There’s good news on the turkey cooking front and it goes to the heart of the matter about overcooking which is the main reason most turkey is dry and tasteless. Last year the feds announced that turkey was actually safely cooked at an internal temperature of 160 degrees instead of the 185 that they have preached forever, this really does make a difference.
Besides correct temperature I find there are several other factors involved, all simple to follow and easy to taste. First fresh vs. frozen. I’ve always preferred fresh but you can only get them close to the holidays and they are more expensive. I recently read a review of fresh vs. frozen and getting past the part about suspended ice crystals they claim that a Butterball brand frozen turkey is un-discernable from a fresh bird; maybe so but I still use fresh.
Besides all of the regular handling do’s and don’ts my other major advice is to not stuff the turkey – it affects the cooking time ,very important, and is a messy step to avoid. What I want you to do depending on the size of the bird, is rough cut an onion, a carrot or two and some celery. Have someone hold the bird on end so you can pour a little olive oil, some salt and pepper, sage/poultry seasoning, maybe a couple of Tbls. of butter and the cut up veggies into the cavity, then crumple a piece of tinfoil into a ball that will pretty much stop up the opening. Now you have a little flavor maker working inside the bird.
Since I cook my birds on a Weber grill (www.webergrill.com) I use a heavy duty aluminum half (under 15 lbs. or so) or full pan to roast in and for easy cleanup, a nice metal roaster is fine too but line it with foil for easier cleanup. After I’ve installed my vegs in the turkey I place it in the pan then give the outside the same treatment with the olive oil, some salt and pepper, sage/poultry seasoning. If you are really aggressive you can shove some butter under the turkey skin.
If roasting in the oven preheat to 350 degrees and have two cups of our homemade turkey stock (look for my gravy recipe) ready to pour into the pan once you place it on the oven rack. This moisture will help keep the bird happy and give you great pan juices for your gravy.
I use the outdoor grill for two reasons, I like the flavor it imparts and it frees up the oven for other stuff. I start my charcoal, try to use real stuff, (the product in the red, white and blue bags is pressed saw dust with petroleum products, that’s why they burn so fast) with a charcoal chimney that you can find at any hardware or home store. A couple of sheets of newspaper and you’re in business. My wife just bought me a new Weber mounted in a cart and it has a small propane gas tank to start the charcoal, I’ve got to admit the gas and the chimney get the coals going in about ten minutes, a lot faster that with the newspaper.
Anyway put the bird in the pan and on the grill with indirect heat, coals on the sides. If you want more smoke add wood chips that you’ve soaked for an hour or so but be careful because Uncle Bill and others are not that fond of the really smoked taste. Don’t forget the stock and get your lid on. My grill will go up to about 375 or even 400 in the first few minutes and then fall back to 325-350 and cook away so leave it for at least 90 minutes before adding coals unless you see the temp dropping.
The bird’s going to take anywhere from 2 ½ to 3 ½ hours to cook depending on the weather, your charcoal, the size of the turkey and so forth. When you add coals check the bird’s temp, I use a Taylor (#9842N) instant read thermometer for this purpose but that means taking the lid off more than you want to. Last year I found a wireless remote thermometer (Acurite 869) www.cutleryandmore.com that allows you to put a probe into your meat item, set a finish temp and have a remote receiver tell you when it’s reached the set temperature, it also reads out the actual internal temperature of the meat as it cooks, fairly slick but be gentle with the probe cable, weak link in the process.
When the turkey is done (remember 160 degrees) remove it from the pan to a cookie sheet or another pan, cover with foil and a dish towel and let is rest for an least 30 minutes while you make the gravy. The temperature will go up to 165 or so, still good and the juices will settle nicely back into the meat. Pour the pan juices into a, two cup glass measuring cup and allow them to settle. If there is a lot of good brown bits in the bottom of the pan put it on the stove top over a medium heat and use some white wine or stock to deglaze the pan and add them to the measuring cup if you can. Once they’ve had a chance to settle you can spoon off most of the fat and then proceed to my gravy recipe. Gosh I’m hungry!