In cooking, sometimes experience is the best teacher. Christmas always serves as a good reminder because the stakes are high and the main course is big.
The first time I cooked a turkey, I didn’t have a large enough pan. I squeezed the bird into the one that I had, so I ended up with a pale-skinned, under-cooked turkey.
When I transferred the bird onto a tray to finish the cooking process, I had lots of hungry guests armed with forks. That’s a little intimidating for a young cook.
So, I bought a large, disposable pan the next year. This time, I didn’t do a full medical exam of the bird prior to cooking. As I was slicing the meat, I hit paper. I hadn’t retrieved the giblets and neck from the internal cavity.
Turns out, the giblets and neck were fully cooked, and the paper they were wrapped in wouldn’t have posed a safety hazard. If they would have been wrapped in plastic, the melted plastic could pose a safety concern.
I, however, quickly disposed of the turkey innards prior to serving dinner. Idohave my pride.
After cooking many Christmas dinners, I now am fully equipped. I even bought an electric roaster oven that is used almost exclusively at Christmas. All I have to do is preheat the electric oven to 325 F, place the bird on the rack and put on the cover. My regular oven is available to cook everything else.
To ease cleanup, you can use cooking bags in a roaster oven as long as the bag doesn’t touch the sides, bottom or lid. However, you should not use brown paper bags from the grocery store. These bags may emit fumes from the ink or glue in the bag, and they may catch on fire.
Some people have been known to cook a turkey outside on a grill or in a smoker. If you decide to use a covered charcoal grill, be sure the bird weighs less than seven to eight kg (16 lbs.). Do not stuff the bird because cooking the stuffed bird to 74 C (165 F) will take longer than what is considered safe.
If you decide to use a covered gas grill with a single burner, be sure to place a pan of water under the grate to create indirect heat. Then place the turkey in a roasting pan on top of the grill.
One of the more novel ways to prepare turkey is to deep-fry it in a large cooker outdoors. The bird should weigh no more than five to six kg (12 lbs.) and be sure that you use the appropriate amount of oil and take safety precautions to prevent anyone from being burned by the hot oil.
Heat the oil to the proper temperature of 177 C (350 F) to minimize the amount of oil absorbed by the bird. Only completely thawed, unstuffed turkeys are safe to deep-fry.
What if you forgot to thaw the bird and you have a houseful of company arriving in a few hours? You could go out to dinner, but you do have a couple of other options. You can thaw a frozen turkey under cold water at a temperature of 21 C (70 F) or lower. You also can cook an unstuffed turkey from the frozen state as long as you cook it in a conventional oven. Cooking a frozen bird will take 50 per cent longer than a thawed bird. Prepare some appetizers to keep your guests happy while they wait!
– Julie Garden-Robinson, PhD, L.R.D., is a North Dakota
State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.