For 36 years home cooks preparing for Thanksgiving have turned to Butterball Turkey Talk-Line for answers to their myriad of cooking questions.
Because, as it turns out, people get really freaked out by the idea of cooking their own massive turkey. They’re heavy! They’re expensive! Your guests are counting on you to deliver a nice, juicy bird, ideally by 5 p.m. so that they can get ahead of traffic on the way home! All this, coupled with pointed remarks from relatives on your carving technique – it can feel like too much to handle.
But the professionals at the Turkey Talk Line want you to know it doesn’t have to be this way. You can have a beautiful bird on the table just in time for dinner, and it doesn’t have to cost you your sanity. How? By cutting out a few common missteps.
At a special mini version of the Talk Line’s expert training session, we caught up with a few of the line’s seasoned professionals. Here’s their best advice:
1. You need way more time than you think to thaw your frozen bird
Should you select a frozen turkey, be sure you’re factoring in the time it’ll take to thaw your bird completely. In some cases – especially if you’re buying turkey for a crowd – that means days (yes, that’s plural) of defrosting in the fridge. Butterball’s Talk Line experts estimate you’ll need one day for every four pounds of turkey, so…start clearing out the fridge now.
2. You actually don’t need to brine your turkey
Sure, you can brine your turkey if that’s how you prefer to do it. But for most turkeys, especially ones that come pre-seasoned, it’s not a necessity. Butterball’s 33-year Talk Line veteran Carol Miller says skipping brining helps you control the level of salt in your food, especially if you’re working with a pre-seasoned bird. Plus, as long as you’re seasoning the bird inside and out with salt, you’re going to get a juicy, flavorful bird.
3. If you’re looking for a uniformly browned skin, skip the butter
Very important note for butter devotees (like myself): This Talk Line tip does not refer to any butter you might put under the bird’s skin. Please do that. It tastes great. But if you’re looking for a uniformly browned turkey, Butterball says it’s better to coat the skin in oil, as the milk solids in butter will burn in the oven leaving dark brown specks all over your bird.
4. You also don’t really need to baste your turkey
Shocking, I know, but apparently it doesn’t do much for the flavor. As Miller notes, opening and closing your oven door multiple times just lowers the temperature and slows down the cooking process. She says it’s fine to baste a few times during the cooking process, but don’t overdo it.
5. Don’t use a serrated knife to carve your turkey
Talk Line expert Christopher Clem says that when it comes to carving, stay away from the serrated knives, as those tend to tear up the meat too aggressively. After you’ve given your turkey ample time to rest (at least 20 minutes, Miller says), carve your bird with a sharp knife or even, as Clem noted, an electric knife if you’ve got one.
Additional reporting by Michelle Yan.
BONUS: By the way, you can totally cook turkey in a microwave