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Tips On How To Make The Perfect Turkey Straight From A Turkey Farmer
It makes sense that if you’re looking for advice when it comes to cooking this year’s turkey, the best people to ask are likely turkey farmers. When it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, the Diestel family knows a lot. They’ve been raising award-winning turkeys in Sonora, California since 1949. This farm focuses specifically on holistic farming and sustainability and their turkeys are fed a 100% vegetarian diet, raised with no antibiotics, growth stimulants, or hormones.
The Diestel Family Ranch has been in the family for over 70 years. It all began with Great Uncle Ernest (way back in the 1920s) who taught Jack Diestel everything he knew, leading him to starting the farm in 1949.
When it comes to Thanksgiving in the Diestel home, it’s taken very seriously and Jack is still the head chef of the family, even at 92-years-old, he preps the turkey, creates the stuffing, roasts the turkey, and makes the gravy.
The Diestel’s say their important piece of advice about making the perfect Thanksgiving turkey is to make sure your turkey is soft and oven-ready. A slightly frozen section of your turkey can lead to steam in the oven as it roasts (unevenly, too), which can prevent that nice, golden, crispy skin you’ve been dreaming about for weeks.
I got the chance to ask Heidi Orrock (Diestel), a fourth-generation farmer on the Diestel Family Ranch, some basic questions about cooking, prepping, and serving the perfect turkey this Thanksgiving and here’s what she had to say.
Amber Love Bond: How do you know how much turkey to buy?
Heidi Orrock (Diestel): It’s not rocket science, but there is a bit of math required to get that just-right bird for your crowd of friends & family. Use the time-tested formula of 1.5 lbs per person, regardless of their age, fighting weight, or consumption of sides.
Best case scenario, you’ve got just enough turkey that everyone can indulge as much as they want while still having enough in the fridge for a late-night turkey sando. Other best case scenario: you end up with just a TINY bit too much, which means you can get super excited about creating new dinners from your leftovers.
ALB: When should you buy your turkey?
HOD: The easiest answer is…NOW. With turkey shortages, we recommend ordering your turkey asap so you have the best selection.
ALB: What’s the best way to thaw your turkey?
HOD: If you need to cook your turkey in the next couple of days, we recommend softening the bird in your refrigerator. We rely on the USDA’s recommended refrigerator thawing times:
Refrigerator Thawing Times
4 to 12 pounds – 1 to 2 days
12 to 16 pounds – 2 to 3 days
16 to 20 pounds – 3 to 4 days
ALB: What’s the best way to season or brine your turkey?
HOD: Our Diestel turkeys are succulent and full of flavor, so we skip the brine! Our family recipe is this super simple rub, which we use every year with great success:
4 Tbsp Olive Oil
4 tsp. Salt, or to taste
2 tsp. Paprika
Place the turkey in an open roasting pan, breast side up. Cover the bottom of the pan with approximately 2 cups of water or broth. Place your beautiful turkey in the oven and roast.
ALB: How to know when turkey is done?
HOD: Use a 325º F oven. We would encourage you to check the internal temperature with a reliable thermometer throughout the roasting time to be careful not to over-roast. Hot tip: the internal temperature typically increases more rapidly during the last half of roasting.
There is no need to turn the bird while roasting, as it will brown to a rich, golden color. A foil tent can be placed loosely over the turkey during the last hour of roasting to prevent over browning. For truly marvelous gravy, heat (do not boil) 1 cup white wine. Pour this over your turkey halfway through the roasting time. When the turkey reaches the desired internal temperature, remove from the oven. Cover and let stand for at least 15 minutes before carving.
Weight Approx. Time
6 – 10 lbs. 2 hrs
10-12 lbs. 3 – 3 1/4 hrs
12-14 lbs. 3 1/4 – 3 1/2 hrs.
14-16 lbs. 3 1/2 – 3 3/4 hrs.
16-18 lbs. 3 3/4 – 4 hrs.
18-20 lbs. 4 – 4 1/2 hrs
Decrease all approximate times by 30 minutes if you are not stuffing your bird. (We stuff. Do what makes you happy!)
ALB: Do you need the fancy roasting rack or will you get the same results from a foil tray? What’s the deal and benefit from tenting your turkey with tin foil? And is a meat thermometer worth the investment?
HOD: A sturdy roasting rack that can hold the weight of your turkey is excellent, and it doesn’t need to be fancy. Just ensure it isn’t flimsy.
Tenting your bird around the last hour of roasting is a great way to avoid over-browning the turkey. Make sure the foil is loose so you aren’t creating any steam inside the foil, which will prevent a crisp skin.
We absolutely recommend a meat thermometer! And, we recommend testing it in advance so you know it is accurate.
ALB: To stuff or not to stuff your turkey?
HOD: The Diestel family believes in stuffing the bird. It’s so traditional and soooo good. We think it’s the best way to have the most flavorful dressing around. It does add 30 minutes or more to your roasting time, so take that into consideration as you plan your holiday.
ALB: Give us some Carving 101… from out of the oven to the plate – how much time does your turkey need to sit before carving? And what’s the secret to a beautifully carved bird?
HOD: Carving anxiety? Forget about it. You can do this. Do this in the kitchen—about 20 minutes after the bird has been removed from the oven—on a sturdy countertop instead of trying to make it happen at the table. Trust us.
Start by removing each leg at the joint. Then cut each breast as close as possible to the bone. Remove the wing. Slice breast at an angle and arrange on a platter with thighs, legs, and wings. Reserve bird for stock later in the day.
Still think you might need help on the big day? Heidi Diestel is on stand-by every year answering the Diestel’s Turkey Hotline ” leading up to and on Thanksgiving until around noon PST. So feel free to call (209) 532-4950 with all of your turkey related questions.