I am not a confident cook, let me just say that up front. I do fine when I’m just cooking for my family (largely because I am married to a man who wholeheartedly believes that a ruined meal is just the universe’s way of telling us to order a pizza) but when I have dinner guests I get nervous.
Ok, I panic. And then I think about just ordering the pizza in the first place and skipping the whole cooking part entirely.
Despite all that, though, I have always believed that you should cook a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. And by “you” I mean “me,” because if I’m old enough to have children and a mortgage and a retirement account, I’m old enough to host a proper holiday dinner.
But it makes me nervous. Or it used to, until the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line staff taught me how to cook a turkey.
What’s the secret? Easy: a convection oven, a meat thermometer, and a roll of tin foil. That’s all it takes.
We lived in this house for two years before I even tried out the convection function on my oven; frankly, it scared me. But if you’re fortunate enough to have this option, I wholeheartedly encourage you to use it this year to roast your Butterball. The convection oven cuts cooking time by a third. An unstuffed 6 to 10 pound turkey takes up to 3 hours in a conventional oven; in a convection oven, the same turkey is done in less than 2 hours. A turkey breast is even faster — a 3 pound turkey breast cooks in about an hour and fifteen minutes. So you really could come home from work and serve a turkey dinner an hour and a half later.
Not sure how to use your convection oven? No worries — Butterball.com has
The most important tool in my Thanksgiving cooking arsenal is my meat thermometer. For years, I guessed at the cooking time for my turkey, worrying all day that it would either be overcooked and dry, or undercooked and dangerous. Because my biggest fear was that all my dinner guests would wind up in the ER with food poisoning, I typically erred on the side of cooking the turkey for longer.
No one ever got sick, but no one ever raved about the dinner. And then I discovered the meat thermometer and my whole life changed.
Meat thermometers are inexpensive and easy to use. I have a fancy one, with a long cord that stretches from the thermometer to a digital readout that sits on my countertop. I stick it in the turkey (in the meatiest part of the thigh, not touching the bone) and set the little computer part to buzz when the thermometer reaches 180 degrees. And then I walk away! Honestly! No more worrying that the turkey will be raw and we will all die, or that it will be dry and we will all starve. It comes out perfect every time. Find out when your turkey is done.
Tin Foil Coil
This is my favorite Thanksgiving Day cooking trick, because it is so unbelievably easy. I roast my turkey in the oven; in order to give it a chance to cook evenly on all sides, I need to get it up off the bottom of the roasting pan. But rather than messing with a fancy rack, I make a foil coil with Reynolds wrap: take a long sheet of tinfoil, roll it like a snake, and then coil it up like a cinnamon bun. My sons help me make the coil — it’s that easy. Set the coil in the bottom of your roasting pan (use a shallow pan with 2 inch high sides); put the turkey, breast up, on top of the coil, and voila! You’re all set.
After the turkey is cooked, just toss the foil coil in the trash. One less thing to clean and store until your next turkey dinner.
Cooking a turkey — a really delicious, juicy, golden turkey — doesn’t require a kitchen full of fancy gadgets, nor does it require hours of slaving over a hot stove. But that can be our little secret — no one needs to know that you’re really in the kitchen reading a book while the turkey roasts.