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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Let's Get Ready to Gobble!

Thanksgiving is coming up on us pretty quickly.  In just over 2 weeks, we'll be searching out our stretchy pants and getting ready to stuff ourselves with our favorite holiday fare.  (Choose your favorite in the poll to the right.)  And I'd be remiss in telling you that Mary Beth & my wedding anniversary falls on the Turkey Day this year.  She's survived 16 years with this turkey!

If you are like 97% of Americans, you will be eating turkey this Thanksgiving. Although more people are eating turkey at non-holiday times (consumption has increased 116% and production is up 300% since 1970), most Americans see turkey as a holiday dish. Too bad, though.  Turkeys are very low fat and very high in protein (more than chicken or beef). The average gobbler eaten at Thanksgiving is 15 pounds (much less than the largest turkey on record—86 pounds!). Oh, and studies show that there’s way too little tryptophan in turkey to cause drowsiness.  All the wine and food you stuff in your stomach pulls blood away from the brain to aid in digestion and prevents you from seeing the 2nd half of that football game or helping with the dishes. You’ll have to find another excuse.

Ben Franklin famously nominated the wild turkey as our nation’s symbol (rather than the bald eagle). He saw that these relatives to the pheasant were hearty, tough and plentiful—just like the early Americans. Wild turkeys can fly up to 55 miles per hour for short distances and can run up to 20 mph. They were nearly wiped out in the U.S. in the early 1900’s, but now thrive in every state except Alaska.  (Most of them seem to live at Peace Valley Park!)

Many of us use frozen turkeys and most of them are fine.  However, there are plenty of places locally to get delicious fresh birds.  Check out this Bucks County Taste post for more information where to get them.  Just remember that they're in demand, so don't wait to long to reserve yours.

There are literally thousands of ways to roast a turkey. There are recipes with different kinds of rubs and brines. Some use low heat, some high.  Some roast breast up, some breast down. Here’s my favorite way to roast a turkey—on the grill. It turns out juicy and delicious—and cooks very quickly. It’s from America’s Test Kitchen. The recipe is for a charcoal grill (with directions for gas grilling at the end of each step.)

  1. Dissolve 2 cups kosher or 1 cup table salt in 2 gallons of water in a large stockpot or clean bucket. Add a 12-14 pound turkey, giblets & tail removed, rinsed thoroughly and wings tucked under. Refrigerate or put in a very cool spot (32-40 degrees), 12 hours or overnight. (I have used a cooler and added ice packs to keep cold.)
  2. Toward the end of the brining time, cover six 3-inch wood chunks with water in a bowl; soak for 1 hour, then drain and set aside. (For gas: soak 3 cups of wood chips for about 30 minutes, drain and place in smoker box of gas grill or make a foil pan to hold the chips.)
  3. Keep bottom vents on grill completely open. Start charcoal. (For gas: place tray of chips on burner and preheat to high for about 20 minutes or until chips are smoking heavily.)
  4. Spray a V-rack with nonstick cooking spray. (Before I had a rack, I made a big foil ring to hold the bird.) Remove turkey from brine and rinse inside and out with cool running water to remove any salt. Pat dry with paper towels; brush both sides with 2 tablespoons melted butter. Set turkey, breast-side down, in V-rack.
  5. Arrange coals into one side of grill, piling them up 2-3 briquettes high.  Place 3 wood chunks on top of charcoal. Put grate in place and put V-rack on with turkey over cool side of the grill. Open lid vents halfway and cover, turning lid so vents are opposite wood chunks to draw smoke through grill.  Grill-roast for 1 hour. (For gas: Turn off one burner—not the one with the wood chips—and put turkey over that burner.)
  6. Remove lid from grill. Using thick potholders, move V-rack (with turkey) to rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan. Remove grate and put 12 new briquettes and the last 3 wood chunks on top (For gas: add more chips, if necessary); replace grate. Using wads of paper towels, flip turkey breast-side up in rack. Return to cool side of grill so that leg & wing that were facing the heat are now facing away. Cover and grill-roast for 45 minutes.
  7. Using thick potholders, turn V-rack with turkey so the leg & wing facing heat is now facing away.  Using an instant-read thermometer, check temperature in each thigh.  The target temp is 175-180. If it’s close, cover and check the temp again in about 15 minutes.  If it’s below 145, cover and check in a half-hour.
  8. Remove turkey from grill, cover loosely with foil, and let rest 20-30 minutes. Carve and serve.
Really, this sounds more difficult than it really is. You will LOVE the smoky, moist meat that results from this process. Save the giblets and find a good giblet gravy recipe to go with your bird. You’ll be thankful you tried it!

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