It’s all about turkey this month and there are plenty of gobblers to choose from. They come in all sizes and varieties. You can cook your own, pick one up baked, smoked or fried and ready to heat; you can even buy a whole stuffed turkey that you bake from its frozen state. If it’s all about the white meat at your table, choose a turkey breast. Still stumped? Take a look at this primer for help on the best bet for your holiday table.
- Fresh Turkey—According to the USDA “fresh” means whole poultry has never been below °F. Fresh turkeys should be refrigerated at 40°F or below. In most home refrigerators it is best to store the turkey on a tray in the lower section of the refrigerator. They don’t require thawing, however if plans change and they can’t be cooked as originally planned, they can be frozen for use later.
- Frozen Turkey—These turkeys have been held at temperatures between 0 °F and 25°F. If this is your choice, keep in mind that you’ll need to allow time for the turkey to thaw in advance. Thaw the turkey in the refrigerator on a tray. Once the turkey is thawed, it should be cooked within four days of thawing.
- Frozen Stuffed Turkey—These turkeys are commercially prepared in USDA approved plants. The turkey is stuffed and must be completely cooked. Do not thaw this turkey—frozen stuffed turkeys should be cooked from frozen, according to directions on the package.
- Smoked Turkey—Smoked turkeys are fully cooked. They may be available thawed or frozen. If needed, they should be thawed on a tray in the refrigerator, and then reheated to 100°F until warm. They can also be sliced and served without reheating.
This year I’ll cook a butterflied or spathcock turkey, which is a whole turkey with the backbone removed. It’s easy to remove the backbone or ask your butcher to butterfly it for you. They can be grilled or roasted in the oven. Spatchcock Turkey with Herb Garlic Rub is an update on the turkey tradition guaranteed to impress family and friends.
Spatchcock Turkey with Herb Garlic Rub
1 8-12 pound turkey, thawed
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1-1/2-2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
Place turkey breast down on cutting board. Using kitchen or poultry shears, cut into turkey along both sides of turkey backbone. Remove backbone. Turn turkey over, breast up; cut away turkey tail and set aside. Place heel of hand over turkey breast and press down firmly until breast bone breaks. Place turkey breast up on flat rack in shallow roasting pan. Turn wings back tucking under turkey.
Combine vegetable oil, garlic, paprika and thyme leaves, mixing to blend. Brush lightly with vegetable oil. Rub paprika mixture generously over turkey. Bake at 325°F, until thermometer reads 165°-170°F in turkey breast and 180°F in turkey thigh. (Start checking the temperature after 1-1/2 hours.) Remove and let stand 20 minutes before slicing.
Editorial note: In addition to stirring a few pots as a former food editor of Ebony and Southern Living magazines and editor of Special Fork, I‘m also a spokesperson for the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line®.