Once again, it's time to do battle with the big bird.
Unlike our grandmothers who plopped the poultry in a pan and shoved it in the oven to brown for hours, today's cooks face a barrage of equipment and cooking choices for the Thanksgiving turkey.
Should they roast, grill, broil, deep-fry or micro-wave it? How about using a clay pot, a vertical roaster or just a regular rectangular pan?
Often, tradition dictates the decision. But, more and more, holiday chefs are becoming adventuresome in preparing the day's main event.
"Maybe it's just that we're always looking for something different," says Norma Gray, a spokeswoman for the National Turkey Federation, a trade association in Washington, referring to why people try various cooking techniques.
The NTF anticipates that 91 percent of Americans will be chowing down on 45 million turkeys this Thanksgiving. With the average weight of each turkey estimated to be 15 pounds, that translates into 675 million pounds of turkey that will be gobbled ,, at tables around the country.
No wonder so many cooks fret about preparation.
Gray says the NTF recommends the open-pan method of cooking a turkey to produce a juicy, tender bird. This standard type of preparation involves cooking the bird in a roasting pan at 325 degrees until it reaches an internal temperature in the thigh of 180 degrees with a meat thermometer.
"It's easy and reliable. And it does yield a pretty turkey," Gray says.
Carol Miller, a 15-year supervisor at Butterball Turkey Talk Line, agrees but says she expects more people to be cooking the holiday bird on the grill.
"It's a great place to put the turkey when the oven is filled with side dishes," she says. "Or people with big families can cook one [turkey] in the oven and one on the grill."
Grilling results in a succulent, golden-brown bird in a reasonable time as long as the outdoor chef uses a meat thermometer and maintains the heat in a charcoal grill, Miller says. For successful results, grill only turkeys that are 16 pounds or less, she instructs.
Ken Niman of Mount Washington wouldn't cook his holiday turkey any other way, he says. After all, he's been overseeing the Thanksgiving bird on his Weber grill for almost 20 years.
"I found it to be pretty foolproof," says the 51-year-old attorney. "It comes out golden and tastes delicious."
But you shouldn't stuff a turkey that is going on the grill, says Pat Schweitzer, a senior home economist for Richmond, Va.-based Reynolds Kitchen. It's a safety factor. The high heat of the grill cooks the turkey before the stuffing reaches the correct temperature.
Instead, tuck halved citrus fruits like lemons, oranges or limes and fresh herb sprigs into the cavity for a different flavor, Schweitzer recommends. Herb rubs and glazes for the exterior also are popular, she says.
If you're committed to your kitchen oven, a cooking container that seems to be getting attention is the earthenware roaster, which Miller says produces great turkey results. "You get a nice, roasted flavor," she says. "The meat is tender and juicy and looks good."
Williams-Sonoma sells a clay pot big enough to hold a 17-pound turkey for around $75.
One thing most cooks won't be doing this Thanksgiving, though, is microwaving the turkey, Miller says.
"You have to baby-sit the turkey," she says. "It takes less time to cook but requires more attention from the cook. It seems like it's easier to tuck it into the oven or the grill."
Also on the out list is the vertical roaster, where you get physical with the bird and turn it upside down to cook in the oven. "Nobody's ever asked me for one [for a turkey]," says Kathleen Matava, owner of Cook's Cupboard in the Rotunda since 1980. "Most people's ovens aren't tall enough."
She does get requests for smaller vertical roasters for chickens, she says.
Yes, people even broil turkeys, but there are limitations, turkey cooks say. Only young, fresh-killed turkeys weighing from 3 1/2 pounds to 5 pounds broil successfully. They usually are split and seasoned before broiling.
And, while Southern cooks rave about deep-fried turkeys ' a technique in which the holiday bird, doctored with zippy Cajun flavorings, is lowered into a vat of boiling oil ' experienced chefs warn about the dangers of trying to do this in a home kitchen.
"It definitely has to be done outdoors and you need special equipment," Miller says. "You have to invest in a propane cooker and a big pot. It's going to add to the cost."
If you're still confused about tackling the turkey, try these hot lines and Web site:
* Butterball Turkey Talk line, 800-323-4848, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. weekdays through Nov. 25; 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Nov. 21-22; 7 a.m.-7 p.m. on Thanksgiving; and 9 a.m.-7 p.m. weekdays through Dec. 23. A free recipe booklet is available to callers.
* Reynolds Kitchens turkey tips line, 800-745-4000, recorded messages, 24 hours, through December. Reynolds is also offering a free "Turkey Made Easy" brochure, at the same number.
* For online help, check out the National Turkey Federation, www.turkeyfed.org, for roasting tips and other turkey recipe holiday ideas.
Serves 8 to 20
8- to 16-pound turkey, thawed
Prepare grill. (See note)
Remove neck and giblets from turkey; rinse turkey and pat dry. Brush with oil. (Do not stuff turkey.) Insert meat thermometer into thickest part of thigh, not touching the bone. Place foil drip pan under grill rack. Brush grill rack with oil. Place turkey on grill rack above drip pan.
Grill turkey in covered grill over medium, indirect heat until meat thermometer reads 180 degrees Fahrenheit. (It will take about 11 to 13 minutes per pound.) For easy slicing, remove turkey from grill, cover with foil and let stand for 15 minutes.
Note: According to Weber turkey grilling tips: To set up the grill for the indirect method, open all vents. Divide charcoal briquettes evenly (about 25 for 22 1/2-inch grill) and place them on either side of the charcoal grate. Ignite the briquettes and, keeping the lid off, let them burn until lightly covered with gray ash (25 to 30 minutes). If necessary, use long-handled tongs to rearrange briquettes so the coals will burn evenly on both sides. Add about 8 briquettes to each side every hour until turkey is done.
-- From Reynolds Kitchens
Grilled Turkey With Cranberry Gravy
1 cup wood chips (preferably apple, cherry or hickory), if desired
12- to 14-pound turkey, thawed
2 to 3 lemons, halved
fresh herb sprigs, such as sage, parsley and thyme
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup water
additional lemons for garnish
12-ounce bag fresh or unthawed frozen cranberries, picked over
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup water
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups turkey giblet stock (made from turkey neck and giblets, if desired) or chicken broth
FOR THE TURKEY: Rinse and pat dry inside and out. Season turkey inside and out with salt and pepper and pack neck cavity loosely with some lemon halves and herbs. Fold neck skin under body and fasten with a skewer. Fill body cavity loosely with remaining lemon halves and herbs and truss turkey with string.
Put an oiled rack inside a metal roasting pan that will fit inside the grill. Spread turkey with butter and put on rack in pan. Add water to pan.
FOR THE GRILL: Soak wood chips in water to cover 30 minutes and drain well.
Open vents in lid and bottom of grill and put 25 briquettes on two opposite sides of bottom, leaving middle clear. Ignite the briquettes and, keeping the lid off, let them burn until lightly covered with gray ash (about 20 to 30 minutes). Shake excess water off wood chips and put evenly on top of briquettes. When chips begin to smoke, in about 2 minutes, the grill is ready.
Grill turkey on rack in pan in grill, covered, over glowing coals 1 hour. (Do not remove lid during cooking). Remove lid and add 10 more briquettes on each side. Grill turkey, covered, 1 hour more. Remove lid and add 10 more briquettes on each side. Grill turkey 1 hour more (note: a 12-pound turkey took only 20 more minutes) and insert a meat thermometer in fleshy part of a thigh. If thermometer registers 180 degrees Fahrenheit and juices run clear when thigh is pierced, turkey is done. If turkey is not done, add 10 more briquettes on each side and test for doneness in same manner every 15 minutes.
Transfer turkey to a heated platter, reserving juices in pan, and discard string. Keep turkey warm, covered loosely with foil.
FOR THE GRAVY: Begin making gravy while grilling turkey. In a (( saucepan, cook cranberries and sugar over moderately low heat, stirring frequently, until sugar is melted and cranberries burst. In a blender, in batches, puree cranberry mixture until smooth, transferring to a bowl. Cranberry mixture may be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Bring mixture to room temperature before proceeding.
Skim fat from pan juices, reserving 3 tablespoons of fat, and deglaze pan with water over moderately high heat, scraping up brown bits. Simmer pan juices 3 minutes, stirring, and reserve off heat. In a saucepan, whisk together reserved fat and flour and cook roux over moderately low heat, whisking, 3 minutes.
Add pan juices and stock or broth in a stream and add cranberry mixture, whisking occasionally. Boil gravy, whisking occasionally, until reduced to about 5 cups, 15 to 20 minutes, and strain through a sieve into a saucepan. Season gravy with salt and pepper and keep warm.
TO SERVE: Discard lemon halves and herbs from turkey cavities. Garnish turkey with additional lemon halves or slices, and fresh herbs.
4 -- Adapted from Gourmet (November 1995) magazine
Herb-Roasted Turkey With Citrus Glaze
15-pound turkey, thawed
3 large lemons
2 large limes
1 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 cup dry white wine (alcohol-free wine may be substituted)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon each: fresh sage, marjoram
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons of salad oil
additional sprigs of fresh herbs for garnish
Remove giblets and neck from turkey; reserve for gravy. Rinse turkey with cold running water and drain well. Blot dry with paper towels.
Squeeze enough juice from the lemons and limes to equal 2 tablespoons each. Cut the remaining lemons and limes in half and place in the turkey cavity. Sprinkle 3/4 teaspoon salt in the cavity.
In a small bowl, mix the wine, brown sugar and citrus juices; reserve for glaze.
Gently loosen skin from the turkey breast without totally detaching the skin and carefully place 1 tablespoon each fresh sage and marjoram under the skin.
Replace the skin. Fold neck skin and fasten to the back with 1 or 2 skewers.
Place turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a large shallow (about 2 1/2 inches deep) roasting pan. Rub turkey with remaining salt, pepper and 2 to 3 tablespoons of salad oil. Insert oven-safe meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, being careful that the pointed end of the thermometer does not touch the bone.
Roast turkey in a preheated 325-degree Fahrenheit oven about 3 3/4 hours. During the last hour of roasting time, baste with the pan drippings. During the last 30 minutes, baste with the citrus glaze. Loosely cover with lightweight foil to prevent excessive browning. Continue to roast until the thermometer registers 180 degrees in the thigh, or 170 degrees in the breast.
Remove turkey from the oven and allow it to rest for 15-20 minutes before carving.
Place on a warm, large platter and garnish the platter with the remaining fresh herbs.
-- Adapted from the National Turkey Federation
Pub Date: 11/18/98