There are two types of Thanksgiving people. First, there are those who meticulously plan menus months in advance, breaking out their encyclopedia of recipes with more family secrets than an Italian mob, and shopping with an errant disregard for cost or the safety of themselves and others. Then there are normal people.

When I’m not working, I’m eating. I like to eat. With that said, November is the Olympics of gastronomy. If you’re in tune to the Hawaii food scene, you know that this week (Nov. 17-23, 2014) is Restaurant Week. If there’s ever a time to expand your culinary horizons, this is it.

Then there’s Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is the perfect chance to completely gorge yourself on delicious food without feeling the slightest modicum of guilt. I mean, we’re celebrating … something … right? Though the spread of a Thanksgiving meal changes from family to family (heck, even several times over the course of an evening), there’s always a place at the table for the star: turkey.

Let’s face it, turkey recipes are a dime a dozen, or at least a dime a pound. My family has done turkey a thousand different ways, from air-dried to deep-fried. By the time you boot up your Internet browser and wade through the thousands of “GUARANTEED PERFECT” recipes, you might as well be prepping for Easter. I’m a realist when it comes to turkey. I don’t have days to sit around brining, basting, roasting, and all that jazz. I just want a delicious turkey in the quickest time possible.

Here’s everything you should know about turkey this Thanksgiving:

  • Buy a natural (free range or heritage breed) turkey. I know, I know. They are a tad pricier than your normal birds. But with no additives and minimal processing, you absolutely get the best flavor. At the table, you’re showing off your cooking skills, not your frugalness. For weight, 10-12 pounds works best (about one pound per guest). If you’re like me and need more meat for those big eaters, buy two small birds, not one giant one. Trust me on this.
  • I’m assuming you’re not buying your turkey on Thanksgiving Day. If you are, you’re doing it wrong. Turkeys can last up to three months in the freezer, but buying a week in advance is perfect. Heck, even the day before will do (if you can still find them in stores). Don’t wait till the last minute.
  • Here’s a tip about frozen turkey: DON’T COOK A FROZEN TURKEY. It’ll suck, and you won’t be invited back next year. If you have a frozen turkey, move it to the fridge three to four days in advance to thaw. If you need to thaw it faster, stick it in a cooler of cold water and switch the water out every hour. That’ll bring your thaw time down to under 12 hours. Protip: if your turkey is still frozen come Thanksgiving morning, your side dishes better be delicious.
  • I won’t spend too long on brining, but I prefer dry-brining over wet-brining. Why? There’s a lot of science involved, but the key is traditional brining adds liquid and salt to your turkey, but significantly dilutes the bird’s flavor. No good. I prefer to generously salt the turkey (with kosher salt, please) and resting it in the fridge overnight. That’s it. Seriously. The air-drying plus salt method will keep your meat moist and your skin crispy.
  • Spatchcock your turkey. I learned about this last year and it was a game-changer. It involves removing the backbone and flattening the bird out. This gives you faster, more even cooking. Sound crazy? Just watch this video:

  • Your turkey’s done when the breasts come in at 150ºF and thighs that are at least 165ºF. You don’t have a thermometer? Are you crazy? Go and buy one. They’re one of the best investments you can make for your kitchen.

 

That’s it. Everything I know about making a Thanksgiving turkey. Take my advice with a grain of salt (no pun intended), just make sure you’re having good food and good fun with friends and family.

NOTE: This article was written mainly from personal experience, with a good dose of research from food guru J. Kenji López-Alt at Serious Eats