Chasing Perfect Thanksgiving Turkeys

November 9, 2019Kitchen Tips

‘Tis the season for pictures of “perfect” roast turkeys populating social media feeds, magazines and ads. They’re the stuff of Norman Rockwellian dreams — presenting a perfectly cooked bird to ooohs and aaahs at the holiday table.

Truth is, virtually all of these holiday turkeys are a pretty – and inedible — fiction. Most are cooked just long enough for the skin to tighten around the meat (which is pretty much still raw). Then the skin is burnished to a perfectly even golden brown with Kitchen Bouquet and a blow torch, and maybe a dash of paprika. As a finishing touch, it’s sprayed or brushed with oil so looks deliciously moist. And those are just the basics.

Don’t get me wrong – I have huge admiration for the food stylists who create these dream turkeys. These stylists are skilled artists, and food is their medium. Their job is to fulfill their client’s vision. And that often means creating the Platonic ideal of a dish, whether it’s the perfect Thanksgiving turkey, the ideal burger or making meat loaf look great.

(Sometimes their job is to create something decidedly imperfect, as the food stylist did for the infamous Mexican lasagna on the Neflix series Dead to Me.)

Does this mean you shouldn’t go ahead with a roast turkey in hopes of delicious feast? Of course not! But don’t fret that you’ve done something “wrong” when your bird doesn’t look this perfect (especially important if you’re a newbie turkey roaster).

Need a signature sipper for the holidays? Make this easy Cranberry Rose Cocktail.

If you’re not married to the idea of presenting a perfect whole roasted turkey, there are some alternatives that can make your life easier:

  • Spatchcock (butterfly) the bird so it lays flat. This helps ensure it cooks evenly (no more dried-out turkey breast) and quicker – in the oven or on the grill. Here’s how to spatchcock poultry (it’s easy and you’ll feel like a kitchen ninja!): 

  • Break the turkey down into parts. This is a great tip Chef Ben Ford shared with me years ago. You can put the dark meat pieces in one pan, white meat in another, and cook each to perfect doneness. Ask the butcher to break down the bird for you, or follow these instructions.
  • Focus on the parts you *really* like. If your crew prefers white meat, pick up 2-3 turkey breast halves. Everyone prefers dark meat? Load up on leg quarters.

Try this Simple Dry-Brined Turkey with Sage>>

The point is, a whole roasted bird isn’t the only option. And don’t let visions of perfection get in the way of your enjoyment. Happy Holidays!


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