Turkey tips: Everything you need to know about prepping, cooking your bird

MILWAUKEE -- Cooking a turkey can raise a lot of questions  -- how long should you cook it, how often do you baste it? Chef Alisa Malavenda joins Real Milwaukee to take us through the basics so you can have a stress-free Thanksgiving.

    Plan on at least 1 to 1 ½ pounds per person if you want leftovers (and who doesn’t want leftovers).  When feeding a big crowd – I always opt for two smaller turkeys instead of a big tom turkey. It cooks quicker and more even and you can also opt for grilling, smoking, frying, spatchcock or preparing in different styles of brining and seasoning.

      I prefer to buy a fresh turkey instead of a frozen or previously frozen one and look for all natural or antibiotic free – Just because it says cage free doesn’t mean they are antibiotic free.  Ice crystals form during the freezing process and can damage cell structure. Also as the bird thaws it leaks more liquid and tends to dry out the meat. If you do buy a frozen turkey make sure you thaw it slowly in the refrigerator for several days.

        A self basting turkey has been injected with a solution of extra fat, water , salt  and flavor enhancers and some other substances to make a juicy bird.

        You can get the same juicy bird by brining it with your own natural solution of chicken broth and water, kosher salt, some sugar and any custom flavor you want like herbs, spices, apple juice, bourbon, honey or maple syrup. Remember whatever you soak the turkey in it will absorb the salt, sugar and water and any flavor you add. ( recipe below)

        You can also dry brine your bird for ultimate flavor if you don’t have time or the energy to go through the wet brine. For this method I encourage you to rub butter under the skin of the turkey. by Stick your hand between the turkey skin and meat so it is detached and rub with butter and the dry rub. As the butter melts it will self baste the turkey.

          Dry your bird with paper towels after you remove from package or after brining . Lay on a rack on a baking sheet in the fridge to dry out for several hours. This produces a crispier skin

            Place the turkey on a rack, ring of aluminum foil or even a layer of onions, celery and carrots to create some air flow underneath the bird.

              If you put your mixture inside the bird it is stuffing – if you serve it on the side it is a dressing for the bird. Is it actually safe for you to stuff the bird with your stuffing? IT IS ,BUT... make sure you bring that stuffing to 165 degrees and do not stuff it too early or pack to tightly.

              One trick is to put the stuffing in a wine and butter soaked cheesecloth so it is easier to pull out the stuffing after the bird rests and before carving.

              I prefer to make a dressing – mostly so I don’t have to fight my guests for the crusty crunchy bits that sticks out of the turkey. I also like to make a savory bread pudding for a contemporary twist. (recipe below)

              If you opt for dressing on the side , try stuffing the turkey with herbs, lemon or orange halves and a head of garlic cut in half. This too makes for a juicy flavorful bird and delish drippings for your gravy.

                Don’t keep opening the door to baste every 15 minutes- the fluctuation in temperature can also dry out the breast. I like the cheesecloth method – soak cheese cloth in butter and white wine- even a little soy sauce adds a little saltiness and helps browning.

                And again rubbing a little butter under the skin and on top of the skin before you add the cheesecloth. YES I AM YOUR CHEF NOT A CARDIOLOGIST!

                  You should plan on about 20 minutes per pound , but keep in mind ovens vary so your best bet is  a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of turkey by the thigh- be sure it is not touching the bone.

                     Remove your turkey before it reaches 165 degrees as it will carry over cooking about 10 degrees while you let it rest. Letting it rest is very important for the juices to redistribute and lock in your juices so they don’t end up on your cutting board.

                      TIP- It is much easier to carve your turkey if you remove the wishbone ahead of time.

                      Remove drumsticks first, and cut the drum from the thigh at the joint. Remove thigh bone.Then you can run your knife down along side of the keep bone to remove the breast. Cut the breast against the grain for a meatier and more tender piece of turkey. Then remove the wings

                      * Bonus tips for a stress free Thanksgiving

                        You can make your gravy with the drippings and stock the day before so you don’t have to mess with it while trying to carve the bird and get everything else on the table. The new drippings can be frozen for more gravy later.
                        ( recipe below)

                        • Keep a pot of turkey stock on the stove on simmer – after you carve the turkey and before serving – ladle a little stock over the meant to keep it moist when serving.

                        • Use a potato ricer, food mill or masher to make your potatoes- using a mixer or food processor will give you a starchy ,gummy potatoes. The potato ricer makes the fluffiest potatoes.

                        Turkey Brine Recipe


                          Blend all this in a food processor – store in a well sealed jar – use approx ¼ C on your turkey depending on how big a bird you purchased.


                          1 gallon water and 1 gallon chicken stock ( you can also just use all water) heated in a stock pot with 2 Cups of the dry brine in above recipe just until the mixture dissolves.


                            Chill mixture before submerging turkey

                            Refrigerate Turkey at least over night or  up to 24 hours.

                            Remove turkey from brine and discard brine. Dry the turkey really well with paper towels and put on a rack and let dry out at least 2 hours and then bring to room temperature before proceeding with roasting.

                            Make Ahead Turkey Gravy


                                Wild Mushroom Bread Pudding