Around here, we love Thanksgiving. It’s a perfect holiday: you get to watch a parade in the morning, putter about in the kitchen and watch football all day, and then enjoy a delicious meal with loved ones in the evening.
Best of all, you get to roast a turkey, which, in my opinion, is the ultimate cooking project. I like to tweak my method a little every year in quest of perfection, and a few years back I hit upon the idea of doing a “practice turkey” before the big day. Not every turkey trick works equally well, so it helps to test ahead. And since I only roast a turkey once or twice a year, there are fine points of the process I always forget. This “dry run” is so helpful for taking stress out of the holiday itself!
Here’s what goes inside my bird before roasting.
I schedule my practice turkey day for a quiet Sunday sometime near Halloween – far enough ahead of Thanksgiving that we won’t be sick of turkey already when the big day arrives. We get a smaller bird than we’ll do for Thanksgiving, and I spend some time researching online until I find the new tweaks I want to try this year. (This, by the way, is my go-to basic roasting method.)
There are so many benefits to the practice turkey, aside from road-testing the recipe. I get to locate all my equipment, so I don’t have to worry about it on the big day. (In my small kitchen, the roasting pan, turkey lifters and meat thermometer tend to get squirreled away in odd locations.)
I roasted a head of garlic and mixed that with softened butter and Penzey’s Poultry Seasoning. I spread this over the breast, beneath the skin. Lordy, was that ever tasty.
I also get to remember the logistics of turkey, which, in my kitchen, are considerable: where will I put the bird for the four hours it’s coming up to room temperature? Where will I rest it after roasting so it doesn’t eat up counter space I need for making side dishes? Oh, we need THAT much space to carve it up? And oh, yeah, remember that we broke our big platter last year? What am I gonna serve this thing on?
…It’s even good to refresh on the little stuff, like remembering that I’m going to have to adjust my oven racks. Every detail I recall now, I reclaim a little peace of mind on the holiday.
Mmmmm… Bacon Weave.
Here are some of my best turkey tips:
• Roast it upside down. Have you ever tried this method? After discovering it five years ago, I won’t roast my birds any other way. The juices run into the breast meat, so it never dries out. Best turkey ever. Not the prettiest, mind you, but we’d rather eat it than look at it.
• Try the bacon weave! It’s a fun little food-craft. You just weave a blanket of bacon over the top of your turkey (or the bottom, if you’re roasting it upside down). It becomes a seal for juices and a self-basting mechanism. It doesn’t really flavor the meat, surprisingly, but it does help keep it moist. And then you have a large quantity of slow-roasted bacon to snack on while you’re finishing up the side dishes. (Maybe you’ll crumble it into your green beans?)
Upside-down-roasted turkey is incredibly moist and juicy.
• Keep some emergency gravy packets handy. I learned this one the hard way. Before I started doing practice turkeys, I often had unpleasant surprises when I went to make my gravy. The year I brined my bird, the drippings were way too salty to use. When I do the bacon weave, the drippings have a lot of oil in them, and really benefit from spending overnight in the fridge for skimming. If a last-minute challenge happens, I can just whip out a packet of good-quality turkey gravy mix, prep it, and then add my drippings to it by the spoonful, testing after each addition. This way, I get good-tasting gravy no matter how my experiment turns out.
Mom! Mom! Seriously! I know I’m not allowed on the counter. Mom! Listen, though! Cats love to eat turkey! It smells so good in here, I’m losing my furry little mind! Can I have some? Is that bacon on there? Aren’t I a good cat? Don’t I deserve a treat?