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Mastering the most basic element -- the bird -- is really a matter of timing

Thursday, November 18, 1999

By Marlene Parrish, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

This is our family's turkey-stuffing-gravy routine. When my three sons -- Tom, Ted and Jack -- were still living at home, I taught them the drill, and now they've taken over the turkey duty in their own families. It's not hard, but you do need to plan a time schedule and get out all of the right size pots and pans before beginning.

Thanksgiving Menu:

Turkey and Gravy
Sausage, Apple & Chestnut Stuffing
Fruit Bowl With Wine and Roasted Chestnuts
Cranberry-Orange Relish
Relish Tray
Mash Production
Baked Yam Casserole
Broccoli & Roasted Red Peppers
Spaghetti Squash
Creamed Onions
Ravioli With Meatballs
Feather Yeast Rolls
Pumpkin & Pecan Pies
Swedish Nuts


Let's take the whole shebang right from the top. When roasting the turkey, two things will yield a well-browned bird with moist meat; truss it so the bird will keep a compact shape and baste it regularly.

1) Get ready. Make stuffing in advance and cool it. Turkey is defrosted and unwrapped. Adjust the oven rack to the low center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Set a wire rack, preferably V-shaped, in a sturdy, open roasting pan. Roughly chop 1/2 cup each of onion, celery and carrots and have them ready to toss into the roasting pan for the sake of tasty pan drippings.

2) Clean the bird. Check the body and neck cavities and remove any packaged giblets and reserve them. Now rinse the bird inside and out with cold running water. Pat dry with paper towels. Pull out and discard any large pieces of fat from the cavity.

3) Stuff the turkey. Using your clean hands or a large spoon, transfer the prepared stuffing into the bird, packing it loosely into the body and neck cavities. Do not overfill, as the stuffing expands while the turkey roasts.

4) Close the neck cavity. Pull the neck flap over the stuffing in the smaller cavity and secure it with several trussing pins. (They look like long nails. Toothpicks won't work because they are too short and brittle.) With a piece of string, lace back and forth over the pins to secure the opening.

5) Close the body cavity. To secure the body stuffing, pass several trussing pins through the skin inside the legs on both sides of the main cavity. Cut a generous length of kitchen string and, starting at the topmost pin, interlace the string back and forth just like shoelaces. Pull it snug and tie it at the bottom.

6) Truss the turkey. Bend the wing tips to the back and under the body. Cross the drumsticks and tie their ends with kitchen string.

7) Ready to roast. Transfer the turkey to the rack set in the roasting pan. Rub the bird all over with melted butter or olive oil. Toss the reserved chopped onions, celery and carrots into the bottom of the roasting pan. Add a cup or two of water to the roasting pan to keep the vegetables from scorching. The liquid will also contribute to tasty pan juices.

8) Roast the turkey. (See the accompanying chart.) About every 30 to 40 minutes, baste the turkey with additional melted butter or olive oil. Remember, every time you open the oven door, you will lose heat, so be quick about it.

When is the turkey done?


Turkey roasting times

Oven temperature at 325 degrees
8 to 12 pounds2 3/4 to 3 hrs.3 to 3 1/2 hrs.
12 to 143 to 3 3/4 3 1/2 to 4
14 to 183 3/4 to 4 1/44 to 4 1/4
18 to 204 1/4 to 4 1/24 1/4 to
4 3/4
20 to 244 1/2 to 54 3/4 to
5 1/4
Note: Remove the turkey from the oven when the breast meat registers 170 degrees and/or the thigh meat registers 180 degrees.
Source: National Turkey Federation


About 30 minutes before the estimated time when the bird will be done, start testing for doneness. Choose one or a combination of these tests.

Insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, without touching the bone.

The National Turkey Federation recommends you remove the turkey from the oven when the breast meat registers 170 degrees and thigh meat registers180 degrees. This is the temperature of well-done meat, because the federation has to cover doneness preferences countrywide. Done yes, and guaranteed to be dry.

Cooks Illustrated Magazine and most chefs prefer a perfectly safe and juicy bird with a slightly lower temperature. Using an instant-read thermometer, remove the bird from the oven when the temperature in the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165 degrees to 170 degrees. The bird and its stuffing will continue to cook internally when taken from the oven.

Juices will run clear with no sign of red when the joint is poked with the sharp tip of a knife.

The leg joint moves easily when you "shake hands."

Follow the recommended times on a baking chart.

Remove the bird from the oven and place it on a carving board or platter. Cover it loosely with foil and allow it to rest for 20 minutes. The period of rest allows the bird to continue cooking and the juices to reabsorb into the meat.

Make stock for the gravy

While the turkey roasts, make broth for the gravy. Put the turkey neck, heart and gizzard in a saucepan, along with a stalk of chopped celery, a chopped carrot, some parsley and a chopped onion WITH its peel. The onion skin gives the broth a golden color. (Reserve the liver to cook separately for another use.) Add about 4 cups of water. Bring to an almost-boil and then let the broth simmer quietly for an hour or so. Let the vegetables cool in the liquid, then strain into a glass measuring cup or clean bowl. Set aside.

Gravy talk

The important things to remember: Combine and cook equal parts fat and flour. Then whisk in broth to the consistency you like. Simmer a total of 7 minutes.

The standard proportion for gravy: 1 part fat, 1 part flour, 8 parts liquid.

For instance: 1/2 cup fat drippings, 1/2 cup flour, 4 cups broth.

And another: 4 tablespoons fat, 4 tablespoons flour, 2 cups broth.

Here's how: The turkey has been removed from the oven and set to rest. Now look into the roasting pan. It should be a glorious mess of fat, brothy juices and caramelized vegetables. The essence of gravy-ness comes from these drippings along with broth made from the giblets.

Yes, you can make the gravy right in the roasting pan, but there is a downside. It's hard to measure the amount of fat and that alone can skew the consistency. It's hard to straddle two burners on the stove. That gigantic roasting pan makes for one big clean-up after dinner.

Better to make the gravy like this. Pour the contents of the roasting pan, fat and juices both, but leaving the roasted vegetables behind, into a large measuring cup. The fat and drippings will separate with the fat on top and be easier to measure.

The Secret: Truss the turkey, and measure -- don't guess -- the ingredients for the gravy.

Related Recipes:

Turkey and Basic Turkey Gravy
Relish Tray With Mom's Blue Cheese Dip
Feather Yeast Rolls
Mrs. Zubritzky's Swedish Nuts
Mash Production
Sausage, Apple, Chestnut Stuffing Recipe
Pecan Pie
Pumpkin Pie

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