Turkey as you like it It's time again for us to talk turkey, and TC consider its preparation. Today's more adventuresome chefs can be thankful for the many cooking choices available.

November 18, 1998|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Staff

Once again, it's time to do battle with the big bird.

Unlike our grandmothers who plopped the poultry in a pan and shoved it in the oven to brown for hours, today's cooks face a barrage of equipment and cooking choices for the Thanksgiving turkey.

Should they roast, grill, broil, deep-fry or micro-wave it? How about using a clay pot, a vertical roaster or just a regular rectangular pan?

Often, tradition dictates the decision. But, more and more, holiday chefs are becoming adventuresome in preparing the day's main event.

"Maybe it's just that we're always looking for something different," says Norma Gray, a spokeswoman for the National Turkey Federation, a trade association in Washington, referring to why people try various cooking techniques.

The NTF anticipates that 91 percent of Americans will be chowing down on 45 million turkeys this Thanksgiving. With the average weight of each turkey estimated to be 15 pounds, that translates into 675 million pounds of turkey that will be gobbled ,, at tables around the country.

No wonder so many cooks fret about preparation.

Gray says the NTF recommends the open-pan method of cooking a turkey to produce a juicy, tender bird. This standard type of preparation involves cooking the bird in a roasting pan at 325 degrees until it reaches an internal temperature in the thigh of 180 degrees with a meat thermometer.

"It's easy and reliable. And it does yield a pretty turkey," Gray says.

Carol Miller, a 15-year supervisor at Butterball Turkey Talk Line, agrees but says she expects more people to be cooking the holiday bird on the grill.

"It's a great place to put the turkey when the oven is filled with side dishes," she says. "Or people with big families can cook one [turkey] in the oven and one on the grill."

Grilling results in a succulent, golden-brown bird in a reasonable time as long as the outdoor chef uses a meat thermometer and maintains the heat in a charcoal grill, Miller says. For successful results, grill only turkeys that are 16 pounds or less, she instructs.

Ken Niman of Mount Washington wouldn't cook his holiday turkey any other way, he says. After all, he's been overseeing the Thanksgiving bird on his Weber grill for almost 20 years.

"I found it to be pretty foolproof," says the 51-year-old attorney. "It comes out golden and tastes delicious."

But you shouldn't stuff a turkey that is going on the grill, says Pat Schweitzer, a senior home economist for Richmond, Va.-based Reynolds Kitchen. It's a safety factor. The high heat of the grill cooks the turkey before the stuffing reaches the correct temperature.

Instead, tuck halved citrus fruits like lemons, oranges or limes and fresh herb sprigs into the cavity for a different flavor, Schweitzer recommends. Herb rubs and glazes for the exterior also are popular, she says.

If you're committed to your kitchen oven, a cooking container that seems to be getting attention is the earthenware roaster, which Miller says produces great turkey results. "You get a nice, roasted flavor," she says. "The meat is tender and juicy and looks good."

Williams-Sonoma sells a clay pot big enough to hold a 17-pound turkey for around $75.

One thing most cooks won't be doing this Thanksgiving, though, is microwaving the turkey, Miller says.

"You have to baby-sit the turkey," she says. "It takes less time to cook but requires more attention from the cook. It seems like it's easier to tuck it into the oven or the grill."

Also on the out list is the vertical roaster, where you get physical with the bird and turn it upside down to cook in the oven. "Nobody's ever asked me for one [for a turkey]," says Kathleen Matava, owner of Cook's Cupboard in the Rotunda since 1980. "Most people's ovens aren't tall enough."

She does get requests for smaller vertical roasters for chickens, she says.

Yes, people even broil turkeys, but there are limitations, turkey cooks say. Only young, fresh-killed turkeys weighing from 3 1/2 pounds to 5 pounds broil successfully. They usually are split and seasoned before broiling.

And, while Southern cooks rave about deep-fried turkeys ` a technique in which the holiday bird, doctored with zippy Cajun flavorings, is lowered into a vat of boiling oil ` experienced chefs warn about the dangers of trying to do this in a home kitchen.

"It definitely has to be done outdoors and you need special equipment," Miller says. "You have to invest in a propane cooker and a big pot. It's going to add to the cost."

If you're still confused about tackling the turkey, try these hot lines and Web site:

* Butterball Turkey Talk line, 800-323-4848, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. weekdays through Nov. 25; 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Nov. 21-22; 7 a.m.-7 p.m. on Thanksgiving; and 9 a.m.-7 p.m. weekdays through Dec. 23. A free recipe booklet is available to callers.

* Reynolds Kitchens turkey tips line, 800-745-4000, recorded messages, 24 hours, through December. Reynolds is also offering a free "Turkey Made Easy" brochure, at the same number.

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