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Tips: Roast turkey


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This isn't a recipe; it's more like some helpful hints for total beginners. Hopefully some of you will find these useful during the holiday season.

When you roast a turkey, start with the directions on the package. They'll tell you how long to defrost and cook the turkey, or at least they ought to. However, they aren't written to turn out a really tasty bird. They're meant to be a foolproof way of cooking the turkey thoroughly enough that even the most brain dead customer won't get salmonella or some other bug. That means that the turkey can get really dry - they'd rather err on the side of caution, both with your health and their legal position.

So, modify those instructions a little and put in a touch extra work to get a better turkey.  Start out by brushing vegetable oil all over it. (Actually, the instructions will probably include this.) Then make a loose foil tent to put over the bird, covering all of the breast. There should be space between the turkey and foil.

After the first hour and a half there should be a good amount of drippings in the pan. Every half hour take the turkey out, set the foil aside, and baste it with the drippings. Because you're opening and closing the oven and taking the turkey out you're slowing the cooking, so you'll want to add 30 minutes or so onto the recommended cooking time. Take the foil off for the last half hour of cooking so it will brown nicely.

If you have a turkey with a pop-up doohickey that tells you when it's done, well and good. If you have a meat thermometer and know how to use it, even better. But if you're like me and don't have the latter and find out that your turkey doesn't have the former even though it's supposed to, then there are other tests to make sure the turkey is done. Stick a fork into the thickest part of the inner thigh; if the juices run clear it's done. The leg and hip joints should move freely as well.