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The Skill: How to Cook Turkey

Besides the Super Bowl, Thanksgiving is the biggest eating holiday in the United States. After all, what’s there not to like about a holiday centered all around food? Nothing. Nothing at all. Just make sure the turkey isn’t dry. Here are some top tips for cooking the perfect bird this holiday.

The Expert: Chef Ed Brennan

Ed Brennan is a self-taught chef who learned the old-school way. He started as a dishwasher in high school and worked his way up, making a career out of cooking. Chef Ed eventually opened his own deli but found that his true passion lies in experimenting with fine dining techniques. What appealed to him was the way food could bridge cultural divides. When a position opened up at Lake Waramaug Country Club, Chef Ed took it to learn the art of high-end cuisine. Like at the beginning of his career, he worked his way up at the country club to become Executive Chef, a position he’s held since 1997.

Chef Ed is inspired by the artistic talent of fellow chefs. This inspiration forces him out of his comfort zone and into trying new things to advance and enhance his own talents.

Let’s Talk Turkey: Chef Ed’s Top Tips

In over 24 years as an Executive Chef, Chef Ed has cooked a few turkeys, especially around Thanksgiving. In other words, this guy knows how to cook turkey. If there’s a food that represents a holiday, it’s turkey at Thanksgiving. However it’s also a food most of us don’t make except on the holidays, and everyone has had that family gathering where the turkey was dry. There’s nothing worse than a dry turkey at Thanksgiving. So here are Chef Ed’s his top tips for getting your Thanksgiving turkey just right.

1. Buy a local, fresh turkey.

The first tip for how to cook turkey is the same no matter what you’re cooking: start with the best ingredients. If you can’t get your hands on one of these, make sure you properly thaw your bird in the fridge (6 days prior to Thanksgiving for a 16-pound turkey).

2. Increase your odds of having a moist turkey by using a wet brine.

A brine is a water-based mixture in which you submerge your turkey to soften the meat and make it moist. Of all the tips for how to cook turkey, this is the most debated. Chef Ed recommends brining, and making the brine a day in advance.

To make the brine, bring the following ingredients to a boil:

  • 2 gallons water
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 tbsp peppercorns
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 4 cloves crushed garlic
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper

Reduce to a simmer and stir until sugar and salt are dissolved. Let cool and store in the fridge overnight. Submerge turkey in brine for 12-24 hours. Take the turkey out of the brine and let it drip dry in a colander. Then, pat your bird dry and leave uncovered in the fridge for an additional 12-24 hours.

3. Flavor the turkey with a mirepoix and herb mixture.

This is one of the fancy tips for how to cook turkey. A mirepoix is a base of diced vegetables, oil and butter to flavor your bird. Coat the turkey generously in olive oil (butter for those indulging), salt and pepper. For the cavity of the bird, mix together rough-cut celery, onion, carrots, peppercorns, sage, rosemary, thyme, and garlic. (Don’t be afraid to adjust flavors to your preference.) You can also use these ingredients to make soup out of your leftover turkey. Remember to remove the gizzards and neck before stuffing.

4. Use a digital probe oven roasting thermometer.

A good estimate for the total time to cook your bird is 13-15 minutes per pound. However, don’t expect to be able to tell when your turkey is done. Of all our tips for how to cook turkey, this is the most important. You don’t want to give family and friends food poisoning with undercooked turkey, and everyone needs a meat thermometer, even the pros.

Put the probe of the thermometer into the thickest part of the breast or leg. Double-check the temperature in a few spots to ensure it is cooked through. Remember that with carryover cooking, your turkey will heat more evenly after it is taken off the heat. Chef Ed recommends maintaining it at a temperature of 155℉ for 4 minutes (or to be extra safe, 165℉ for 10 seconds). Once it hits this temperature, let the turkey rest for 30 minutes prior to eating. This ensures maximum moisture while eliminating the risk of food-borne illness.

5. Use the grill instead of your oven.

Grilling isn’t just for summer. Thanksgiving is the perfect time to grill, as it infuses a subtle smokiness to your bird. You can also use that extra room in the oven to make and keep your sides warm. Chef Ed recommends soaking applewood smoking chips and then draining and placing the chips in the smoking tray under the grill grate on top of the burners.

To cook a turkey on a grill, place the bird an oven rack in a shallow aluminum roasting pan, and set the pan directly on the grill grate. Start with a stable temperature of about 425℉, making sure to give the grill adequate time to heat up. After 45 minutes, reduce heat to maintain the temperature at 325℉.

NYC Thanksgiving Dinner
6. While the bird rests, finish up other sides.

This way everything comes out at once. The art of Thanksgiving dinner, after all, is timing the meal so all the sides and the turkey finish at about the same time. Carve your turkey last so everything is hot and ready to go at dinner time.

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