Turkey Tips from Texas Barbecue
by Hannah Rogers, ’12
In preparation for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, the Rosenthal Meat Science and Technology Center’s Texas Barbecue class has some tips to spice up your family’s table.
Last Friday, the Texas A&M UGST Barbecue class embarked on a daylong turkey cooking extravaganza. The class started early that morning cooking the first of the three birds. Regents Professor Dr. Jeff Savell and Ray Riley, meat center manager, were on hand with tips and tricks for this Thanksgiving holiday.
The first lesson in preparing your bird is how to properly thaw a frozen turkey. If you’ve purchased a frozen turkey a few days before you will need to cook it, it’s best to put your turkey in the refrigerator to prevent growth of salmonella and other food-borne bacteria. If you need to thaw your turkey within a day, set your turkey in cool running water to thaw.
Once thawed, the seemingly hardest part in cooking a turkey can be capturing all the juices inside. Savell recommends brining any turkey to avoid dry meat.
“Brining is a must and people should be encouraged to brine your products before you cook them to increase flavor but mainly the juiciness,” Savell said.
Naturally lean meats like turkey, benefit immensely when you brine. Brining is soak in a combination of salt, sugar and water that disrupts the proteins within the meat, allowing it to hold more water.
“Brining is the key to enhanced juiciness for barbecued pork and poultry,” Savell said. “It helps to denature meat products that allows more water to be attached and held during cooking.”
Next, when ready to add heat, having an accurate thermometer can be the difference in a decent turkey and a delicious turkey that family members will remember for years.
“Be sure to use a good thermometer because the internal temperature of properly cooked poultry is 165 degrees, and you’ll find that when you cook one to that temperature you’ll be amazed on how good it is,” Savell said.
When it comes to the cooking technique, the debate is open for the best and everyone has a favorite. The class represented three ways to cook a turkey: frying, rotisserie and smoking.
“I’m the barbecue guy, so what I like is a water cooker smoker where the fire is down below and as it heats it puts more moisture into the turkey,” Riley said.
There’s even technology to help smoke your turkey correctly. Savell highlighted technology such as an app-enabled wireless Bluetooth meat thermometer that can help assist families that are smoking their turkeys this Thanksgiving holiday.
In contrast to Riley, the most recent addition to Savell’s Thanksgiving tradition is frying his turkey.
“Deep frying is a pretty quick way to cook your turkey,” says Riley, “But you have the grease, heat, mess and the danger to be concerned about.”
“Although it can be dangerous and requires careful prep and observation, we like the crispiness of the product and how well it reserves the juices” Savell said.
No matter the method you choose, once the turkey is complete it is imperative to let the meat rest.
“This 5- to 10-minute rest lets the meat quit cooking and all the juices absorb,” Savell said.
Tent the turkey with foil, but do not fully cover the turkey, Savell said. “This allows the meat to steam without making its soggy.”
The Texas Barbecue class is a favorite among students, and is one of many first year seminar classes available to students at A&M. The purpose of the meat center is to provide teaching to students, research, and public service activities to the Department of Animal Science. Read more about the Center here.