As we roll into the Holiday season, families all over the country are dropping a big blob of bird into their shopping carts and hauling it home for the holiday.
Then they spend the next half hour throwing out all of the year-old salad dressings to make room in the fridge for a thaw that takes longer than a USPS delivery. For many people, the week is spent fretting over which cooking method to attempt this year…
Do you try Aunt Debbie’s suggestion again and risk the smell of burnt flesh filling the house for the big day? Do you try what you saw on Instagram and pour a bottle of champagne and several oranges up its – ? Do you listen to your Ma and just skip the turkey all together?
If you’re looking for the best recipe that comes out juicy and delicious time and time again, you’re in the right place. The Low n’ Slow method is the way to go, and we’ll walk you right through it.
Dealing with a frozen turkey:
Unless you’ve got a great local butcher, you’re probably buying a frozen bird. If you buy your turkey a little late, or didn’t realize your basement fridge was hovering in the upper 30’s, you may end up in the unfortunate situation of having a frozen turkey on cooking day!
If this happens, don’t panic. If you need to thaw quickly, simply put it in the sink and run cool water over it, or toss it in a bucket and change out the water every half hour. You don’t want to use hot water because it can start growing bacteria and contaminate the meat.
The other way to tackle this situation is to use the Low n’ Slow method – simply start your turkey in the oven or the smoker (with just heat, no smoke) at 140-150 Fahrenheit (60-65 C). You don’t want to start it any higher than that because it will begin cooking the outside and dry it out.
If your turkey is fresh, or once it’s properly thawed:
It’s time to spatchcock it.
Spatch-wha, you ask? (I know, I did a double-take the first time, too.) Spatchcocking just means butterflying the bird. It may not be the prettiest, most perfect looking turkey ever made, but oh boy, let me tell you… the result is delectably juicy meat that cooks evenly throughout. It’s so good even Grandma won’t complain about the splayed out bird.
If you get your turkey from the butcher, you can get them to spatchcock it for you. But if you’re using store bought it can be an intimidating task your first time.
I recommend watching a good youtube video on how to spatchcock a turkey, but basically you’re going to cut out the backbone (this is easiest with a good pair of kitchen shears or straight tin snips). Then you’ll flip the bird over and actually break the breast bone so it lays flat. It sounds more complicated than it is, and I promise – it’s worth it.
Pro tip: skip it.
While brining is necessary for cooking a turkey at higher temperatures, you won’t need it if you’ve spatchcocked the bird. If you just don’t trust us, or you’re not going to spatchcock, the salt to water ratio should be between 6-9% salt. Soak for about 12-24 hours depending on the size of the bird. You’ll definitely want to rinse it afterward so it doesn’t come out too salty.
To baste, or not to baste – that is the question:
Aaand the answer is…not to baste.
It does very little to moisten the meat and constantly opening your oven door (or grill/smoker) is terrible for the steady temperature needed to slowly cook your turkey. It will also make it take longer.
If you feel the need to add more moisture (though the Low n’ Slow method will keep it juicy on its own), we recommend injecting. You can find lots of good injection recipes with an average search online.
What about the stuffing?
It’s true, if you spatchcock your turkey you won’t be able to stuff it. But honestly, was all that hassle really worth it? And most nutrition experts dissuade you from stuffing turkeys anyway because the mixture ends up sitting in a microbial hot spot for much of the cooking time.
Instead of stuffing the turkey, try adding the stock or drippings to your recipe. It will still taste wonderful and you can make a lot more of it.
If you haven’t invested in a good drip pan yet, now’s the time. Drip pans help prevent unwanted flare-ups and also work to keep your turkey out of direct heat.
Throw some water in the drip pan with the neck, trimmings, and backbone plus some vegetables and spices. If you want to get wild you can add wine or beer to the pan, but it’s honestly great as is. I’d rather keep the beverages for uh… other purposes. 😉
Getting that golden brown, Insta-worthy bird:
Unfortunately the Low n’ Slow method is not known for producing a nice outer crisp (it’s all about being evenly cooked, remember?)
But an easy fix for this is to throw the turkey in the oven to finish it off under the broiler. At the end of the day though, we’re going for gold on the taste, not the appearance.
Ready for allll the compliments?
With the Low n’ Slow method you’ll cook the bird at the temperature you want it to end at. If you’re looking for the 165 F (74 C) finished turkey, you’ll cook it at 165 F the whole time. This gets the bird to cook evenly and not dry out. And you don’t even need to cover it in foil!
The best way to tell if your turkey is done is a high quality meat thermometer – preferably a remote, always-on thermometer, so you don’t have to go opening the oven constantly (remember this messes with the cooking). But if you’re in a pinch, or you’re dancing in your impatient shoes, you can check this calculator to estimate the cooking time.
If you want the taste of a smoked turkey but don’t have a fancy smoker that keeps its temperature for hours, you can put the turkey in your BBQ and use a smoke box or foil with wood chips. Keep it in there at a low temp for a couple of hours, then move it over to the oven.
Ready for the juiciest, most delicious turkey and gravy of your life? If your cousin Gary comments on the flatness of your turkey, shove a leg in his mouth and he’ll never say another word.
P.S. If you’re smoking a turkey for the first time you’ll notice a pink layer on the meat. We call this a “smoke ring” and it’s nothing to worry about. You did a great job 😉 Now go feed your ducklings!
Happy Holidays from your friends at Mountain Home Stove & Fireplace!