Buy small, remember to thaw and other tips for turkey perfection

Roast turkey. / File/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant
Roast turkey. / File/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant

My aunt Charlotte Berg always made the most moist, delicious turkey, so it really surprised me to learn after decades of enjoying her cooking that she didn't like turkey. That still baffles my mind how someone could make it so expertly and not like it. I never noticed that she didn't eat it.

On the other hand, I've always loved turkey and can't for the life of me figure out why I only serve it at Thanksgiving and, possibly, as an addition to our Christmas menu for those who don't like lamb.

As Turkey Day nears, the bird will be the centerpiece on many tables, so it never hurts to refresh our knowledge of what to buy, how to store it and how to achieve succulent perfection.

(READ MORE: How to plan, cook and carve a turkey: Recipes from Butterball and pro tips from neighbors)

There are many ways to prepare the big bird. There's turkey in a bag, turkey injected with seasonings and roasted and turkey soaked in brine for hours -- I even towed the turkey to Texas one Thanksgiving, keeping it in brine the entire trip, only stopping at gas stations every few hours to get more ice to keep it well-chilled. That was an experience. No matter how you roast your turkey, here are some suggestions on how to bag the best bird and keep things safe.

Buy small. Bigger isn't always better. Small turkeys, in the 8-pound range, if you can find one, are easier to handle, cook more evenly and taste better. If cooking for a crowd, as many of us will be doing, consider two small birds. Allow a half pound for every person you are feeding -- or a pound to ensure you'll have some left over for a pan of Hot Browns or turkey tetrazini.

Buy fresh (or natural). A fresh bird really has the best flavor, but they are sometimes hard to find and more expensive. At the very least, choose an all-natural turkey that is not self-basting, meaning it's been injected with water and who knows what. Buy it up to four days ahead and keep it, still wrapped, in a rimmed pan on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator.

Allow time to thaw. Frozen turkeys make up the majority of turkey sales during the holiday season and should be purchased no later than five days before Thanksgiving, according to the National Turkey Federation. So get it no later than Saturday, thaw it under refrigeration, leaving it wrapped in a rimmed pan set on the bottom shelf. Allow a day of thawing for every 4 pounds, and make sure it's completely thawed before cooking it. Don't forget to take out that bag of innards. It won't hurt the bird, only your pride if you carve the board at the table filled with guests and find you've left it in. I did that once when cooking one of my first Thanksgivings and still get teased decades later.

Err on the side of caution. A frozen turkey that has been thawed in the refrigerator will keep for at least 24 hours after it's fully thawed, but cook it as soon as you can after it has thawed.


HOLIDAY HELP

If you think you'll want help with the turkey, sides, desserts or all of the above, check out the list of area restaurants that have takeout options for Thanksgiving at timesfreepress.com. The list was updated just this week with another place to consider, Jim & Nick's Bar-B-Q at Hamilton Place. The story also mentions restaurants that will be open Thanksgiving if you want to leave the cooking to someone else.


RESTAURANT NEWS

Miller's Ale House, long a staple in the Hamilton Place neighborhood for really good beer and burgers, will open in a brand new property in the Northgate neighborhood by year's end.

"Hixson is a strong and growing market, and our new location will have great access and visibility alongside the ongoing development of the Northgate Mall," says Ray Holden, chief development officer for the popular chain. "Our first Chattanooga location on Gunbarrel Road has been a great success, and we look forward to bringing a second location to the market on the other side of the river."

(READ MORE: Review: Miller's Ale House scores with beer, sports, food)

I'm hoping Miller's will be the first of many new restaurants to open in the Hixson area. Those of us who live north of the river have been waiting, and now it appears our patience has paid off deliciously.


PREMIUM PIE

It's not too late to order dessert from one of the country's best bake shops, Bake Me a Wish. What I particularly prize about the company is its commitment to those less fortunate as well as our men and women in the military.

This year, for every pie sold -- pecan, Dutch apple or pumpkin -- Bake Me A Wish will send one of its gourmet pies to a veteran or active soldier overseas.

Order now for delivery in time for Thanksgiving at BakeMeAWish.com.

Contact Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com or annebraly.com.