Muskegon, Muskegon County's online magazine

Perfect Turkey Every Time (and Gravy and Broth)


Whole turkeys are great for meals throughout the year. Dishes that can be made from leftovers can rival the deliciousness of the bird itself. Yet cooking an entire turkey is terribly inefficient.

Even cooking and less drying out can be accomplished easily with a cut up bird. However, tradition dictates we present the whole tom in all its glory at holidays, even though slicing and serving a whole bird is also more difficult.

Add to this traditional inefficiency the problem of stuffing. Everyone loves stuffing and it tastes best when cooked inside the turkey. But too much stuffing can not be jammed into the bird cavity or it will impede the cooking of the turkey itself. Plus, no matter how big the turkey, the stuffing that fits inside can not possibly feed all the relations there to enjoy it.

Through trial and error throughout the years I have developed the methods below, methods that can be adapted to your own cooking situation. A real benefit to whole bird roasting is the part most people throw away: the carcass can be used to easily make homemade turkey broth.

Buying. Of course, Beattys always buy turkeys on sale. You can get some great buys before Thanksgiving. If you have a freezer that can handle it, stock up on turkey for year 'round dinners. Butterball brand turkeys are pre-brined, if you want to skip the brining step below.

Before thawing, make sure your turkey, roasting pan and rack fit in your oven. You may have to return it for a smaller bird.

Thawing. Do not wait until the last minute to thaw your turkey. It must be thawed completely to cook through.

One day of thawing for every four pounds of turkey, in the refrigerator, is best. If you are short on time, you can put the bird, still wrapped, in cold water in your clean sink. Allow 30 minutes per pound for a whole turkey. Do not thaw a turkey at room temperature, unless you want to invite bacteria to the holidays.

Brining. Cooks used to open the stove to baste turkeys. Trouble is, that lets the heat out of the stove and, for clumsy people like me, can be dangerous. Today, we brine our turkeys to preserve moistness.

Brands like Butterball are pre-brined, that is why they come through so juicy. You can achieve the same results brining your less expensive, store brand turkey.

Bring the following to a boil together in a big stock pot, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

1 gallon vegetable and/or chicken broth

1 cup kosher salt (Doesn't break down as quickly as processed salt)

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 Tbsp. whole black peppercorns

Cool to room temperature, then chill in the fridge.

Remove giblets from the turkey cavity and save in your refrigerator. In a big, clean bucket (I bought a plastic pail I use only for brining. Do not use a used pail. Chemicals from whatever was in it before will contaminate your food.) pour the brine mixture. Put your thawed bird in head first (Or, missing head first, I guess). Fill up with iced water. Seal the lid and refrigerate for six to eight hours.

No one has a 'fridge that will accommodate this bucket, of course. I keep the sealed bucket in my garage overnight. The iced water keeps it cold. All this worry about bacteria makes me consider vegetarianism.

After brining, remove the bird, dry the outside with a clean cloth and discard the brine. (Do not cook with anything that has been in contact with raw meat. Vegetarianism anyone?)

Cooking. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees F.

I cook aromatics in the bird that I later use to make stuffing: onions, carrots, rosemary stalks, sage stalks, apple slices, etc. I can then have in-the-bird flavor in enough stuffing to feed everyone.

Arrange in a big roasting pan, on a rack, breast side up. Tuck the wing tips underneath and the leg ends together. Some cooks tie everything tight with kitchen twine. Rub the bird with vegetable oil (add herbs like thyme, sage, or “poultry seasoning” to the oil, if you want). Salt and pepper.

Form a piece of aluminum foil over the breast, from front to back. Press it down to form it, then lift it off and set aside. This will be used in 30 minutes.

Place the roasting pan in the middle of your oven. Roast the bird at 500 degrees for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, remove pan and carefully place your aluminum foil tent over the breast (Don't burn yourself). Put the bird back in the oven and turn the oven down to 350 degrees.

Cook for 10 minutes a pound. Remember to include the 30 minutes at 500 degrees in your total. Don't trust a timer, they can screw up during important occasions. I tape a piece of paper above the oven with the time written on it.

While the turkey is roasting, brown the rinsed giblets in a little oil in a medium saucepan. Fill with water and boil for about an hour. This will provide you with a tasty broth to use with some store-bought chicken broth for the gravy. Chop up the meat part of the giblets fine to use in the stuffing.

When time is up, remove turkey from oven. Use a meat thermometer to be sure the internal temperature reaches 161 degrees. Move the turkey to a cutting board and cover with a clean cloth to keep the heat in. Now you make your gravy and stuffing.

Stuffing. Quality store-bought stuffing mixes, when you're going through this much trouble to cook the bird, are no sin. Cook according to package directions, substituting chicken broth for water. Remove your aromatics from inside the bird, discard any herb stalks, and chop small to put in the stuffing. Careful, these will be hot. Also add your cooked, chopped up giblets from above.

Gravy. You start this in the turkey pan with the drippings and move everything to a large saucepan to thicken. Be very careful, most everything is hot.

3 cups giblet broth from above and chicken broth

2/3 cup red wine (Never cook with a wine you wouldn't drink)

plus 1/3 cup red wine

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 Tbsp. fresh herbs, like oregano, thyme or rosemary

Salt and pepper

Leave the drippings from the turkey in the pan and place the roasting pan over medium heat. Add the broth and 2/3 cup wine and whisk to combine, scraping the bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes to reduce slightly.

Tip the pan, removing fat from the top with a spoon and placing a few tablespoons worth of fat into a large saucepan (Everything will transfer to this large saucepan soon). Heat the liquid to return to bubbly.

Mix cold the flour and 1/3 cup red wine in a container you can shake to combine, like a jar or plastic container with a lid. Shaking smooth will help eliminate lumps in your gravy.

Turn the heat to medium under the large saucepan. Add the flour mixture to the large saucepan. Cook, whisking continuously, until the mixture starts to thicken and become smooth. If you don't cook the flour first, your gravy will taste flour-y.

Turn the heat under the large saucepan to high. Add the bubbly liquid from the roasting pan to this saucepan a little at a time and whisk to combine, to avoid lumps. (It is OK to not use all the drippings from the turkey pan if they don't fit. Save it to boil into the turkey broth, below.)

Your gravy should be slightly thin in the pan because it will thicken once you serve it. Whisk in the herbs. Season with salt and pepper.

Turkey Broth. Once everything is eaten and everyone is fat and happy, you probably don't want to think about cooking. No worries, turkey broth couldn't be simpler. After you strip your turkey of meat for leftovers, put the carcass, bones and all, into a stock pot, pour in water, and boil for an hour or two. Strain off the solids and you have an excellent broth for cooking or to use as-is for soup. It keeps in the refrigerator for one to two weeks, or you can freeze portions of it in tightly-sealed freezer bags.

Once you are comfortable with the steps involved you will want to develop your own methods. Cooking an entire bird at once is the silliest way to cook it, but we're stuck with tradition and, with practice, can roast moist, flavorful turkey year ’round for friends and family.

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