Thanksgiving is a holiday steeped in tradition. Dishes which have been handed down for generations will be a part of this festive day and, of course, turkey will be the entrée of choice for most households. This food-centered day, with its myriad of details to handle, can be intimidating for both novice and professional chefs alike. To help out, this article draws upon the considerable combined experience of Sunset’s staff, which has guided people through the planning and preparation of important holiday meals for over seven decades.
Most people only cook a turkey once a year, and although turkey is not difficult to prepare, it is important to review the basics of its preparation. To help with that, we’ve created and attached a helpful reference sheet that outlines the process of preparing your bird from start to finish. First, shoppers need to decide if they want a fresh or frozen turkey. “Fresh turkeys are more moist, cook faster, offer superior taste, and are much easier to work with because they require little or no defrosting,” comments Lake Forest Meat Department Manager Al Paul.
After the turkey is completely thawed (even fresh turkeys which are packed on ice usually need some thawing), the next step in the preparation process is getting it ready for the oven. Northbrook Meat Department Manager Wendell Underwood comments. “About an hour before cooking the turkey, take it out of the refrigerator and preheat the oven to 325°F. Next, remove the neck and giblets from the body and neck cavities, rinse the turkey with water inside and out, and blot dry with a paper towel.”
If stuffing the turkey, Wendell advises to do so at this time, or just put a few pieces of celery or a quartered onion inside the body cavity. Finally, Wendell suggests placing the turkey breast-side down on a rack in a 2-inch deep roasting pan and trussing the legs of the bird by bringing them down and tying them together with kitchen string.
The turkey is now ready for the oven. Highland Park Meat Department Manager Tom Ugolini comments, “Just before putting the turkey in the oven, either baste the bird with melted butter or rub it all over with oil and then tent it with some aluminum foil.” Tom advises using the roasting chart included with this article to gauge when the turkey will be done, and he notes that the best way to be sure it is properly cooked is by using a meat thermometer. “Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh or breast without touching the bone,” says Tom. “When the breast meat is 170°F and the thigh meat is 180°F, the turkey is done.” Tom adds that if the turkey is stuffed, it is important to make sure the stuffing is at least 165°F.
Carving is the final step in preparing the centerpiece of your Thanksgiving table. Libertyville Meat Department Coordinator Robert Rodriguez comments, “Most people are so excited the turkey is finally done that they rush it out to the table to be carved.” Robert suggests tempering the enthusiasm of the moment with patience to allow the bird’s juices time to settle after cooking. “If you carve the turkey too soon after cooking, the juices will run out and the meat will be drier,” Robert warns. As a final note, Robert recommends using a very sharp knife and sturdy meat fork for carving.
Thanksgiving is first and foremost a day for friends, families, and loved ones to come together and share a meal, but there’s no rule that says you have to do all the cooking yourself! Sunset’s Deli and Bakery offer an impressive array of foods for the holidays, including turkey and all the trimmings, fresh baked pies, and cakes. Complete menus are available at each Sunset location or online at www.sunsetfoods.com.