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Turkey Tips: Chef Sean shares his secrets for the perfect Thanksgiving bird

Published: Nov. 24, 2020 at 5:53 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Thanksgiving, a time for reflecting on the past and being grateful for what we have. It is also a time to eat, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, ham and many other traditional dishes. Perhaps the food we most often think of however, is turkey. Ever since Norman Rockwell painted his famous work, ‘Freedom from Want’ in the early 1940′s we have had the perfect picture of what a turkey on Thanksgiving should look like. While most of us may eat turkey, cooking it can often be a challenge.

To help everyone cook the perfect bird, we spoke to Chef Sean Walklin, the program coordinator for the UAF CTC culinary arts and hospitality program to learn a simple, new way to make the perfectly cooked turkey.

The first step, according to Chef Sean, is picking a bird, “First when you get a turkey you usually want to get about a 12 pound turkey. That is a really good size for cooking, if you get too much larger than that, it’s really easy to dry it out.”

He encouraged people who are having a large crowd to buy two birds and cook both instead of one large one.

Apart from the size, you also have to decide if you want a natural or a enhanced turkey. Natural turkeys have no seasoning or salt injected into them while enhanced turkeys are injected with sodium and water to help make them more moist while cooking.

Chef Sean said that when preparing a natural turkey, you need to brine it, “Brining is where you either do a dry brine where you rub salt on the bird or wet brine where you hold it in a salted liquid.”

A dry brine is made up of salt and baking powder. He said he prefers a dry brine as it is simpler and takes less room in the refrigerator.

To make a dry brine for a 12 pound bird, he mixes about a 1/2 cup of kosher salt with two tablespoons of baking power. He said it looks like a lot of salt, but that you can wash it off at the end to make a less salty tasting skin. The baking powder is to help the skin get nice and crispy.

He suggests brining the bird the night before Thanksgiving and then letting it sit in a refrigerator over night.

The next step in making the perfect bird is to apply a rub.

“I like to do oil with herbs, and the reason I do oil instead of butter, is that butter has water in it and that water will make the skin harder to crisp up and it won’t have that nice really crispy skin that I enjoy,” Chef Sean said.

He recommends applying the rub under and over the skin as well as inside the bird to make sure all the meat gets flavored. Now the bird is ready to go in the oven it’s time to make another choice.

You could tie the legs, tuck the wings in and place it in the oven. However, he recommends trying a cooking method that has been gaining popularity in recent years, spatchcocking.

“Spatchcocking is where you remove the backbone right here with some scissors or a knife and you just kind of cut as you go,” said Chef Sean.

Spatchcocking a turkey helps solve one of the hardest aspects about cooking the large bird.

“So the challenge is how do you cook an animal, a bird that needs to have two different temperatures? And so spatchcocking will make the cooking time a lot less. So you will be able to cook it really quickly which will make it so that the different parts don’t over cook,” Chef Sean said.

The breasts should be cooked to 150 degrees and the thighs to 165 degrees.

After the spine is removed, you flip the bird over and push on the breast bone to make sure the bird sits flat. While removing the spine can be a little difficult, Chef Sean says it is worth it.

For a 12 pound bird, Chef Sean said it should take around an hour to and hour and a half for the bird to reach the correct temperature. After the bird is done, the skin should be crispy and the meet moist and tender.

Following these simple tips can help you be well on your way to making the perfect bird for your Turkey Day.

  • Pick a smaller turkey (12-15lbs) so that the meat doesn’t get overly dry. It’s better to do two smaller turkeys than one big one.
  • If you pick a natural turkey, you should brine it. A basic dry brine consists of 1/2 cup of salt and 2 tablespoons of baking powder (for a turkey that is approx. 12lbs). He recommends a dry brine over a wet one because of saved space in the fridge and the crispiness the baking powder gives the skin. Do the brine the night before thanksgiving and let it sit in the fridge overnight.
  • Apply a rub of oil and herbs to the turkey. He picks oil over butter because butter can cause the skin not to crisp. Rub the outside of the skin, inside the skin, and inside the turkey to make sure all the meat has plenty of flavor.
  • Chef Sean recommends spatchcocking the Turkey for a shorter cooking time as well as a more even cook on the different parts of the bird.

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