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Talking Turkey

Experts give advice on how to make this year's Thanksgiving meal the best ever

Stuffed turkey on table, woman serving green beans (USA)

— Tim Pannell/Corbis

No matter how many holiday dinners you've hosted or turkeys you've roasted, you still may be obsessing over this year's bird.  Maybe you're hoping that the meat will be juicier, the wings will be crispier or the skin will be roasted to that perfect amber hue.

Help is on the way. Rick Rodgers and Diane Morgan, renowned food writers and cookbook authors, offer their top turkey tips.

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What is the secret to a moist and juicy turkey?

Rick Rodgers: The best way to keep the breast moist is so simple that people find it hard to believe. All you do is cover (cover, not "tent") the breast area (not the wings or legs) with foil before the turkey goes into the oven. This effectively slows the cooking down in this area, and also creates steam to keep the breast moist. During the last hour or so of the roasting time, just remove the foil and baste the bird a couple of times: The pale breast skin will brown beautifully.

There seems to be a lot of buzz about barbecuing your Thanksgiving turkey. What do you think about this method?

Diane Morgan: There are some great reasons to barbecue a turkey. If you are a one-oven household, it's the best way to free up oven space. On top of that, there's no messy roasting pan or grease-splattered oven to clean. Barbecuing is especially good if you live in a warm climate.  But there are always those diehards who light up a grill whether it's raining or snowing!

Is brining worth the effort?

Rick Rodgers: In my opinion, brining isn't worth the effort. The method makes the bird saltier and wetter, but you are not actually adding meaty juices. If you want a turkey soaked in salt water, then just buy a frozen bird: almost all of them are injected with salty flavor "enhancers" to make up for the liquid lost during defrosting.  Or you could buy a kosher turkey, which is salted as part of the koshering process.

Well, I'd still like to give brining a try. How do I do that?

Rick Rodgers: To estimate the amount of brine, place the turkey in a jumbo oven-roasting bag in an ice chest, and measure the cold water needed to cover the bird completely. For each 2 quarts of water, use 1/4 cup plain salt; 1/4 cup sugar; 1 1/2 teaspoons each of rosemary, thyme and sage; and 3/4 teaspoon each of marjoram, celery seed and peppercorns. Use plain, noniodized table salt for the brine. The turkey must be well chilled during brining. Surround the brined turkey in its bag with lots of ice cubes (buy bags of ice if you don't want to deplete your freezer's supply), or use frozen "blue-ice" packs. And don't run the risk of stuffing the turkey, as the salty juices could ruin it. Instead, loosely fill the cavities with seasoning vegetables and bake the stuffing on the side.

Next page: Does trussing the bird make for even cooking? »

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