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Respect The Bird: 10 Steps to Perfect Turkey

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It may not be cold in Houston, but I know most Houstonians have got turkey on the brain. It also means the grocery stores are jammed packed and the Butterball 800 tip-line is getting more calls than most phone sex operators. But you won't have to waste your minutes calling Butterball, if you follow these simple tips.

1. One size doesn't fit all : If you're preparing a whole bird, assume you'll need 1 pound per adult. It may sound like a lot, but don't forget the weight includes the bird's carcass and that you'll want leftovers. Everybody does. Also, plan ahead for the gravy, about ½ cup per turkey lover.

2. To thaw or not to thaw : There's no question, unless you're getting a fresh/never frozen turkey, you'll have to thaw. But how to do it without causing harm to others? The easiest way is to do it in the fridge; it is also the slowest option. The good folks at Butterball.com suggest allowing one day for each four pounds of weight. Yeah! That's a full work week! If you're anything like me, you'll probably be picking a turkey Tuesday night, if you're lucky.

Fellow procrastinators and/or impatient souls can do the sink thing. Make sure that baby is submerged in cold tap water and remember to change the water every 30 minutes or so, to ensure it stays cold. This brings down thawing time to about 30 minutes per pound, or approximately 10 hours for a 20-pounder. Whichever option you choose, remember to keep the turkey in its original wrapper.

3. Is that a neck in your pocket? Yep, don't forget that all the giblets and organs and extra stuff are, well, stuffed inside the turkey's cavity. Remove all of it before you start romancing the bird.

4. Dried out, overcooked turkey is so 1990s: Today's bird is moist, juicy and flavorful thanks to the magic of brining. There are several good recipes on FoodNetwork.com. For my brine, I usually just dump my favorite kitchen flavors (garlic, sage, bay leaves, etc.) in a pot of water, bring it to a boil for about 10 minutes and then I dissolve 1-2 cps of sea salt and ½ cp of sugar and let it steep until cooled. I dump the bird in a roasting bag, one that's large enough to fully contain it. I then add the steeped liquid and fill the bag with enough cool water to submerge the turkey. Seal it up, stick it in a bowl and put it in the fridge overnight. You won't believe how good that breast will be.

5. No stuffy stuffing: If you are a fan of stuffed birds, then knock yourself out, but remember to cook the stuffing ahead of time and make sure it is COMPLETELY cooled through before inserting it into the bird. You should stuff the turkey just before it goes into the oven and keep it loose; avoid the desire to pack it tight.

6. Lights, camera, ACTION! This is it, it's Turkey Day and time to cook. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees, right after you make sure you've cleared enough room to fit the guest star. If you opted to brine it (good move!), remove it from the brining bag, making sure you release all the liquid caught in the cavity. Rinse it thoroughly inside and out, then give it a pat and get it nice and dry all over.

If you plan to stuff it, it's now or never. Stuffed or not, place it on a roasting rack large enough to hold it comfortably. I like roasting mine breast-side down, to make sure that meat gets all the advantages offered by the cooking juices. If you chose not to stuff it, you can throw some unpeeled garlic cloves and baby carrots into the cavity for added flavor. Slather it with melted butter or olive oil; dust it with salt and pepper.

Roasting method: 15-20 minutes at 450 degrees, then reduce temperature to 325 degrees and allow 20 minutes cooking time per pound; approximately 4 ½ hours for a 20-pound turkey.

7. Is it hot enough for you?: A quick-read thermometer is a thing of beauty and peace of mind. Don't trust those pop-up buttons attached to turkeys. Spend a few bucks and get yourself a thermometer. I'm not plugging any brands, but the leave-in varieties rock and segue right into the next tip.

8. Shut the damn door!: It won't cook any faster just because you keep staring at it; in fact, every time you open the oven you're altering the cooking temperature in there. And it will be worse than watching paint dry. Quit stressing about it, have a beer or three and let the oven do the rest of the work. No need to baste a brined bird.

9. How hot do you want it?: The USDA's recommendation is to make sure the minimum internal temperature reaches 165° F; insert the thermometer near the innermost part of the thigh and wing or the thickest part of the breast.

10. This turkey has been through a lot, give it some time to relax and compose itself. Remove it from the oven, loosely cover it with foil and allow it to rest for at least 15 and up to 45 minutes before carving. The juices will redistribute and ensure juicy meat, and you'll have plenty of time to finish the gravy and side dishes.

Pour yourself some wine or beer or both and enjoy the turkey and the company...hopefully.

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