The Secret to Turkey: Bacon

Our turkey comes from Crane Dance Farm (this was last year’s picture, back when MI had more grass).

If all goes well, by the time you read this post, I’ll be mid-move. Yep. The day before Thanksgiving!

But planning ahead has led me to do something this year that I always forget to do until actual Thanksgiving: explain how I used bacon to make superb turkey.

The logic is simple (aside from the really more basic axiom that everything is better with bacon): The trick to making great turkey is to slow the cooking of the breast and to slowly apply salt to the meat. Most people do the latter with brining, but I think that makes the meat mushy–why buy a pastured turkey if you’re just going to turn its flesh into processed meat?

So instead, as you’re putting the bird in the oven (after you’ve stuffed it–I’ll be doing sage and jerusalem artichoke bread stuffing), put most of a pound of bacon on the breast, legs–basically anywhere there’s open skin. Just about the point where the Kitties’ Turkey Day game starts to look hopeless, just about the time you need a snack to make it till dinner, the bacon will be browned and ready to eat. That’ll leave enough time to brown the bird.

Go ahead and share your Turkey Day tips here. And if you’re traveling, safe travels!

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

22 replies
  1. What Constitution says:

    What wine should I bring? This recipe reminds me of my very favorite tag line in a dumb radio commercial for some “manly” product: “smells like a new car wrapped in bacon.” Must be wonderful, a brilliant combination. Enjoy your holiday — Thankfully, WC?

  2. nomolos says:

    Moving again, wow. Buttermilk is my answer for edible turkey. Put the sucker in a basting bag with a couple of bottles of organic buttermilk. Leave it in the fridge overnight dry it off and then roast as one would (including the bacon) normally.

    I tried salt brine a few years ago and it really did turn the meat to mush. Of course one should always start out with an organic gobbler if at all possible.

    Have a great turkey day.

  3. Peterr says:

    I slowly roast the turkey on a kettle-style BBQ grill. I simply season the bird inside and out with a little salt and a decent amount of pepper, then put a lemon or two, an onion or two, some garlic, and some rosemary inside the cavity. (Amounts vary depending on the size of the bird.) When the coals are ready, I push them to the sides of the kettle and put a foil pan with some water in the middle, so it sits underneath the bird to catch the drippings. The water helps keep the bird moist, and also keeps the drippings from burning. Put some wet wood chips (for turkey, I like fruit woods) on the coals, then close it up. Add fresh charcoal and more wood chips as needed to keep things going.

    It takes about 13-15 minutes per pound, and comes out absolutely moist and delicious. It also leaves the oven in the kitchen free for the culinary miracles that Mrs Dr Peterr chooses to work while I’m doing the turkey.

  4. marksb says:

    Haven’t had turkey for about 35 years since I became a vegetarian. Thanksgiving was, for a long time, the time when I most regretted the decision…I’d say a roasted turkey and bacon were two of my favorite meat dishes.

    Now we build an exquisite, rich nut loaf, mushroom gravy, mashed potatoes, and fresh stir-fried green beans. Apple pie of course.

    But I still miss the turkey.

  5. TheraP says:

    Oh, yum! I’m in a nearby battleground state (which shall be nameless). Michigan born… but not bred though.

    Thanksgiving Tip: Eat pie for breakfast! Why wait till after dinner when you won’t appreciate it to the same degree? Not that you should skip it later, of course.

    We came upon that tradition when my son was young. These days “pie” is more like homemade apple sauce with granola sprinkled on top. Or homemade pumpkin bread – with whipped cream on top. Or both.

    I could get free-range turkey right down the street at the local health food store. Very nice store with several branches in our area. But the sticker price! Instead we’re having lamb chops from Australia, via our local CostCo. (P.S. if anyone needs hearing aids, theirs are the cheapest. And state of the art digital ones too.) Ok, I admit that lamb chops are also expensive… No sandwiches to follow either. But being married to a European, Thanksgiving is only half a tradition in this household. So we simply make it a special holiday meal.

    I miss GOOD turkey. But what passes for turkey in the supermarkets should be subject to a post on fraud.

  6. Peterr says:

    @Jim White:

    Here in the BBQ grilling center of the universe*, the verb “do” is ALWAYS attached to the main ingredient that one is cooking.

    And quite frankly, some parishioners would look askance at a pastor who doesn’t know this.

    _______

    * Let me add that while folks in Memphis, Texas, and the Carolinas do some nice work with their grills and smokers, KC rules the BBQ world. But that’s a subject for another day . . .

  7. hate2haggle says:

    I was scratching my chin with some apprehension after reading your turkey recipe reply tweet to Mike Elk the other day. I really wanted to tweet back with a question for you but did not. So happy you’ve provided more context to that twitter talk here. I’ll be away with family tomorrow, but I’m going to try your suggestion Sunday when I cook my bird and with the nicest, thickest, and most delictably delicious bacon available on earth. Happy Thanksgiving.

  8. gallowaytrail says:

    On those Thanksgivings when you feel like cheating or you’re in a bind for time, go for the pre-seasoned birds-in-a bag that you pull straight from the freezer to the oven. Or you can let them thaw in the refrigerator for less cooking time. More expensive but easy like Sunday morning. And it tastes as good as any turkey I’ve cooked the old fashioned way-and we want lots of flavor.

  9. Joseph Cannon says:

    Poor people, comme moi, buy the cheapest frozen bird available. In my case, I had to walk 2.5 miles to get a bird costing 58 cents a pound. And then I had to carry it back.

    Yet cheap turkey always tastes great. Phooey on anyone who claims that turkey is always dry unless you purchase one of those super-expensive hoity toity organo-snobbo birds.

    The secret to great turkey is the same as the secret to great roast chicken — low and slow, breast side down for a good chunk of that time. Cook the stuffing separately. Put fresh garlic and rosemary and onion and lemon inside and under the skin and everywhere you can. (If you can afford that stuff.) 250 degrees for something like eight hours, maybe more.

    The great thing is that you don’t have to get the oven-removal time exactly right. It’ll be perfect and stay perfect for, like, an hour or two. And if the bird’s internal temp goes beyond the recommended 160, fine. It’ll still be moist. All over.

    If anyone mutters something about salmonella, tell ’em to go screw. I’ve never had a problem. The bird is getting plenty hot on the inside.

    ‘Tis a poor man’s feast, but this method results in meat that just falls off the bone if you simply stare at hard. And it tastes great.

    Here’s a trick that always works like magic: Cook the turkey inside a paper shopping bag, which acts as a self-baster. This move was taught to me by the wife of one of the five people non-fatally shot on the night RFK was murdered.

    (Hey, if I can’t give Thanksgiving a parapolitical spin on THIS site, then where…?)

    Crisp up the skin, if you wish, only in the final half hour. I know a lot of people care about the skin, but I don’t. For my money, the important part is getting the meat right.

  10. bmaz says:

    @Joseph Cannon: (Hey, if I can’t give Thanksgiving a parapolitical spin on THIS site, then where…?)

    This is exactly the place where that can be done Joe. We specialize in such things.

  11. pdaly says:

    I’ve mentioned Chicago chef Grant Achatz before. Here he is on youtube preparing turkey “sous vide” without the expensive vacuum sealers and without the expensive heater/water circulator.

    Part 2 is embedded in the comments at youtube.

    He uses freezer bags (find ones safe for microwave), places drumsticks and each breast in separate bags and places them in water bath about 170 degrees (i.e., below boiling).
    Fries the turkey breast after sous vide process to carmelize the skin.

    I haven’t tried this method, but it looks like it is worth doing to obtain tender, moist turkey.
    Looks like it would work with free range organic and supermarket turkeys alike.

  12. What Constitution says:

    EW, you are not alone. But the person who latticed the bacon on this turkey like this has some issues (or excessive free time) somewhere, methinks. I can’t believe this just showed up on a Salon bit this morning. Happy, happy Turkey Day.

    http://i.imgur.com/ELew9.jpg

  13. TheraP says:

    @P J Evans:

    A battleground state always has plenty of free-range turkeys! ;)

    Some of them are even edible.

    There’s plenty of farmland close to home… or turkey-raising land. Sheep land. Llama land. You name it! Probably wild turkeys too. For the hunters.

    To be honest a few years back I simmered a turkey breast – which had such a terrible scent and taste that… for now… the experience has put me “off” turkey. At least for the time being… however long this lasts.

    However, I’ll keep Mary and her fellow farmer friends in mind down the road. As I’m pretty sure it was some kind of injected “stuff” that led to the awful bird breast I purchased… I am determined now to only buy the fresh, free-range, organic turkey – when I’m good and ready.

    Taking a bit of a break here in the meal preparations, while Mr. TheraP follows European “crisis” news…

    Happy Turkey to all! And happy football for the football fans. (We are fans of “fútbol” when that’s available.)

    And thanks for the turkey tip!

  14. jawbone says:

    One year my brother decided to raise turkeys. These were the biggest birds I ever saw, almost too big unless you had a really large oven!

    Turns out he should have ordered the chicks (I think they’re called chicks/?)later in the season. They became expensive partly by having to be fed so long.

    These turkeys would chase the cats AND the Irish wolfhounds if they got into their fenced in part of the yard! They slept in a lovely A-frame cedar house my brother made for them. He enjoyed designing and building things.

    They loved to play with the soccer ball, or any ball, if the kids kicked or threw it into the birds’ area. They would swing at the ball and hit it with the side of their heads, sending it hither and yon. The whole flock would chase after it, the one closest to it would then hit it in another direction. Sort of like how our MCM reporters all follow the same story the same way….

    They were quite responsive. If someone made a gobble-gobble sound, they would all respond with trills of gobbles. It was great fun to stand on the deck, gobble to the turkeys and get a nice rousing chorus in return. Over and over and over….

    If it rained, they needed to be shepherded into their A-frame or under some kind of shelter. Otherwise they would stand in place, looking up at the sky, with the rain going down their throats. Some said turkeys could drown doing that. but my brother didn’t lose any.

    Best tasting turkeys I ever, ever ate. All that fat, maybe, from the finishing feedings? I can’t recall their dressed weights, but some were sawed in half lengthwise by the butcher and frozen as half birds to be able to fit in regular ovens.

    I’ve often asked my brother if he try raising turkeys again, but he said never ever after the first year and has stuck to that. Too much work and too expensive.

  15. orionATL says:

    @Joseph Cannon:

    jesus, joseph, and cannon!

    the very first weblog i ever visited when i learned there was such a thing as weblogs on the internet.

    contrarian as ever it appears, and still surviving :)

    thanks for that informative introduction, joseph cannon (re: g.w. bush overtly cheating in a presidential debate),

    and happy thanksgiving!

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