Talking Turkey: Your Thanksgiving Guide

Turkey is top of mind for us right now. Here are some guidelines to consider when buying a turkey, getting it thawed in time, brining it for flavor and juiciness, roasting it to perfection, then taking advantage of those leftovers!

11/15/2017

The countdown is on! One more week until the big Thanksgiving feast, and turkey is top of mind for us. Here are a few things to consider when buying and thawing it, brining it for flavor and juiciness and roasting it to perfection. Plus, we have a few flavor enhancing tips and troubleshooting ideas for dealing with the unexpected on the big day.

Buying 

Plan on 1½ lbs. of turkey per person – this will give you plenty for dinner and ample leftovers for soup or sandwiches. For more leftovers (casseroles! Stir-fry!), plan on 2 lbs. per person.

Troubleshooting: Roast a turkey breast separately from the holiday bird and use it to supplement the whole turkey, or for coveted leftovers. This means you don’t have to buy a huge bird, which will be easier to manage in the oven and won’t take as long to cook.

Thawing 

One of the most overlooked details of preparing Thanksgiving dinner is allowing plenty of time to thaw the turkey. For every 4 lbs. of frozen turkey, figure on 1 day of thawing in the refrigerator. For example, a 12-lb. bird will need at least 3 days.

To thaw, place the frozen turkey, in its wrapper, on a rimmed, paper towel-lined baking sheet. Store it on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator – this will help prevent drippings from cross-contaminating any foods stored on shelves beneath the bird.

Troubleshooting: If time is of the essence or if the turkey hasn’t thawed completely in the refrigerator, quick-thaw the bird by placing it, wrapped and breast-side down, in a sink or cooler full of cold water. Figure on 30 min. per lb. with this method – a 12-lb. bird will thaw in about 6 hrs. Change the water every 30 min. to ensure that the turkey stays cool. Once thawed, the turkey will keep for 1 to 2 days in the refrigerator. Again, keep it in its plastic wrap on a rimmed baking sheet on the lower shelves to prevent cross-contamination.

Brining

One way to ensure a juicy, flavorful turkey is to brine it – that is, soak it in a solution before roasting. Use Swanson® Chicken broth as the brining solution: it provides a good balance of flavors and makes a perfectly seasoned, moist turkey.

To brine, simply place the turkey in a large resealable freezer bag or brining bag (find them at kitchenware stores and some grocery stores) and add enough broth to submerge. Brine the bird in the fridge for at least 2 and up to 12 hrs. Remove the turkey from the brine (discard remaining brine), pat dry with paper towels and season the bird (don’t forget inside the cavity!) with salt and pepper.

Tip: Add additional flavor layers to the brine with sprigs of fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme or sage, crushed cloves of garlic or whole spices such as allspice or juniper berries.

Roasting

Roasting is an easy process but arguably the one that causes a fair amount of distress for cooks. Not to worry! Here are some tips for roasting your turkey to perfection.

We always roast our turkey in a heavy-duty roasting pan, preferably with a removable rack set inside to keep the turkey elevated. This allows air to circulate underneath the bird for even cooking.

Troubleshooting: Don’t have a rack? Create one using vegetables (carrots, celery and onions) and set the turkey on top. This adds great flavor to the drippings you use to make gravy later. Simply remove the vegetables from the pan after roasting and make gravy right in the roasting pan on top of the stove.

Cooking the Thanksgiving stuffing inside the cavity of the bird is your choice – drippings from the turkey give it delicious flavor. But for food safety it’s important to make sure the stuffing reaches an internal temperature of 165°F. Don’t pack the stuffing into the cavity or it could take so long to come to temperature that the turkey overcooks. Use an instant-read thermometer to gauge the stuffing’s temperature as well as the temperature of the turkey in both the breast and the thigh. Make sure the turkey reaches 165°F. as well.

Troubleshooting: If the stuffing is too moist after removing it from the roasted turkey, spread it in a baking dish and broil it until it gets crispy on top.

So what about basting? Here’s the thing: it doesn’t make the bird any juicier – the skin is too thick for the basting liquid to penetrate. But basting can help create a beautiful brown skin. That said, opening and closing the oven several times during roasting causes temperature fluctuations inside and can cause uneven roasting. If the turkey seems to be browning too quickly, tent it loosely with a sheet of foil.

Carving

Once the turkey (and stuffing, if applicable) reaches 165°F. remove it from the oven and let rest for at least 30 min. before carving. This rest period is critical – it allows juices to redistribute in the meat, resulting in juicier turkey.

Put any finishing touches on dishes while the bird rests and leave carving for the very last step.

Intimidated by the carving process? We got you covered. Here’s a breakdown of the 5 simple steps we follow to get our turkey onto the platter.

Troubleshooting: If the turkey meat seems dry, simple drizzle it with gravy after arranging on the platter.

Leftovers

Let’s face it: the best part of Thanksgiving is that sandwich or bowl of soup the next day! Slice or chop the turkey (depending on how you’d like to use it) and store in 1-cup measurements in plastic storage containers or resealable plastic freezer bags. Label and date, then refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 1 month.

Stuffing, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes can be stored in plastic containers or bags too.

Tip: When reheating leftovers, drizzle them with a few tablespoons of Swanson Chicken broth to enhance their moisture and flavor.

From turkey to stuffing and everything in between, Swanson will make your holiday memorably delicious. Happy Thanksgiving from our kitchen to yours!

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