Harvest executive chef Tyler Kinnett is gearing up to cook Thanksgiving dinner — for 150-plus patrons at his farm-to-table Cambridge restaurant. Kinnett’s message to those who are roasting a turkey for their families this year? Don’t fret.
“Cooking for people is a way to show how much you care about them,” Kinnett said. “That in and of itself should keep you from getting stressed out.”
Still, for those nervous about making a bird at home, Kinnett offered the following six tips, which he said anyone can follow.
“It’s not a complex process,” Kinnett said. “It’s just steps over a long period of time.”
1. Avoid frozen turkeys
“Finding the right turkey is the most important thing,” Kinnett said. “Don’t get frozen if you can, because that actually purges out a lot of the liquid, which you don’t want to do.”
You’ll decrease your chances of eating dry turkey by buying a fresh bird. Kinnett recommended looking for one that’s free-range with no hormones and no antibiotics.
2. If you’re pressed for time, cut your turkey while it’s raw
Many people like to serve a whole turkey to Thanksgiving guests because of the presentation factor, Kinnett said.
But when time is a stronger consideration than pretty, Kinnett said “cutting it down” is the answer. In other words, don’t cook it whole.
“Cutting it down means removing the breast and removing the legs,” he said. “What you get when you cut it down is a turkey that’s cooked in less time.”
It’s best to roast the turkey parts on a roasting rack at a higher temperature than you would a whole turkey because the parts will cook faster, said Kinnett, who recommended roasting the turkey at 350 to 375 degrees, which will brown the turkey nicely.
As a bonus, roasting the turkey in parts means the turkey “loses less moisture and it is more juicy,” he said.
Kinnett suggested using Google to find a tutorial on cutting up a raw turkey properly.
3. Prep your bird
Make sure your turkey sits at room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes before you put it in the oven, Kinnett said. Otherwise, you’ll have to cook it longer and it could end up dry.
Speaking of dry, you’ll want to dry off your turkey before it goes in the oven.
“Take paper towels to remove the liquid inside and out, which prevents the skin from burning,” Kinnett said.
Then brush the outside of the bird with a little canola or vegetable oil. Kinnett doesn’t recommend using olive oil because it has a lower smoke point, which is the temperature at which the oil starts to burn and create smoke, and contains particles that can burn and turn bitter. Oiling your bird will keep it from scorching during the cooking process and help it properly caramelize, he said.
Then, salt it like a chef — with Kosher salt.
“Using iodized salt is asking for it to be too salty,” Kinnett said. “It’s a very, very concentrated salt, and you can fit way more granules in your hand.”
If you use the coarser Kosher salt, you’ll use less of it.
“You can see it better and, instinctually, you stop salting,” he said.
Kinnett said you should reach about a foot into the air above the turkey before sprinkling the salt from your hand.
“The chefs always say, ‘If you season from 12 inches high, you’ll cover your food more.’ It’s an even dusting,” he said. “That’s sort of a chef technique that everyone learns when they start cooking.”
4. Don’t cook your stuffing inside the turkey
Are you debating whether you should cook your stuffing inside your bird? Don’t do it, Kinnett said.
“It would involve [the turkey] being overcooked really drastically,” he said.
Kinnett suggested cooking your stuffing in a separate pan.
“Any juices that come out of the turkey, you can catch in your roasting pan and dump over your stuffing,” he said. “Also [cooking it separately] allows you to brown the stuffing a bit, too.”
5. Use the right thermometer
If your turkey comes with a thermometer, throw it out, said Kinnett, who called the accompanying thermometers “horribly inaccurate.” Instead, use your own oven thermometer, which you can buy at the store for under $20.
Follow the directions on your turkey’s package for how long you should cook your turkey per pound, Kinnett said.
“Once you hit around 130 degrees internally, then kick the oven up to 375 degrees and continue to roast,” he said. “The higher temp is going to help caramelize the fat and the skin.”
Keep your eye on your thermometer until the turkey’s internal temperature hits 160-165 degrees, because that’s when it’s safe to eat, he said. He recommended adding crushed garlic and a couple of leaves of thyme to the drippings and basting the turkey with them before serving it.
6. Put down the electric knife
“Don’t use the mechanical knife,” Kinnett said. “Use a real one. Those things, it almost rips the meat.”
He suggested a sharp knife over an electric knife, and advised that you don’t carve your bird too soon.
“Before it’s cut, you really want to let it rest for at least 30 minutes,” Kinnett said. “That’s going to allow the juices inside to sort of relax a little bit, and you won’t lose any moisture.”