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Alex Crown
November 26, 2013 | Alex Crown

Thanksgiving Turkey Tips

Thanksgiving is just a few days away. My turkey is thawed and awaiting its initial brine before being cooked for the family. The Cornerstone Oregon 2010 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and 2011 Chardonnay have been dropped off at my mother’s house so they are at cellar temp before dinner. For good measure, I’ve included a few bottles our 2012 Corallina Rosé as I find rosé to be one of the most versatile wines for the Thanksgiving meal.

My challenge this year?  How to cook a 24lb turkey for a room full of foodies... Listening to Science Friday on NPR last week, Jeff Potter, author of Cooking for Geeks, Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food, offered a few ideas that I’m going to try out.

The USDA recommends cooking the bird to 165 degrees Fahrenheit for safety reasons. 165 is an instant kill temperature, where at that temperature for just few seconds any and all bacteria dies. Other temperatures will also make for a safe bird, as long as holding times are taken into consideration.

At 160 degrees, you need to hold the turkey for 30 seconds. At 155 degrees, you need to hold at this temperature for 1 minute. You can listen to the whole Science Friday story below via the provided link for more information.  Cooking the turkey at a low temperature prevents muscle fibers from becoming tough, thus resulting in a tender bird.

If you want to cook your turkey low and slow, one can get their turkey down to a safe internal temperature and the desired juicy result, as long as you hold the bird at 150 degrees for 5 or more minutes.  Allowing the turkey to rest for another 30 minutes should allow the internal temperature to reach between 155-160 degrees.

Jeff recommended cooking the turkey legs and breasts separately. This is due to to the muscle composition of each part being comprised of different fibers with differing proteins and connective tissues. While this takes away from the ascetic presentation of the turkey, you gain the advantage of being able to cook the legs in a way that is more conducive to their proteins and connective tissue (higher in collagen). The breasts are also able to be cooked in a manner that is beneficial for their fast twitch muscle fibers.  Serious Eats recommends cooking the breasts to a temperature of 145 degrees.

There are various methods that people use to determine when a turkey is cooked. These range from seeing what color the meat is (different shades of pink, which influenced by a number of factors) to waiting for the juices to run clear. All that really matters is temperature and holding time. Be safe and use a probe thermometer.

This year I am cooking the turkey for 23 people. I plan on cooking the legs and breasts separately. The legs will be done via confit while the breasts will be roasted. All served with a generous glass of Cornerstone Oregon 2010 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.

To listen to the Science Friday segment which inspired this post, please click here. Always remember to trust your own judgement and be careful if anyone pregnant or with a compromised immune system is at your Thanksgiving table. -Alex

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