! If you want to make stuffing, I would suggest baking it in a separate pan. If you
feel a need to shove something up your turkey's body cavity, stuff it with aromatics for extra
flavor-thyme, onions, garlic, etc.
- Position your turkey on the rack of a shallow roasting pan. Make sure the sides of the
pan are not too high, because high sides will hinder the turkey's ability to brown evenly.
- Cook your turkey breast side down for the first hour. Flip your turkey around and cook
breast side up for the remaining time. Brush the turkey with oil or butter every 30 minutes and
rotate the pan to ensure even cooking.
- The following table gives general guidelines for cooking your bird. Notice how much
longer the cooking time is if you stuff the turkey! Also, don't trust those pop-up timers that
come with the turkey - they are often inaccurate. Instead, use your own meat thermometer (either
dial or instant read) to determine when the turkey is done. Insert the thermometer into the thigh
at least a couple of inches, but without touching the bone. When the temperature reads 180° F,
your turkey is done. You should leave your turkey in longer if you like it dry (like grandma's
turkey). Otherwise, 180° F in the thigh is the golden rule. Let your turkey rest for 15-20 minutes
before carving it.
If your turkey doesn't come out perfectly, don't let it ruin your Thanksgiving. I'll guarantee that
it will still be better than grandma's turkey. And we can all be thankful for that!
Copyright © November 2003 Jarret Hughes and Low Carb Luxury
Title photo Copyright © 2003 Neil Beaty and Low Carb Luxury