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How To Cook the Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey
For many years now, I have been the Chef when it comes to cooking the Perfect Turkey for our Thanksgiving Feast. I can't tell you when or who I learned it from; I can say it wasn't from my mother. She could make the turkey so dry it took several glasses of sweet tea to re-hydrate your mouth after a bite or two. Not mine!
First things first: get a fresh turkey in the 20 pound range. No frozen bird souped up with all the preservatives and additives will ever taste as good as a fresh turkey. Remove the innards, and set aside should you desire a gravy using these parts later. My wife does, and this is her department. She is the Great Gravy Maker! And, the leftovers from a large bird like this make great meals in other ways: turkey and dumplings, bbq turkey sandwiches, along with the normal turkey sandwiches.
Use a paper towel and pat dry the exterior of the turkey. Use a small amount of your favorite cooking oil: mine is a light canola oil, and I rub it into the bird all over. Give it a good all-over coating, and set into the pan. This will allow the breast to achieve a beautiful Golden Brown color to the bird when finished.
Preheat the oven to your desired cooking temperature. I usually set it at 325 degrees F. While it is preheating, I prepare the bird.
Use your favorite seasonings on the turkey. Personally, I like to use Sage, a little Garlic Salt, Lemon Pepper, and a touch of Celery Salt.
Once the oven is prepared and heated, place the bird onto the lowest rack setting you can. This will allow the lower portions of the turkey to cook thoroughly, while not overcooking the upper portions.
Leave the turkey uncovered and cook for about 2 hours 45 minutes to 3 hours for a 20 pound, un-stuffed turkey. By this time, the bird should be golden brown. Now create a tent of aluminum foil and place it over the turkey. Do not pull it tight around the bird, allow it to be loose, and acting as a covering. This will allow the bird to cease browning, and finish cooking internally.
Roughly one more hour should see the turkey finished, and have an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Measure in the joints of the wing and legs, as these are usually the last parts done. Remove the bird from the oven and set on a open counter (I know, you are crowded for space!), and allow it to finish cooking for another 30 minutes or so.
When you are ready to serve the turkey, carve the breast by first cutting parallel to the ground, into the lower portion of the breast. Then, direct your cut perpendicular to this, slicing downward towards the floor intersecting the first cut. This should maintain the juices in the slices, and keep them moist. Make sure your knife is very sharp, as a dull knife will pull and tear your slices, thereby allowing the juices to escape, and not giving you that presentation you are looking for on the plates.
That's it! Your turkey should be perfect: brown, beautiful, and above all juicy! Enjoy!