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Traeger Talks Turkey

Posted by Traeger on November 3, 2011

What is it about roasting a turkey that brings out so many insecurities in cooks? We can’t speak for everyone, but we suspect all the options make people nervous. To brine or not to brine? Fresh or frozen? Heritage breed or a supermarket bird? Stuff the bird or serve dressing on the side? It’s enough to make you reach for the Wild Turkey – and we ain’t talkin’ about the homely, wily bird that gives hunters a run for their money each Fall. We’re talking about that bourbon whisky that gives Kentuckians goosebumps.

Well, Traeger owner, relax. We’re here to help you sort the wheat from the chaff. We want you and your family and friends to have the best Traeger Thanksgiving ever, one that will be talked about for weeks and repeated year after year.

Incidentally, for wonderful Thanksgiving-appropriate recipes, from appetizers to desserts, check out our thanksgiving feast recipes.

Before you read any further, check your pellet supply. You don’t want to run out of pellets on Thanksgiving Day! Visit your local Traeger dealer, or order wood pellets online directly from Traeger . Shipping is free on all online orders regardless of how many bags you order. Apple, Hickory, or Pecan are especially nice with turkey and all the fixin’s.

Now, let’s start by demystifying all those confusing turkey terms:

  • Free-range: This term on the label means that the turkey had the freedom to go outside and play. It wasn’t caged, and could supplement its food with any insects, grasses, or grain it could find. Freedom often comes at a price, of course, and you will generally pay more for free-range birds. Some upscale supermarkets carry them, but your best bet is to find a local turkey farmer or shop at a farmers’ market.
  • Kosher: The main thing you need to know about kosher birds is they have been salted prior to sale, which like brining, makes the meat tender and juicy. (Do not brine a kosher bird or it will be unbearably salty.) In addition, kosher turkeys were raised on vegetarian diets and are hormone- and antibiotic-free. Before roasting, look them over for stray quills and pull any you find out with kitchen tweezers.
  • Organic: Turkeys with an “organic” label are free-range birds whose foraging has been supplemented by pesticide-free organic food (vegetarian). Like the free-range turkeys above, they are generally more expensive. Find them at larger health-food markets.
  • Heritage: This term refers to a turkey that has been raised like it was the “olden days” using techniques that were popular before Butterball muscled into the turkey market with its extraordinarily big-breasted birds. Currently, “heritage breeds” include such names as Bourbon Red, Black Squash, Standard Bronze, Jersey Bluff, and others. They take longer to mature (about 10 weeks longer than common Broad-Breasted Whites): turkey connoisseurs say the meat is richer-tasting. Heritage breeds are the most expensive turkey option, often costing $100 or more (plus shipping). A few upscale markets carry them. They can also be purchased online from www.heritagefoodsusa.com. Usually, they must be reserved in advance.
  • Natural: This is basically a weasel word often found on supermarket birds that sounds good to the unsuspecting shopper, but that doesn’t guarantee anything. Read the label closely to see if the turkey was raised free-range, is antibiotic-free, and ate a vegetarian diet. “Hormone free” is another meaningless term as hormones are not currently approved by the USDA in poultry production.
  • Self-Basting: Many commercial producers inject dressed turkeys with saline solution (and sometimes, preservatives) before flash-freezing them. Naturally, you are paying for the liquid in the per pound price. Pre-injected turkeys should not be brined. These are the turkeys sold by most supermarkets during the holidays.

Size Matters

Let’s say the whole family is coming to your house for Turkey Day, and you don’t know how big of a bird to buy. Well, the folks at Butterball have been in the biz for a long time, and their website features a nifty calculator that can help you determine how much turkey you’ll need taking into consideration how many adults and children you’ll be feeding, what kind of appetites they have, and whether leftovers are important to you. Find it here: www.butterball.com/tips-how-tos/tips/calculators-and-conversions

If you’re feeding a crowd, we recommend you roast two birds rather than one huge one. There are two reasons for this: 1) An extraordinarily large bird – over 20 pounds – can take many hours to cook, meaning it’s in the “danger zone” (40 to 140 degrees F) too long. Food poisoning is not a holiday visitor you want to have. 2) Two birds better satisfy the wing and leg lovers in your party and don’t take as long to cook. Of course, feel free to buy additional legs wings, or breasts and roast them alongside the whole bird(s).

One more word of advice: Pre-holiday, make sure your Traeger has enough room to accommodate your turkey(s). Check grill grate space as well as vertical clearance between the grill grate and the lid.

Thawing

We’ve all heard the story of the host who forgot to thaw the turkey before the big day...

There are two safe ways to thaw a turkey, and leaving it on a countertop at room temperature is not one of them.

The preferred and easiest way to thaw a bird is to put a roasting pan under it and thaw it in the refrigerator. Allow about 1 day for every 4 pounds. In other words, a 20-pounder will take 5 days.

The second way to safely defrost a turkey is to make sure there are no tears in the wrapping, then submerge it in a sink, food-safe pail, or large basin filled with cold water (40 degrees F or less). It’s a good idea to put the turkey in a large resealable plastic bag so water and turkey juices don’t mingle. Allow about 45 minutes per pound, and drain and change the water every 30 minutes.

To Brine Or Not To Brine

We are not impartial: We think a brined turkey is a juicier, more flavorful turkey. (Again, don’t brine if you’ve bought a bird that is labeled “kosher” or features anything other than turkey in the ingredient list on the label.)

A basic brine, which is really just salt water, is easy to make. Put your turkey in a large stockpot and add water so that the turkey is submerged. Remove the turkey and measure the water. For each quart, add 1/3 cup of Morton’s Kosher Salt. (If you use table salt, use only 1/4 cup per quart.) If desired, add sugar and any other spices, flavorings, or aromatics you’d like, such as bay leaf, onion, garlic, orange, maple syrup, bourbon, peppercorns, etc. Bring to a boil. Let the brine cool completely, then chill in the refrigerator until it is under 40 degrees F. If you live in a cold climate you can take advantage of your commodious natural refrigerator.

Remove any plastic wrapping and/or giblets from the bird. Immerse in the cold brine for several hours, or even overnight. If you do not have a stockpot large enough to hold the turkey, you can use a clean cooler. Keep the turkey submerged and cold by weighting it with resealable plastic bags filled with ice. Exchange the bags of ice as needed with fresh ones.

Rinse the turkey, inside and out, under cold running water, and dry with paper towels before roasting.

Other Ways To Add Flavor And Moisture

  • Inject your turkey with chicken or turkey broth and melted butter using a kitchen syringe;
  • Stir chopped fresh herbs into softened butter and put on or under the skin before roasting;
  • Apply butter or oil to the outside of the bird, then season with your favorite Traeger Rub or Shake (butter seems to brown better);
  • Stuff the cavity with quartered oranges, onions, and fresh herbs, or tuck in carrots, onions, and celery (also with fresh herbs);
  • Truss the bird, or tuck the wings behind the back and tie the legs together with butcher’s twine to minimize moisture evaporation and improve the turkey’s appearance;
  • Position the turkey on a rack in a roasting pan and pour chicken or turkey broth in the bottom (the broth keeps the bird moist and collects drippings for gravy making);

IT’S NOT THANKSGIVING WITHOUT STUFFING

Whether your family calls it stuffing or dressing, that traditional combination of bread or cornbread, broth, savory herbs, etc., is a “must have” on most American tables on Thanksgiving Day.

Most of us grew up expecting the holiday bird to be brought to the table plump with steaming stuffing. But that practice – roasting a stuffed bird – has fallen out of favor. Here’s why: The temperature of the stuffing must reach 165 degrees F for food safety purposes. By then, the turkey (especially the white meat) tends to overcook. So today, many people cook the turkey and stuffing separately. We recommend the latter method for Traeger owners, too. Your bird will absorb more smoke flavor and cook more efficiently if it is unstuffed. Another plus is that you can make as much stuffing as you and your guests want, unrestrained by the size of the turkey’s main cavity. You could even make more than one kind of stuffing for your guests. (See the recipe section of our website for recipes.)

If you do decide to stuff the turkey – and stuffing that has soaked up all those poultry juices is wonderful – be smart about it. Keep your hands, counters, and utensils scrupulously clean to avoid cross-contamination. Never stuff the bird in advance. Don’t overstuff as the stuffing will expand as it cooks. And make sure the temperature of the stuffing is 165 degrees F or over before serving.

GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS: TRAEGERING THE TURKEY

Okay. It’s Thanksgiving. A day devoted to family, food, and football. You’ll actually get to watch the games this year and spend more time with family as your Traeger can cook your Thanksgiving dinner with minimal tending.

Hopefully, you’ve determined in advance approximately how much time your turkey will need to roast on your Traeger, especially if your guests are expecting dinner at a specific time. A small bird (8 to 12 pounds) requires 2-1/2 to 3 hours at 325 degrees F; a medium (12 – 18 pounds) will need 3-1/2 to 4-1/2 hours; and a large bird (over 18 pounds) could take up to 6 hours. Add 30 minutes to the estimated cooking time to allow the turkey to rest before you carve it.

Wrestle the bird to the kitchen sink. Check the outside for any errant quills, which are more common in kosher birds, and pull them out with kitchen tweezers. Remove the giblets from the main cavity and set them aside if they figure into your gravy plans. Check the neck cavity, too, as some commercial producers include a plastic pouch of gravy base.

Rinse the turkey inside and out under cold running water, then dry with paper towels.

Stuff the bird, if desired (see above), including the neck cavity. Place the turkey on a rack in a sturdy roasting pan if you want to collect the drippings. (If using disposable aluminum pans, double or triple them for stability. There’s nothing worse than having your pan buckle when you remove the turkey from the grill.) Otherwise, you can put the turkey directly on the grill grate.

Rub the outside of the bird with oil or melted butter and sprinkle with Traeger Pork and Poultry Shake.

When ready to cook, start the Traeger grill on Smoke with the lid open until the fire is established (4 to 5 minutes).

Oops. Decision time again. Do you want your bird to have a pronounced smoke flavor? If so, cook your turkey on the Smoke setting for 1 to 3 hours, then finish cooking on higher heat (325 degrees F or higher) to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F and crisp the skin. We do not recommend cooking a turkey – especially a large one – entirely on the Smoke setting as it adds hours to the cooking time. The skin also tends to be rubbery as the heat on the Smoke setting isn’t high enough to render the fat.

Another option is to simply preheat your Traeger to 325 degrees F and roast your turkey from start to finish.

Basting after the first 1-1/2 hours is optional: As you know, food cooked on a Traeger is incredibly moist anyway. Another consideration: You will lose up to 20 per cent of the heat each time you open the grill lid, which will add to your cooking time. You know what they say…..“If you’re lookin’, you ain’t cookin’.”

While your turkey cooks, be sure to keep your pellet hopper filled at least two-thirds of the way so you don’t accidently lose your fire.

When the internal temperature of the thickest part of a thigh reaches 165 degrees F, transfer the turkey to a platter or cutting board. Let it rest before carving. (Do not tent with foil if you like crisp skin.) This will give the juices in the turkey time to redistribute themselves, and frees the cook to make gravy, mash potatoes, and handle other last-minute jobs.

CARVING

Here’s another anxiety-producing moment – putting a knife to your beautiful bird.

There are many excellent videos and illustrations online to guide you through this process if you are new to turkey carving. (The Butterball website mentioned above is a good resource.) Of course, we recommend that you familiarize yourself with the process in advance, maybe even practicing before T-Day on a roast chicken.

Our carving method differs in one respect from the traditional one in that we remove the breasts whole from the carcass and slice them crosswise. (Most carvers slice the breast horizontally.) This gives every diner a piece of white meat and skin, and seems to extend how many people the breast will serve.

DEALING WITH LEFTOVERS

While it will be tempting to succumb to a food-induced coma immediately after pushing away from the table, be sure to promptly refrigerate any leftover turkey and other perishable foods. Stock up before the holiday on disposable lidded containers, plastic wrap, and foil. (Restaurant supply houses or “big box” stores are good sources for these supplies.)

FINALLY…

If you have a question that wasn’t answered above, feel free to contact us on our Facebook page or through our website. Direct technical questions to our Service Department at 1-800-872-3437. And yes, they will be available on Thanksgiving Day from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. Pacific Time.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Traeger Pellet Grills. Taste the Difference®!