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Planning, preparation key to fret-free holiday dinner

By Sherrel Jones Modified: November 5, 2009 at 2:20 pm •  Published: November 4, 2009
It is time to order, buy or at least make plans for acquiring the Thanksgiving turkey. Should you pay the extra bucks for a butter-injected, organic or natural bird? What size is best for your needs? To brine or not to brine is another question. Planning and preparation are key to a happy Thanksgiving for the cook.

Turkey trauma: This stress can make you want to order a baked bird and all the trimmings for carryout or call for reservations. Wait. Thanksgiving is all about hearth and home and family coming together. It is not about fretting over the turkey. Don’t be intimidated by those perfect turkeys pictured on the covers of November magazines.

Buy ahead: Focus on planning the meal and getting the best bird for your budget. A frozen bird on sale a day before Thanksgiving can be stressful. Buy ahead when the selection is best. Pick frozen turkeys with uniform shape. An irregular shape could indicate the bird was not treated well during processing. Worse, it could be the result of a partial thaw at some point.

Thawing: Proper thawing, slowly in the refrigerator, is best; allow three or four days, depending on the size of the turkey. Thawing in a sink or ice chest submerged in cool water works overnight. Last-minute turkey shoppers should try to get a fresh turkey (check the dates) or buy turkey breasts or smaller sizes. Find out now when your grocer or butcher is taking orders for fresh turkeys, to get the size you need. Rushing the thaw and roasting a partially thawed turkey could leave you with a rare bird.

Brining: I have been delighted with the results of brining my turkey for several years now. More recently, I had the experience of roasting a brined turkey that was dry and salty. What happened? The bird had been prebrined in the processing.

Cooking the bird: Review recipes and roasting techniques to have each step of preparation clearly in mind. Some of my most succulent turkeys came from a brown-in bag; follow the directions closely to avoid steam burns.


Turkey time


Where to find fresh or organic turkey
>Akins Health Food Stores, four locations in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, is taking orders for frozen organic and free-range birds from 10 to 28 pounds. Akins will store turkeys for customers who do not have freezer space at home. www.akins.com

>Crescent Market, 848-0060, is taking orders for fresh birds.

>Downings Family Farm, Grove, offers fresh, free-range birds. Call (918) 314-2328. View virtual farm tour online at www.downingfamilyfarm.com.

>Bill Kamp's Meat Market, 843-2455, is taking orders for fresh, free-range birds.

>La Boucherie, 840-3047, is taking orders for fresh, free-range birds.

>Whole Foods Market, Tulsa, (918) 712-7555, is taking orders for fresh, free-range birds.

How to thaw a frozen turkey
>In the refrigerator: Leave turkey in wrapper with breast side up and place in a pan to catch any leaks during thawing in the refrigerator. Estimate about one day of thawing time for each 4 pounds of turkey.

>In cold water: Thaw breast-side down, in wrapper, submerged completely in cold water. Make sure water remains cold adding ice if needed. Estimate at least 30 minutes per pound to thaw a whole turkey.

Thawing times: in refrigerator; in water >10 to 12 pounds: 2 days; 4 to 6 hours.
>12 to 14 pounds: 3 days; 6 to 9 hours.
>14 to 18 pounds: 4 days; 9 to 14 hours.
>18 pounds and over: 4 to 5 days; 14 to 24 hours.

Brine mixture
Turkey should be thawed or fresh for proper brining. Prebasted or injected turkeys may not require brining. The muscle fibers may have already absorbed a sufficient amount of salt to be moist and succulent. Check ingredient list on turkey packaging for salt, saline or broth solution.

1 gallon to 1 cup salt
1 gallon to 1 cup sugar
1 to 2 gallons cool water

Mix salt and sugar with half of the water until dissolved. Place in clean ice chest, heavy duty food safe plastic bag or bucket large enough to submerge turkey. Pour brine mixture into container. Trim excess fat from cavity opening and around neck of turkey. Place turkey into brine adding enough remaining water to cover turkey. It may be necessary to weigh turkey down to keep it submerged. Place lid on ice chest. Allow turkey to remain in brine overnight or 6 to 8 hours. Do not add additional salt to brined turkey.

>Cook's notes: Be sure to clean ice chest after brining with bleach solution and rinse well. You may also use apple juice in lieu of water if you'd like to reduce the amount of salt and sugar that is used.

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