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Thanksgiving Turkey Tactics

Thanksgiving turkey no longer has to be roasted. This year, expand your turkey repertoire and try brining, frying or smoking this Thanksgiving bird.

The Thanksgiving countdown has begun. Time to tackle the turkey.

It’s a task many avoid, since the thought of preparing a whole turkey seems to be an unattainable culinary feat. However, cooking turkey isn’t difficult, it just takes a little planning. Begin by deciding on the cooking style: traditionally roasted, brined or fried. For those looking to save time, consider fried turkey. Frying takes about 60–90 minutes as compared to the hours it takes to roast a stuffed whole turkey.

If you’ve never deep-fried a turkey, here are the basic rules. Follow the operation directions on the fryer/cooker and check with your local fire department for safety tips. While electric turkey fryers are available and are safer, most gobblers are still fried in propane-fueled cookers. 

When using propane cookers, it’s vital to always fry outside away from all buildings, large trees and shrubs, since boil-overs are extremely dangerous.

Countless house fires happen each year because people place turkey fryers too close to the house.

Many of these fires happen when the cooker is overfilled. To prevent overfilling your fryer with oil, try this trick. Fill your fryer with water first, and then lower your turkey into the water. Check the water line after the bird has been immersed. Remove bird and mark the water line. Pour out the water, thoroughly dry fryer and fill with peanut oil to the water line. This will prevent oil overflows when the turkey is added to the oil. Remember to never leave a cooker or fryer unattended.

“It just takes a little planning to get your turkey done right,” said John Weinmann, co-owner Kenrick's Meats & Catering, Affton, who oversees thousands of turkeys that will be baked, fried and smoked before the holidays end. 

See related article: Thanksgiving Turkey Recipes

One of Weinmann’s personal favorite methods of making turkey is brining. Brined turkey is a recent food trend that's favored among foodies because is helps to keep the bird moist during cooking. An added bonus to brining is that it provides subtle flavor notes to the bird.

Brining involves soaking meat in a salt-based tenderizing solution before cooking it. Don’t worry, brining doesn’t make the turkey salty—on the contrary, roasting juices tend to be more flavorful from a brined bird. When making your brine solution remember to use kosher salt because its flakes dissolve quickly in water and it has a lighter taste. Brined turkeys can be successfully fried or traditionally roasted.

Roasting remains the time-honored turkey prep practiced in most households, whether it’s cooked in Grandma’s blue graniteware roaster, under an aluminum tent or in a roasting bag. To help with the fine points of roasting turkey, the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line is now activated at 1-800-BUTTERBALL. Butterball expects to answer more than 100,000 S.O.S. calls from home cooks before the holidays end.

To ready your turkey for the oven, fryer or smoker, the National Turkey Federation recommends the following turkey tips to ensure you have a successful and plentiful feast. 

First, determine the size bird to buy. If buying a whole turkey, plan on one pound per person. If purchasing a bone-in turkey breast, plan on 3/4 pound per person or 1/2 pound per person for a boneless turkey breast. These amounts will allow for plenty of leftovers for sandwiches. 

When it comes to which turkeys to buy, frozen turkeys are often the best buy. To defrost, place in the refrigerator and plan a day thawing time for each 4 1/2 pounds of turkey. For example, if a turkey weighs 16 pounds refrigerated, thaw time is about 3 1/2 days. Thaw the turkey with the breast side down so the juices will flow into the breast. A thawed turkey may remain in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days.

To cut down on cleanup, spray your turkey pan with a nonstick cooking spray before cooking. I'm a fan of disposible roasting pans, the ultimate cleanup time saver. Finally, the best roasting tip to achieve a photogenic bronzed bird—brush the bird with melted butter or spray with oil before roasting.

If you have more turkey questions don’t worry. Ask the experts at the National Turkey Federation at www.eatturkey.com or get one-on-one talk time and call the Butterball Talk-Line at 1-800-butterball or check out www.Missourifamilies.org, a division of the University of Missouri Home Extension Service for recipes and holiday cooking tips.

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