There are few things more delectable than a properly-prepared roasted turkey. Turkey is welcome in my kitchen, and my table any time of the year. Crispy-browned skin, succulent moist meat, and an incredible aroma are the hallmarks of a well-prepared turkey. To this end, many methods for cooking are attempted, such as smoking (my favorite), frying (aaauuugh!!!! The ruination of a noble bird...), rotisserie (difficult, but rewarding if you have the equipment), and most commonly, roasting.
Roasting is the best way for most people to obtain consistency, but most ovens have hot and cold spots in them that can effect the cooking process. Some parts of the bird may get more done than others, especially parts like the wings and sides of the legs, that are often closer to the heat source than the breast. To reduce this effect, manufacturers have marketed the convection oven.
To start with, all cooking is done by 'convection'. Without getting too technical, convection is the natural tendency for areas of high energy, such as heat, to transfer energy to areas of lower energy, such as cold. So hot air will transfer its energy to cold food to make it hot. Convection ovens just make the process more efficient by circulating air evenly around the food, causing a more even transfer of energy. A convection oven should really be called a forced-convection oven. Many foods benefit from being cooked in convection ovens, but there are some that do not fair as well. Breads, cookies and stuffings quickly dry out in the moving air, and are best cooked conventionally, but meats cook faster and more evenly by convection.
As a rule, cooking times will be from 15%-30% less than in a conventional oven, depending on your oven. Also, it is a good idea to reduce the cooking temperatures by 10% or more. Here are a few tips for cooking a turkey in a convection oven:
- It is very important to brine a turkey beforehand to prevent it drying out during cooking in a convection oven. Frequent basting, or a combination of both can also be used. It is also a good idea to have a pan of water in the bottom of the oven while cooking.
- Stuffing should really be cooked separately, and placed in the turkey at the end of the cooking process.
- A trussed turkey will retain more moisture than a splayed out one. The best way to truss a turkey is to make a slip knot in the end of the string, loop the string in the 'elbow' of both wings, draw it tight, then run the string over the back to the legs. Now wrap the end of the string several times around the end of the drumsticks, draw them tight, and tie it off. Cut off any excess string.
- A good rule of thumb for cooking times is around 10-12 minutes a pound for an unstuffed turkey, but do not rely on cooking times alone. Use a thermometer. The turkey is done when the juices run clear, and the thigh temperature is 180º F, and the breast is 170ºF. The stuffing should be 160ºF.
- To have a moist, succulent turkey, cook it breast-side down. You can flip it over for the last 45 minutes of cooking for looks if you want. Cooking it breast-up will dry the breast out. You can also cover the breast with foil, but it is better just to cook the turkey breast-down. This also makes it much easier to remove the trussing string, because it will be on top.
Brining a turkey overnight before cooking makes a huge difference in the finished bird. A good rule-of-thumb is to brine the turkey one hour for every pound. This will ensure a moist, superb-tasting turkey. The salt in the brine causes the brine liquid to soak completely into the bird, sort of like a vacuum marinade. I usually start brining the bird the evening before I plan to cook it, and remove it just before cooking. A basic brine is 1 cup of salt to one gallon of water. You will need more than 1 gallon to cover the turkey, but this is the basic proportions. A good way to check to see if you have enough salt is to place some of your brine in a small bowl and crack a raw egg in it. If the egg floats, then you have enough salt. Now, you can add any flavorings you want to the brine, such as Liquid Smoke, garlic, wine, beer, brown sugar, honey, etc....Just be sure not to add so much that you change the salt concentration of the brine. Use the egg method to check it again if you are not sure. If the egg sinks, add more salt. Once you have your brine, the procedure is as follows:
- Make sure the bird is thawed out.
- Clean off the bottom shelf in your refrigerator, so that you can fit either a brining bucket, or roasting pan on it.
- If you have a food-grade plastic bucket with a lid that will both hold the turkey, and fit in your fridge, then you're good to go. Place the turkey in the bucket, cover it completely with brine, put the lid on, ad place it on the shelf in the fridge. Rotate the bird once of twice during the process. When brining is done, be sure to discard the brine, rinse the bird off well, and pat it dry before cooking. Do not reuse the brine for anything.
- If you do not have access to a bucket, get a clean garbage bag that is free of holes, and does not leak water, and place the turkey in it with the opening directly on top. Place the turkey and bag in the roasting pan. Now, fill the bag with brine to cover the turkey. If you cannot completely cover the bird with brine, you may need to add a couple of hours to the brining time, and maybe rotate the turkey in the bag about half-way through the process. When you are ready to cook the turkey, remove the pan from the fridge, remove the turkey from the bag, discard the bag and brine, wash the roasting pan well, rinse the turkey well and pat dry, then place in the roasting pan and cook as desired. Do not reuse the brine for anything.
It is very important to let the turkey 'rest' for 15 minutes or so before carving and serving. When the turkey is done, remove the trussing string, and place it breast-side up on your carving surface. Let the bird rest for 15-20 minutes before carving, to allow the juices to re-circulate through the bird. All that's left is to enjoy a perfect bird.