The big day is coming and people everywhere are getting nervous because they have to cook a turkey. Not to worry. Even I, the queen of disaster, can roast a turkey. I’ve been cooking turkeys for years and a turkey is the easiest thing there is to cook. (Yes, really.)
Throw away that fancy cookbook and get down to basics. Don’t even consider the microwave. This is a time for tradition. Assuming you already have an oven, there are basically three more things you will need: a pan, a rack, and a turkey. If you do not want to invest in these basics, forget the cooking and go out.
The Pan: There is no substitute for a good pan. Don’t be fooled by those flimsy aluminum things you will see in the grocery store. They are the short road to disaster. They are difficult to handle when hot and your turkey could end up in the middle of the kitchen floor. Invest in a real pan, the old-fashioned enamel kind is great. It will last forever and ever, and you can will it to your children when you die. Caution: Measure your oven to be sure the pan will fit. I’ve had a few pretty tight squeezes through the years.
The Rack: This is the best-kept secret to turkey success. It will cost only a few dollars to get a rack of some sort for your pan. This keeps the turkey off the bottom of the pan, but more importantly, you can get that heavy bird out of the pan while its hot. If the rack does not have handles, improvise by making lifters out of heavy wire, such as a coat hanger. Be sure it is wired onto the rack tightly and won’t come loose when you lift the turkey out. Gross? Trust me, it works.
The Bird: Turkeys come in two sizes, large and extra large. Large is big enough for your family and a few friends. Resist the temptation to buy the largest turkey you can find. Buy a fresh turkey. (Not the kind with feathers, the non-frozen ones.) Forget those frozen monstrosities. After years of fooling with thawing and chipping out icy turkey giblets frozen in the turkey, it dawned on me: defrosting is not worth the trouble. How often do you cook a turkey? Splurge on the real thing. Fresh turkeys come out moist and delicious, much, much better than the frozen ones.
Stuff your turkey. A turkey is just not the same without stuffing. I won’t go into recipes. Southerners love cornbread stuffing. Some like oyster stuffing. Personally, I like raisins. If you can find that cookbook I told you to throw away, rest assured it will have many suggestions. The boxes of seasoned croutons sold in the grocery stores also work just fine. You can make the stuffing ahead, but refrigerate it in a shallow pan and wait until the big day to stuff your bird. Food poisoning will absolutely ruin your day.
Turkeys take a long time to cook. Get up extra early on the big day. It will take only a short while to stuff the bird, put it in the pan and throw it in the oven. If the lid to your roaster does not fit in the oven, forget it and use aluminum foil. Don’t worry about skewers and all that stuff to hold the stuffed turkey closed. Use a needle and thread and sew that sucker shut. No one will know. When you are half-asleep, you don’t feel like fooling with skewers anyway.
BE SURE THE OVEN IS TURNED ON: You’d be surprised how many folks eat late because they forgot. Get the times and temperature to roast the bird of your choice from that infamous cookbook you are so fond of. Once the bird is in the oven, go back to bed. The smell of a turkey cooking is wonderful to wake up to. A turkey will cook itself. If you really must peek, go ahead, but watch out for hot steam.
Don’t worry. The bird will be wonderful and you will be eating leftovers for weeks to come.