Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
Turkey & dressing. The words go together like a hand and glove. Although normally associated with Thanksgiving, turkey & dressing is a great stick to your ribs taste treat anytime you can get it. At our home, roast turkey has become a New Year’s Day tradition. The feast has only two hard and fast requirements. The turkey must be wild; the dressing homemade.
There are many excellent ways to prepare a wild turkey. My personal favorite, however, is to roast the bird in a covered grill. A lot of people rightfully consider a turkey to be the most challenging item they’ll ever place in the kettle. In many cases, legs and thighs become cooked to a crisp while the thickest part of the breast meat remains grossly undercooked. Can’t serve the white meat the way it is; but further cooking will all but assure that your bird will be tough and dry. Add a room full of hungry dinner guests and the pressure sky rockets.
Fortunately, there are some simple common sense solutions that can put anyone on the fast track to turkey grilling success. First of all, the typical Weber-type covered grill is no place to go cold turkey. Plan ahead. Before you begin cooking, allow enough time for the entire bird to come to room temperature. This simple, though usually overlooked, step enables the turkey’s core to better keep pace with the rest of the bird – especially the faster cooking legs and thighs.
Covered grill cooking times vary greatly and are dependent upon ambient temperature, wind speed, humidity, fuel quality and, of course, upon the size of the bird. For cold weather turkey grilling, I usually bank at least “two fists” worth of charcoal on each side of the grill. When briquets turn white, I add at least one fist of damp apple wood to the top of the coals. Apple adds a light and delightfully smoky flavor that enhances rather than overpowers the finished product.
Turkey goes in, breast side up, between the two banks of coals. To maximize the capture of smoke, I immediately close the top vent by about 75 percent. As the wood smolders, the kettle temperature will quickly drop from hot enough to make horse shoes to somewhere in the vicinity of 300 degrees. Refrain from lifting the lid until you suspect bird is about done. When you think you’re getting there, test the front center of breast with ultra-thin probe and remove from kettle as soon blood begins to lose its color. After resting turkey for ten minutes or so, you can confidently begin carving your tender, moist, and delicious bird. Cooking time for a hen usually runs around an hour or so. Big gobblers may take up to two hours or more.
Homemade dressing is somewhat more complicated and time consuming than roasting the turkey, but easily worth the effort. Recipe starts by sautéing two cups of chopped onion, two cups of chopped celery, and one to two cups of mushrooms in two cups of melted butter. Although your personal trainer may not approve, you know that anything that starts off with a half-pound of melted creamery butter has got to peg the flavor meter!
Continue sauté until ingredients are tender and then mix with approximately one pound [no more] of dried bread cubes or pieces. Next, add around 29 or 30 ounces of turkey [or chicken] broth. Seasonings are up to you; but if you’ve invited guests, it’s usually a good idea not to go overboard with the dried sage. Just sayin’.
Once the dressing is mixed, your work is done. Bake at medium-low [250 degree or more] heat for six to six and one-half hours. A perfect batch of dressing will be tender and moist at the core, but darker and almost crusty on the outside. Don’t worry about what to do with that leathery outer edge. Without fail, someone will prefer dressing with that particular texture.
Lastly, don’t forget to include some sort of cranberry sauce or salad with your meal. Even if you don’t personally care for the cranberry flavor; it’s a long-standing part of America’s turkey tradition. Speaking of turkey traditions; remember that in Iowa, it’s still legal to serve pumpkin pie in January.