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The Truth About Thanksgiving Turkey Roasting

continued (page 2 of 4)

By contrast, Nathan Myhrvold and his Modernist Cuisine team are fans of injecting the brine directly into the flesh, because they've found it prevents the rubbery skin that can result from wet brining.

Molly Stevens, multiple-award-winning cookbook author, prefers dry brining, which involves rubbing the turkey with liberal amounts of kosher salt and letting the bird air-dry in the refrigerator. Stevens likes to leave the turkey uncovered on a rack in a shallow pan (or if it will be sharing the fridge with lots of other ingredients, loosely covered with plastic wrap) for at least eight hours and up to two days. For a 13- to 14-pound turkey, Stevens recommends sprinkling a total of 2 tablespoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt—slightly less if using Morton's—all over the outside and inside of the turkey.

Despite the benefits of dry brining—a technique I, too, support—it still requires valuable real estate in your refrigerator at a time of year when you probably don't have a cubic inch to spare. (Dry brining takes less space than wet brining, but more than if you didn't brine at all.) Our brand-new recipe for Citrus-Sage Roast Turkey with Gravy is not brined at all, and it is moist and delicious.

Besides, if you want to enjoy the benefits of brining without any fuss, buy a kosher turkey. It's been salted ahead of time as part of the koshering process. By all means do not brine a kosher bird, and ease up on any added salt whenever you use a kosher bird.

4. Your Oven Needs Plenty of Time to Heat Up

Avoid surprises and help keep your cool by making sure your oven is as hot as it should be. If you don't already have a good-quality oven thermometer, now is the time to invest in one. Your oven may beep or buzz to indicate it's supposedly reached the temperature you set it for, but don't rely on that signal alone. Oven temperatures can actually vary quite a bit (as much as 50 degrees from the number on the dial or panel), so you still need to use an independent and reliable oven thermometer to verify the temp before you put in your turkey. If you already use one of these thermometers, you've probably noticed that it takes a lot longer than, say, 10 minutes to heat your oven; it may be more like 20 to 30 minutes before the oven thermometer indicates that the target temperature actually has been reached.

So don't rush it. And if your oven has a preheat setting, avoid it, and heat the oven on the bake setting instead. Why? The preheat setting in some ovens turns on not only the bottom flame or element (the one used for baking and roasting) but also the broiler at the top. This may make the oven heat up faster, but after the target temp is reached and the broiler switches off, the accumulated heat in the oven's upper reaches will likely burn the top of your bird.

5. Don't Stuff the Turkey
An unstuffed turkey cooks more evenly, and faster, than a stuffed turkey, because there's air circulation within the cavity. Stuffing the bird also poses significant food-safety challenges. The major problem is that the center of the turkey—where the stuffing is soaking up all the juices—is the last place to reach the food-safe temperature of 165°F. That means the meat will be fully cooked before the stuffing's done, leaving the stuffing unsafe to eat—unless you roast your turkey until the center of the stuffing registers 165°F, at which point the breast meat will be overdone and dry.

Besides, there's a purely practical reason not to cook your stuffing inside the turkey: The cavity is simply too small to hold the quantities of stuffing that everyone craves, so you're going to have to cook extra anyway. Simplify by cooking all the stuffing in one pan. It's so much easier and safer, and I find the results far superior to stuffing cooked inside the bird. We recommend a shallow baking pan, which provides a large surface area on top for plenty of crusty bits while allowing the rest to remain moist and tender.

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