I’m a big fan of eating turkey year round because it’s so delicious (juicy, flavorful, lean, healthy) and versatile (sliced, sandwiches, pot pie). For a traditional Thanksgiving meal, you can’t go wrong with a big bird. Brine it, bake it, carve it, and enjoy it.
I purchased a fresh turkey for the first time this year because after making so many frozen turkeys from the grocery store, I was looking for a new way to observe this annual cooking holiday. I know it won’t disappoint.
My favorite butcher shop in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Lake Geneva Country Meats (LGCM), made it quick and easy to reserve my desired bird online. They sell free range Amish turkeys, raised on farms in Ohio on vegetarian diets, free of antibiotics. The trick is to order early – they sell out quickly, so mark your calendar for next year!
Their pre-order turkey form asked me how many people I was planning to feed so I could order the right size turkey and even walked me through a list of other things I may want to order for Thanksgiving including chickens, ducks, and Cornish game hens. One of the suggestions I took them up on was fresh pork side, which is essentially bacon before it’s cured and smoked. You lay it over the sides of the turkey to keep it from drying out while roasting.
The best part is they’ll have everything ready for me to pick up a few days before Thanksgiving, making this the only part of my holiday shopping that’s easy. I don’t have to dig through a cooler full of heavy, frozen turkeys and inevitably discover after I get home the one I’ve chosen has a big hole in the packaging.
I stopped by LGCM the week before and got a sneak peek at the hundreds of turkeys resting in the butcher’s cooler. Did you know turkeys don’t freeze until they’re 26 degrees Fahrenheit? The cooler keeps the birds safe and fresh until they’re ready for pick up.
SIDENOTE: Did you know the plural form of the noun “turkey” is “turkeys”? I’m a nerd so I look up these things as I’m writing. I also discovered if you want to insult someone, you can call them a turkey. Thanks, Merriam-Webster! I learn something new every day.
I’m also the type of person who loves decorating the dinner table with flowers, candles and place cards. One year, I printed out photo of everyone’s face and adhered a pilgrim hat to their heads. Another year, I cut out letters from magazines to spell their names. As an afterthought, this seemed a little bit like something a crazy person would do to write an anonymous ransom note, but I thought it was the coolest idea at the time.
PRO TIP: Keep the flowers and vases low so you can see the guest across the table from you. It makes having a dinner conversation a lot easier and no good dinner party happens in silence.
I’m hearing a lot about this tricky turkey predicament where the white meat dries out as the dark meat cooks to temperature, but I’ve never experienced that. I guess I’ll consider myself lucky. I always brine my turkey to help seal in the moisture and add a great flavor to the meat you can’t really get any other way.
I ordered this Fire and Flavor Turkey Perfect Herb Brining Kit from Amazon, which includes both the brining spices and the biggest plastic bag you’ll ever see. A small shop in Lake Forest, Illinois carried this brand and it’s always worked out well for me. Try their Apple Sage brine. It’s delicious! Some people brine their turkeys in big coolers they can easily put outside because it’s cold enough to do that in the Midwest. I worry my dogs would find a way to eat it, so I brine my bird in a brining bag and keep it safely in my fridge.
We brine our turkey the day before we have to roast it. That seems to give the turkey enough time to soak in the salty solution without overpowering the natural flavor of the poultry. We’re making the main dish for our family gathering on actual Thanksgiving this year, so we’re picking up the fresh bird on Tuesday, brining it on Wednesday after work and roasting it on Thursday. It’s a two person gig. My husband and I tag team who’s holding the bird while the other washes the outside or has the gross responsibility of sticking their hand inside the cavity to take out the giblets. Couples who make turkeys together, stay together.
These days, we roast our turkey in a beautiful, stainless steel All-Clad roasting pan. We use it specifically to make big turkeys and holiday roasts. It sits in its box at the top of the pantry most of the year, so when we take it out, we mean business. The turkey sits in the nonstick roasting rack that comes with the pan so we can get all the mouthwatering juices that come out during the roasting process. We used to bake our bird in a disposable aluminum pan and it always worked out just fine, but it might take longer to cook because the heat doesn’t stay in the aluminum the way it retains in the steel. If you’re serious about roasting turkeys, get a good roasting pan. It’s worth the investment. I’m thinking about making this Pork Sausage Stuffing, using some of the pork from the half pig we purchased from LGCM earlier this year. But all we’re responsible for is the turkey, which quite honestly is more than enough.
And if you need help on Thanksgiving Day, no need to call the Butterball Turkey Talkline (yes, this is a real trademarked thing) — just look to LGCM’s Thanksgiving website for the answers.
If you have leftovers, make this turkey pot pie recipe from Pioneer Woman. It is a big reason why we enjoy making an extra big turkey so we have leftovers for this dish.