Sara Moulton's Turkey Tips

ByABC News via GMA logo
November 16, 2004, 8:32 AM

Nov. 25, 2004 -- -- Good Morning America's Food Editor Sara Moulton, has been checking out your various Thanksgiving Day cooking questions for weeks. Moulton has answered some of the most frequent and most pressing cooking dilemmas in her online turkey Q and A below.

Question: When roasting a turkey does it matter what type of roasting pan that you use? Is stainless steel better than nonstick?
--Luba Cawley, Wilmington, Del.

Answer: A large substantial roasting pan is what you need for roasting turkey. You will get better drippings with a regular, not non stick, pan which makes a better base for a gravy.

Question: My family is really big on stuffing, the problem is there just never seems to be enough. How can I get that same great taste with stuffing cooked on top of the stove or baked out of the bird?
-- Jenny Campo, Oakland, Calif.

Answer: The stuffing can be baked while the turkey is resting. Put the stuffing into a baking pan and moisten it with a little chicken stock. Cover with foil and bake at 325 degrees F. for 30 minutes. If you want it to develop a little crust on top, remove the foil for the last 15 minutes. The stock keeps the stuffing moist, like it was inside the bird.

Question: What is the cooking time per pound assuming cooking at 325 degrees F.? Or is 350 degrees better?
-- Gary Krulewitz Lake Worth, Fla.

Answer: I wouldn't go by minutes per pound because there are too many variables. I would use the following chart as a guideline and check the turkey at the early end of it; 325 is my preferred temperature for cooking the bird.

Net Weight (lbs.) | Unstuffed (hours) | Stuffed (hours)

10 to 18        3 to 3-1/2        3-3/4 to 4-1/2
18 to 22        3-1/2 to 4        4-1/2 to 5
22 to 24        4 to 4-1/2        5 to 5-1/2
24 to 30        4-1/2 to 5        5-1/2 to 6-1/4

Question: Where does the thermometer go? Unlike the mall directory that says, "you are here", there's nothing on the turkey that says, "thermometer."
-- Bari Edwards, Sherman Oaks, Calif.

Answer: The thermometer goes into the thickest part of the thigh and should not touch the bone.

Question: I only have one oven, how do I cook the turkey, rolls, ham and vegetables and get them all done at the same time?
-- Debi Aoki, Farmington, Utah

Answer: The turkey should rest for at least 30 minutes and will stay very hot for up to 1 hour. You can use that window of opportunity to heat up all the other elements of the meal.

Question: How do you always get the turkey out of the pan so it doesn't fall apart?
-- Megan Guynn, Sullivan, Ill.

Answer: It helps if you cook the turkey on a rack but even if you don't, the easiest way to get the turkey out of the pan is to insert large carving fork or the handle of a wooden spoon into the cavity and stick another fork in the other end of the turkey to gently lift it out.

Question: What is the best way to carve turkey?
-- Ron Grace Drexel Hill, Pa.

Answer: First remove the wishbone. Then cut off the wings and remove the leg thigh joint, separate the leg from the thigh and then slice the thigh, leaving the leg whole for someone to chew on. With the turkey breast side up, make a horizontal cut at the bottom of one side of the breast from front to back. Then start carving thin slices off the breast of the bird starting at the breast bone and working downward. You can also remove the whole breast half and then slice it off the bone.

Here are some of your most frequently asked Thanksgiving Day cooking questions:

Q: How do you wash a turkey?
A: Put the turkey in the sink and remove it from the wrapper. Take the package out of the cavity and set it aside. Rinse the turkey inside and out with cold running water. Let the excess water drain out of the cavity and pat the turkey dry, inside and out with paper towels. If you are going to use the neck and giblets from the package in the gravy, rinse them as well (discard the liver). When you are all done rinsing the turkey and giblets, clean out the sink with hot soapy water and a little bleach.

Q: :How do you defrost a turkey?
A: In the refrigerator: Thaw turkey in its unopened package on a platter to catch any defrosting juices that might come out. Allow one day for every four to five pounds of turkey. So, a 15 pound turkey would take three days to defrost. In the sink: Put turkey breast side down, in its unopened package in a sink filled with cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes to keep the temperature cold. Allow 30 minutes for every pound of turkey. So, a 15 pound turkey would take 7 1/2 hours to defrost.

Q: How long will turkey keep in the freezer?
A: Up to one year, after that it will not harm you provided your freezer is at the tight temperature, it will just not taste as good.

Q: How long will a defrosted turkey keep in the fridge before you cook it?
A: Two to four days.

Q: How long will a fresh turkey keep in the fridge before you cook it?
A: Every turkey should have a "use by" date on the label. Make sure you cook the bird by the "use by" date.

Q: How big a turkey should you buy?
A: Depending on how much you want to have for leftovers, you should plan on 1 to 1 1/2 pounds per person.

Q: How much stuffing should you make?
A: About one cup per person.

Q: How much gravy should you make?
A: At least 1/2 cup per person.

Q: What about brining a turkey?
A: Brining turkey is the best way we know to guarantee moist, tender meat. The basic point into soak the bird in a mixture of salt and water; the electrically charged ions of the salt plump up the muscle fibers, allowing them to absorb water. This changes the structure of the proteins, preventing the water from escaping during cooking. In addition to keeping the meat moist, the salt intensifies the flavor. For a basic brine, stir together 8 quarts water and 2 cups kosher salt in a clean 5-gallon bucket or container with a cover. If you like, you can add a bit of sugar to the brine, along with whatever spices strike your fancy. Add the raw turkey, cover, and chill for 10 hours. If you want to soak the bird for 24 hours, reduce the amount of salt to 1 cup (Excerpted from "The Gourmet Cookbook," edited by Ruth Reichl, Houghton Mifflin, copyright 2004.

Q: How do you make pan gravy?
A: Anytime you cook a roast you are going to end up with delicious bits of concentrated meat juices sticking to the bottom of the roasting pan. They are a great base for a sauce. If you want to take advantage of them, transfer your roast to a platter and cover it loosely with foil. Then calculate how much gravy you want to end up with. I generally plan on 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup of sauce per person (more at Thanksgiving, when so many dishes require a gravy topping). For each cup of medium-consistency sauce you will need 1 cup of broth and 1 to 2 tablespoons each of fat and flour. Pour all the fat from the roasting pan into a bowl. Measure the correct amount and put it back into the pan. Add the flour and cook over low heat, stirring frequently for a few minutes. Meanwhile, heat your broth in a separate pan. Add the broth to the fat/flour mixture in a stream, whisking, and continue whisking until you see no more lumps. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer if for as many minutes as there are tablespoons of flour in the gravy.

(Excerpted from "Sara Moulton Cooks at Home," by Sara Moulton, Broadway copyright 2004).