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?”
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