Keeping an eye on the bird

Happy holidays! Soon, those ubiquitous words will descend upon us in the form of advertisements, greeting cards, personal salutations, billboards, and numerous television, radio, and internet spots. Soon, that particular greeting will ring in the ears of many Americans as they prepare for Dec. 25. For some, however, it is the beginning of the holiday season which brings questions, decisions, and a seemingly infinite list of preparations for the other big day: Thanksgiving!

For many of us, the unbridled passion for turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, yams, etc. is a holiday all its own, the culinary equivalent of Christmas morning. Yet, for those who have ever been presented with the monumental task of preparing a feast of such magnitude Thanksgiving Day can also bring with it challenges and situations that require a considerable amount of thought and planning. Newcomers may even feel slightly intimidated at the thought of wrestling with that ol’ bird, the Thanksgiving turkey.

The first thing to do is to know how many people there are to feed. To determine the size of the bird you need, Copper Still chef Tom Sadler employs a mathematical approach.

“I typically go for half a pound to a pound per person. No less than 8 oz. per person. I can eat a lot of turkey,” he laughed.

Once you have the right size turkey to accommodate your guests, you’ll need to decide on a fresh or frozen turkey.

“If you go with a frozen turkey, you’ll want to make sure that you give it three to four days to completely thaw. Don’t try to cook a frozen turkey,” said Jack Cordelia, head chef at Famous Dave’s Barbecue in Noblesville. “Preparing to cook it, you may want to brine it first, that is soak it in a salt solution the night before you cook it. That will help lock in the flavor.”

Seasoning the brine will provide a more flavorful turkey.

“First, you should season it with whatever seasonings you enjoy, and then wrap the entire turkey in a plastic bag,” said Sadler. “Next, submerge the wrapped turkey in ice water and let it soak for at least 24 hours. That will allow time for the turkey to soak up all of the seasonings.”

Sadler said the temperature of the water should be at 35 degrees or less.

“After that, there will be no need to do basting of any sort,” he said.

As for cooking the turkey, Cordelia recommends that you have a cooking thermometer to gauge the readiness of the turkey.

“You want to make sure that you cook it through to the innermost part at 180 degrees,” he said. “When it’s done you’ll want to let it set for 20-30 minutes before carving. If you carve too soon, the juices will run everywhere and that will dry out the turkey.”

Finally, Cordelia offers this as possibly the most valuable piece of advice for maximizing the enjoyment of your Thanksgiving Day – “Plan ahead!”

“Get as much done as you can on the day before Thanksgiving. That way you’re not spending all day in the kitchen,” he said.

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