I found some valuable information in the Milwaukee/Journal Sentinel’s Food section this morning. I personally “brine” my turkey the day before I roast. You can find this recipe under “Fall/Harvest” in my blog.
Frozen or fresh? My first decision was whether to buy a frozen or fresh turkey. Frozen turkeys are less expensive than fresh, and can be purchased weeks in advance if you have the freezer space; however, you have to be sure to allow plenty of time to thaw.
Fresh turkeys are more often free-range or organic and can be purchased at the last minute, but they will last only a few days in the refrigerator. According to Butterball Turkey Talk-Line director Mary Clingman, you can make a fresh turkey last longer by placing it in the freezer for a few hours to drop its temperature, then returning it to the bottom of the fridge, which is usually the coldest area.
Size: One pound per person is the general rule for selecting a bird properly sized for your gathering. This will allow for a reasonable amount of leftovers. I went with the smallest turkey I could find, an 11.5-pounder, figuring my husband and I might have a few guests over – at most – for this preholiday, practice turkey roast (you’ll see how well those plans held up).
Thawing : If you’re going with a frozen bird, the next crucial step comes days before Thanksgiving. Butterball has declared the Thursday before Thanksgiving to be National Thaw Day as a reminder to move your turkey from the freezer to the fridge, or at least to start thinking about it.
The general rule of thawing is 24 hours for every 4 pounds of turkey in a fridge set at about 40 degrees. To be safe, I gave mine four days, but it wouldn’t have been a bad idea to start thawing even earlier than that. You can wait up to four days to cook it once it’s fully thawed, which ensures the bird’s temperature will be between 35 and 40 degrees.
You’ll want to place the turkey on a pan or in a plastic bag to prevent leaks in the fridge. If you find yourself without enough time to thaw it in the refrigerator, you can place the turkey in a sink or cooler (or even a bathtub, as my cousin once had to do) filled with cold water, breast side down.
This method will take 30 minutes per pound of turkey if you’re changing the water every half-hour. If that seems like too much work, you can forget about changing the water, but it will take several hours longer (the frozen turkey cools the water).
And if you completely forget to thaw your turkey, or it’s still a bit frozen on Thanksgiving morning, Clingman says not to worry. You can cook a turkey from the frozen state. It may take a couple of hours longer, and you won’t be able to remove the neck, giblets and gravy packets or insert the meat thermometer before placing it in the oven, but in the end it should taste perfectly delicious.
Preparing the bird: Once thawed, the turkey requires a little preparation. Free it from its plastic wrapping, rinse it well, inside and out, and dry it with paper towels. My turkey still had some ice in the cavity, despite my conservative thawing time, but this didn’t mean the meat was still frozen; it just had some frozen liquid hanging around. A good, strategic rinse took care of that.
You also need to remove the neck, gravy packet and giblets. This proved to be my first real challenge of the day. I easily found the neck and gravy packet tucked into the main cavity, but the giblets were elusive. After searching high and low, I concluded that our bird was missing its giblets and moved on.
Fast forward to the turkey being carved, and sure enough, out popped a little packet with the giblets. It didn’t hurt anything to be cooked right inside the bird, as the bag is oven-safe, but it’s probably best to find it before it goes in the oven – if only to save yourself the embarrassment.
While the neck and gravy packets are usually found in the main cavity, the giblets are stored in the neck cavity. Unfold the neck skin to get into the cavity and remove them. Then, after rinsing and drying the bird, use the neck skin to hold the wings akimbo – or lifted up as you would look holding your hands behind your head with your elbows out.
Reference: Milwaukee/Journal Sentinel Food Section, Wednesday November 16, 2011