About Cooking a Fresh Thanksgiving Turkey

We get questions every day about cooking a fresh turkey versus a frozen turkey. There is a huge difference between a frozen turkey and a fresh turkey, both in quality and in price, but there isn’t much difference in cooking a fresh turkey and a frozen (thawed before cooking) turkey. Following is an easy “recipe” for cooking a plain fresh turkey. We’ll leave the fixin’s to you.

Remove the giblet pack from the neck cavity. To add a lot of flavor to your gravy, add the giblets and cook thoroughly.
Wash the turkey cavity and the outside of the bird – pat dry.
Allow the turkey to get to room temperature.
If you are stuffing the turkey – always stuff it loosely – about 1/2 to 3/4 cups of stuffing per pound of turkey in the cavity. Tie the drumsticks together if you are using stuffing.
Spread unmelted butter under the skin, next to the flesh of the turkey. Gently pull the skin away from the meat and find areas that you can get to the meat to spread the unmelted butter. (Best to use salted butter for this task.) You can add flavorings to the butter if you wish – mix the room temperature butter with your favorite spices or herbs before spreading under the skin. You can also add sliced mushrooms to the mixture.
Brush the skin with melted butter. If you use spices or herbs to the butter for under the skin, we suggest that you put the same herbs or spices in your melted butter.
Now is the time to make a decision on whether you want a beautiful turkey or a delicous, moist turkey. If you want a beautiful turkey, you will cook it breast up (whatever part is up will brown while cooking). If you want a delicious, moist turkey, you will cook it breast down (cooking with the breast down will allow the juices that naturally flow with gravity to flow into the breast, keeping it moist).
Preheat your oven no more than 300 to 325 degrees F. Remember that low and slow is the preferred method to cooking most meats in the oven.
Place the bird on a rack (you don’t want it resting in the liquid that it will create while cooking) in a roasting pan and into the preheated oven. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. The thermometer should point towards the body and should not touch the bone.
Bake until the skin is a light golden color and then cover loosely with a foil tent. During the last 45 minutes of baking, remove the foil tent to brown the skin. Basting is not necessary, but helps promote even browning. Use melted butter if you want to baste.
All turkeys will cook much faster if you don’t stuff it. So if you have a deadline, then you can cook the stuffing in a casserole dish and that will speed up the process of cooking the bird (there are new “instant pots” that cook the outside crispy, which would be great for the stuffing – frees up some oven space).
The turkey is done when the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F at the thigh.
Most turkey labels have a cooking time chart. Mert’s suggests the following chart be considered, but always use a meat thermometer to determine whether your turkey is cooked sufficiently.
10 to 18 pounds unstuffed 3.5 to 4 hours stuffed 4.5 to 5 hours
18 to 22 pounds unstuffed 4 to 4.5 hours stuffed 5 to 5.5 hours
22 to 24 pounds unstuffed 4.5 to 5 hours stuffed 5.5 to 6 hours
24 to 29 pounds unstuffed 5.5 to 6 hours stuffed 6.25 to 6.75 hours
Allow the turkey to rest for at least 15 to 20 minutes before carving.

Garlic Chicken with Herbs

4 boneless skinless chicken thighs (or breast) about 1 pound
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon butter
10 garlic cloves, peeled & halved
¼ cup white wine or chicken broth
1 ½ teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
½ teaspoon minced fresh sage
1 cup chicken broth
Hot cooked rice of your choice, or mashed potatoes

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper to taste.  In a large skillet, heat butter over medium high heat; brown chicken on both sides.  Remove from pan, reserving drippings.
In the same skillet, sauté garlic in drippings over medium-high heat until light golden brown.  Add wine and herbs; bring to a boil, stirring to loosen browned bits from pan.  Cook until the mixture is almost evaporated.  Add broth and chicken; bring to a boil.  Reduce heat; simmer, covered, until a thermometer inserted in chicken reads at least 170 degrees, 10 to 12 minutes.
To serve, spoon pan juices over chicken.
Serve with cooked, hot rice.
Serves 4
From prep to table 30 minutes

Slow Cooked Pork Tenderloin Stew


1 package pork tenderloins (pkg of 2) about 2 pounds total – remove silver skin and excess fat from tenderloins; then cut into 2 inch pieces
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
2 large carrots, cut into ½ inch slices
2 celery ribs, coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
3 cups beef broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/3 cup pitted dried plums, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
1 fresh rosemary sprig
1 fresh thyme sprig
1/3 cup Greek olives (optional)
Chopped fresh parsley (optional)
Hot cooked mashed potatoes (optional)

After removing silver skin and excess fat, sprinkle the tenderloin pieces with salt and pepper; transfer to a 4 quart (minimum size) slow cooker.  Add the carrots, celery and onion.
In a small bowl, whisk broth and tomato paste; pour over vegetables.  Add plums, garlic, bay leaves, rosemary, thyme and, if desired, olives.
Cook, covered, on low 5-6 hours or until meat and vegetables are tender.
Discard bay leaves, rosemary and thyme.  If desired, sprinkle stew with parsley and serve with potatoes.
Serves 8
Prep time 15 to 20 minutes
Cook on low 5 hours

Chicken Shepherd’s Pie

1 ½ lb potatoes, peeled (optional) and cut into large chunks
3 garlic cloves, peeled and bruised (mashed, but still in one piece)
¼ cup half & half creamer
¾ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons real butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 carrots, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 ½ lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into small chunks
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup frozen peas
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

In a saucepan of boiling water, cook potatoes and garlic cloves until tender; drain.  With a potato masher, mash potatoes, garlic, cream and ½ teaspoon of the salt until smooth; set aside.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  In a large frying pan, melt butter over low heat.  Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, for 7 minutes, or until soft.  Add carrots and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, or until tender.  Add chicken and sauté for 4 minutes, or until no longer pink.
Sprinkle flour over chicken mixture and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute, or until no streaks of flour remain.  Gradually add stock and remaining salt – bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, or until sauce is slightly thickened.  Stir in peas and parsley.
Spoon mixture into a deep dish pie dish (9 inch).  Spoon or pipe the mashed potatoes over the top.  Bake for 30 minutes, or until potato topping is golden brown and crusty.  Serve hot.
Serves 4
Prep time 30 minutes
Cooking/baking time 1 hour

Beefy Vegetable Soup

1 to 1.5 pounds lean ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cans 8 oz each tomato sauce
2 cans 16 oz each kidney beans, rinsed and drained (optional)
1 package 10 oz frozen corn
1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup chopped green pepper
1 cup chopped sweet red pepper
1 cup chopped fresh tomato
1 tablespoon chili powder
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
Shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, tortilla chips (optional)

In a skillet, cook beef, onion and the garlic over medium heat until the meat is no longer pink; drain all grease from the mixture.
Transfer meat mixture to a slow cooker.  Add the tomato sauce, optional kidney beans, vegetables and seasonings; mix well.
Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or until thick and bubbly, stirring occasionally.
Serve with cheese, sour cream and chips if desired.
This delicious savory soup would also be excellent with fresh hot bread.
Serves 8-10
This can be frozen and reheated nicely later.

Cajun Grilled Mahi-Mahi

4 fillets of mahi-mahi (approximately 4 to 6 oz each)
1 tablespoon canola or preferred oil
1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning
Salt and Pepper to taste

Preheat grill to medium high heat.  Brush the fillets with the oil and sprinkle both sides with Cajun seasoning.  Allow the fillets to get to room temperature.  Grill for about 4 to 5 minutes on each side, until the fish is cooked to your desired doneness and nicely browned.
Serves 4
From prep to table  20 to 30 minutes

Slow Cooker Pork Cubano Sandwiches

2 lbs pork tenderloin – remove silver skin and excess fat
2 lbs boneless pork shoulder

7 tablespoons stone-ground mustard, divided
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 lb boneless ham or ham steak (fully cooked) cut into ½ inch cubes
1 jar (16 oz) whole baby dill pickles, undrained, sliced thick – keep juice
2 cups (8 oz) shredded Swiss cheese
8 buns, split

Rub pork with 3 tablespoons mustard, season with pepper and place in a large 5 to 6 quart slow cooker.  Add ham and pickles, including the pickle juice.  Cover and cook on low until tender, turning halfway through, at about 3 hours, finish cooking another 3 hours (6 hours total cooking on low).
If pork shoulder was used, skim off fat and grease before shredding.
Shred pork with two forks.  Sprinkle cheese over meat mixture; cover and cook another 30 minutes or until the cheese has melted.
When ready to serve, slice buns and toast lightly in a toaster oven or broiler or grill.  Spread the remaining mustard evenly over cut sides.  Using a slotted spoon, top buns with meat mixture.
Serve immediately.
Serves 8
Prep time 30 15-20 minutes
Cook time 6 ½ hours

Chicken Garden Medley

1 lb boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into strips
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ cup butter, divided
1 small yellow squash, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 small zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced
½ cup julienned red pepper
½ cup julienned green pepper
¼ cup thinly sliced onion
2 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¾ cup chicken broth
½ cup half & half creamer
8 oz angel hair pasta, cooked and drained
2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese

In a skillet, sauté chicken and garlic in 2 tablespoons butter until juices run clear, 10-12 minutes.  Add vegetables.  Cook until crisp-tender; remove.  In same skillet, melt remaining butter.  Stir in flour, salt and pepper to form a paste.  Gradually add broth. Bring to a boil; stir until thickened, 2 minutes.  Stir in cream and heat through.  Add chicken and vegetables; stir until well mixed.
Place pasta in a greased 2 quart baking dish.  Pour chicken mixture over top.  Sprinkle with cheese.
Cover and bake at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes; uncover and bake 5 minutes longer.
Serves 4
Prep time 25 minutes
Bake time 20 minutes

Grilled Salmon with Bacon & Tomato Salsa

Grilled Salmon with Bacon & Tomato Salsa
4 salmon fillets approximately 6 oz each
10 to 12 sprigs fresh thyme
2 slices thick bacon
½ cup diced red onions
1 tablespoon minced garlic
ground coarse salt to taste
ground  black pepper to taste
Canola oil
10 oz mild diced tomatoes with green chilies, well drained

Skin salmon fillets or have your butcher skin them at the time of purchase.
Preheat grill to medium high.  Finely chop thyme and discard stems.
Cut bacon into ¼ inch pieces; lightly brown in a pan; and remove.  Add onions to the bacon drippings and cook until onions are sweated.  Combine onions, bacon and garlic; heat gently.
Season the skinless salmon with salt, pepper and thyme.  Rub salmon with canola oil.  Sear on both sides.
Place salmon in a foil pan on an unheated section of the grill.  Close hood and allow salmon to finish cooking until the fish is opaque in the center which would be internal temperature of 145 degrees F.  Or cook to your desired doneness.
Add tomatoes with green chilies to bacon mixture; simmer 4 to 5 minutes until thick.  Spoon salsa over the salmon.
Serves 4
From prep to table 40 minutes

Cajun Burgers

2 pounds ground beef
1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons ground coriander
2 tablespoons Cajun spice
¼ teaspoon dried steak seasoning
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced
6 to 8 hamburger buns, toasted

Preheat grill to medium high heat.  Combine all ingredients except the buns in a large mixing bowl with ground beef.  Form into patties, 6 to 8 oz each.
Cook until desired doneness, 6 to 8 minutes per side for medium.
Serves 6-8
From prep to table 40 minutes

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