Thanksgiving: Getting the best cuts off your bird
By Clifford A. Wright
A lot of people say they don’t like turkey because it’s too dry. They are referring to the white meat, by far the most popular part of the turkey for most Americans. The white meat comes from the breast, and modern turkeys are raised to have large breasts (those Americans!). A turkey is a naturally moist and delicious tasting bird, so if you associate breast meat with dry and crumbly meat that’s because of one thing only: The cook overcooked the turkey. Once a turkey is overcooked there’s no going back, it’s ruined. A roasted turkey should never taste dry.
So, when cooking turkey you must pay attention. I recommend using thermometers, in fact, at least two of them in different parts of the turkey. One of the reasons people overcook turkeys is because the U.S. Department of Agriculture, many cookbooks, supermarkets – everybody – instructs you to cook the turkey until it has an internal temperature of 180F. This is plain crazy and a recipe for disaster. The internal temperature measured in the middle of the breast should be 160F. To achieve this, you should always use a quick-read thermometer and never rely solely on a pop-up timer in the turkey or any roasting rules-of-thumb. You should also pull the turkey out at 155F because the turkey doesn’t stop cooking just because you pulled it out of the oven. Let the turkey rest 20 to 30 minutes before carving.
Now you get to the good part. I’m speaking of the dark meat, namely the thigh and legs. I’ve never understood why one would forgo the most delicious and flavorful part of the turkey for the bland white meat. There’s a reason that the expressions describing a person as “oh, so white bread” or “oh, so white meat” exist. It means that person is dull and common. And that’s white meat. White meat is fine, when properly cooked, moist and flavorful. It certainly makes good sandwiches. However, it doesn’t nearly have the depth, character, and full flavor of dark meat, which is, after all, even more moist and rich than properly cooked white meat.
There’s also some secret meat not to be overlooked, and if you’re not the carver you may not know about it. It is important to start carving by separating the leg from the thigh. Some people leave the leg, the drumstick, whole, but you can carve off its meat too. Then you pull off the thigh and slice it. This is the dark meat.
We use the word “carving” but not all this is done with a two-pronged fork and carving knife. A lot of it is done with your hands by pulling. Now, on the underside of the turkey, mostly ignored by everyone because we’re all set on getting to the table, are bits of juice- and fat-soaked dark meat that can’t be carved but must be pulled off in bite-size increments. This is the meat — the best meat as far as I’m concerned — that you’ll see the carvers popping into their mouths as they carve.
This is why I always carve the Thanksgiving turkey.