"How to Cook a Turkey" by an Xpert: Part 1: The Turkey
These are the instructions my father sent me for my first time making a Thanksgiving bird. I was away at graduate school, too far away and too poor to get home and decided to hold a pot-luck thanksgiving with my fellow holiday orphans. Thing was, I didn't know the first thing about making the stars of the show: turkey, stuffing, and gravy. So, my father went out a couple weeks before Thanksgiving and bought and cooked a bird so he could write how he did it, step-by-step. He entitled the five handwritten pages "'How to Cook a Turkey' by an Xpert."
The instructions are given as three recipes, one for the turkey, one for the dressing, and one for the gravy. The length of these instructions seems daunting but it you are a newbie, this recipe will allow you to make this iconic meal without fear.
[I've added some information he left out in square brackets.]
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- cooking tools a newbie might not have yet are included in this list
- 1. a turkey big enough to serve your guests
- 2. 3 to 4 feet of butcher's twine (plain cotton string)
- 3. trussing pins (about 4
- 4. a meat thermometer
- 5. a turkey baster (much easier than using a spoon)
1"We usually buy a turkey big enough to have some leftover. Sizing is a problem. Talk to the butcher. Figure about 3/4-1 pound per person."
2[Added info by Heidi: if you are buying a frozen bird, move it to the fridge to thaw as early as Monday night or Tuesday morning so you won't have a frozen bird to deal with on Thursday.]
3"After the turkey is thawed (if frozen) remove from plastic bag & wash thoroughly, inside and out. There may be a strong metal wire holding the legs together. I remove that and throw it away." [Also remove the packet of giblets and neck and set aside. Instructions for using these are in the gravy recipe.]
4"I don't salt the inside cavities of the fowl." [I always took this to mean that he thought others might.]
5"Pack some stuffing in the neck cavity. Fold the neck skin over the stuffing & the turkey's back. Stick a pin through the neck skin and the back skin - crosswise on the bird - like you would pin a name tag on a person with a common pin. Take a short piece of string & wrap 2-3 times around the pin to hold it in place." [Instructions for preparing the stuffing are in the stuffing recipe.]
6"Set the turkey propped up in the corner of the sink with the body cavity up. Then with your free hand spoon in stuffing." [Don't pack the stuffing too densely. And don't worry if you have two free hands at this point. I always have.]
7"Any extra stuffing can be heated in a casserole - basted with some of the drippings for flavor."
8"Set the turkey on his back on the counter with the body opening toward you. Place 3-4 pins across the opening through the flesh on both sides. Take some string and lace him up, starting at the top. At the bottom, tie the string around the 'pope's nose' if it hadn't been removed by the butcher." [The pope's nose is the last part over the fence.]
9"Take another piece of string and tie the legs and the pope's nose together in a bunch. Take another piece and tie the wings in close to the body - the ends will all dry out if you don't. If the legs stick out too far, tie them in, too. Probably not necessary."
10Place turkey on a rack in a roasting pan. Pour a little melted margarine over the turkey - unless you buy a self-basting turkey - probably more expensive."
11"Sprinkle with salt & pepper. Put in a 325F oven & cook a good 4-5 hours. Use a meat thermometer to be sure." [You can usually trust the pop-up buttons that come on some turkeys. To be sure, poke a meat thermometer into the thickest part of a thigh, not hitting the bone, and let the turkey come to a temperature safe for poultry.]
12"I usually start it with a foil tent draped over it to keep it from browning too much & remove the foil the last hour."
13"Baste it with pan drippings every once in awhile when you think of it." [About every 30 minutes.]
14"If you don't have enough juice in the pan to baste with - steal some of the water you've boiled the necks & giblets in. It's all going to end up in the same place, in the gravy and in your stomach. Good luck - Love - Daddy"