One of my absolute least favorite Thanksgiving dishes to prepare, ironically enough, is the turkey.
I want the photo-worthy table with the gloriously golden, crisp skinned turkey shining like a holiday beacon in the center of it all… but oh, the lengths you have to go to in order to get it. Handling a massive raw bird makes me feel like a true woman of the kitchen, but I'll be honest, I don't wanna handle the thing any more than I have to.
That’s why this is good news; this is important news. You can eliminate one step that means additional hands-on time spent with your big raw bird, because you shouldn’t be washing your turkey.
For many people, rinsing the turkey inside and out is the first step in responsible turkey prep. It seems to make sense, right? It’s reasonable instinct to believe raw poultry would be cleaner, therefore safer, if it were washed before dressing for roasting. Trust me, I get it.
But it turns out that washing your turkey puts you at a higher risk for spreading harmful bacteria. According to a post by the US Department of Agriculture, which houses an entire agency devoted to food safety, it’s pretty much impossible to wash bacteria off of your turkey. And while you're washing the turkey, water and juices are apt to splash out and around the sink, spreading bacteria (another important lesson to be had here--don't buy a turkey that's too big for you to handle). Even if you wash and disinfect the inside of your sink post turkey bath, there could be bacteria on the counter, a nearby utensil, and on your hands. That can lead to cross contamination, a food-service term for the spreading of bacteria from one food to another.
The best way to serve a “clean," i.e. free of any harmful bacteria, turkey is to skip the wash down and just cook it. Temperatures of 165 degrees Fahrenheit are required to eliminate harmful bacteria in poultry, so make sure you cook your turkey until an internal thermometer reads at least 165°.
Now, that doesn't mean that you should take your turkey directly from the fridge to the oven. If you want a turkey that is juicy and flavorful (in addition to being bacteria-free), your turkey should get a “bath” of sorts, but not for cleanliness. I'm talking about a brine, folks. Which just means you soak the turkey in a marinade containing salt, to flavor and and tenderize the meat before cooking.
The simplest of brines include just water and salt, like the brine used in this Roast Turkey with Sage Garlic Butter. For added flavor, others highlight additional liquids, like the cider in this Maple Cider Brine paired with Bourbon-Cider Gravy, or herbs and spices as in this Ginger and Thyme-Brined Pork Loin. While water is the most common base liquid, especially for turkey, brines can be built from other liquids, like in this Buttermilk-Brined Pork chops recipe or in our Roasted Beer-Brined Turkey with Onion Gravy and Bacon.
Given, a liquid brine requires a large enough vessel to marinate your turkey in and the fridge space to hold that large vessel, which can be a struggle. So if you (or your fridge capacity) aren’t into submerging your bird, dry brines are a great solution. Try a Herb-Salt Dry Brine and Grill-Smoke your turkey , or try this dynamic dry brine with brown sugar, sage, and thyme that is used for our Dry Brined-Herb Roasted Turkey.
For even more turkey inspiration, and let’s be honest, motivation, check out our Must-Have Thanksgiving Stuffing Recipes so that your glorious bird is perfectly complemented.