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Thanksgiving Turkey Tactics to Tackle

Thanksgiving turkey no longer has to be roasted. This year, expand your turkey repertoire and try brining, frying or smoking this Thanksgiving bird.

The Thanksgiving countdown has begun; time to tackle the turkey.

It’s a task many avoid, because the thought of preparing a whole turkey seems to be an unattainable culinary feat. However, cooking turkey isn’t difficult, it just takes a little planning. Begin by deciding on the cooking style: traditionally roasted, brined or fried. For those looking to save time, consider fried turkey. Frying takes about 60 to 90 minutes, as compared to the hours it takes to roast a stuffed whole turkey.

For those who have never deep-fried a turkey, here are the basic rules. Follow the operation directions on the fryer/cooker, and check with your local fire department for safety tips. While electric turkey fryers are available and are safer, most gobblers are still fried in propane-fueled cookers. 

When using propane cookers, it’s vital to always fry outside away from all buildings, large trees and shrubs, because boil-overs are extremely dangerous.

Countless house fires happen each year because people place turkey fryers too close to the house.

Many of these fires happen when the cooker is overfilled. To prevent overfilling a fryer with oil, try this trick. Fill the fryer with water first, and then lower the turkey into the water. Check the water line after the bird has been immersed. Remove bird and mark the water line. Pour out the water, thoroughly dry fryer and fill with peanut oil to the water line. This will prevent oil overflows when the turkey is added to the oil. Remember to never leave a cooker or fryer unattended.

Brined turkey is a recent food trend that's favored among foodies because is helps to keep the bird moist during cooking. An added bonus to brining is that it provides subtle flavor notes to the bird.

Brining involves soaking meat in a salt-based tenderizing solution before cooking it. Don’t worry, brining doesn’t make the turkey salty—on the contrary, roasting juices tend to be more flavorful from a brined bird. When making a brine solution, remember to use kosher salt because its flakes dissolve quickly in water and it has a lighter taste. Brined turkeys can be successfully fried or traditionally roasted.

Roasting remains the time-honored turkey prep practiced in most households, whether it’s cooked in grandma’s blue graniteware roaster, under an aluminum tent or in a roasting bag. To help with the fine points of roasting turkey, the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line is now activated at 1-800-BUTTERBALL. Butterball expects to answer more than 100,000 S.O.S. calls from home cooks before the holiday's end.

To ready a turkey for the oven, fryer or smoker, the National Turkey Federation recommends the following turkey tips to ensure a successful and plentiful feast. 

First, determine the size bird to buy. If buying a whole turkey, plan on one pound per person. If purchasing a bone-in turkey breast, plan on 3/4 pound per person or 1/2 pound per person for a boneless turkey breast. These amounts will allow for plenty of leftovers for sandwiches. 

When it comes to which turkeys to buy, frozen turkeys are often the best buy. To defrost, place in the refrigerator and plan a day thawing time for each 4 1/2 pounds of turkey. For example, if a turkey weighs 16 pounds refrigerated, thaw time is about 3 1/2 days. Thaw the turkey with the breast side down so the juices will flow into the breast. A thawed turkey may remain in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days.

To cut down on cleanup, spray the turkey pan with a nonstick cooking spray before cooking. (I'm a fan of disposable roasting pans, the ultimate cleanup time saver.)

Finally, the best roasting tip to achieve a photogenic bronzed bird—brush the bird with melted butter or spray with oil before roasting.

For turkey questions, ask the experts at the National Turkey Federation at www.eatturkey.com or get one-on-one talk time and call the Butterball Talk-Line at 1-800-butterball. Check out www.Missourifamilies.org, a division of the University of Missouri Home Extension Service for recipes and holiday cooking tips.

Editor's Note:  Suzanne Corbett is an award-winning writer/producer and culinary teacher, but her passion is as a food historian. She has written for Better Homes & Gardens, and was the radio host of Hot Plates, which aired on KSLG. She is the author of "Pushcarts & Stalls: The Soulard Market History Cookbook."

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