It's Thanksgiving planning time and Alton Brown, host of Food Network's Next Iron Chef, wants to prevent you from making a dry, forgettable turkey.
He insists taking a bite of turkey should be followed by exclamation points. "You should be like, 'Oh, my dear Lord, WOW! That's turkey!" Brown tells NPR's Melissa Block, host of All Things Considered.
Try Brining. Brown says he goes back and forth between wet brining and dry curing. "Brining definitely adds a lot of juiciness, moistness and it protects against overcooking a great deal because it kind of changes the cellular makeup of the meat and superloads it with moisture," says Brown. "Dry curing can kind of do the same thing, but it's more about intensifying the flavor."
To brine his turkey he uses a drink cooler — the cylindrical orange kind — parked in the garage for a few days. "I find that it only gains a couple of degrees during that time," he says.
Most good brines come with at least one ice option, he says, and sometimes he brines frozen turkeys. "I'll build the brine, stick a frozen turkey in there, cover it and leave it in there for like a week. I've never had it get over 40 degrees," he says.
As for the brine, Brown's is a "balanced equation of sugar and salt dissolved in water with at least a minimum amount of seasoning."
Stuffing A Bird Is Evil. Brown says cooking a turkey with stuffing is just a bad idea.
"If you're going to cook stuffing inside a turkey, you're basically creating an edible envelope for the stuffing," he says. "It's now about the stuffing because you need to make sure that stuffing gets above the instant-kill temperature for salmonella." Getting the stuffing to reach this 165 degree mark usually means overcooking the meat, Brown says.
He suggests cooking the stuffing separately and putting it in the turkey just after it comes out of the oven. The juices will still drip into the stuffing this way.
Brown has a very secret method of pulling this off so none of his guests know the stuffing was cooked outside the bird. He cooks the turkey with an old can inside it with both ends cut out of it, making it easier to funnel the stuffing inside.
And then as the turkey rests, he browns the back end of the stuffing with a blow torch.
Do Not Baste. Basting the skin is not necessary to flavor the meat. You'll flavor the skin, but you'll also let heat out of the oven each time you open it to baste. "That means the bird is going to be in there for a longer time cooking, which means it's going to dry out more," Brown says.
Another method for quick cooking is called spatchcocking, which involves cutting out the backbone of a bird with a big pair of shears. The bird is then flattened out in a pan like a butterfly. Roasting this way takes less than an hour because you're doubling the surface area.