By mid-October, the supermarket checkout aisle is full of magazine covers, each boasting a glorious, burnished brown Thanksgiving turkey — so juicy and tempting, you can almost smell the savory aroma while you dig out your debit card.
And indeed, it’s not too soon to start thinking about stuffing (should it have bacon this year? Probably!), your other side dishes — and of course, the holiday centerpiece: a beautifully roasted turkey.
Before you choose a bird, check out these five tips to keep in mind as you plan your holiday meal, whether you’re serving 25 assorted aunts, uncles, and cousins or a simple Thanksgiving turkey feast for two.
1. Know What You’re Getting: Master This Basic Turkey Terminology
Turkey seems straightforward enough — but the wealth of options available today can confuse shoppers who aren’t sure what they want or what certain labels mean. Here’s a quick glossary to cover the main points*:
Free-range. As Americans become more aware of the often harsh conditions in which commercial poultry are raised, many are choosing free-range turkeys over better-known name brands. Under USDA standards, free-range birds must have access to the outdoors while they are raised (instead of being crammed into overcrowded farm facilities). Along with other advocates of free-range turkeys, the regional farmers who raise them say the birds are of higher quality than their commercially processed counterparts, because free-range turkeys’ diets are more varied (improving the flavor of their meat) and they get more exercise (improving their texture).
Heritage. What are heritage turkeys? These unusual breeds were once common in America, but fell out of favor as growers concentrated on the specially bred, big-breasted birds preferred by consumers (typically the Broad Breasted White turkey). Heritage varieties include Narragansett, American Bronze, Jersey Buff, and Bourbon Red.
Per the Splendid Table, heritage turkeys generally offer less breast meat and a stronger flavor than a conventional Thanksgiving turkey. As a result of the latter point, some expert cooks recommend not brining heritage turkeys, as doing so just wipes out their unique flavor.
Natural. By federal regulation, a turkey labeled “natural” may not contain artificial flavorings, coloring, or chemical preservatives. The natural label also means the bird hasn’t been fed animal byproducts or given growth promotants or antibiotics (except for parasite control). Forbes writer Beth Hoffman says the last point alone makes natural turkeys worth it: “If we can stop the run away use of antibiotics in raising livestock and poultry, it is worth a few extra cents a pound to do it.”
Natural turkeys must also be minimally processed, meaning they have only been handled as necessary to slaughter, clean, and make them ready for human consumption. Note that a natural turkey doesn’t have to be free-range, and that “natural” isn’t the same as…
Organic. Organic turkeys are free-range birds that have not been treated with hormones or antibiotics, and were given pesticide-free feed. Consumer Reports agrees with Hoffman that the lack of antibiotics is in itself a good reason to go organic. Whether organic turkey tastes noticeably better is up for debate and presumably highly subjective; in 2011, a representative from the World Society for the Protection of Animals said that “While some studies have been conducted on the taste of meat from organically-raised turkeys versus meat from intensively raised animals, to my knowledge they have not been conclusive.” And Mic in 2017 pointed out that the “organic” label is not a guarantee that meat is healthier or was raised and processed under more humane conditions.
Kosher. Quite simply, kosher turkeys are prepared under rabbinical supervision according to Jewish dietary law. While alive, these turkeys are given no antibiotics and fed a vegetarian diet, Epicurious says. Then they’re covered with kosher salt and rinsed repeatedly in cold water. This can make for a juicier, tastier turkey, but, as Tablet notes, the process also means kosher turkeys are usually not entirely plucked before they’re sold, which can be a pain. The general sentiment is that you shouldn’t brine a kosher turkey, because they’re already salty enough, but Joan Nathan pushes back on that here, noting that she and her friends agree the kosher turkeys of today are less salty than they used to be.
Self-basting. A self-basting turkey is injected with a solution to improve the flavor and juiciness of the meat. Some manufacturers treat only the breast meat, while others inject the entire bird. The label must say “basted” or “self-basted” and must list the amount and names of the ingredients used in the basting solution. (Remember, the net weight of the turkey includes the weight added by the solution — so you could be paying more for less meat. Cook’s Info says: “The solution injected will constitute 6 to 9 % of the weight that you are paying for.”) Generally speaking, you do not need to brine a self-basting turkey yourself before cooking (which saves time). If you prefer to use your own brine solution, read the packaging closely to ensure your Thanksgiving turkey isn’t already basted.
Fully cooked. As stated, a fully cooked whole turkey has been precooked and frozen by the processor. After thawing, it can be reheated (or served cold), which takes much less time than cooking a raw bird. Note, though: You can’t stuff a fully cooked turkey, as the dish isn’t in the oven long enough.
Young. A “young” turkey is a turkey of either sex that is less than 8 months old at the time of slaughter. Most turkeys reach market maturity at 4-5 months of age. As Berkeley Wellness says, “Most of the turkeys found on the market are young and will have tender meat.”
Hen vs. tom. Turkeys weighing 8-16 pounds are usually female (hens), while larger birds are male (toms). Since supermarket turkeys are normally slaughtered young, both hens and toms should be about the same in terms of taste, juiciness, and tenderness — so don’t fret too much over the sex of your bird. (That said, Berkeley Wellness notes that some cooks claim toms are tastier, and some say you’ll get more white meat on a hen.)
As you might guess, the further you get from name-brand commercial turkeys, the more you’re likely to pay. Heritage and organic turkeys can be pricey. If you’re searching for something less expensive, consider Amish turkeys (which are generally natural and hormone-free) or free-range birds. (For a real deep dive on turkey prices, the USDA has information for you.)
*As this NPR article from 2015 makes clear, a number of these labels are not quite as clear-cut as we wish they were!
2. To Get the Right Size, Buy a Pound Per Person (or More)
Here’s a simple formula: Get 1 pound of Thanksgiving turkey for each adult you’re serving, and half a pound per child. So if you’ve got 10 adults coming and four kids, you’ll want at least a 12-pound bird. If you’re inviting big eaters or counting on plenty of leftovers, make it 1.5 pounds per adult. (For creative recipes for your excess meat, check out “Thanksgiving Leftovers: Five Fresh Ideas.”)
Once you hit the 16-pound mark, you can be less strict, as birds that big have a better ratio of meat to bone — e.g., a 20-pound turkey will serve 14 people just fine and yield plenty of leftovers.
3. For Many People, Frozen Beats Fresh
As a rule, fresh food sounds better than frozen. But turkey is different. The term “fresh” applies to raw poultry that has never been stored below 26°F. Poultry held at 0°F or below must be labeled “frozen.” (Turkeys stored between 1°F and 25°F don’t have an official name, but are often labeled “refrigerated,” “hard-chilled,” or “previously frozen.”)
In other words, “fresh” only describes a turkey’s temperature from the time it was processed. It has nothing to do with how long it’s been sitting at the store. And while some cooks rave about a fresh Thanksgiving turkey straight from the farm, in a Cook’s Illustrated taste test, frozen turkeys were rated more moist and tender than fresh birds.
So we recommend buying a frozen Thanksgiving turkey, as long you have the time and the fridge space to thaw it safely — a 15-pound turkey will take about three full days to thaw.
4. Decide on Your Recipe Before Shopping
Your recipe’s success can depend on the type of Thanksgiving turkey you choose. For instance, if you’re experimenting with an unusual brine or exotic seasonings, you probably don’t want a self-basting bird. Or if you’re planning to grill your turkey, you’ll want to be sure it’s not too big. (You also might want to consider asking your butcher to spatchcock it — remove the backbone — for you. This is an excellent method for roasting, too.) So go in to your turkey purchase with an idea of what you’d like to do.
5. Lock Down Special Turkeys ASAP
If you want a free-range, organic, or heritage bird as your Thanksgiving turkey, it’s not a bad idea to start planning in mid-October. (If you use a digital calendar, go set an annual reminder right now!) Local co-ops and groceries often begin reserving turkeys a few weeks in advance, and family farms like to know even sooner. You’re better off checking in early than missing the rush. And even if you’re just getting a regular frozen commercial bird, make sure you buy it far enough in advance (usually 3-5 days before Thanksgiving) that it has time to thaw.
Looking for more ideas to gobble up?
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Just like I’ll fight (nicely, of course) the other cooks at the Thanksgiving table for possession of that flavorful turkey carcass — such a great way to make stock — I do the same at Easter for the ham bone.
These rainy April days are the perfect time to take that ham bone out of the freezer and put it to good use for some great tasting and heart warming comfort food.
Bean soups especially benefit from a long simmer with a ham bone, whether or not there’s much meat left on it. If there is, that’s just a bonus; slice it off at the end and add it to the soup.
Allow at least two hours for each of these soups, and know that they’re just as good reheated for lunch.
SPLIT PEA SOUP
One of my favorite spring soups is split pea, that hearty staple, even better when it’s studded with bits of ham. Ina Garten’s recipe for split pea soup, taken from the original Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, is a simple and delicious way to start.
To use your ham bone in this recipe, submerge it in the soup during the last 40 minutes of cooking. Depending how much meat comes off the bone, you may be able to reuse it if you refrigerate it between uses.
NEW ORLEANS RED BEANS AND RICE
John Besh’s beautiful, coffee table-worthy cookbook, “My New Orleans,” is 384 engaging pages of stories, recipes and Southern inspiration.
I first made this fragrant pot of red beans and rice on Super Bowl Sunday, with the justification that the game was being played in New Orleans, and so red beans and rice were perfectly appropriate.
This simple recipe starts with the trinity (green pepper, celery, onion) and gets flavor not only from smoked ham hocks, but also from bacon fat, cayenne pepper and, of course, Louisiana-made Tabasco sauce. The red beans freeze well, too.
HAM BONE SOUP
Everything is better with bacon, and that includes Melissa Clark’s simple ham bone soup, adapted from an old Junior League cookbook. According to Clark’s piece in The New York Times, “The soup was simple: boil a bone with beans and a bay leaf, and dinner was done.”
Add a green salad and some crusty bread and you have a wonderful meal to share and savor!
For more ham recipes and cooking tips, be sure to download our FREE “Holiday Ham” Cookbook. Click the image below to download your cookbook now.
A holiday ham doesn’t have only one part to play in your end-of-the-year celebrations. Check out these great appetizer ideas for passing around at family gatherings — all finger food and easy to execute.
Ham and Cheese in Puff Pastry
From Ina Garten, The Food Network.
This is one of my favorite holiday appetizers. It starts with premade puff pastry and comes out of the oven bubbling and delicious. (I especially like it because it doesn’t involve filling little individual quiche cups or wrapping dozens of shrimp in bacon. Who has time?)
You can vary the cheese — cheddar is great for a more kid-friendly version, as is part-skim mozzarella — and any hard cheese could substitute for Gruyere.
Smoked Ham Roll-ups
From Nueske’s Applewood Smoked Meats.
This is another take on the “make something big and cut it into small bites” school of appetizer cooking. You could skip the horseradish, add some chopped sundried tomatoes to the cream cheese or augment with green onions for color and a little onion flavor.
Deviled Ham Sandwiches
From Lisa Lavery on CHOW.com.
Deviled ham comes together quickly in a food processor, blended with pickle relish, Dijon mustard, mayonnaise and spices. Recipe author Lisa Lavery says to served the ham “with fancy crackers, or enjoy it on bread for a departure from the everyday ham sandwich.”
Bonus: This can be made three days ahead, to give you more time for other things on the day of the party.
Mini Buttermilk Biscuits with Ham, Arugula and Fig Preserves
From Louisa’s Catering on GroupRecipes.com.
Feel free to cheat on the buttermilk biscuit part of these tasty little sandwiches, a riff on the classic fig/ham combination commonly found in tapas form (usually with a cured ham, like Parma or prosciutto). Fresh arugula lends crunch and a touch of spice, while the fig preserves go beautifully with the saltiness of the ham.
Mini Frittatas with Ham and Cheese
From Cooking Light.
These bite size frittatas will require the purchase of a mini-muffin pan if you don’t already have one. But they’re savory, surprisingly light (even with regular instead of reduced-fat ham) and so simple to make, that could be a worthy investment.
Made with onions, chives, cheddar and egg, these taste great hot and at room temperature, so they’re a cinch to make ahead.
Few centerpieces are more anticipated than a perfectly pink holiday ham, glazed with a spiky coarse mustard and sweet fruit preserves, and sliced into lovely petals.
But if you’re cooking a ham for the first time, getting from the package in the grocery store to that beautiful Christmas Day dinner-table picture can seem like a daunting journey. So, for the newbie, this is our ham primer.
Start with a cured or smoked (precooked) ham. (You can definitely make a fresh one, but today let’s leave that to the more experienced cooks.)
The most popular kind of ham is a city ham. Much like a brined Butterball turkey, city hams are wet-cured, injected with a mixture of salt, seasonings and curing agents. An article on Real Simple claims that “bone-in city hams tend to be moister and more flavorful than the boneless variety,” though both come ready to eat.
Country ham is favored in the south. These hams are dry-cured with a salt/seasoning rub, then smoked and aged. Real Simple explains, “salty and chewy, the intensely flavored meat is usually served with biscuits or incorporated into casseroles and salads. It’s sold both uncooked and cooked, and mostly bone-in.”
Bon Appétit recommends getting a ham with “some kind of bone in it. It will give you a sense of where to take the ham’s temperature to determine doneness (see below), plus, that leftover bone will bring a soup or pot of beans to the next level.”
According to a Rachael Ray how-to, “spiral hams cook faster because the heat penetrates better.” Either way, if you have a whole ham, be prepared to dedicate your oven to it for a good chunk of time.
Alton Brown, the lovable science-geek chef on the Food Network, recommends warming a precooked ham for three to four hours at a low temperature (250°F) under foil, then increasing the heat, adding a brown sugar/bourbon glaze and then upping the heat (350°F) for a final hour.
A classic holiday ham recipe on Chow.com estimates five hours of cooking and prep time, using a temperature of 325°F. The Neelys’ recipe is a little faster, about three hours for a 14-pound ham at 350°F. Choose a recipe that fits your time frame; remember that the ham will smell wonderful while it cooks!
Choose a glaze for your ham, usually a combination of something savory or spicy, like mustard, cloves, garlic or ginger, and something sweet, like orange juice, pineapple, fresh or dried figs or even Coca-Cola. The glaze usually goes on in the last 60 to 30 minutes of cooking. Check out our recent post, 5 Ways to Glaze a Holiday Ham, for more recipe ideas.
Finally, carve your ham. If you have a spiral sliced ham, that’s already been done for you. If you don’t, look to a step-by-step guide like the one Jeffrey Elliot put together at Huffington Post, or this one from Hunter Lewis at Saveur.
For a video, watch Ron Stapleton from Stapleton’s Quality Meats demonstrate how to carve a holiday ham. And avoid some common mistakes, like drying out the ham or burning the glaze, by reading this tip sheet from Bon Appétit.
We hope these tips and resources for cooking a Holiday Ham help you enjoy cooking yours. Happy Holidays!
Be sure to download our FREE “Holiday Ham” Cookbook for more tips and recipes for the perfect holiday ham dinner. Click the image below to download your copy now!
Preparing a Christmas ham, especially if it’s been conveniently pre-smoked or cured for you, is about the easiest thing you can do for a centerpiece. But that doesn’t mean you can’t add a little something to it—namely, a sweet, decadent glaze to make your ham that much more delicious.
Here are five tips from food bloggers we love on how to make your ham even more dazzling this holiday.
1. Blackberry- and mustard-glazed ham, from The Cottage Home
With just four ingredients (blackberry preserves, whole-grain mustard, apple cider, and a precooked ham), this holiday entrée couldn’t be simpler. Blogger Lindsay reports that it’s “a great crowd-pleasing ham … even my husband, who would much prefer some type of red meat, absolutely loved it.”
2. Roasted fresh ham with maple spice glaze, from Leite’s Culinaria
This recipe is for a fresh ham, but you could use the maple glaze with cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg on a precooked one, too. Prepared simply by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, this ham is roasted in the oven with little fuss. One 8- to 10-lb. ham will feed “6 teenage boys, 16 adults, or 26 twenty-something models.”
3. Red currant-pomegranate glazed ham, from Taking On Magazines (One Recipe at a Time)
“I may not make ham in any other way again,” writes a blogger who calls herself the Mom Chef, describing this recipe. Pomegranate juice “infuses” the ham with flavor, with an assist from red currant jelly, brown sugar, and Dijon mustard.
Also, it’s made in a slow cooker, which frees the oven for other pursuits.
4. Pineapple mustard-glazed ham from The Bitten Word
“Ham and pineapple is, of course, a classic combo,” write the Bitten Word boys, venerable magazine-recipe-testers and entertaining blog hosts. “Adding country-style whole-grain mustard keeps this glaze from being too sickly sweet, and using fresh pineapples rescues the ham from Kennedy-era cliches—or at least it clears your conscience.”
As originally printed in Martha Stewart Living magazine, this glaze is made with fresh pineapple cooked in a simple syrup (sugar/water), and the ham itself is drizzled with white wine and studded with cloves. Perfect.
5. Orange-glazed ham with mustard sauce from Jamie Cooks It Up
Jamie, the intrepid host of Jamie Cooks It Up, posted this recipe right before Christmas last year, advising readers to “pair it with a simple-to-make mustard sauce and your main course will be singing a new song of gladness.”
The glaze is a simple combination of butter, brown sugar, honey, orange juice, cinnamon and cloves. It’s like the best of all the previous recipes combined.
Your biggest challenge is which of these delectable glazes to choose – enjoy and happy holidays!
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A perfectly browned turkey or a glazed holiday ham, sliced into layers like the petals of a flower. Either makes for a crowd-pleasing main course, ample enough to feed a crowd, with leftovers to spare.
But when you’re hosting a holiday gathering (that isn’t Thanksgiving — turkey has the clear edge there), which do you choose for your centerpiece? What makes better appetizers for a cocktail party?
If your gathering is less than two weeks after Thanksgiving, everyone might be happier with ham. A spiral-sliced, smoked bone-in or boneless ham comes already cooked, so all you have to do is warm it up, glaze it and serve.
Hosting a cocktail party? For appetizers, ham is a little more decadent than turkey.
For example, I served ham and cheese puff pastry squares (recipe by Ina Garten on the Food Network) for my New Year’s Eve party in 2010. They were finger food, easy to make and fantastic with sparkling wine.
Ham and rice croquettes are a tiny bit more fussy because they require frying, but reviewers of this Gourmet recipe raved about them. “Superb! One of the easiest apps to please a wine-swilling crowd,” wrote one; another said, “My guests really loved them.”
For a Spanish flare, try Spanish-style garlic shrimp with ham and bell peppers, which is a “great tapas or appetizer with crusty bread.”
If you have picky eaters or anyone who keeps kosher on the guest list, go with turkey. Turkey offers white meat for the dieters and dark for everyone else, and most flexitarians make an exception for fowl.
If you choose, you can even roast a smaller bird (though the leftovers are so good, that’s a hard argument to make).
For appetizer portions, Jennie-O is a font of great entertaining ideas based around turkey, like pesto turkey pinwheels and smoked Gouda and turkey dip.
These turkey pockets are made super easy by the addition of pre-made dough.
For something different in the weeks following Thanksgiving, try something more exotic on your turkey. Asian flavors are awesome with the neutral flavors of turkey breast meat — check out the cinnamon-orange scented turkey from Rick Rodgers at Bon Appétit (the “dry brine” salt includes star anise, Szechuan peppercorns, clove, coriander and fennel).
Joanne Chang’s recipe for a turkey glazed with soy, sesame, honey and ginger, found in Food & Wine, will banish memories of Thanksgiving from your holiday gathering. Also intriguing is a recipe for a teriyaki glaze on the turkey and shallot gravy to finish.
Whatever you do, be sure to save some leftovers for yourself! Enjoy.
Turkey by itself — especially the breast meat — doesn’t have a ton of flavor and can run a little dry. For the best-tasting, juiciest turkey, most birds need a little help.
Here are five ways to add richness, spice and excitement to your Thanksgiving turkey.
1. Brine it. The white meat of turkey is not naturally juicy. To add both moisture and flavor, soak the bird in brine the night before you plan to cook it. It works wonders.
There is a fair amount of internet buzz for Alton Brown’s five-star-rated Good Eats Roast Turkey, which as of this posting has 4,007 reviews on Food Network. To make his brine, you basically make a tea using kosher salt, brown sugar, vegetable stock, peppercorns, allspice and candied ginger. Cool it down and then soak the bird in the mixture for 8 to 16 hours.
The results? See the reviews: “A HUGE hit,” “soooooo easy,” “awesome turkey flavor, mild, subtle, and what Thanksgiving is all about!”
2. Inject it. You can buy pre-injected turkey, though some are wary of these — a whole frozen turkey from Butterball, for example, includes “modified food starch, sodium phosphates (and) natural flavorings.”
You’ll know exactly what’s in the injection if you do it yourself. Granted, this requires some tools, but those who tried Brian Page‘s butter-injected turkey with thyme gave it “four forks” out of four on Epicurious.com.
“By putting the butter inside of the turkey it makes the turkey moist inside,” wrote one reviewer. “When the butter comes out into your water it makes it good for basting, because it helps brown the skin on the outside. I also use poultry seasoning, putting some on the inside and out.
3. Rub spices on the skin. Add flavor fast with a simple spice rub, which can range from basic to bold. One Cooking Light recipe packs tons of flavor, with cumin, coriander, oregano, sage, thyme, dry mustard and a little brown sugar.
Saveur has a recipe for a beautiful chile-rubbed Mexican turkey, involving toasted pasilla chiles, 30 cloves of garlic, orange juice, olive oil and honey.
4. Spread herb butter under the skin. No time to brine? This is a great last-minute technique that you can easily adapt for roast chicken, too.
Both Ina Garten and Martha Stewart offer step-by-step instructions for making a compound butter (with chopped herbs and lemon zest), then (in Martha’s case) loosening the skin of the bird and slathering the slightly softened butter underneath. Ina gets brown skin by brushing the melted butter mixture on top.
5. Stuff it. Take a lemon or an orange, a quartered Spanish onion or a full head of garlic, a bunch of rosemary or a few sprigs of thyme, and shove them into the cavity of the bird. (Apples are delicious, too.) This perfumes the meat lightly. Garlic left in its papery skin emerges melting and sweet, amazing spread on crusty bread.
Happy Cooking! Let us know what you do to make your Thanksgiving Turkey it’s flavorful best.
The appointed hour has arrived: it’s time for you and dozens of your relatives and friends to gather around the dining room table, stretched out to its full capacity for the most celebrated meal of the year –Thanksgiving. But, like a weary child from the backseat during a cross-country trip, one question nags at you: Are we there yet? Am I sure the turkey’s done?
For cooks who are afraid of disappointing all their aunts, uncles and cousins on a national holiday, here is a quick list of tell-tale signs that your Thanksgiving turkey is ready for its grand entrance.
- It’s golden brown.
The skin of the turkey often browns early in the baking process, so this alone won’t tell you it’s done, but it’s a delicious indicator that you’re getting closer.
- It has baked for the recommended time, at the recommended temperature.
This is one case when reading the directions will save all kinds of heartache (and tummy aches!). Your turkey likely came with specific instructions on thawing and cooking the bird. If not, the USDA has a handy website on safely cooking Turkey which you can check out.
- It wiggles.
When you gently pull on the end of the drumstick, the turkey leg will wiggle easily, with almost no resistance. If you have to force the drumstick away from the body of the bird, it’s not quite ready.
- The juices run clear.
You’ve shaken hands with the turkey, now it’s time to give it a poke. Insert a knife at least an inch into the breast. When you remove it, look for lovely turkey juices to come bubbling up. If they are clear, that meat is cooked. If they are cloudy or pink, it’s still got some time in the oven. (Remember to drain off all those wonderful juices after you remove the turkey from the pan – they are a great base for gravy!)
- It’s feeling the heat.
Some turkeys come with built-in “pop-up” thermometers, which should tell you when the internal temperature of the bird has reached 165°. Even if your turkey has its own plastic gauge, it’s a good idea to invest in an instant-read meat thermometer, just to double-check. Insert the tip of the meat thermometer in the thigh muscle just above the lower part of the thighbone (but not touching the bone!). In about 15 seconds you’ll have a definitive answer.
And as anxious as everyone is to dig in, you’ll be even more thankful that you let the turkey rest for at least 20 minutes after you took it out of the oven. Set it on a heat-proof surface and drape it with a tent of aluminum foil, while you get all the accoutrements ready to serve. The turkey will be juicier and also, easier to carve.
So now that you know it’s done. . .the only big question left is, “who’s going to do the dishes?”
About gThankYou, LLC
gThankYou! Turkey Gift Certificates are one of America’s favorite employee gifts and can be redeemed for any Brand whole Turkey, at virtually any Grocery Store in the U.S.
gThankYou, LLC provides company leaders with a variety of easy, meaningful and affordable ways to recognize and reward employees, holiday time or anytime. gThankYou! Certificates of Gratitude and free Enclosure Cards are personalizable including incorporating your company logo, and ship same day.
gThankYou, LLC (www.gthankyou.com) is based in Madison, Wisconsin. Contact: Rick Kiley, Chief ThankYou! Officer, gThankYou, LLC at firstname.lastname@example.org or 888-484-1658. Follow the company blog “Celebrating Work” at www.gthankyou.com/blog.
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It’s that age-old question, where do you put the meat thermometer in a turkey?
You may have spent days looking at recipes, brining your Thanksgiving turkey, and finding just the right ingredients for some amazing stuffing, but if you serve raw turkey at your next Thanksgiving dinner, all that effort will be wasted. (Not to mention a lot of good food!) Fortunately, there’s a very simple way to make sure your turkey is cooked properly – just look in the housewares section of your grocery store for a meat thermometer. Follow the instructions below for proper use and rest assured — your bird will be perfect! Oven-safe or instant-read, a meat thermometer is a good investment in great taste!
The tip of the meat thermometer should be placed in the thigh, just above the lower part of the thighbone (but not touching the bone!), pointing toward the body. For the stuffing temperature, the tip of the thermometer should be in the center of the body cavity.
Whole Breast and Boneless Turkey Roasts
Similar to the whole turkey, you should insert your thermometer deep into thickest part of the meat, not touching any bone. (Bone conducts heat differently than the meat of the bird, so if it may give a false reading if they touch.)
Instant Read Thermometers
Remove the turkey from the oven and place the thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh, away from the bone. It will register the temperature of your turkey within 15 seconds. If it needs more time, be sure NOT to pop the thermometer in the oven with your turkey. Instant read thermometers were not designed to withstand hours of high temperatures.
Oven Safe Thermometers
Insert the thermometer in the deepest part of the thigh before you put the raw turkey in the oven. You can leave the thermometer in during the entire cooking process, and check the temperature dial periodically while it roasts. If the thermometer moves while the turkey is baking, simply reposition it.
What’s the Magic Number?
Turkey and stuffing are safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F. Many like the deep thigh meat temperature at 180 °F.
Even if your turkey has a “pop-up” plastic thermometer, it’s a good idea to double-check with a trusty thermometer of your own.
Happy cooking! If you’d like even more helpful Turkey tips, download our free Ultimate Turkey Guide now:
For food safety, a good meat thermometer is an essential kitchen tool. It’s just as important to know how to use it properly. This is the topic of much confusion and consternation. Fret not! We’ll clear it up with a common sense tips on where to insert the meat thermometer in your Holiday Ham.
Tip # 1: Always use a meat thermometer when baking ham. This applies regardless whether you’re baking a partially cooked or fully cooked ham. It will tell precisely when your ham is done avoiding over-cooked, dry hams or undercooked meat – which can cause foodborne illness.
You can’t guess at ham doneness by eyeballing or using general per-pound oven cooking times. Ovens vary too greatly, as to peoples’ eyeball perception of doneness.
Tip #2: Use the thermometer of your choice. There are many types of meat and food thermometers on the market. Choose the one you feel the most comfortable using. They’ll all do the job.
Tip #3: Insert the thermometer probe into the thickest part of the meat, avoiding the bone. For any bone-in ham, the thickest part is going to be the cut portion of the ham. But when baking a ham, it’s by far best to bake it cut side down to preserve juices. This is necessary if you’re cooking a spiral sliced ham. Solve this dilemma by inserting the thermometer at an angle from above into the thick portion below, while being careful to not insert too far to hit the bone.
Read more about meat thermometers and food safety from the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. Enjoy your Holiday Ham, and please share with us your best tips on using a meat thermometer with Ham.
For more ham recipes and cooking tips, be sure to download our FREE “Holiday Ham” Cookbook. Click the image below to download your cookbook now.
A nicely cooked ham is beautiful to behold. But how do you prepare the absolute, #1 Best Tasting Ham? Borrowing advice from the ham-savvy Serious Eats Food Lab, it’s easy: 1) Buy the right ham, and 2) Don’t screw it up. Fair enough.
But, seriously, ham needn’t be a complex dish. With these simple tips, you’re guaranteed to have success.
Know your ham. Many are probably unaware of the different types of ham available. Most of the hams sold in grocery stores are of the city ham variety (there are also country hams and fresh hams). You’ll recognize them filling chilled meat cases everywhere you look this month as people shop for their Holiday Ham. City hams are brined then either smoked or boiled to be moist and tender. Most are partially or fully cooked and come in a variety of choices – bone in, spiral cut, etc.
What to buy. Since most people in the U.S. choose city hams, we’ll focus on them here. There are many fine city hams to choose. One absolute: bone-in hams are more flavorful. Period. Plus, the bone makes a great soup stock.
What’s the word on water content? The more water added to the product, the less your ham will taste like a ham and it will have less of a meat-like texture. Aim for the highest protein to water ratio that you can afford, and remember this is the season for great ham deals at many markets.
Cook it right. You might think there’s little to cooking a ham. You’re mostly right, but a couple simple tips will help you nail it perfectly the first time. Note that regardless whether you choose a fully or partially cooked ham, cooking it is essential. For the former, it will enhance its flavor and juiciness. For the latter, it’s necessary.
Baking your ham is the hands-down best way to prepare it. Wrap your ham in aluminum foil, and place it in an oven bag cut side down inside a roasting pan. This method helps prevent you from inadvertently drying out your ham and is worth the effort.
If it’s a spiral-cut ham, it’s particularly important to place the ham in your roasting pan facing cut side down so the cut slices do not flop apart, dry and ruin your dish.
A partially cooked ham will need to cook 20 minutes per pound at about 350 degrees (175 celsius).A fully cooked ham will take less time, about 10 minutes per pound, to heat through.
Since ovens and hams vary, use a meat thermometer to gauge exactly when the ham is done. For accuracy, it’s important to know exactly where to insert the thermometer probe in your ham. Choose the center of the thickest part of your ham avoiding the bone. I usually go in at an angle from above,
You’ll know your ham is ready to come out of the oven when your thermometer reads about 140-degrees. It will continue to cook while it rests and stopping at this point will keep your ham juicy. The recommended rest period is 30 minutes, tented under foil, prior to slicing and serving.
That’s it! With these few simple steps you can choose, cook and serve the perfect Holiday Ham or Ham dinner any time. Share your tips with us here.
Check out our FREE “Holiday Ham Guide” and start planning your special ham dinner today. You and your guests will be delighted!
Much of what we know of ham is the cured city or country variety that you simply heat and serve. But lately, I’ve been seeing more ham labeled “uncured” on grocer’s shelves. What’s going on?
Uncured ham is also called fresh ham. It’s the same cut as cured, but not embellished with any of the brine and smoke or other flavorings the more common city hams and gourmet country hams. It even has a light pink or grey color, as you would expect in uncooked meat. It requires a little extra preparation and cooking time than its cured counterparts. Here’s a good explanation of ham types from the City Cook.
You could infer that uncured hams are a healthier alternative. Many are labelled organic or natural. And with uncured hams you won’t get any of the nitrites or nitrates used in many cured hams – a controversial addition for some. Fresh hams are described as far less salty, too, even if you brine the pork yourself.
But the reason I think we’re seeing more interest in the uncured variety of hams is this: We continue to be in the golden age of DIY cooking. This trend grew up with Martha Stewart’s Omnimedia empire, still going strong after many years, and continues to evolve with widening demand for local and organic foods.
In certain ways, people are spending more time in the kitchen. This is particularly true around the holidays. So it makes sense that uncured hams are lining shelves.
Whether you prefer cured or uncured ham, make sure you know how to handle, cook and store your ham safely.
Cooking and Caring for Uncured Ham
Here are a few tips and recipes:
- The USDA has a food safety sheet for Ham that’s handy. Here’s a time table for cooking fresh hams. And you’ll want to see this chart on safely storing ham.
- A Perfect Ham Recipe from the New York Times.
- Smoke your own Ham with these instructions from eHow.
- Epicurious offers a great recipe for Grilled Molasses and Rum-Glazed Fresh Ham.
- Brine your own fresh ham using this beloved Home-Cured Holiday Ham recipe by Chef John at Allrecipes.
We love pulling out the grill in winter, so we’re thinking of doing a basic brine and then throwing it on the grill. Share your favorite fresh ham cooking technique or recipe with us!
Learn More About Cooking Ham
To learn more about cooking ham, download our FREE eBook, a “Holiday Ham Guide”.
Give the Gift of a Holiday Ham
Looking for a holiday gift that everyone appreciates and enjoys? Share the gift of a holiday ham and let recipients choose the ham that they would like for the centerpiece of their holiday meal. It’s a thoughtful gift that evokes the gratitude of the holiday season.
gThankYou! Ham Gift Certificates are good for any brand, preparation and size of half or whole ham and redeemable at grocery stores nationwide. To learn more check out our website and our frequently asked questions.
Years ago, an upscale grocer in our New York neighborhood put out a memorable flyer detailing “The 12 Roasts of Christmas.” It really opened my eyes to the many ways people celebrate the holidays with special meals; a quality roast always as the centerpiece.
Many holiday dinners follow family tradition, handed down and shared generation to generation. Ham is always a top pick. What’s the story behind the Holiday Ham and what culture originated this as the main part of traditional holiday meals?
As with many holiday customs, there is not one definitive explanation behind the Yule Ham. Here are some common historical accounts:
- Christmas Ham predates Christmas itself, originating from a Roman mid-winter festival called Saturnalia, in which people ate boar, which ties it to modern-day England.
- Norse mid-winter feasts were also celebrated by feasting on boar.
- Germanic custom also ties boars to its seasonal celebration, now associated most closely with Saint Steven’s feast day, marked on December 26. In fact, the oldest Christmas carol The Boar’s Head Carol, p. 1521, was said to be sung at Christmas dinners in England, a custom still carried out today by some particularly in Britain.
If you’re of an English, Swedish or Finnish, or German descent, you may still carry forward traditions of your forefathers by baking a Yule Ham. Today, people in the Philippines and Jamaica also traditionally serve Holiday Ham, as do those in Australia. Plenty in the U.S. also serve Yule Ham as well.
But holiday traditions evolve over time (don’t get me started on our family holiday lasagna). Share with us your Holiday Ham custom, and how it originated.
We make egg salad once a year. Bet you guessed that it’s the week following the annual visit from that famous bunny, who leaves colorful, hard-cooked eggs all around our house — in the yard if the snow isn’t too deep.
Likewise, I have favorite recipes I pull out annually following the big Holiday Ham Dinner. I make ‘em once a year and they’ve become almost as much a tradition as what we do on Easter itself.
In my estimation, there are probably about 101 ways to use up a bone-in ham. Boneless, too – although I favor a ham bone to make a rich soup stock. Here are the dishes I rotate from year to year:
- Nueske’s Black Beans with Smoked Ham and Rice
- Build-it yourself Ham Quiche
- Substitute any leftover ham in Jamie Oliver’s Rolled Bread with Ham
- Eat like a Senator with this versatile Senate Bean Soup
- For leftover eggs, you can’t beat this Curried Egg Salad a la Martha Stewart’s daughter, Alexis
The top-rated recipe each time I visited Epicurious a while back was — seriously — How to Boil Water. Certainly this was a spoof at Conde Nast’s mega food site populated with recipes from its Bon Appetit and now-defunct Gourmet magazines. Just the same, it reminds me of this week’s Recipe of the Week topic: Baking a Ham.
Many Hams come pre-cooked and, really, need no cooking at all. But most Hams will benefit from baking. And if you don’t make big roasts that much (like me), you may need some reminders and tips. Why bake? It brings out the natural juices and allows you to customize with a glaze, if you choose, to fit your dinner.
For a primer on Ham (the USDA recognizes four distinct classifications of Ham based on water to protein ratio), view this video from Alton Brown’s Food Network show, Good Eats.
After you’ve decided on which type you want to serve — city or country, fresh, bone-in, spiral sliced, etc. – follow these simple steps for the Best Baked Ham Dinner.
- Buy a quality Ham: Choose well by knowing what you’re buying. Alton Brown does a good job explaining it, but there’s good information on Ham at Wikipedia, too.
- Read the package: Most Hams you buy in your grocer’s case will come with some basic guidelines and instructions for cooking right on the label.
- Decide on a glaze: To glaze or not to glaze is a matter of personal taste (and some intense debate). Options range from fruity peach and pineapple, to adventurous honey mustard and hoisin sauce. Experiment with recipes from CDKitchen and Recipetips.com or go with a family favorite.
- Bake and check for doneness: One of my favorite kitchen tools is a digital probe thermometer. It is readable from outside the oven and alerts me when food is done. Consumer Reports rates them here.
- Enjoy! Slice and serve with your favorite sides. That’s another post, but please share your top picks with us.
While not exactly a no-brainer, it is easy to make a memorable Ham Dinner, whether it be holiday-related or for Sunday supper.
Ham used to be kind of a mystery to me. Most Hams you find in grocer’s cases come fully cooked — you only need to glaze, if desired, then reheat. Selling an already cooked item most people bake anyway was a curious phenomenon.
Plus, there are a wide variety of types and cuts of Ham to choose with terminology that adds intrigue: Country Ham, City Ham, fresh Ham, cured, cottage Ham, spiral cut . What does it all mean? In the interest of clearing up any confusion, we offer this guide for choosing the best Holiday Ham for your table, along with the best recipes for the two primary Ham types.
With his knack for explaining culinary matters, TV cook Alton Brown has the best definition of ham styles: “A city ham is basically any brined ham that’s packed in a plastic bag, held in a refrigerated case and marked ‘ready to cook’, “partially cooked” or ‘ready to serve’. Better city hams are also labeled ‘ham in natural juices’ ”
These references will help sort out the other terminology:
- Ham 101 with a gThankYou! to What’s Cooking America.
- gThankYou! for About.com’s Ham Varieties and Terminology, which provides a comprehensive overview.
- How to Choose a Ham with a gThankYou! to the “ask me” experts at Mahalo.com.
- Country Ham recipe, which includes the odd ingredient Dr. Pepper, with a gThankYou! to Alton Brown and Food Network.
- Finally, gThankYou! again to AB, who also has a fantastic recipe for City Ham.
Knowing more about Ham and the difference in varieties lets you be in control of the cooking, or reheating, whichever you choose!