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Top turkey questions answered

Certain times of the year, we get asked a bunch of turkey questions. Here are our most frequently asked questions with answers.

Free range and organic turkey would make one think that the turkeys roam all day.  Not necessarily so.
Free range and organic turkey would make one think that the turkeys roam all day. Not necessarily so.
Turkey in all it's glory

1. What is the difference in turkeys?

· Natural: Contains no additives and is minimally processed. The flavor is gamier, with a more "turkey-ish" bite. Brining is a good option here.

· Kosher: Pre-salted by the manufacturer, there is no need to brine.

· Self-Basting: Turkey that has been injected with salt, flavorings plus possible preservatives and additives. Self-basting turkeys come out moist, however can sometimes be rubbery. No need to brine since there is plenty of salt and other flavorings already in the turkey.

· Heritage breed turkey: Smaller breasts, with a strong game flavor, these birds are raised (and often purchased) from small farms. They are most often humanely raised, and are priced at a premium.

· Organic and free range: Organic means your turkey was not fed antibiotics and only an organic feed. Your turkey has had access to the outdoors, to roam around freely, but not all day as one would assume. It could be as little as a minute or two…. These turkey’s come with a premium price tag.

2. What size turkey should I buy?

Figure 1 lb. of uncooked turkey for every guest that eats turkey (think kids and vegetarians), and for a bit more leftovers, 1 1/3 lbs. Go ahead. Use a calculator for that.

3. When should I buy my turkey?

A turkey will last for several weeks after they are processed in a refrigerator. Check the dates on your turkey.

A 12-15 lb. frozen turkey will take 3-4 days in the refrigerator to fully defrost. A good rule of thumb is to purchase 2 weeks before you want to prepare your turkey for a Thanksgiving feast when selection is best and stress is less prominent.

4. Can you cook a frozen turkey that is not defrosted?


5. Do I need to clean my turkey?

It’s a very good idea to rinse your turkey with cold water, inside and out. Do not use a sponge. Do not use soap. Do remove the giblet packet in the cavity of your turkey and save for making gravy or toss if it disgusts you. Remember to clean your sink with steaming water and soap after you clean and remove your turkey!

6. Do I need to brine?

Brining is an important step when preparing a delicious, crisp-skin turkey because it will ultimately aid in sealing in the juices. However, if you skip this step, because it seems like too much to do, or if you purchased a self-basting or kosher turkey, don’t worry about it. Why? Because you've made it!

7. I love crisp skin.

To ensure a golden, crisp skin on your roasted turkey, make sure you start with a perfectly dry turkey (you can then coat with olive oil, butter, etc.). To dry your turkey that you've defrosted or purchased fresh, pat the bird down, inside and out with paper towel and place on cookie sheet, uncovered. Place your turkey back in the refrigerator overnight and let it “air dry” but no more than that or your finished products’ skin will be tough, not necessarily crisp and crackly, like you want.

8. What temperature should I cook my turkey at?

You might choose cooking your turkey in a 325’ preheated oven, for 20 minutes per pound, however, there are many recipes out there such as those that cook the bird slow and low, those that roast at high heat, those that smoke the bird and the list goes on and on. Consult your favorite cookbook, and internet food sites for ideas.

9. When do I know the turkey is fully cooked?

Undercooked turkey is the worst! The only sure way is to use a thermometer. You can pick one up (look for Taylor brand) at your grocery store for under $10. It is worth it. Do not rely on the “pop-up” thermometer, use only as an "indicator". It is NOT accurate. To test the temperature, insert the thermometer into 2 spots; the thigh (try not to touch bone) and the breast. The thigh should read 165’. Your breast may read 160’.

10. Should I stuff my bird before I cook it?

We recommend that your stuffing or dressing (both words are inter-changeable) be made outside of your bird. Stuffing the cavity will add to your cooking time, will make the stuffing difficult to reach a safe eating temperature, and possibly aid in a dry turkey. Plus, the stuffing is always soggy, never crunchy. Everyone loves the crunchy parts of stuffing, so why bother with this unnecessary step? Cook your stuffing separately.

12. How long should my turkey rest?

Allow your fully-cooked turkey to sit out on your counter, on a platter with a tented piece of foil loosely placed over the breast for ½ hour. The turkey will remain hot. This ensures that the juicy-goodness stays in your turkey and doesn’t drip out onto your carving board.

13. Oh no! Carving freaks me out. Help!

Do not fret! Own this in 4 easy steps.

Place the bird breast side up with one wing closest to your body.

1. Leg Meat: Using a sharp knife, grab hold of the leg and pull it backwards cutting at the joint and removing the leg. Set aside on a platter.

2. Thigh Meat: With the leg removed, use your clean hands and jiggle the thigh off the carcass. Set aside with the leg.

3. Wings: Using a sharp tip of a knife, run it down at the joint where the wing is attached to the bird. Remove and separate wing into two pieces. Set aside on platter with thigh and leg.

4. Breast Meat: Turn the bird towards you so the breast is facing you. You will see 2 lobes or “sides” of the breast. Using a clean, sharp knife, run the tip of your knife down the middle of the two breasts, feeling the back of your knife next to a little tough cartilage and bone. Now, cut a deep horizontal line where the breast ends (this will be almost where the top of the leg was). Using your hands, and a knife, start dislodging the breast from the rib bones, carefully using the knife to wedge it off the bones and remove it in one piece. Place removed breast on board. Carve slices from the breast and place on platter with wing, thigh and leg. Repeat steps on the remaining side of turkey.

See below for other helpful Long Island turkey resources.

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