Once upon a time, there were two turkeys, which I shall refer to as Turkey A and Turkey B, in order to avoid garnering any sympathy for them. Fortunately for them, they lived a charmed life on a small family farm, unlike their debeaked relatives on overcrowded farms. Instead of being the industrial Broad-Breasted White breed, too broad-breasted to reproduce without artificial insemination, they were a slower-growing heirloom variety with a more robust flavor.
But regardless of their life, their death was the same. At the tender age of 24 weeks, Turkey A and Turkey B were slaughtered, gutted, and plucked in preparation for our annual feast upon their kind. Their corpses sat in the grocery freezer, naked and cold, ready to be purchased. In good time, they were, by the Aigh family and the Bea family. Two turkeys, of the same brood, were purchased by families nearly identical, yet turned out very differently.
For you see, though each family prepared their turkey with the same care and the same dedication to tradition, their style of cooking made all the difference. The Aigh family started defrosting their turkey in the refrigerator three days before, whereas the Bea family only paid attention to their turkey an hour beforehand, soaking it in hot water in direct violation of USDA guidelines for poultry handling. Fortunately for them, Turkey B was not heavily infected with salmonella, which can multiply rapidly in warm environments.
In order to flavor Turkey A, the Aigh family soaked it in a brine of salt, sugar, and orange juice for six hours, allowing flavor and moisture to permeate the meat. The Bea family rubbed their turkey with oil and salt, which is also acceptable for flavoring the meat. However, they also jammed stuffing into their turkey, allowing the bacteria-laden juices to soak into the stuffing.
To cook the turkey, the Aigh family followed Alton Brown’s advice and first cooked the turkey for 30 minutes at 500 degrees Fahrenheit to fry the skin in the turkey’s own fat, then lowered the temperature to 350 degrees so the rest of the turkey could cook unmolested. Following their family’s custom, the Bea family cooked the turkey at 350 degrees, basting it every half an hour with the fat drippings. However, since turkey skin is nonpermeable, opening the oven merely let out the heated air, increasing the cooking time which dried out the turkey’s extremities.
Once they reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees, Turkey A and Turkey B were ready to leave the oven. The Aigh family allowed their turkey to rest for 15 minutes under a foil cover to allow the juices to redistribute inside the meat, making gravy from the turkey drippings. Starved from their extra-long wait, the Bea family carved open their turkey immediately, allowing the juices to pool on the plate. In the end, the Aigh family had a wonderfully moist, flavorful turkey as the center piece for their meal. As for the Bea family, let’s just say that their dog ate very well that night.