is a food columnist and culinary instructor in the Fraser Valley. Visit him at www.chefdez.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or to P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, B.C. V2T 6R4
Over the years, I have discovered many simple methods to help easily perfect the meals we serve. Some are so obvious, like a meat thermometer, that it is bizarre when I come across a household that does not have one.
Always during the approach of traditional holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter I seem to get bombarded with questions about how long a turkey should cook.
Although I appreciate the opportunity for helping people in the kitchen, the answer to me always seems so obvious that it is surprising that more people don't already have the solution.
Not only will a simple oven-proof meat thermometer help to save your turkey dinner, it will also be the resolution to mastering the doneness of a myriad of meat roasting recipes.
I have owned my current meat thermometer for probably close to 15 years, and it is still going strong. Not bad for an investment of only a few dollars.
Get one that is heat resistant (oven proof) so it can be left in the piece of meat for the entire cooking process.
If an instant-read thermometer is used instead, and the temperature is checked at intervals, valued juices will be lost from the meat with each puncture. One of the most important goals in cooking meat is to keep it moist while still reaching the desired doneness.
The area of a turkey where the thermometer should be inserted is the thickest part of the inner thigh, without touching the bone.
A stuffed turkey should be done when the thermometer reads 82ºC (180ºF). Unstuffed, it should be 77ºC (170ºF).
You should also notice that the legs move easily when twisted, and the juices run clear.
There is a difference in the two temperature readings, because a stuffed turkey is denser, and the stuffing needs to reach a high enough temperature to kill any bacteria present.
That said, I realize people appreciate approximate cooking times to effectively coordinate side dishes to the main course, and it is for this reason only that I will provide guidelines for you (see box, above right).
Do not use these parameters as your main indication of doneness, but rather as an additional plan to your trusty meat thermometer.
There are many factors for example that will play havoc on the final accuracy of the cooking time: the temperature of the turkey prior to roasting, the temperature of the stuffing (if used), or maybe the possibility that your oven is running a bit hotter or colder than the set temperature.
Where you decide to purchase your meat thermometer is not important, as they are available almost everywhere.
What is important is that you get one, and that you enjoy the benefits of it for years to come.
APPROXIMATE COOKING TIMES
For stuffed and unstuffed turkey
These parameters are not intended to be used as the main indicators of doneness, but only as an aid in using your meat thermometer.
If your turkey is cooked in a 160ºC (325ºF) oven, then this table will offer an approximation, to help in planning other parts of the meal.