How to Cook a Turkey

Cooking tips to ensure a moist turkey this holiday season, whether you choose a roast turkey, deep-fried turkey, or smoked turkey.

| Fall 2017

It seems as though everyone has their own favorite way to cook a turkey. Just ask anyone – or browse the internet – and you'll get a zillion different answers. The differences are generally either a matter of taste preference or because that's how the cook was taught by Mom or Grandma. 

Some people suggest cooking the bird in the oven, others say a roaster oven is best, and some recommend a smoker or fryer. Many folks use a roasting bag to ensure juiciness, while others implore the old-fashioned method of simply placing the bird, breast side up, in a roasting pan.

When it comes to brining, some people swear it's the only way to go, while other folks would never dream of brining a perfectly delicious bird. Brining is simply the process of soaking meat in a mixture of salt and either water or broth. This method makes the turkey juicy and tender, and gives it flavor. In addition to the salt and liquid, many cooks add herbs, such as parsley, chives, sage, rosemary, and thyme, to the brine, and oftentimes they'll throw in some onion wedges and celery stalks as well. Some people even add a few orange or apple slices to provide a little sweetness to the turkey.

Brining is definitely a matter of taste preference, since some of the salt soaks into the turkey meat. Some people find brined turkey too salty, while others think turkey that wasn't brined doesn't have much flavor. It should be noted that for anyone with high blood pressure or who is on a low-sodium diet, brining should be avoided. Even if you choose not to brine, there are still plenty of things you can do to produce a juicy, tender, flavorful turkey.

Keys to Tender, Juicy Turkey

The most important things to remember, no matter how you cook your turkey, is to give it plenty of liquid, lots of seasoning, and to cook it to the precise internal temperature.

Since moisture evaporates from the meat as the turkey cooks, I always soak the bird – whether in a brine, or in a marinade made of water or broth, herbs, and vegetables (no salt) – for several hours before cooking it, which allows the meat to absorb some of the liquid and seasonings. That way, when you cook the turkey, there's more moisture in the meat, so although some of the moisture will evaporate, a good portion of it will remain.

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