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All About Turkey

With a few basic guidelines, you can choose from several methods for a tender, juicy bird that will highlight your holiday meal.

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Cook to Perfection 

The basic challenge with turkey (and poultry in general) is that white meat cooks faster than dark. Rodgers mitigates this problem by covering the turkey breast with foil for most techniques (except for high-heat roasting, since the turkey cooks so quickly). The foil deflects the heat and slows the cooking time for the breast.

We present five techniques for turkey. Our Classic Roast Turkey is slow-roasted at 325° for about two and a half hours. (Because of such variables as actual oven temperature and how cold the turkey is when it goes in the oven, cooking times are approximate; rely more on your meat thermometer, Rodgers cautions.) Fresh herbs in the body cavity help flavor the cooking juices, while Make-Ahead Gravy provides the finishing touch. The Classic Roast Turkey is a favorite of Rodgers, who regularly teaches this method in his holiday cooking classes.

High-Heat Roast Turkey cooks at 450° and takes about an hour and a half. A high-quality, heavy-duty roasting pan is imperative for this method in order to insulate the drippings and make them less likely to scorch, Rodgers says. He also suggests cleaning the oven beforehand to prevent excessive smoking and, because turkey tends to splatter when cooked at high heat, a follow-up cleaning afterward.

With the Turkey with Sausage, Apricot, and Sage Stuffing, you fill the cold bird with freshly made, warm stuffing and roast immediately. For food safety reasons, never use chilled stuffing or refrigerate a stuffed bird overnight, and don't overstuff the bird, because the stuffing will expand from the moisture, and the bird could split open from internal pressure. This dish should finish cooking in about four hours, longer than an unstuffed turkey.

Apple-Grilled Turkey is a delicious option for people in warmer climates or die-hard grillers. Indirect grilling and applewood smoke give the turkey an attractive exterior and smoky flavor.

Provençal Turkey Breast is ideal for a small gathering with a preference for white meat. This dish also saves time―it cooks in about an hour and 20 minutes.

Rest Before Carving

Let the turkey rest for at least 30 minutes before carving. If you carve too soon, juices will flood out and you'll be left with dry meat. Resting allows the juices to settle, resulting in moister turkey. While half an hour may seem like a long time to let the turkey stand, "believe me, it won't cool off," Rodgers says.

When it comes time to carve, make sure that the carving knife is sharp. Rodgers says that inexperienced carvers may want to slice the bird in the kitchen, to avoid the gaze of a tableside audience. First, remove and discard the skin. Remove the thigh quarters by cutting through the joint where the thigh attaches to the body. Then cut through the joint that attaches the leg to the thigh. Serve these pieces whole, or cut meat away from the bone, depending on demand for dark meat. Carve white meat by slicing parallel to the breast, or cut the breast off entirely and then slice it crosswise.

Temperatures

The United States Department of Agriculture recently lowered its recommended safe minimum internal temperature for poultry from 180° to 165°. Also, the USDA advises keeping the bird in the oven until it has reached 165°, rather than pulling it from the heat five or 10 degrees earlier and letting the temperature rise as it rests. "That's because we're just not sure how much the temperature will rise," says USDA meat and poultry hotline manager Diane Van.

Still, Rick Rodgers recommends cooking the turkey to 180°; he feels dark meat might be tough if cooked only to 165°. We find cooking turkey to 165° yields juicier white meat than higher temperatures. "If consumers cook to higher temperatures for taste, that's their choice," Van says.

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