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The Truth About Thanksgiving Turkey Roasting

continued (page 3 of 4)

If we can't dissuade you from stuffing the bird, we urge you to roast the turkey just until the meat is done, then transfer the stuffing from the cavity to a baking dish and continue baking (or microwave it) until it registers 165°F. (Remember, inside-the-bird stuffing has fresh turkey juices in it that need to be fully cooked.)

6. Basting Is Worth the Fuss
Basting is the most contentious turkey topic. New York Times columnist Mark Bittman believes "basting is a complete and absolute waste of time for turkey. The skin gets crisp from fat, not liquid. Rub the bird with some oil or butter at the beginning to encourage crispness, and you're done."

Modernist Cuisine author Myhrvold, on the other hand, is a basting believer. According to Scott Heimendinger, the director of applied research for Modernist Cuisine, his team has found that basting will "heat and dry the food surface more quickly and evenly than either baking or panfrying alone. The result is often a crisp and delicious crust—the very best incentive for basting."

In other words, the practice of periodically spooning pan juices over the turkey has nothing to do with helping the breast meat stay juicy. It's all about getting crisper skin.

Molly Stevens takes a balanced view of basting. Sometimes she bastes, and sometimes she doesn't. She might be in the mood to baste as she putters in the kitchen, or she might skip it in favor of talking with friends and family gathered for the holiday in the living room.

I gave up basting years ago, but I changed my mind this year after testing our Thanksgiving turkey recipe created by Gina Marie Miraglia Eriquez, who is a baster. I noticed right away that basting made the skin glossy and crisp. Detractors point out that every time you open the oven door, the temperature drops, but I didn't find that basting extended the roasting time significantly. The overall benefits were worth it, and here's another plus: Rotating the pan 180 degrees each time you baste will help the turkey cook evenly. Count me in as a baster.

7. Use the Four-Spot Test for Doneness
When it's time to check your turkey for doneness, the old method of pricking the thigh and looking for clear juices is not reliable. For instance, a heritage turkey, which requires a significant investment of money, may emit rosy-pink juices even at the USDA food-safe temperature of 165°F.

Between supermarket turkeys bred for buxom breasts and the inevitable hot spots in your oven, we urge you to take the temperature in at least four places: both thighs, as well as the thickest part of the breast on each side. (If you plan to serve the wings to gnaw on, take their temperature, too. No need to check them if they're destined for soup, though.) Don't remove the turkey from the oven until all these places register a minimum of 165°F. (Some will get there before others, so wait until they all do.)

When testing the temperature, be sure you are using a good-quality instant-read thermometer—and have a second one on hand for backup. And hang on to the directions (or go to the manufacturer's Web site) for instructions on how to conduct a preholiday test to make sure it's still accurate (and how to recalibrate it if it's not).

8. Let the Turkey Rest After Roasting
When the turkey comes out of the oven, it's hard to resist the urge to start carving, but resist you must. While your bird has been roasting, the juices have been working their way toward the outer part of the roast. If you slice your turkey while it's still hot, those juices will keep up their momentum, moving right out of the bird and leaving the meat as dry as sawdust.

Instead, do your turkey and your guests a favor and let the bird sit on a platter for 30 minutes. During that time, the juices will move back to where they belong, inside the meat. And you will gain precious time to make the gravy and reheat the side dishes.

Some people like to cover the turkey with foil while it's standing, but that's only going to turn the gorgeously crisp skin flabby. Rest assured that even uncovered, the turkey will still be slightly warm after half an hour, and oh, what a dream it will be to carve! Your well-sharpened knife will glide easily through moist flesh rather than saw through dry, tough, fibrous meat.

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