So it’s more or less 30 hours until Americans enjoy Thanksgiving dinner, and you’re asking yourself the annual question: “Isn’t there a simple way to cook a turkey?”
Well, America, there is…and it does not involve bags, or injections, or even stuffing. No fancy preparations and no fancy equipment are required (with the exception of a large flat pan with metal handles, a carving fork or large tongs, and a food thermometer).
Here’s the cool part: this method for cooking turkeys isn’t just a method for cooking turkeys…and if you follow the directions, you’ll soon discover that not only have you learned a new way to cook a turkey, you’ve learned a new way to cook almost anything that can walk or fly.
We only have 30 hours, so we better get right to it…
Now before we go any farther, let’s relieve some of the Thanksgiving cooking stress with a video that is as topical as it gets.
Some of you may not know about the most unfortunate aftermath of Sarah Palin’s recent effort to pardon a Thanksgiving turkey…and I won’t spoil the fun if you have not yet seen it…but I will tell you that what is attached to the next link may the single funniest—and most disturbing—piece of political video I have ever seen; and somehow Palin remains blithely unaware of the events occurring just over her shoulder the entire time.
Take three minutes, watch the video, have a sip of the first glass of wine of the day…and when that’s done, we’ll get back to work.
So, are you laughing now?
OK then, let’s have some fun.
You may recall my telling you that what we are about to do can be used to cook any number of things; and to make for a better explanation I’m actually going to discuss cooking a boneless chicken breast first, and then we’ll move up to turkeys, using essentially the same technique.
So here’s what we do: turn the oven to 375 F. (190 C.), and turn the stove to either medium high (electric stoves) or nearly as big a flame as the burner will make, if you’re using a gas stove.
Grab the pan and toss it in the oven to heat.
Now what we are going to do is brown the chicken breast on top of the stove, flip it, and then cook it the rest of the way in the oven. The reason we are going to do this is because when you cook on top of the stove, you cook from bottom to top, creating a breast that’s “done” at the bottom but still “rare” at the top (you compensate for this by flipping the breast in the pan, but I have a better plan).
Cooking in the oven exposes the chicken to heat from all sides, creating an item that’s cooked on the outside and into the middle evenly (for a steak: done on the outside, perfectly pink in the middle…yummm).
So now that the pan’s hot, let’s try it: pull out the pan, put it on the hot burner, pour in just a bit of oil…and lay the breast in the pan by putting it in the part of the pan that’s closest to you first, then letting it fall away from you. (This prevents the hot oil from spattering on you…which is always a good thing.)
After a minute or so, you should see the breast browning, and that’s when we flip it over and then just put the pan right in the oven, then shut off the stove.
If you are a fancy high-falutin’ cook, you can tell when it’s done because it will feel like a well-done steak—and if you are a cooking mortal, it’s done when the thermometer tells you the temperature at the thickest part of the breast is 165 F. (75 C.).
The reward for your experimental effort should be an especially juicy breast that is not dried-out and tough. Pretty cool, eh?
“My cooking is so bad my kids thought Thanksgiving was to commemorate Pearl Harbor”
So how do we scale this process up to a turkey?
It’s actually really simple.
We need a substantially larger pan (I have a 14” restaurant-style sauté pan that I use for this application), and any metal pan with a reasonably thick bottom, relatively shallow sides (no saucepans or kettles), and heat-resistant handle(s) should do just nicely.
We also need to make a temperature adjustment.
As we move into larger items, we lower the oven’s temperature. We do this because we don’t want to overcook the outside before the inside is done. Instead of 375 F. (which is great for chicken breasts and steaks), we would lower the oven to 350 F. (175 C.) for something like a boneless pork loin or a small roast of beef or a whole chicken, and we would go down to 325 F. (165 C.) for something as large as our turkey.
For food safety reasons, we don’t want to use lower temperatures.
It is imperative that you raise the internal temperature of anything you cook from 40 F. (4 C.) to 140 F. (60 C.) in under two hours to avoid foodborne illness…and cooking turkeys at 275 F. (135 C.), as some suggest, is just a bit too risky for my taste.
Now a few words about measuring temperature in a bird.
Unlike “walking” meats, birds have hollow bones that do not transmit heat well. Therefore you do not want the tip of your thermometer touching—or very close to—bone when checking your turkey. (Beef, and the other “walking” animals, are the exact opposite. Their heavier bones transmit heat quite well, and the meat closest to the bone will often be the first meat below the surface to be fully cooked on a large roast of beef.)
Instead, use a location deep into the breast, away from bones…and as with all birds, a 165 F. (75 C.) internal temperature is the goal. And as with all birds, that temperature will give you a juicy, not-dried-out, result.
We are not going to stuff our bird.
This is also for food safety reasons.
The stuffing makes it take even longer to raise that turkey’s internal temperature (not to mention the stuffing’s)…and that’s a bad thing.
Bake the stuffing in its own pan…do not cook it in the bird.
Trust me on this.
There is no need to “prepare” the turkey—no rubs, no flouring the skin, nothing.
As an experiment I did a sea salt “rub” about 10 days ago on a turkey breast…and to be honest, all it did was make the skin salty.
OK, so our big pan is in the oven, getting hot…and the stove is on that same setting we used for the chicken breast…and now we take the pan, put it on the stove—and in goes the turkey, breast side down (remember, place it in the pan moving away from you to avoid splashing oil, just as with anything else you put in a pan with oil…).
You’ll have to brown one side at a time…and your fork or tongs (BBQ tools work if you don’t have big kitchen tongs or a carving fork…) can support the turkey so you don’t have to hold on to it.
It’s gonna splatter a bit (the less water, the better), but don’t be scared…and after a minute or so one side will be nicely browning, so do the other side next, and then flip the whole thing breast side up, and put the pan in the oven.
Except for taking the bird’s temperature from time to time (again, 165 F., or 75 C. internal temperature) and taking it out when it’s done, you are completely finished with the work on this project.
In fact, it’s probably about time for that second glass of wine.
So let’s take a moment and summarize.
Hot oven, hot stove, hot pan, put object to be cooked face down in pan on the stove, don’t splatter yourself, get it brown, flip it, put it in the oven, have a second glass of wine, remove from oven when done.
And just like they always tell you at the Fair: “It’s just that easy”.
So have a great day, don’t stress over the cooking…and remember, this technique works great on anything from a partridge to a steamship round.