The Ten Commandments of Turkey

… And A Holiday Casserole Recipe from Chef Walter Husbands
It’s a tradition that families have practiced for more than 400 years, gathering around the dinner table for an annual Thanksgiving feast.

Chef Walter Husbands, offers his expertise when it comes to the traditional Thanksgiving turkey.

Walter Husbands, C.E.C. began his culinary career as a chef at resorts in Las Vegas, Nevada and Scottsdale, Arizona and then as a Director of Food Services and Executive Chef at some of the largest health care systems in the United States. He currently teaches cooking classes at the Chefs Studio located at 3404 N. May Avenue and also at Sue Chef, 13825 N May Avenue.

The Ten Commandments of Turkey

1. Buy a turkey…
Preparing the perfect turkey starts with knowing how to buy one. You will need about one pound of turkey (uncooked) for each person you’ll be serving. If you purchase a frozen turkey remember it will take a few days to thaw in your refrigerator. If you’re having a small gathering, you may want just a turkey breast. For something really special look for a free range or organically raised turkey, they are rarely frozen, so you won’t have to thaw, and have a delicious flavor.

2. Give yourself enough thawing time…
Buy it the weekend before and place wrapped tightly in the bottom of your fridge, if you are going to brine your bird remember to add one more day, it will need to be thawed by Wednesday. Thawing time in the refrigerator (whole turkey):
8 to 12 pounds-1 to 2 days
12 to 16 pounds-2 to 3 days
16 to 20 pounds-3 to 4 days
20 to 24 pounds- 4 to 5 days

3. Ok… so you didn’t give yourself enough thawing time…
Thawing in Cold Water
If it’s the day before you plan to serve your turkey and you just remembered it’s still sitting in the freezer, don’t despair. Check the wrapping to make sure there are no holes, and simply place the bird in its unopened bag in the sink or in a large container and cover with cold water. If the wrapping is torn, place the turkey in another plastic bag, close securely, and then place in water. You will need to change the water frequently to assure safe but effective thawing.
The National Turkey Federation recommends changing water every 30 minutes as a rule of thumb. Thawing time in cold water (whole turkey):
8 to 12 pounds-4 to 6 hours
12 to 16 pounds-6 to 9 hours
16 to 20 pounds-9 to 11 hours
20 to 24 pounds-11 to 12 hours

4. Brining, it’s all the rage…
That’s right this is the trick that will separate yours above all other birds this year, it returns moisture to the white meat and adds flavor, without resorting to rubbing salt and spices on the turkey after cooking. Before brining, remove the giblets, neck, and tail piece and reserve for gravy. To brine overnight, dissolve 2 cups kosher salt in 2 gallons cold water, add one clove of garlic smashed up, two lemons cut into wedges and a bunch of fresh thyme in a large stockpot or clean bucket (whatever you use, it should be 6-8 gallons), submerge the bird in the solution, adding water to assure the whole bird is submerged and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours. Remove from the brine early in the morning and blot dry with a cloth, place in the fridge until ready to roast. Be careful, the drippings from the turkey will be too salty to use as a base for your gravy.

5. How to Roast a Turkey…
Place the turkey on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Do not add water. Before placing the turkey in the oven, you may want to brush it with cooking oil, melted butter or margarine, although this is not necessary. Then cover the turkey with a loose tent of heavy duty aluminum foil. To make a tent, tear off a sheet of foil 5 to 10 inches longer than the turkey. Crease foil crosswise through the center and place over the turkey, crimping loosely onto sides of pan to hold in place. Covering the turkey prevents over browning, allows for maximum heat circulation, keeps the turkey moist, and reduces oven splatter. When using a meat thermometer, insert it through the foil into the thickest part of the thigh muscle without touching the bone. (The inner thigh is the area that heats most slowly.) Roast according to the following chart. To brown the turkey, remove the foil tent 20 to 30 minutes before roasting is finished, and continue cooking until the thermometer registers 175F. Roasting Times (whole turkey):
8 to 12 pounds-2 ¾ to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds-3 to 3 ¾ hours
14 to 18 pounds-3 ¾ to 4 ¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds-4 ¼ to 4 ½ hours

6. Don’t rub the outside or inside cavity with salt or spices…
Herbs will dry out and become flavorless and spices will char in three or more hours at 325 degrees. And worse than that salt will leach the moisture out of your turkey and leave it dry and chalky.

7. Don’t baste it…
The moisture will not penetrate into the meat, and the constant opening and closing of the oven door can cause cooking times to nearly double.

8. Don’t stuff it…
Everybody loves dressing, but you’ll never get more than a couple of cups out of the cavity in a medium turkey and you will have to dramatically over-cook your bird to get the stuffing in the cavity up to 165 degrees. Cook the dressing in a casserole dish and serve it on the side.

9. Let it sit for a while…
Everyone will want to eat right away, but make sure you plan to have a good twenty or thirty minutes between the turkey coming out of the oven and when you are going to carve. This resting period allows the juices in the turkey to distribute evenly throughout the bird making each bite moist and tasty and will stop that splattering when you first cut into it.

10. Let it be…
Don’t…flip it…poke it…smash it with a spatula…jab holes in it with a fork… cut it open to see if it is done… or generally mess around with your turkey it while it is cooking.

Visit for more holiday recipe ideas.

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