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Roast Turkey For A Crowd

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Most recipes recommend roasting 12 to 14 pound turkeys, a size that is easy to handle and that delivers superior flavor.  But what if you have more than 10 people coming to dinner?  Roasting two turkeys is not an option for most home cooks.  Here is my method for cooking a massive bird, enough to feed the most crowded Thanksgiving table.

The first step is to select the right brand at the market.   Two years ago I tried a frozen Butterball and found it better than the fresh Butterball.  The reason?  Frozen Butterball turkeys are injected with a salt solution – in other words, they are brined.  Although the flavor of the meat was a bit on the bland side, my guests commented that this bird “tasted just like Thanksgiving.”  I tried it again last year just to be sure and found that the meat was, indeed, moist and tender.  So now I had a turkey that had been brined for me, eliminating a step that would be all but impossible with a huge bird.

Other techniques had to be eliminated from the start, given the size of the bird.  I chose not to air-dry (another favored Cook’s technique that would be unworkable with a huge bird) or stuff the turkey (which would add to the already long cooking time).  Finally, I wanted to keep this bird as traditional as possible, so I opted not to rub it with spices or massage it with flavored butter.

My next task was to determine the proper cooking temperature.  After doing a lot of research, I decided to try a combination of high and low temperatures.  So here is one of the biggest secrets to cooking a huge bird … the right combination of temperatures for a large turkey is?  425 degrees for the first hour (breast-side down) and 325 degrees thereafter (breast side-up).  Using these temperatures, the breast meat was firm and juicy, the dark meat rich and tender, and the skin a breathtakingly rosy mahogany brown.

Although I had opted not to stuff the bird, I wondered if a simple aromatic mix in the cavity might add flavor to the meat.   I started with the classic onion, carrot, and celery combination, and, while my first turkey was better, something was still missing.  Last year I added lemon, and I found that the lemon added freshness to the meat closest to the bone and gave the pan juice a cleaner taste.  Sprigs of fresh thyme added the scent of Thanksgiving.  More vegetables went into the roasting pan to flavor the drippings.  I added a little water to ensure that the vegetables didn’t dry out.

After roasting my first bird trussed and last year’s bird untrussed, I concluded that trussing added a fussiness I didn’t want as well as an unwelcome 15 to 20 extra minutes in cooking time. (To cook the inner thigh fully, which is hidden by trussing, you inevitably overcook the white meat.)  I also investigated the best way to treat the skin, leaving it as is versus brushing it with unsalted butter, olive oil, or vegetable oil.  I opted to only use butter and my family thought it tasted awesome and more, well, buttery.  The next question was whether regular basting is worth the effort.  It turns out that basting actually makes the skin soggy, so I simply brushed the turkey with melted butter once prior to cooking.

Tenting the turkey either during or after roasting was also abandoned:  The foil traps the steam and softens the skin.  Instead, letting the roasted bird sit at room temperature, uncovered, for 35 to 40 minutes allows the juices, which rise to the surface during cooking, to flow back into the meat.  This was more successful than the usually recommended 20 minutes, probably because of the size of the bird.

For my “Roast Turkey For A Crowd” recipe, please click HERE


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