5 Ways to Make a Better Turkey

Basic
Basic
Photo by Tim Sackton

Well, it's that time of the year again. The Weekly newsroom is working in overdrive so we don't fall too far behind taking time off, I'm churning out holiday-themed articles, and we're all planning not to drive on Wednesday -- It's Thanksgiving.

Nothing about the holiday really changes much year to year. Nothing's ever going to supplant turkey as protein number one (much to my chagrin), but there is one change Clam clan this year: I'm finally going to be making my family's turkey. So, for myself, and for those of you who're taking a crack at the bird for the first time or for the 40th, here's five ways you can make it better than ever before.

5. Avoid Stuffing

Super basic
Super basic
Photo by Jeremy Noble

Nothing's more American than a turkey overflowing with stuffing at the center of a Thanksgiving table setting. Unfortunately, there's not much drier than a safely cooked stuffed turkey either.

It's nearly impossible to make a good stuffed turkey. Why? Well, if you're doing right, you have to make sure you cook the stuffing to a safe temperature -- 160 according to the FDA -- because as the bird cooks, its juices seep into the breading. So, once your meat's done, you have to wait for all of those bread crumbs to come up to temperature too. And you know what? Food doesn't really heat up all that quickly when you surround it in a layer of meat.

So, it's simple. The first step to making a moist turkey is to avoid stuffing it. Shove a lemon and some aromatics in there sure, but leave the dressing on the side instead.

4. Brine, Brine, Brine

Brine that
Brine that
Photo by Brett Spangler

My biggest problem with turkey is the fact that so many people overcook it to the point of teeth-sticking dryness (it's not your fault, turkeys are awkward to cook). What with the different cook rates, uneven heating, and failed trussing, your turkey can go from undone to way dry in the last two minutes of whatever football game your watching.

Want some insurance? A nice way to give yourself some more wiggle room is to brine your turkey -- salt treating your bird so the surface proteins denature and squeeze less liquid.

I could tell you how to do it (I like doing it for chicken too), but I can't do it better than Serious Eat's J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. Check out his instructional over here.   3. Order/Go Out

Okay, this is a little bit of a cheat, but if you really aren't confident doing a turkey, why ruin your dinner? Let someone else make you a turkey instead. I recommend the Clay Oven's tandoori turkey.

For other options, check out Anne Marie's Ten Thanksgiving Meal Options in OC! 2. Spatchcock

That's better
That's better
Photo by Dirt Sailor

Now back to the cooking methods! Spatchcocking is when your remove a bird's backbone and flatten it out so it can cook in one single layer. This reduces cook time, meaning you get more even cooking, a juicier bird, and crispier skin. It's the technique I'm the most excited to try out this year.

For a tutorial, I go back to Kenji!

1. Make a Chicken Instead

Now that's a Thanksgiving
Now that's a Thanksgiving
Photo by @ocweeklyfood or on Facebook! And don't forget to download our free Best Of App here!

You can also follow Charles Lam on Twitter @charlesnlam. He's less sardonic there, we swear.


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