Thanksgiving Upgrade James Simpkins

James Simpkins (Ph.D. Candidate)

Deconstructs a Turkey

Food culture has exploded in the past few years, even pushing its way into academia. James Simpkins, a.k.a. 'The Food Lover,' is pursuing his doctoral degree in 'American Food Culture' at the University of Connecticut. We asked James to put his scholarship to work for us. After searching the annals of history, his efforts finally bore fruit. Thank you James for introducing us to The Thompson Turkey. Dr. James' treatise on Turkeys:

The Deep Fry

'What I can tell you is that deep fried turkey tastes good, as most things that are deep fried do. However, it also tastes just so -- fried -- and there is very little gastronomic endeavor involved in cooking it; heat up some oil to 350 and drop it in there for about 3-4 minutes per lb. of bird.

A bit of trivia on this: The technique started down South, along with some of God's other gifts to the culinary world like corn bread, pulled pork barbecue and RC Cola.

The up-sides of deep frying are that it is quick and tastes good.

down-sides are plentiful: It doesn't make for an attractive bird as the frying makes the turkey lose presentational value. It also involves financial costs not associated with sticking a turkey in the oven. You've got to make/buy a burner for outside and buy a big pot to heat the oil -- then buy all the oil to do it and stow the gear when you're done. Unless you plan on deep frying more turkeys throughout the year, it may not be the best option just on this one count. However, God made catering companies for a reason -- one near you will be happy to do it for you if you are hell-bent on the idea. If you don't try it at home, you also will not incur the huge fire hazard that I didn't mention.'

Most Roasts

'Roasting fans will either try long cooking times with lower temps or start on a higher temp then drop it down.

I think the longer and slower the oven is, the better off you'll be. Turkey is a drier bird anyway, and the longer cooking time (at lower temperature) will give you a predictably decent-to-good result almost all the time. Consult your favorite recipe as there a lot of variables and there are a BUNCH of things to keep in mind. For instance:'

  • Frozen birds require longer cooking.
  • Dark roasting pans cook faster than shiny metals.
  • The depth & size of the pan can change heat circulation to all areas of the turkey.
  • The use of a foil tent can slow cooking.
  • Use of the roasting pan's lid speeds cooking.
  • An oven cooking bag can accelerate cooking time.
  • A stuffed bird takes longer to cook.
  • The oven WILL heat food unevenly.
  • Calibration of the oven's thermostat may be inaccurate -- USE A SEPARATE THERMOMETER.
  • The rack position can have affect cooking.
  • A turkey in its pan may be too large for the oven -- blocking heat circulation.
  • The meat thermometer must be placed properly in the thigh joint.

Unstuffed Turkey Cooking Time

4 to 8 pounds .............. 1 1/2 to 3 1/4 hours
8 to 12 pounds ............ 2 3/4 to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds .......... 3 to 3 3/4 hours
14 to 18 pounds .......... 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours
18 to 20 pounds .......... 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours
20 to 24 pounds .......... 4 1/2 to 5 hours

Stuffed Turkey Cooking Time

8 to 12 pounds ............ 3 to 3 1/2 hours
12 to 14 pounds .......... 3 1/2 to 4 hours
14 to 18 pounds .......... 4 to 4 1/4 hours
18 to 20 pounds .......... 4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hours
20 to 24 pounds .......... 4 3/4 to 5 1/4 hours

Using an Oven-Safe Turkey Cooking Bag

'The oven-roasting bag keeps the turkey very moist and it speeds up the roasting time. The preparation and roasting steps are the same ones used for preparing and cooking turkey without an oven bag (see above instructions) except for the following additional steps:

  • Add a small quantity of flour to the bag and shake it to coat the inside of the bag -- through some dried herbs in there for fun too.
  • Place the turkey inside the bag and close the opening with the twist tie provided.
  • A few holes should be punctured in the bag to allow some steam to escape during the roasting process.

The following cooking times can be used as a guideline for an unstuffed turkey roasted in an oven bag in a 350 degree F. conventional oven.

NOTE: An additional 30 minutes or more may be required for a stuffed turkey. Remember, the only reliable test for doneness is to check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh, without touching the bone.'

8 to 12 pounds ............ 1 1/2 to 2 1/4 hours
12 to 14 pounds .......... 2 1/4 to 2 3/4 hours
14 to 18 pounds .......... 2 3/4 to 3 1/2 hours
18 to 20 pounds .......... 3 1/2 to 4 hours
20 to 24 pounds .......... 4 to 4 1/2 hours

The Thompson Turkey

'OK, so there's one more way that one could cook a turkey. Through endless experimentation over the last several hundred years, trial and error has resulted in one perfect turkey recipe. You, sir or madam, could dare to make a Thompson Turkey. This turkey lover's cult classic is the stuff that legends are made of and is, for the most part, a true tale.

Whether or not this heavenly bird is an urban legend or not, is only for the bravest to discover for themselves. Good luck.'

Dr. James' Prescription for Techno Potatoes

'If you haven't spent enough money on stuff for Thanksgiving, then go get a potato ricer. It looks like this:'

Potato Ricer

'When Julia Child uses one (that's from Germany in the 1950's), it looks like this:'

If you've never had riced potatoes, then treat yourself this year to real mashed potatoes. This will 'mash' your potatoes without activating the starch in the potatoes as in other techniques, which make the potatoes sticky. Riced potatoes will be light, fluffy and able to soak up more butter than you ever thought possible. Remember to salt and use a bit of white pepper. When you add the butter, put it in at room temperature and use a whisk to incorporate the butter and spices.'