How to Practice Your Turkey Roasting and Carving Skills Before Thanksgiving, According to a Butterball Expert
When it comes to roasting the turkey, there’s really no higher stakes job for the host of any Thanksgiving dinner. Not only are there multiple mouths counting on the cook delivering perfectly-cooked light and dark meat, but whoever’s in charge of the main course probably hasn’t cooked more than one turkey per year of their adult life (if at all!). With so much on the line, we can all be thankful that Butterball has been staffing up a support network with dozens of experts since 1981 when the brand launched the Turkey Talk-Line (1-800-BUTTERBALL). This year, as the hotline evolves with the technology in our homes and pockets, confused cooks can find the Butterball skill on Alexa-enabled devices, meaning your smarthome devices can share the most-common turkey tips without you even picking up the phone.
To demonstrate the new Alexa skill, Butterball sent Turkey Talk-Line expert Beth Somers to the Food & Wine office where I sat down with her to literally talk turkey. Somers agrees that the turkey is the centerpiece of any holiday meal and yet it’s often the least familiar dish (for the cook) in the lineup. “This is why the talk line exists. Because we know that and we don’t expect that anyone calling us does it more than once or twice a year. And it’s a high-pressure thing for people. They feel like for Thanksgiving the really want to impress. So we want to give people confidence.”
Of course, as the old adage goes, practice makes perfect. So while she was here I also asked Somers to suggest a few tips to practice roasting and carving a bird before the big day. While the answer is super simple, it’s worth pointing out just how valuable this little exercise can be. Ready?
Roast a chicken.
No, a four-pound fryer isn’t exactly the same as popping a 20-pound tom in your oven and crossing your fingers for juicy results. But here are a few key parallels that can refresh any cook before they tackle a turkey:
Before you dive into roasting a turkey, it’s important to review your plan of action for prepping the bird. Trying out a few techniques on a chicken (from stuffing to brining to removing that little bag of giblets) is a great way to familiarize yourself with the step-by-step process.
Knowing exactly where to stick a meat thermometer (which you should totally be using) is key to getting precise information about the doneness of your turkey. “We have a video on Butterball.com on where exactly you should place the thermometer to check both the thigh and the breast, as well as stuffing,” Somers said. “Doing that on a chicken ahead of time helps you know when you’ve hit a bone and that having your thermometer close to a bone will give you an inaccurate reading.” Getting the whole chicken both beautifully cooked and beautifully browned (whether or not you need a tinfoil tent over the breast) will amp up your confidence pre-Turkey Day.
For breaking down a turkey, getting familiar with where the bones and joints are on a smaller, more manageable chicken is the perfect way to brush up on your poultry anatomy for carving and breaking down the various parts of the bird. If you make your first carving attempt like you’ve seen it done on television — taking a dainty slice from the side of the breast while it’s still on the turkey — you’ll be in for a surprise. “It doesn’t give you pretty slices. The meat usually shreds that way,” Somers warns. “You want to take the lobe of each breast off and carve it opposite the way you would if was actually on the turkey. You could easily practice that on a chicken.” Same goes for practicing where to stick the knife blade for cutting and plating those wings, thighs, and oh-so-coveted drumsticks.
As a bonus, there’s nothing that warms up a cold fall night quite like a roast chicken dinner, so really there’s no excuse not to practice this November.