Q Are there secrets to having a Thanksgiving turkey that looks like those in magazine pictures? Mine never look like that.
S.P., Dalton, Ga.
A A tasty, picture-perfect turkey is easy if you carefully follow a few simple rules, says Jean Schnelle, director of the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, who's been answering turkey questions for 19 years.
She recommends an open-pan (uncovered) roasting method to achieve a succulent, golden brown turkey. Place the thawed turkey, breast-side up, on a rack in a baking pan that's about 2 to 2-1/2 inches deep. To promote a moist, evenly brown skin, rub the surface of the turkey with oil and roast in preheated 325 degree F. oven.
An unstuffed 10- to 18-pound turkey will be done in about 3 to 3-1/2 hours; stuffed, it will take 3-3/4 to 4-1/2 hours. An unstuffed 18- to 22-pound turkey will be ready in 3-1/2 to 4 hours; if it's stuffed, count on 4-1/2 to 5 hours.
Ms. Schnelle doesn't recommend basting. Sometimes that makes the turkey too dark or blotchy. It also lengthens the baking time because you open the oven door frequently.
To prevent the breast from drying and overbrowning, fold a sheet of aluminum foil the size of a piece of typing paper in half to make a tent and lightly place it over the breast when the turkey is two-thirds done.
She strongly advises that you buy and use a meat thermometer to be certain that your turkey doesn't overbake. Insert an instant-read meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh or the stuffing half an hour before the turkey is supposed to be done. Place the tip of a traditional meat thermometer into the thigh or cavity before baking the turkey and check it 30 minutes before recommended end time. Make sure the thermometer doesn't touch a bone. The turkey is done when the thermometer in the thigh reads 180 degrees F. (160 degrees for the stuffing). If you don't have a meat thermometer, pierce the thigh deeply with a fork; if juices run clear, the turkey is completely baked.
The Turkey Talk-Line (800-323-4848) answers your questions on the following dates and (Central Standard) times: Nov. 17-19, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Nov. 20-21, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Thanksgiving, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Nov. 26-Dec. 23 (weekdays only), 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Or consult Butterball's Web site (www.butterball.com). Chef Burt Wolfe provides a Thanksgiving dinner-planning timetable at www.cooking.com
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