If you've ever wondered why there is a holiday feast centered around turkey: a dry tasteless meal, this article is for you.
Turkey CAN be fantastic, but we all know that it usually is terrible...
Don't give up! With the right preparation, you can have a feast fit for the pilgrims.
The first thing you can do to ensure a great meal is to splurge a slower growth genetics. Heritage breeds are best, but even getting the slower growing females often discarded by the factories is a big help.
Turkeys which cost less per pound than a can of cranberries are probably not the best choice -- unless you want cranberries to be the best part of the meal.
The fact of the matter is that fast growth factory style birds are designed to be cheap and simply can't compete in flavor or animal welfare.
Most (if not all?) of those turkey's you see for sale in the natural food stores are raised in regular old factories - they put a few birds out on pasture for a nice photo opportunity, but take the time to ask if they are raising hundreds of thousands in a completely conventional system and you might be surprised.
We've tried all different types of preparation strategies to get a moist white meat and fantastic dark. Having a heritage turkey really gives you a buffer here -- better results even roasting traditionally.
However, to enjoy the best of what any turkey has to offer, the dark meat and white meat should be cooked separately.
Cooking the dark meat ahead of time also reduces the amount of work on the big day.
Separating the dark meat from the white is fairly easy. Here are the basic steps:
Here is a video of me cutting the dark meat off of our turkey. This is a one-shot video so forgive the non-polished nature of it!
Follow the steps for our Smoked/Sous Vide chicken. I added Herbs de Provence as well as the salt (after smoking). In total, you want about 1tsp of salt per pound of turkey.
After the meat has Sous Vide at 165 - 170 for 10-12 hours, you can put it into the freezer, or keep in a fridge for a few days.
To serve, bring the meat back up to 140+ degrees in a water bath, then grill, broil or pan fry to crisp up the skin just before serving.
Include your wings as 'dark meat' and cook with this recipe unless you really want them on your white meat roast.
Smoking our turkey dark meat quarters...
Here is another quick and rough video. This time showing how to get by without a vacuum sealer or sous vide machine. Remember to add your salt, herbs, liquid smoke or other seasonings before sealing the bag.
This is also our recommendations for if you decide to roast a whole turkey.
Ideally, you'll brine the white meat (or the entire turkey if you roast the whole bird).
Combine the following into a large pot or bag big enough to fully submerge your turkey:
Keep the turkey covered in the brine and refrigerated for 1-3 days.
Roast the turkey at around 350 until the breast gets to 160-165 degrees. Be sure you have a good thermometer like this one. If you are using an analog one, it isn't good enough. If you are cooking a whole bird, try to get the thighs up to 180 degrees. Consider flipping to cook the thighs on top part way through.
If the skin starts to burn a bit on the wings or breast, cover with foil.
Plan on 2 hours for a whole large turkey (~14lbs). A smaller bird or just the breast roast might be as little as 35-45 minutes. Plan on much longer if you stuffed the bird.
Remove and cover the turkey with foil, a large bowl or by placing into an unused microwave, allow it to rest for 15 minutes before carving.
If you cooked your dark meat ahead of time, you then should be able to also sous vide your white meat. We like to stuff the white meat with stuffing and then smoke along with the dark quarters...then stored in the refrigerator until the big day. From there, the stuffing and white meat roast is cooked Sous Vide on Thanksgiving. I'd recommend 145 degrees for at least 2 hours at temp (so for a larger roast with stuffing, that might mean 3-4 hours total as a minimum.)
For a bit more of a traditional texture, you can bump that up to 150 or so degrees. If you want a really unique texture try a lower temp like 135. Just be sure to add an extra hour or two if you go that low. Technically you can even go down to 131 degrees if you cook it for much longer (do your own research please)
Making a good gravy is really the key to Thanksgiving. My dad is the expert, and I always try to have him make it for us.
Here is the best version I've been able to document. There is a gluten-free option as well.
The best stuffing recipe ever.... Check it out:
What do you think? I'm guessing there are a LOT of amazing tips that have been passed down over the years. It would be great if you would share your thoughts in the comment section below - no need to register or sign in, just click on the "Add a Comment" button and share with the rest of us!