Thanksgiving turkey prep primer

BUYING Figure on about 11 / 2 pounds per person, which should provide enough for leftovers.

If dark meat is your thing, go for a heritage turkey. It will have a more balanced ratio of dark meat to white, and a more intense flavor. A tom turkey and a hen turkey taste the same. Toms are bigger.

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DEFROSTING Keep the turkey chilled. Leave it in the original packaging, and place it on a tray in the refrigerator. Allow 24 hours of defrosting for each five pounds of turkey. To brine a partially frozen bird, defrost it in the refrigerator by submerging it in the brine for up to two days before cooking.

You don’t have to defrost a frozen turkey. The USDA says: “It is safe to cook a turkey from the frozen state. The cooking time will take at least 50 percent longer than recommended for a fully thawed turkey. Remember to remove the giblet packages during the cooking time. Remove carefully with tongs or a fork.”

SALTING Done correctly, pre-treating the bird with salt produces a tender, juicy result. Soak the turkey in a light brine (3 to 6 percent salt by weight) in the refrigerator for a day or two. You can also dry-brine the turkey with 11 / 4 teaspoons of salt per pound for about 18 hours. We pitted wet brining against dry brining in a test five years ago, and we preferred the wet method for its more uniform results.

Encasing and roasting a turkey breast in a salted-dough crust yields extremely juicy and evenly seasoned meat, and there’s no rack or pan to clean up. (There’s also no crisp skin to nosh on.)

Don’t brine or salt kosher or self-basting turkeys; they have already been salted.

PREP Stuffing butter or other fat under the skin doesn’t protect the meat from overcooking, but adds fat. So the meat might be dry, it won’t seem like it.

Spatchcocking, or butterflying, a whole turkey exposes all parts of the bird to even heat. Just cut out the backbone and push down on the turkey to flatten it.

ROASTING Covering the breast with aluminum foil during the first part of roasting helps reduce the risk of dry breast meat.

Basting with fat during roasting will speed cooking. Basting with water (or defatted cooking juices) will slow cooking.

The turkey is safe to eat once it has been cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees, measured with a thermometer inserted into the innermost part of the thigh and the thickest part of the breast.

POST-ROAST Let the cooked bird rest for at least 30 minutes or even an hour before carving. That allows the liquid and gelatin in the meat to set, increasing juiciness.

You can inject the bird with juices after roasting to return some of the lost moisture and fat. Much of it will run out again, but enough will remain to make it worthwhile.

QUESTIONS?Every year Butterball’s Turkey Talk-Line advisers handle calls in English and Spanish. The number is 800-Butterball, or 800-288-8372, and they answer weekdays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., weekends from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Thanksgiving Day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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