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Thanksgiving turkey tips from a seasoned American


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With Thanksgiving just a week away, now is the perfect time for some turkey-day tips to set your feast - whether it’s with friends or family - apart from the rest.

It goes without saying that the centrepiece of every Thanksgiving meal is the turkey. Unfortunately, the culture of the holiday revolves more around the turkeys being both readily available in North America and large enough to feed a larger group of people, rather than the bird tasting particularly good.

It’s been long accepted that turkey will be tough, dry, and a bit flavourless, but should that really matter when you’re dousing it in gravy and pairing it with a dozen other sides? In short, yes, it absolutely should.

Thanksgiving Turkey

Image credit: Tuchodi, Flickr

There are really two tricks to an outstanding Thanksgiving turkey, with the first being a proper brine. Now, brining is a common term these days but, believe it or not, there are multiple methods to brine a bird, with the vastly more popular one doing little to improve the quality of your turkey.

The most common way to brine a turkey is what’s known as a ‘wet brine’, which is when you submerge your gobbler in a big ole vat (think a cooler, bucket or even garbage pail) with a solution of saltwater and herbs for 24-48 hours. The premise is that your turkey will soak up the contents of the mixture, resulting in a bird that’s up to 30% juicier.

The reality, however, is that your turkey will really only be soaking up the tap water that it’s soaked in (and very little of the herbaciousness), so while your bird is technically more moist, it’s actually a bit diluted and less flavourful. A common complaint after a wet brine is that the bird is juicier but tastes a bit watery.

The trick to a properly brined bird is actually what’s called a ‘dry brine’. Not only is it a more effective method, but it’s actually easier to do. Simply pat your turkey dry, and coat that bad boy (or girl) with a mixture of baking powder and kosher salt (about a 1:3.5 ratio should do the trick). Now set the turkey on a rack in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours (the longer the better) and make sure not to rinse it before cooking.

This method ensures that your turkey won’t lose as much moisture as a non-brined turkey, but also concentrates the flavour a bit. It sounds negligible, but after a lifetime of experience, having a dry-brined turkey on the table is something to be thankful for.

The other, and arguably lesser-known trick for a spectacular turkey, is to spatchcock it (I know, I know...). Spatchcocking means to remove the backbone from your turkey and flatten it out before roasting it. One of the issues with cooking a turkey is that, because the legs are a bit tucked away, they end up cooking significantly slower than the breast, which is exposed directly to the heat. This ensures that by the time the legs are fully cooked, the breast is overdone, resulting in white meat that is anything but succulent.

Spatchcocked TurkeyImage credit: Joyosity, Flickr

By spatchcocking your bird and flattening it out before you roast it, you not only allow it to cook more evenly, but you also allow it to cook faster. Just make sure to have a meat thermometer on hand so you know the right moment to take it out of the oven. Another added bonus is that you can use the removed backbone from the turkey to add some real depth of flavour to your gravy.

Follow these two tips for your Thanksgiving turkey and you’ll not only be serving an objectively better bird this holiday season, but also get a guaranteed chuckle when you tell your friends and family that you've gone and spatchcocked it.

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