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How to tackle that Thanksgiving turkey

By Greg Gelpi

Cooking that perfect holiday bird is more than simply popping it into the oven and waiting to eat.

"Juicy is the ideal perfect turkey," Riverdale High School Family and Consumer Sciences teacher Jessie Haygood said. "I think the secret to cooking the perfect turkey is to season it and not to overcook it."

Mixing her own blend of seasonings, she creates a Cajun concoction and "shoots" it into the turkey with a cooking syringe. If there's time, she lets the turkey sit for a few hours to absorb the seasonings.

Set the oven to 375 degrees and then reduce the heat, Haygood said, recalling fond holiday meals with family growing up.

Students are trying to make memories with their own recipes and their own ideas of the perfect turkey.

Barbecue turkey, Bathsheba Brittian said. That's the perfect turkey.

"I think that is the best turkey because it has the best flavor," Brittian said.

Her family is "trying something different for a change," she said, by sprucing up the Thanksgiving table with a barbecued turkey, rather than a more traditional turkey.

Cooking a turkey isn't tough, but it can be, Brittian said.

"If you don't know what you're doing, you're going to have problems," she said.

Cajun-fried turkey browned to perfection is where the flavor is at, Matthew Griffin said.

It's "not like the ordinary dry turkeys," Griffin said.

David Glover, who admits not being able to get the restaurant business out of his blood after decades in the business, owns Truman's Restaurant in McDonough and offered advice on cooking a turkey as well.

Wash the turkey thoroughly, he said. Rinse it and pat it dry. Rub the turkey inside and out with a dry spice rub consisting of black pepper, garlic powder, a small amount of salt and sugar, thyme and paprika.

Place the turkey in a roasting pan with the breast side up on top of a cooking grate with at least a two-inch lip around the pan, Glover said. Crank the oven up to 450 degrees and cook the turkey for 12 to 14 minutes.

The turkey should be browning on top, he said. Pour two dark beers from the refrigerator into the roasting pan, not letting the beer spill on to the turkey or to touch the bottom of the bird.

Put herbs inside the turkey and in the beer at the base of the roasting pan, Glover said, adding that rosemary is his choice. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and put it back in the oven.

Roast the turkey about a half an hour per pound, and keep the oven door closed as much as possible, he said. Start checking the temperature after two hours.

Monitor the color of the skin around the breast, he said. If it starts to get too brown, place a piece of aluminum foil over the entire breast, not to seal in heat but to protect the breast meat.

A half hour before the meat is done, baste the juices from the bottom of the pan across the turkey, Glover said. If the breast is not overcooked, remove the foil, and brush compound butter over the top 15 minutes before pulling it out of the oven to crisp the skin.

The meat in the thigh should read 165 to 170 degrees when done without stuffing, Glover said.

Taste isn't the only factor in cooking the perfect turkey, said Dr. William Watkins, the emergency medical director for Southern Regional Medical Center.

"The biggest danger is obviously salmonella poisoning," Watkins said.

To avoid salmonella and kill other harmful bacteria, turkeys should be cooked at 165 degrees in the turkey's center, he said.

To ensure that the bird is thoroughly cooked at 165 degrees, a thermometer should be inserted into the thickest part of the meat. Dressing should be cooked separate from the turkey so that the turkey is cooked all the way through, Watkins said.

Leftover turkey should be refrigerated within a couple of hours, Watkins said, and shouldn't be eaten for more than three to four days.