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Pam's 10 Tips for a Tasty Turkey

Updated: Jan 9, 2022

Liven and Flavor-up your Thanksgiving

By: Pam Smith, RDN

As you may know, Thanksgiving turkey preparation has not changed much in the last 100 years… so if you are destined for a turkey that tastes like it came from this picture, it’s time to liven up (and flavor-up!) your Thanksgiving meal and change your Turkey destiny! Here are Pam’s “10 Tips for a Tasty Turkey” to get you started…

Tasty Turkey Tips:

1. It Starts with the Bird

I recommend finding a fresh unbasted turkey for superior flavor and texture. A pre-basted bird is usually injected with a mixture of broth, vegetable oil, and seasonings. Reading the label will help you tell if the turkey has been pre-basted or not.

2. Thawing a Frozen Turkey

If you do use frozen turkey, be sure you leave enough time and room to thaw it in your refrigerator. It will take your turkey about 24 hours for every 5 pounds to thaw – that’s at least 2 ½ days for a 12-pounder. If you start to cut it close on time, submerge the frozen turkey in cold water in the sink, and change the water frequently. This method of thawing your turkey will take about 30 minutes per pound.

3. Making Your List

While shopping for your holiday meal grocery list, be sure to include extra items to use for garnishing the turkey platter. Creating a show stopper platter for that beautifully cooked turkey is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

A few of my favorites garnishes for my turkey platter are:

  • Fresh herbs

  • Curly endive

  • Orange slices

  • Carrots with tops

  • Flowering kale

  • Cherry tomatoes

  • Fresh cranberries

  • Celery leaves

  • Small bunches of grapes

  • Baked acorn squash rings

  • A sprinkle of spice

4. Let's Get Started

To prepare the turkey for roasting, remove it from its plastic bag. Now it is time to remove and set aside the neck and giblets (the heart, liver, and gizzard). You can use the neck, heart, and gizzard for delicious Homemade Turkey Stock. If you are not planning on making Turkey Stock right away, freeze the neck and giblets to be cooked at a later date.

Now it is brine time! Brining is a time-tested method that helps to ensure a moist and flavorful turkey. For more information on brining and turkey stock, you can check out my article “Homemade Turkey Stock and Brining Directions.”

5. Prep Time

Once brined, or if you’re taking it straight from the packaging, rinse the turkey thoroughly with cold water; pat dry with paper towels. Then it’s time to begin preparing the turkey for the roasting rack. If a metal clip secures the drumsticks, you won’t have to tie them with cotton kitchen twine. Otherwise, using cotton kitchen twine you can easily tie a knot around the ankles of the turkey to hold them in place.

6. Roasting Rack Essentials

A roasting rack is essential to keep the turkey from sticking to the bottom of the pan. A relatively deep (2 to 3 inches) roasting pan is also important so you can make gravy without splashing over the edge. I would not recommend using a disposable aluminum pan to roast your turkey. These pans do not allow for optimal gravy as well as being so high-sided that they inhibit browning of the turkey skin. Plus, they are flimsy and can be dangerous if overloaded with a heavy, hot turkey.

7. Before the Roast

Before roasting, place a thin layer of celery leaves and thin slices of onion between the skin and breast meat of the turkey. This will add a rich flavor to the meat, and absorb much of the fat from the turkey skin.

8. Foil is Your Friend

Cover the breast with foil during most of the roasting to protect lean meat from drying out. The aluminum foil should be wrapped (not tented) around the entire breast. This traps steam that rises during cooking and forces it back into the breast meat. Remove the foil for the last hour or so of cooking to allow the skin to brown.

9. Many Thermometers Can Check for Doneness

The disposable pop-up thermometer that comes in most packaged turkeys typically works, but basting can prevent it from popping up. Perhaps the best option is a remote display thermometer with a probe to insert in the turkey. This type of meat thermometer can alert you when the bird is done. Because the monitor display sits on the counter, you do not have to stay tied to the oven to open the door to check the turkey’s progress.

10. Put those Leftovers to Work

Use your leftover turkey to make turkey vegetable soup or turkey chili instead of turkey sandwiches. You will save calories and will squeeze in those extra servings of healthy veggies. My “Day-After-Thanksgiving Turkey Soup” recipe will create a lighter feast the day after “Turkey Day.”

May your turkey be tasty and your Thanksgiving full of gratitude that lasts all year long!

FUN WELLNESS FACT There’s a reason Thanksgiving is called “Turkey Day.” Ninety-five percent of us will eat turkey on Thanksgiving, and I often wonder why I do not cook a whole turkey more often than once a year! Most of the turkeys sold in the United States are of a variety that has been bred to produce about 70 percent white meat, with 30 percent dark meat. White meat has less fat and fewer calories (4 ounces has 175 calories and about 4 grams fat) than the same portion of dark meat (which has 210 calories and 8 grams fat). The dark meat may have more calories, but it also contains twice the iron and zinc as white meat – and it’s certainly tasty! Both nutrients tend to be low in our diets, so this year, eat a slice of each. If you like gnawing on the turkey leg, skin and all, 4 ounces will give you 250 calories and 11 grams fat. Regardless of whether you are a white meat or dark meat fan, choose a fresh turkey. Not only will it contain less sodium, but you don’t have to hassle with defrosting it.

Click here to check out more of Pam’s THANKSGIVING TIPS & RECIPES!

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