The Pioneer Woman Tasty Kitchen
Profile photo of Erika (TK)

Let’s Talk Turkey

Posted by in Holidays, Kitchen Talk

Tasty Kitchen Blog: Let's Talk Turkey!

It’s time for a special two-part edition of Kitchen Talk, and today, our topic is turkey. So, let’s have it:

Why do they call 3 strikes in a row a turkey?

Leave your comments below, then stay tuned tomorrow for another related topic!

Just kidding. (Although I really do want to know why.)

Okay, seriously now. Here’s our topic for today:

What are your favorite tips for preparing a whole turkey?

Tasty Kitchen Blog: Let's Talk Turkey!

I confess, cooking a whole turkey intimidates me. It’s huge, it takes hours in the oven, it’s huge, it seems to take forever to defrost properly, and it’s huge. I think I was in my early twenties when I first laid eyes on a whole roasted turkey. I only remember that it took up almost the entire table. I don’t recall enjoying it all that much; I think it was dry and a bit bland.

Years later, my sister-in-law had an extra turkey in her freezer and gave it to me. I had watched enough Food Network shows to be convinced that brining was the way to go, so I went with an Emeril concoction that involved apple cider, beer, cinnamon sticks, cloves, peppercorns, orange zest, garlic, ginger, and salt. Shortly after putting the turkey into the murky brine, we had a family emergency and I ended up having to leave the turkey in the fridge brining for almost 3 days. We roasted it anyway (not sure if that was completely safe, but we’re all still alive so far) and it was super moist and tasted like honey roasted turkey. As a bonus, I reheated leftovers in a skillet with some butter and smoked paprika and had smoked honey roasted turkey sandwiches for about 17 days.

I realize it’s not a very exciting turkey story, but I really don’t have much turkey cooking experience. I do know that I once tasted a whole fried turkey that was later basted with spicy barbecue sauce and I think that is still the best turkey I’ve ever had. But frying a whole turkey scares me (because it’s huge!) so please invite me over if you have a responsible adult, preferably a fireman, frying a turkey for dinner.

Tasty Kitchen Blog: Let's Talk Turkey!

My only tip is a basic one: brine, and use a brining bag. I used to balk at spending money for brining bags, but really, it’s the best way to go. You end up needing so much more brining liquid if you use a giant pail, and it’s unwieldy. And did I mention you’re going to need a big pail? For the huge turkey?

Nanci is much better at roasting turkeys than I am, and the biggest tip she can give is to get your turkey early if buying it frozen and let it thaw in a pan in the refrigerator for several days. Big turkeys can take 5 to 7 days to properly thaw. It’s hard to safely rush thawing a turkey so it’s best to plan ahead. She says, “I know. Your fridge feng shui will be off with that monster in there for so long but hang in there. Or buy fresh the day before! And obviously don’t forget to clean out both cavities before you cook the turkey (been there, done that, and it’s a mess). It’s also key to use a meat thermometer or pop-up timer because many times it will get fully cooked before you expect it to be done.”

Ree stopped by to share her favorite tip with us, too. She says, “If you brine your turkey, rinse it then soak it in a sink of cold water for 15 minutes after removing it from the brine. That helps with the issue of salty drippings.”

Tasty Kitchen Blog: Let's Talk Turkey!

Now let’s hear from you! What tips do you have for preparing a whole turkey? Do you brine? If you do, have any favorite brine recipes or flavors? Do you have a special technique for carving the bird when it’s done? Share your wisdom below, and do come back tomorrow for part two of this week’s Kitchen Talk!



Comments are closed for this recipe.

Colleen on 12.2.2013

I usually have a number of people for dinner on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Since I only have 1 oven and a warming drawer the turkey took up valuable space in the oven when other food had to be cooked or kept warm.
My son-in-law had been cooking his turkey in his weber for years and urged me to try it. I was concerned that the turkey would come out with a smokey flavor. I stuffed and prepared the turkey as usual, put a drip pan below him in the Weber, banked coals on either side, put the lid on and opened the vents and added a few more coals every hour .
Much to my surprise the bird was done quicker than I anticipated and had not a bit of smokey flavor. It was moist and delicious. I will never go back to the old way I cooked the bird.

Mike on 11.23.2013

I’m the turkey-cooker in our large family and my worst critic. I’ve brined, bagged, slow-cooked (1 hour/lb.) and this year I’ll use an oil-less fryer. I enjoy the challenge of mixing it up and although we’ve had amazing turkeys and some not-so-amazing, I can never remember the recipe we use the previous year – only the faces, stories, and laughter. I can tell by the posts that you all enjoy the holiday as much as I do!

ph on 11.20.2013

cook the turkey breast side down for the first half of the cooking time. this allows all the juices to accumulate in the breast meat and it wont get dried out. halfway through, flip the bird so that the breast side is now up, and the skin will get crunchy crispy. works perfectly for me every time!

Heidi on 11.8.2013

Brine, brine, brine. You don’t need anything special, just mainly salt and sugar(or some kind of sweetener). After that its just your flavor preference(herbs, flavorings, and such) .

Stephanie Lammers on 11.8.2013

For years I cooked my turkey in the plastic bag – it typically turned out okay – not really moist like one would think. Then my daughter took over the turkey for Thanksgiving – her first time – she pulled out that ‘plastic red thingy’ because she thought it shouldn’t be there, then of course didn’t pull the bag of ‘goodies’ out of the cavity and baked it in the oven bag upside down (on accident). The white breast meat was so moist and delicious – we decided she was the Turkey guru from there on out.

Profile photo of Nancy @ Coupon Clipping Cook

Nancy @ Coupon Clipping Cook on 11.8.2013

The turkey tip that works out great for me is to cook the turkey on a kettle-type BBQ. The wonderful BBQ smell is beyond description, the gravy from the drippings is the best ever, and the meat is so tender. The time it takes to cook and the number of coals to use is calculated based on the weight of the turkey. Here’s a recipe on TK.

Christina Roth on 11.7.2013

As someone who made the decision earlier this year to make my own Thanksgiving meal for the first time, I’ve come to one conclusion: there is no consensus for cooking your bird. I’ve been scouring the internet and my personal cookbooks and recipes for “the perfect bird” recipe and have yet to find one that is consistent with everyone else’s. It’s overwhelming, since all I want are the best tips and tricks of the trade. My mother’s turkey is great, but so is my grandmother’s and they both have given me contradictory information regarding their cooking methods and why theirs is the best. I’ve no idea what method to go with this year, but I may post again to share my results!

Renee Anderson on 11.7.2013

After thoroughly washing it, I cover every square inch of my turkey with bacon, add a little bit of water to the base of the roasting pan and then cover everything with tinfoil. This year, I baked it for about 5 hours on 200 degrees and then, because I was running out of time, I turned the temperature to 350 degrees for about 2-3 hours, and took the foil off for the last hour of cooking. It turned out to be a wonderfully moist bird, with a beautiful roasted color. Not only does the bacon self-baste the turkey, it adds wonderful flavor as well. The drippings make the best gravy. In our home, my family fights for the bacon when it comes time to carve the turkey up! My mom and my aunts have always made turkey this way and now that I am married and hosting gatherings of my own, I continue the tradition.

Betty on 11.7.2013

I started brining my turkey’s about 6 years and won’t go back! This is the recipe I like the most:
I tried a couple others but this is the favorite of everyone. I use one of those large orange water dispensers (like construction workers use) to put mine in. I’ve been able to get up to a 19.5 pound turkey in it. It works for me because it’s always cold enough to leave it in my garage to brine. I do brine it at longer, usually put it in on Tuesday night. The first year the drippings were salty so I just rinsed it longer than normal and that fixed it. I didn’t have to soak it. I sprinkle salt under the skin and if I remember put some butter under there too. I stuff the cavity with lemon and some fresh herbs. If it isn’t stuffed with stuffing it really doesn’t take that long to roast. Nothing smells as good as a turkey in oven! (once my brother cooked his on the grill, which is good but you didn’t get the smell when you walked in the house.) Don’t forget to let it rest before you rope someone into carving it for you while you get the rest of the stuff done. :) I would say if you haven’t tried brining a turkey, DO IT. It is SO worth it. As an added benefit, it will help it finish thawing.

KrissyC E'sMommy on 11.7.2013

Love the bowl of bleach by the sink for cleaning. I use vinegar…it takes a few seconds longer, but does about the same amount of work. Plus then it kills odors. lol. I too don’t brine. I hold off on any seasonings till towards the end, cover that baby up for a while, and keep basting every few minutes after. Biggest trick tho is to let it rest. Helps to seal in the juices. Turkey can be pretty irrestable tho, so resting isn’t always a welcome thought. lol. I don’t use butter, or anything special, but my turkey always ends up moist, delic, and there are rarely leftovers after my inlaws are done…and mind you this is just my FIL, MIL and BIL, plus my little family of three. I generally cram a second turkey in the oven to enjoy days of leftovers while we eat. lol.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Enjoy all that wonderful food, family and happy times.

kat-in-texas on 11.6.2013

500 degrees for 30 minutes uncovered, then reduce heat to 350, cover breast with foil and cook until thermometer reaches 170 degrees. Perfect, juicy bird every time!!!!!!

Profile photo of slickquilter

slickquilter on 11.6.2013

I tried brining; it didn’t make enough difference in taste, moistness, texture or quality to justify the additional work and ingredients. I use an electric roaster (so I have the oven available for all the other dishes) with the turkey in a roasting bag and bake the stuffing/dressing separately. I stuff the turkey with chopped onions, celery, carrots and an apple, seasoned with fresh sage and rosemary and some white wine for a great flavor.
I buy smaller turkeys,12 to 16 pounds, fresh and locally raised when I can locate a source. I do not care for the salty, watery, chemical taste of most commercial turkeys but will find a good brand and roast one, carve the meat for the meal then use everything else to make turkey stock and a week’s worth of wonderful soups.

Leslie on 11.6.2013

If you are going to rinse the bird, have a bowl of water with bleach at the ready for washing the sink, your hands, counter, and everything within about 10 feet of the sink. I couldn’t find a roaster big enough for a large turkey, so I have always used a cooking bag. The turkey is always juicy and beautifully browned. Invest in the type of meat thermometer with a wire, so you insert the thermometer in the bird and run the monitor outside of the oven, so you can observe the temp and plan your other dishes accordingly.

Cory on 11.6.2013

My mom taught me to thaw my turkey in a brown paper bag, the kind they used to put your groceries in at the store, she swore that it made for a moister turkey (not sure why but to this day that is what i do) – then i cook it in a turkey bag and viola……….Turkey!!!!!!

Ahhhhh I LOVE Thanksgiving!!!!! Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


Janet on 11.6.2013

We have been using oven bags for nearly 50 years. My Dad worked for Reynolds, and we got to try them out before they went on the market. The only time the turkey didn’t turn out perfect was the year I had a new stove. Although I had the oven on the right temperature, the indicator was on Broil. The turkey browned beautifully, but wasn’t cooking internally. Once we discovered the problem, we quartered the bird and microwaved it until done. It was a mess, and I got kidded for years!

Patty Paulsen on 11.6.2013

I learned this tip from my mother-in-law: Start roasting the turkey breast-side down. Halfway through the cooking time, grab a partner and flip that bird over to breast-side up. The juices stay in the breast–no dry white meat and there is still plenty of time for that beautiful browning! I have been doing this for nearly 40 years and I can tell you, it works. As a note, I am not kidding when I say you need a partner–it will take two of you (one to hold the pan on the counter while the other flips the bird). Also, a nice pair of silicone mitts makes the job a bit easier!

Elaine P. on 11.6.2013

As one of 9 kids, I grew up with a huge turkey every Thanksgiving. My dad always did the turkey, & it’s as easy as pie – no brining; stuff the bird with preferred stuffings (we use 2: Pepperridge Farm bread dressing, & a homemade meat dressing); and cook it COVERED! He used a large rectangular roaster, with two vents in the cover. He put the turkey in the oven (325), and left it alone until it was done (he uses the timing on the wrapper of the bird). Every turkey, every year, was done to perfection, and JUICY! My goodness, the gravy! When you brine, you’re just adding more salt to an already oversalted diet, with all the other foods on that day.
Now that I’m the turkey-maker, I use a huge roaster that I got at Bed Bath & Beyond – it’s dark metal with a dome cover. Because it’s so dark, the cooking time is even faster – I can cook an enormous bird in 4 hours – seriously. And it’s so juicy it weeps!
Trust me – don’t brine – cover!

Vickie R on 11.6.2013

Once my mother started using oven bags for the turkey, we all converted. I still use them every year. I don’t stuff my turkey, so I put onions, celery, and apple halves in both cavities. . .put the turkey in the bag , then just before I close the bag, I take one cup of white wine and pour it in the main cavity. The turkey is great and the gravy from the juices is outstanding.

Deanna F on 11.6.2013

I tried brining once (Alton Brown’s recipe) and was hooked and have been brining ever since. My only problem is that I put it on a rack in the pan and the drippings smoke up the oven and house something terrible. I tried putting water in the pan, but that evaporated out too quickly to really be any good. Any suggestions? I seem to remember reading somewhere about putting a layer of potatoes in the bottom of the pan, but then how will that work out when it’s time to make gravy from the drippings?

Janet Orzy on 11.6.2013

I too do not brine, I make a herb butter and put under the breast skin, I put lemons, onions, garlic and fresh herbs inside the cavities (the stuffing will dry out your turkey if you roast with stuffing in the cavity) It comes out so juicy and moist!!

Nancy W. on 11.6.2013

I have made my turkey the same way my mom taught me… many many years ago…very simple…butter/season…stuff/or not…bake..I guess you could say I am in a rut…but I happen to love the way it turns out…It has never failed…

Not into brining…but this year I am breaking the rut…I have a NuWave oven and I can’t wait to try….

Why do they call 3 strikes in a row a turkey?

A turkey is bowling lingo for three strikes in a row. Probably, the most famous score for amateur and professional bowlers alike. This is partly due to the fact it has an unusual name, and partly because even a beginner can get one. The term dates back to before the turn of the 20th century. In those years, scoring was much more difficult and to get three strikes in a row was quite an achievement. During Thanksgiving or Christmas week, the proprietor would present a live turkey to the first person on each team who scored three consecutive strikes. The term has carried over ever since…..

Colleen (Souffle Bombay) on 11.6.2013

I buy a fresh turkey – the biggest I can (once it hit the top of my oven)! I swear by Tom Colicchio’s method called The Ultimate Turkey aka The Herb Butter Turkey – I have been making mine that way for years and years – his gravy is the best I have ever tasted! Oh boy…NOW I am hungry!!

Profile photo of mnheather

mnheather on 11.6.2013

Wash it, wash it some more, and then wash it again. I’ve never brined, but I do shove a lot of butter under the skin. Toss some onion and celery in the cavity, set it on top of more celery inside a floured bag, and let her cook!

Theresa Hauenstein on 11.6.2013

I have never failed at my turkey thanks to brining. I also used one of the oven roasting bags. I thought it was silly, but it made it so I could put the turkey in the oven and not worry about basting. They really work! Between the brine and that roasting bag, your turkey will be perfect!

Anne Weber-Falk on 11.6.2013

I don’t brine because I buy Butterball. Too salty if I brine too. I keep it simple though. After bringing to room temperature and stuffing it (yes, I cook the stuffing in the bird and none of us has ever gotten sick) I cover the turkey with softened butter. I start the cooking at a very high temperature to start, 450 degrees, for about 30 minutes. Then lower to 325 degrees for the rest of the cooking time. I will tent the bird if it looks like it’s browning too much. I don’t baste. Opening the oven too often will just take longer to cook our dinner. It turns out fabulous. Beautifully laquered and crisp skinned and the meat is moist and juicy.

Ann from St. Peter MN on 11.6.2013

I like to make an herb butter by combining soft butter with rosemary and sage, and then I roll this into a log wrapped in plastic warp and then set in the freezer to harden. I cut discs from the butter log and slide them under the skin along the breast. This gives great flavor to the meat and keeps the moisture in.

Nanette on 11.6.2013

Flavor the meat get that flavor inside the meat, spreading butter and seasonings all over the skin makes no sense to me.

I make a seasoned butter with herbs, salt and pepper, then slide my clean hands under the skin and spread this butter directly on the meat. Then I stuff partially peeled oranges inside the cavity, especially when smoking the bird. In the past I have even injected the bird with italian seasoning and honey combination.

Since I eat the meat not the skin, my tip would be season the meat not the skin.