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Having A Turkey Emergency?

Elizabeth Karmel, the executive chef of the highly-regarded Texas barbecue restaurant Hill Country in Manhattan, is also a pro on the turkey circuit. In fact, she was the founder of the 1-800-Butterball turkey hotline. She dropped by The Early Show to calm your last-minute turkey anxiety attacks.

  • What do I do if my turkey is not defrosted on Thursday morning?

    According to Karmel, here's what you should do immediately: Put it in bathtub with cold running water. Don't use hot water (hot water can cook the meat). Cold water equalizes the temperature. Also -- do not remove the wrapper! If the turkey is partially frozen -- meaning you can depress the skin of the turkey -- it can take about two hours to defrost using this cold water method. If it's frozen solid, it can take you about six hours, so be prepared to eat late!

  • Should I trust the pop-up thermometer?

    Never trust it, according to Karmel. Hers has actually popped up the first half hour. Some people's will never pop up. So don't trust them.

  • Where should I place my thermometer to check if my turkey is done?

    The deepest part of the thigh -- an instant-read meat thermometer should be 180 in the thigh, 160 in the breast. Don't touch the bone of the turkey.

  • Should I baste, and if so, how often?

    Basting only flavors the drippings for the gravy, says Karmel. Do it infrequently because every time you open the oven, you are releasing the heat. People think that basting results in crispy skin, but really, basting isn't for that. If you want crispy skin, rub olive oil over the turkey; place the turkey in an open pan and make sure your baking rack is on the lowest level in the oven (this prevents burning and drying out).

  • Why and for how long should I rest the turkey before carving?

    You should let any turkey rest for a minimum of 20 minutes to a maximum of 30. This allows the juices to be reabsorbed into the meat so it doesn't go all over the cutting board.

  • Do I need to truss the bird?

    You don't need to truss the bird. People do it for tradition.

  • Should I tent my turkey? If so, for how long?

    When chefs say "tent," it means two things. Some people cover the drumsticks and the breast meat during the cooking to avoid drying out. Some people cover the turkey once removed from the oven because they think it keeps the turkey warm. However, when you do this, the foil keeps the heat trapped, so it's steaming the turkey and the crispy skin will actually become soggy.

  • To stuff or not to stuff the turkey?

    Says Karmel, "Whether or not to stuff is usually based on tradition. I don't because I grew up in the south.

    "When we hear about 'health' issues with stuffing the bird, it's because many people make the stuffing the night before -- which isn't a problem -- but then they place the stuffing in the bird, then keep the bird stuffed in the fridge overnight. Hence -- this allows bacteria to grow. It's a hotbed of bacteria when it sits inside the bird the night before because many times the stuffing is still hot. So now you have heat inside the cavity of the bird, and it never cools down. So bacteria flourishes. So when people think they have the 'flu' after Thanksgiving -- well it's really that you're sick from the bacteria."

  • What if I forget to remove the giblets?

    It's okay. The plastic won't kill you. It's a "foodsafe" plastic. However, Karmel suggests you carve turkey in the kitchen so that others don't know or make a joke.

  • What's a good rule of thumb for cooking the bird, time/pound ratio?

    The heat is key -- first pre-heat your oven. Second -- she uses 325 -- a good even heat.

  • Should I stuff the cavity with any aromatics before cooking?

    Yes - it does make a difference. It helps the gravy.

  • Do I need to rinse my turkey before cooking?

    Karmel doesn't advocate that. "The water sprays everywhere, hence the germs are all over your kitchen, which creates a lot of cross-contamination possibilities." Karmel cuts the plastic wrap over a grocery bag to catch all the juices. She then uses a paper towel to pat the turkey dry -- both inside and out.

  • How do I make the turkey look as good as it does in magazines but make sure it doesn't taste dry?

    Brining. However, on Thursday morning, it's too late for brining. But, Karmel suggests cooking the turkey at a low even heat, so it doesn't burn outside. Always use the thermometer, without touching a bone. Make sure the juices run clear. This means your turkey is ready.

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