T-Minus 2: Doing Up the Bird, Where's That Thigh, Anyway?

A reader named "Katie" e-mailed me the following note last week:

"I keep reading that you should insert the thermometer into the turkey thigh and make sure it reads X degrees. My question is, WHERE is the turkey thigh?? This whole time I was planning, I was thinking of the LEG!! Can you draw a map to the thigh?? I don't want to miss and have an undercooked turkey!!"

Katie, your wish has come true. I didn't draw a map, but the pic below should do the trick (just click the pic to enlarge). Since a turkey is so much larger than a chicken, that thigh area tends to be in the southerly direction rather than in full-frontal view.

That area with a red ribbon around it? That's the thigh. Stick your instant-read thermometer there to get an accurate read on doneness. That "X" degrees Katie is referring to will be covered in full in tomorrow's blog.

Turkey Thigh

Now that we've had an anatomy lesson, let's talk about style of preparation. How are you planning to cook the turkey this year? With two days left, it's time to shut the cookbooks and make an executive decision.

I tend to be a brine girl. I've been doing my turkey this way for about six years consecutively because I find the end result so darn tasty. With a brine, the turkey takes on intense flavors and actually tastes like something. Plus, all the work is done before cooking; once the turkey is in the oven, there's no basting or fussing to do. Simply check on things every half hour or so.

Get all the details in my How-to brined turkey video. The one caveat about brining: you need a pot large enough to hold the bird in the brine and enough space in that fridge. You also need time: A 10-pound turkey needs at least 24 hours in a brine in order for this method to be worthwhile.

Those who can't be bothered with brine baths may want to take a look at two ways of simply roasting a bird with butter, salt and pepper.

Simple Roast Turkey

Two-Hour Turkey a la Safeway

This method is also great for those of you shopping on Wednesday night, breaking out into a cold sweat in the supermarket.

Caveat: If you're buying the turkey on Wednesday, MAKE SURE IT'S NOT FROZEN.

Maybe you just don't have room in the oven for a big bird. Consider taking the action outside onto the grill. A reader tipped me off about an ode to turkey grilling by Philadelphia Inquirer food critic Craig Laban.

Caveat: You need a grill large enough, plus enough time to do grill-set up, preheating and then at least three hours for actual grill time.

Inevitably, I get questions about deep-frying a turkey. I cannot vouch for this method either way, but based on the number of stories I have heard about backyard blazes due to fryer mishaps, well, my question is: Who wants to play with fire on Thanksgiving? Isn't it stressful enough without a kettledrum and gallons of oil? Your thoughts and scary stories, please.

Homework Assignment:

A reader is out of town until tonight and won't be able to shop until Wednesday night. One dinner guest is vegetarian. The kitchen stove top is out of order. Oven works, plus there's a slow cooker. The challenge: What's on the menu for Thursday? I'll post my plan in tomorrow's blog. What would you do?

Chat with me today at noon ET for last-minute T-day tricks and treats.

By kimodo |  November 22, 2005; 9:44 AM ET  | Category:  Thanksgiving
Previous: T-Minus 3: Pumpkin Pie Made With What? | Next: T-Minus 1: Ten Things You Always Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask About Cooking a Turkey


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Oven and a slow cooker, huh? I think I'd try to get some turkey breasts and put them on top of the standard veggies (carrots, onions, celery) in the slow cooker and make sort of a turkey stew. The oven won't get lonely, though, as that's where I'd roast some potatoes (olive oil, garlic, rosemary) and bake some rolls (crescents are a family fave). Make dessert easy and get a pie from the store and reheat; slap enough ice cream and whipped cream on top and no one will care that you didn't make it yourself! If you can't get a freshly baked pie, Mrs. Smith's does a lovely job in the freezer section!

Posted by: Patricia | November 22, 2005 11:20 AM

Thanks for the picture. So where do I place the thermometer? There are bones in that thigh! Is there a safe point of entry to insert? If I hit a bone won't my reading be inaccurate? Do I insert where thigh meets body? Where thigh meets leg? Horizontal, vertical, somewhere in between? Help us KOD!

Posted by: AJ | November 22, 2005 01:06 PM

She can still do a turkey in the oven, or get a smoked already-cooked turkey for reheating. In either case, I'd use the crock-pot for a medly of squashes & potatoes. I'd also "cheat" and rely on the grocery-store deli/bakery for some side dishes and pies.

I was all panicky last week about my first time hosting Thanksgiving, especially since my kitchen isn't usable until tonight when I move my furniture out of it. (Bad timing for some much-needed work in the other parts of the house). I have entered into a zen-like state. There will be enough food that if one or two dishes is bad, the rest will be plenty. I hope my zen-ness lasts.

Posted by: elf | November 22, 2005 01:28 PM

YEAH!!! Thanks SO much for doing this. Being a semi-newlywed, I have never cooked T-day turkey before, so this is a HUGE help to keep from poisoning the in-laws (I actually LIKE mine!)

Thank you again!!!

Posted by: katie | November 22, 2005 01:51 PM

In case there's someone out there who hasn't heard about the simple, no cook cranberry sauce that is so delicious that guests devour it every year, here it is.

Just empty one bag of fresh, rinsed and drained cranberries, one unpeeled orange, seeded, cut into quarters then quarters' halved, and one cup of sugar into the bowl of your food processor. Process thoroughly until completely and finely pureed scrapping down the sides as needed. Make 1-3 days in advance. Keep refrigerated and serve cold. The color is gorgeous and serves almost as a sorbet palate cleanser between bites of the other rich and savories on your plate. The pectin in the cranberries causes the sauce to thicken somewhat. Wonderful! My husband looks forward to it every year. Enjoy!

Posted by: PR | November 22, 2005 02:29 PM

is it okay to brine the turkey and keep it in a cooler outside?

Posted by: susan | November 22, 2005 02:34 PM

I've deep-fried my turkeys for a couple of years now, and it's turned out great each time! The process is really no more complex than roasting a turkey, and if you take sensible precautions and follow each step involving hot oil carefully, you'll have a quick-cooking turkey that tastes better and less greasy than a roasted turkey (I swear)! The only drawback is that the oil has to be watched the entire time (usually no more than 2 hours, including preheating the oil), but no one seems to have a problem with hanging out in the backyard with drinks and snacks. The Food Network recipe is a good one--I highly recommend it!

Posted by: JS | November 22, 2005 03:46 PM

Hey AJ: Place that thermometer in a fleshy part of that thigh. You can get a good reading in that upper part closer to drumstick. However, if your folks like eating the drums and thighs, you'll have to check on the doneness down below. It's possible that you may have to cut those parts and return them to oven if they're not quite there. Have fun!

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | November 23, 2005 07:22 AM

Susan, the only way I'd keep a cooler outside is if the temp where you are is consistently below 40 degrees during brine time. Otherwise, it's not a good idea. You could put turkey in a pot that fits into a cooler and then fill cooler with ice, but I'd take a temp. reading to make sure. I just want everyone to be safe.

Posted by: KIm O'Donnel | November 23, 2005 07:24 AM

Can I cook the turkey upside down and still use the Safeway high temp method? I've been cooking it upside down for the past few years because it makes for a more moist turkey. I plan now to put it upside down in the V-rack and cook it high temp. OK to do that?

Posted by: Joanna Hanes | November 23, 2005 09:14 AM

Is a regular meat thermometer (that you leave in the bird in the oven) just as good as an instant-read thermometer? Or is there a reason to upgrade?

Can we get rid of the spam posts?

Posted by: Rich | November 23, 2005 12:48 PM

Hey Rich: yes, that meat thermometer which tracks the temp throughout the cooking is good enough. Be safe with that bird, ya hear? I'm all over the spam.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | November 23, 2005 01:04 PM

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