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If it seems like Thanksgiving is coming a week ahead of time, blame it on the calendar.
The holiday is always celebrated on the fourth Thursday of the month and since Nov. 1 was a Thursday, it has the feel of being seven days early.
But regardless of when it falls, some things – like the traditional Thanksgiving turkey – never change.
And now – not Nov. 21 – is the time to get started.
The first step, according to the National Turkey Federation (NTF), is figuring out what size turkey you need.
It recommends an amount of 12 ounces to 1 pound of raw turkey per person, which includes a moderate amount of leftovers.
For an uncooked, boneless turkey roast, figure at least 1/3 of a pound per person; for an uncooked, boneless turkey breast, figure 3/4 of a pound per person.
Frozen versus fresh
On the surface, buying a fresh turkey instead of a frozen one may be the way to go.
However, that's not necessarily the case, says Dr. Myles H. Bader in his book, "20,001 Food Facts, Chefs Secrets & Household Hints."
Given that Americans eat more than 690 million pounds of turkey each Thanksgiving, Bader says the frozen turkey you buy just before the holidays is usually pretty fresh.
The key is making sure the turkey you buy is USDA Grade A.
"The decision to purchase a fresh turkey over a frozen turkey is more of a personal choice than the flavor or quality differences," he writes. "There is no taste difference in a frozen turkey that was just purchased or a fresh one. The fresh turkeys are usually more expensive since they have a shorter shelf live and must be sold."
According to "Turkey Basics" guidelines issued by the USDA, there are two ways to thaw a turkey – in refrigerator or in cold water.
With the cold water method, keep the turkey in the wrapper and submerse it in cold water. You must change the water every 30 minutes and allow about 30 minutes defrosting time per pound of turkey.
Once the turkey is completely thawed, immediately cook it.
Now given the lack of rainfall and water restrictions, you may be better off to use the refrigerator method, which is why it's so important to start now.
First, make sure the refrigerator thermostat is set at 40 degrees or below.
Leave the turkey in its wrapper and place it on a tray in the refrigerator so that it won't leak onto any other foods.
Allow about 24 hours of thawing time for every five pounds of turkey, which is why it's important to get a head start; partially-frozen turkeys, just like stuffed turkeys, require longer cooking times.
Other cooking tips
–Make sure the turkey will fit in your roaster pan.
–Ovens aren't created equal, which can affect the cooking time of a whole turkey.
–Dark roasting pans cook faster than shiny ones. The depth and size of the pan can reduce heat circulation. Use of a roasting pan lid speeds cooking time.
–Allow a turkey to rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before putting it into the oven. Cold meat tends to be tougher when cooked.
–Add 1/2 cup of water to the bottom of the pan.
–In the first 90 minutes of cooking , a tent of aluminum foil may be placed loosely over the breast of the turkey and then removed for browning.
–If you soak the turkey in a cold, kosher salt bath for 6 hours before cooking it, you will end up with a moist and juicy bird. Kosher salt tends to add a slight flavor and cleanses a turkey of impurities.
–Cooking bags have a tendency to burst in a hot oven. Place some dry flour in the bag and shake it around to coat the inside of the bag before putting the turkey in it. After sealing the bag, make a few slits in the top of it so it won't burst.
–Rub seasonings on the inside of the bird and the essences will be throughout most of the meat.
–If you cover the skin with a piece of cheesecloth that has been buttered, you will your greatest-looking turkey ever. Be sure to remove the cheesecloth 30 minutes before the bird is done.
–Bader says don't fret if you mistakenly leave the giblets inside the bird while it is cooking. The bag is made of a special plastic that will not melt or catch fire.
"Just act as if you left in there to cook for the pet," he says.
When marinating a turkey, use a glass, ceramic or plastic container. Many marinades contain acids which may react to metals and give an off taste. It's best to use an injector for the best results.
Contact Greg Summers at 283-1156 or firstname.lastname@example.org