Talking Turkey

talking turkey
Photo by PoPville flickr user Erin

“Dear PoPville,

Can we start a thread on Thanksgiving Turkeys? Where to get it, how to prepare it?”

I’d also be curious to know pounds/per number of people.

112 Comment

  • Depends on what you want. Heritage turkey breeds are very trendy these days, but a lot of people who were raised on Butterballs think they taste gamey.

    • binntp

      A friend made a heritage turkey last year, and honestly, it didn’t taste much different than a regular, well-prepared turkey. And it cost her about 5x more.

      • Same experience here; I’ve done every kind of turkey, and the sweet spot seems to be around $2.50- $3 per pound. That will get you a relatively humanely raised turkey free of hormones and excessive other drugs, and none of that “self basting” BS (added salt and oil, yuck.) But no bragging rights about how your turkey was nearly extinct til science cloned it or whatever.

  • I’ve tried all the variations: stuffed and un-stuffed, brined and not brined, with aromatics and without, covered versus crisp skin, basted versus dry roasted… And there is only ONE thing that actually seems to make a difference every time:
    BREAST DOWN. Give up the Normal Rockwell bird-on-a-platter moment, and have delicious moist white meat instead.

    • YES! Breast down folks.

    • Cook breast down for the first 2/3rds of the time in the oven, then flip it. You still get crispy skin, and the white meat is super juicy. Best of both worlds.

    • Have you tried it Deep Fried?! BEST turkey I ever ate – in a trailer park in Mobile, Alabama – enfused with peanut oil- deep fried in a giant pot of oil – and it only took about 15 mins to cook. I enjoyed the experience and the turkey.

      • Yes, and it was magical I have not actually fried a turkey myself, but a lovely friend shared some of hers one year. Also pretty good: turkey on the grill.

    • you serve it breast-down, too? that sounds unappealing.

      • I serve mine carved. Placing the bird on the table is a great presentation, but I prefer to have it all ready to go and pass with everything else. Also, the carving method I use is hard to do at the table.

      • No, we carve in the kitchen and take it to the table already carved. That’s what I meant by giving up the norman rockwell moment. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • houseintherear

    Maple Lawn Farms up in Howard County is my family’s choice turkey supplier. A few years ago we did a lot of research to find a place where the turkeys live happy lives, are free of all the shots and crap, and who are killed humanely. This was the clear winner. A little pricey but VERY delicious… a clear difference in taste. You have to order probably this week or before, and will need to go up there and pick it up.

  • I’ll say it – Turkey is gross. Get a turkey breast, brine it, and realize people only care about the carbs/desserts!

    • I think everyone here is old enough to know what they and their families think is “gross.”

    • Aren’t you the person who likes chicken but without bones, skin, or dark meat? You probably shouldn’t be the barometer of food preferences for the people.

    • I completely disagree. I get that turkey isn’t for everyone, but a lot of people do genuinely like it. Having said that, there’s no reason why the main Thanksgiving dish has to be turkey! Also, being general pork lovers, we allow a gorgeous ham to share the spot light (in an orange/ red currant or cranberry glaze to marry the turkey better), though unfortunately I don’t believe I will be able to partake this year.

    • sorry, I find – and almost everyone who has sat at our thanksgiving table, which has been a pretty diverse group including friends from other countries, turkey to be gross. And my mom, who makes it, is an amazing cook. It always smells wonderful but just isn’t great. The sides…now that’s worth going for. Though she’s stopped making sweets and whites. Lame!
      And people who’ve never made a turkey before, but like it, just run a test of your meal. Turkey pot pie with leftovers is great

    • SouthwestDC

      I could take it or leave it, but I’m like 99% vegetarian. My family could probably get away with not having a turkey, but we manage to use it all up so why not? It’s kind of fun to roast a large bird once a year.

    • hey, if everyone loves turkey so much – how many of you make it for regular family meals? I mean, it’s not THAT difficult….

      • How many routinely cook for 12-20 people? And have half a day to cook a regular family meal? And have several days advance time to defrost the thing because you can only get them fresh around the holidays? And have the fridge space for several days of defrosting?
        When I’m roasting a bird for my own household, it’s a chicken, because they’re the right size. A turkey is the right size for extended family. Bonus: it’s delicious.
        Maybe we can get a “Talking Quinoa” thread for you.

      • People eat turkey sandwiches all the time. I would never think to call such a neutral poultry selection as “gross.” Maybe a little bland, but “gross” doesn’t make much sense. But it’s your opinion, so go right ahead and don’t eat turkey.

      • Actually, I do make turkey cutlets periodically, and I eat almost exclusively turkey sandwiches if I’m going to buy or make a sandwich. Actually, I used to eat turkey sandwiches for every lunch and dinner about 3 days after Thanksgiving when I was still able to visit my family. But I don’t have the money or enough mouths to cook myself a full turkey when it’s only me eating… and buying frozen or just the breast isn’t the same.

      • Actually, I have done a turkey breast other times of the year when I feel like something a little different. I also used to substitute ground turkey for ground beef on a fairly regular basis before my issues with meat started. I do love turkey sandwiches, turkey pot pie, and other turkey concoctions. I find turkey to be better, more favorable, than chicken, however, it is not readily available year round like chicken is. Also, like wdc says, it’s a bird better suited for larger meals.
        As far as whether it qualifies as “gross” or not, this, of course, is personal preference. But isn’t everything? I, for one, love meatloaf. My BF things it’s the grossest concoction known to man. Whatever, to each their own. We don’t have to shit on each other all the time over personal preferences.

      • I Dont Get It

        When I find them on sale a couple of times a year I will buy a turkey breast to bake. I’m not a big fan of dark meat so a breast is perfect.

        • Blithe

          Like Traveler, I prefer the dark meat and the crispy skin. IDGI — you would be a great person to share a turkey with! ๐Ÿ™‚

          • I Dont Get It

            Yes we won’t be fighting over anything except the sides!

          • Blithe

            Yes! Of course first we’d have to fight about what the sides should be….. #teamsweetpotatoNOTpumpkinpie Greens? Candied yams with apples? That awful but traditional green bean dish with the crunchy onions on top? What’s your stance on cranberry sauce? To be honest, there’s a lot that I won’t eat, but want on the table anyway. I think my ideal is whatever my Mom fixed for Thanksgiving when I was little.

          • Blithe

            After reading through the comments, I came back to amend my “awful” comment. It’s not “awful” — it’s that I don’t personally like cheese sauce, and I lost the fight to have spinach souffle declared one of the official vegetable dishes of Thanksgiving.

      • palisades

        Stop feeding this troll

        • Can I feed them turkey? Even trolls might enjoy my juicy thanksgiving turkey, with homemade gravy, and wild rice stuffing, and cranberry orange relish…
          [insert Homer Simpson drool-moan]

    • “Gross” is such a strong word to describe turkey, which is relatively mild in flavor. I don’t care for turkey breast, but the dark meat is amazing. And the skin is delicious… so delicious that one time I ate so much of it that I made myself sick. I was 6 years old and basically ate most of the skin of a 12 lb turkey. No regrets!

  • I have always gotten a frozen butterball, so this will be my first year getting a fresh turkey. This year’s turkey is coming from Maple Lawn Farms. The turkeys are free-range, hormone and antibiotic free, and affordable ($1.99/lb versus $3.99+ at the other places I looked into). I plan on treating it the same way I always do my turkeys – a butter and sage,thyme, salt and pepper mixture under the skin and on the skin, stuff the cavity with fresh herbs, fresh cranberries, and lemon wedges, roast it low and slow.

    • I looked at their website, and didn’t immediately see delivery options. Do you have to pick it up at the farm?
      Your recipe sounds amazing.

      • Thanks! The cranberry was a new addition last year. It really made the dark meat especially flavorful.
        I reserved my Maple Lawn Farm turkey from Mom’s Organic. So as to avoid the link delay, check out Mom’s Organic Grocery’s facebook page, and one of the recent posts is the reservation form. I’m getting mine from a Baltimore County Mom’s, but I’m pretty sure there is a Mom’s in the city.

    • What time are you serving?

      • +1. Way to go, anonamom! Sounds amazing. I want to try this someday.

      • Ha! Tell you what guys, if you can make it to Baltimore and promise to help me eat sweet potato pie (since apparently I am alone in liking this too!), you are welcome to come!

  • Oh, another tip, in addition to BREAST DOWN (it bears repeating.)
    Digital meat thermometer! Every year, I figure out how long it should take based on the minutes per pound equation. And every year, based on my thermometer, it’s done a full hour (or more!) sooner than the equation calls for. Which is why so many people think of thanksgiving turkey as dry and flavorless, I guess.
    I like the kind where the probe stays in and the read-out is on the counter. There are many, many kinds of meat thermometer, but the remote probe kind is the most convenient.

    • I *love* my remote probe meat thermometer. I use it any time I cook meat thick enough to hold it and everything comes out wonderfully. Before I got it I’d freak about undercooking meat and would wind up overcooking it (a travesty, since I’m generally in the rare/medium rare camp for just about everything), and I almost always find that the meat is finished earlier than I’d expect.
      Definitely a worthwhile year-round investment, it’s not just good for turkeys! (not that they’re that expensive)

    • Yes this is SUCH a good point. Ours is always done well before the estimated time – I’m guessing that the time is estimated longer to make sure that no one undercooks it and then sues for getting sick, but it’s so worth paying attention to the temperature!

  • I get my turkeys from Pecan Meadow Farm at the 14th and U farmers market. They are pasture-raised heritage birds, which I think are much tastier than the usual broad-breasted white turkeys. The Shirks are good people. I buy lots of pastured poultry, pork, and grass-fed beef from them and highly recommend them.

  • Generally, the rule of thumb is 1 lb/person. This tool is very helpful,

    When I’ve hosted more than 20 people, I stop at 20lbs and make plenty of side dishes. If you’re having a smaller gathering and own a crock pot, I highly suggest a turkey breast (4-6lbs usually). 1 hour on high, 5-7 hours on low.

    Both prepared the same way: brine for at least one day, rinse and pat dry completely, herbed butter (fresh rosemary/thyme/sage mixed into softened butter) between skin and meat, on a bed of onions/potatoes/carrots/celery/1 c broth/bay leaf. I usually stick all kinds of aromatics in the cavity. Drizzle everything with olive oil and season outside of bird with more freshly chopped herbs and pepper.

    If you’re doing a whole turkey: cook at 450 for one hour uncovered or until turkey skin reds, then cover with foil and lower oven temp to 350. Roast accordingly until meat temps reach 165-170. Take turkey out and let it rest for 30 mins before carving serving.

    Good luck and enjoy!

    • If you’re getting up to 20 lbs or more, it might be best to get two smaller birds. It saves time and the bigger the bird, the more likely it will be dry. This is assuming you have the oven space.

  • Are there any places in DC that do a prepared Thanksgiving meal for delivery or pickup? There’s just three of us and I don’t know if I feel like cooking.

  • As for how much per person. I recommended a 1lb per person per meal you expect to have. So for example, 5 people for the main meal plus 2 days of sandwiches I’d recommend a 15lb turkey!

    • I feel like I have way over done the size of the turkey this year. We’re only having 15 or so people and I reserved a 22-24lb bird. Oops!

  • That One Guy

    Anyone have recommendations/suggestions for places looking for volunteers during Thanksgiving?

    • Dc central kitchen.
      Food and friends.

      • In my experience, those places usually fill up on volunteers far in advance for major holidays like Thanksgiving. I ran into those problem a few years ago when my wife and I were on our own and wanted to volunteer, but the opportunities were surprisingly scarce.

      • I Dont Get It

        The Green Door

    • I don’t know if they need volunteers, but if you’re looking for someone to donate to, Bread for the City has a campaign called Holiday Helpings which provides a turkey with all the trimmings to a DC family in need. $29 feeds a family of four.

    • Food and Friends does pie sales and asks volunteers to distribute them at local CVSs. So volunteers work shifts handing out pies to people who’ve ordered them in advance. It’s a nice little way to contribute and engage with people.

  • We buy fresh turkey from Hillside Farms (Frederick Co), $2.39/lb; always flavorful. They also sell turkey sausage which is delicious.
    And we do a basic roasting — butter, salt and pepper rubbed on and under the skin, 350 temp, herbs and lemon halves in the cavity, turkey resting on root vegetables like carrots and onions, basting with stock every so often). Definitely use a meat thermometer and check the temp in different places (breast & thigh), should be 165. Let the turkey rest out of the oven for 15-30 mins w hen cooked.
    Stuffing is chestnut/bread/onion/celery/herbs (sadly not stuffed into the cavity any longer)
    Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Go ahead and stuff! Another feature of the miraculous meat thermometer. ๐Ÿ™‚
      I make mine with the usual bread and savory stuff, plus wild rice. I parboil it first; it keeps the texture nice and light and adds that nutty element.

    • We grew up with stuffing in the turkey without any ill effects….but in recent years I’ve been outvoted on stuffing in turkey vs outside.

      • Personally, I dislike stuffing cooked in the bird. However, you can imagine my surprise last year when I was told to nix my plans for stuffing. The BF’s family just doesn’t do stuffing period. Is that a cultural thing?

        • *aghast* Maybe they call it dressing, and didn’t know what it was??
          I get that stuffing in/ not in the bird is a personal thing. I love it, and always stuff. However, I have a couple vegetarian family members, and the cavity isn’t that big anyway, so I make the it vegan and only stuff maybe a third of it in the bird. Then the rest is good for my SIL’s family and those who prefer non-bird stuffing.

        • Gah! They don’t “do” stuffing? It’s the best part about thanksgiving! We stuff some of it in the bird then leave the rest out so people can be choosy about their stuffing.

  • We’re getting ours from Bev with Eco Friendly Foods. Ordered it online, can pick it up at the Dupont market at his stall, and he has multiple types of heritage turkeys, and was nice enough to offer last minute adjustments on bird size depending on how many people are coming. This year we went with the Midget White, which is supposedly one of the better tasting turkeys, and will do a wet brine the day before. Banking on around 5 people, and a 12 pound turkey so everyone can have some turkey, blue cheese, and cranberry sandwiches the day after.

  • I pre-order my bird from Whole Foods. I’ll keep some of these other places in mind for next year. Thanks posters. 1 pound per person is the general rule of thumb.

    As far as prep/cooking, I follow the Serious Eats approach. I spatchcock the turkey. This results in a faster, more even cooking process. It also saves space in the oven for other dishes since the turkey is flat.

    A few days prior, I salt the bird over and under the skin, leave it loosely covered in the fridge. This helps “dry brine” the bird and results in nice crispy skin with moist meat. You should not do this with a kosher, already brined, or self-basting bird as they are already salted.

    • I like the idea of a spatchcocked turkey, but I don’t think I have the tools or the strength! What do you use, a hatchet? ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • You could hammer your hatchet, cleaver, etc to get some extra oomph. But I have faith you could take your frustrations out on the bird just fine ๐Ÿ™‚

      • I use meat shears. I bought “Kuhn Rikon 2704 Kitchen Shears” from Amazon. They work very well. Afterwards, you can use the back bone to make stock, too.

      • I get mine at the Eastern Market poultry shop and get them to spatchcock it for me. They have a saw. Make sure you keep the backbone/giblets for gravy!

    • I Dont Get It

      Well I learned a new word today! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I’ve always held closer to the rule of 1.5 lbs/guest, and closer to 2 if you want leftovers, but my family is well-known for going HAM on turkey. Whatever method you choose, the most important thing is to avoid overcooking it. Dry, overcooked turkey is why many people write off Thanksgiving but for the sides.

  • I find this picture of a turkey Halloween costume offensive. I demand others to feel my pain.

    Brian – Yale ’16

  • I Dont Get It

    My mother made the best dressing (the term we used). Cornbread, biscuits, onions, celery, sage and probably a few more things I’m leaving out. She would get up early to start the turkey and make the cornbread and biscuits so the house always smelled wonderful when you woke up on Thanksgiving morning.

    Damn I’m hungry now… and kinda missing my mother.

    • Hugs. I’d make you cornbread dressing.
      But no getting up early to get the bird in the oven. No sir, we sit down at 6pm. I also grew up with Thanksgiving dinner at 12 or 1, and some poor put-upon aunt nodding off over the green beans because she’d been up since 5am getting it all ready.

      • I Dont Get It

        “…and some poor put-upon aunt nodding off over the green beans casserole…”

        There I fixed it for you ๐Ÿ˜‰

        Yeah we always ate early. My sister who now hosts (I’ve never been) serves it around 5:00 pm.

    • Quotia Zelda

      Cornbread for breakfast is one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving.

    • anonymouse_dianne

      Mom (aka Yia Yia) made oyster dressing for the neck, and chestnut dressing for the breast. It was delicious and took all day.

  • yep it’s another duck thanksgiving for us. Never had a complaint, and let’s be real…. duck > turkey

    • Meh… I am not a huge duck fan. It’s one of those things that I want to like, but just don’t care for.

      • Certain duck preparations are to die for. Confit de canard. The right kind of pate. But a plain roasted duck tends to be both oily and stringy, in my experience. I like the flavor, but the texture doesn’t do it for me.

        • Oh, see, now I love pate. But I have not had a decent pate since I lived in Europe. I used to eat pate sandwiches in college, but here? no. (omg, that sounds so bougie…)

  • We’ve had good birds from Norman’s Farm Market and from Whole Foods. Brined first, cooked breast side down for a while, then flipped. I recall the flipping process to be a challenge.

    One year I was flying solo and made turkey ravioli (ground turkey, some dried cranberries, sage (I think) put into wonton wrappers and boiled). Served with a light gravy. Sounds weird but it was actually really good.
    I also smoked a brisket another year, instead of doing turkey. That was actually really fun and good.

  • Blithe

    I’ve always used a Magnalite roaster — which has worked well no matter what kind of turkey I’ve cooked — even the Butterballs that I grew up with. The first step is to prepare the turkey, and cook the giblets. The turkey is rubbed with salt. The dressing is made with giblets, onions, celery, seasonings, and Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix, plus extra day-old bread.
    – Rinse the turkey, rub the large cavity with salt, and rub the turkey and cavities with butter. Sprinkle the bottom of the roaster with flour, and put the grate-thingy on top. Put the stuffed turkey in, cover, and cook for about half an hour at 425. Reduce heat to 350, and cook 15 min. per pound. Baste with butter every 45 min or so. At the end, take the cover off and let the turkey brown if it needs it. Take the turkey out, and use the browned flour in the bottom of the roaster to make the gravy — putting the roaster on top of the stove burners.
    – I plan on 1 pound of turkey per person, which always allows for lots of leftovers. This can get a little ugly for those of us who only like dark meat.

    -TLDR: Use a Magnalite roaster.

    • Blithe

      Oops: First 45 min — turkey is cooked UNCOVERED to brown a bit. It gets covered when the temp is reduced, then uncovered again at the end if it needs additional browning time.

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