Thursday, November 22, 2007

cooking turkey

Warning issued on hot-oil turkey fryers
The L.A. Fire Department urges residents to 'think twice' about using a cooker at home, citing the potential for fires and burn injuries.
By John L. Mitchell, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
November 22, 2007
At Tasty Q Barbecue in Southwest Los Angeles, Thanksgiving is one of the busiest times of the year for deep-fried turkeys.

It is a specialty at the Crenshaw Boulevard eatery, and on Wednesday workers were preparing dozens of turkeys for cooking in a vat of boiling oil.

Southern tradition
"Here you buy and we fry, or you can buy one of ours," said Tasty Q worker Donna Morrison. "Is it dangerous? Sure, if you don't know what you are doing. Anything can be dangerous if you don't know what you're doing."

The Los Angeles Fire Department is so concerned about that potential for danger that it has issued a warning, urging people to "think twice" about deep-frying turkeys in their own home.

Under the heading "Your Turkey or Your Life," the Fire Department released an advisory and video on its website saying that the cookers used to prepare the popular Southern dish can be harmful.

"Deep-fat fryers are extremely dangerous because of the hot oil used to do the cooking," said Ron Myers, a Fire Department spokesman. "You can never recover from a hot oil burn. It melts the skin. A child or adult who is burned with hot oil will be disfigured for life -- or suffer a fatal injury."

Some fryers, he said, easily tip over, spilling the hot cooking oil, and other brands frequently overfill when the turkey is submerged in the oil. Any small amount of oil coming into contact with a burner can cause a fire. The sides, lid and pot handles get dangerously hot, and the fryers can overheat to the point of combustion, Myers said.

The Fire Department recommends that turkey fryers be used outdoors, on a solid, level surface a safe distance (at least 20 feet) from buildings and flammable materials. They should never be used in an enclosed space, on a wooden deck, under a patio or in a garage.

The turkey should always be completely thawed before cooking. In addition, the cooker should never be left unattended and a fire extinguisher should always be kept nearby. (Never use water to extinguish a grease fire.)

Underwriters Laboratories, the international company that tests products for public safety, offers its own words of concern:

"There is no turkey fryer that carries a UL mark on it," said John Drengenberg, the company's consumer affairs manager in North Brook, Ill. "The products have improved over the years, but they have not advanced to the point where we feel comfortable authorizing the use of our mark."

Ultimately, he said, the problem is that there are "gallons and gallons of boiling oil, and if it gets out of control it is difficult for the average consumer to control."

The National Fire Protection Assn., a nonprofit research and education organization dedicated to reducing fire hazards, discourages the use of outdoor, gas-fueled turkey fryers.

"They have a significant risk of burns and fire," said spokeswoman Lorraine Carli. "More cooking fires occur on Thanksgiving than on any other day of the year -- three times as many."

Despite his own warnings, Myers doesn't suggest that the deep-fried turkey be abandoned.

"I do it every year," he said. "The taste is fantastic. It's moist, not like eating a piece of bacon. No oil in it at all."

Myers compares deep-fry cooking to driving a race car at 170 mph: "If you are on the street it is very dangerous, but if you are on a racetrack and taking the proper precautions, it is perfectly safe."

For Leroy Ross, owner of Tasty Q, the Fire Department's advisory makes perfect sense -- in terms of safety and his own economics.

"I wouldn't advise just anybody to go and do it," said Ross, who has been in the barbecue business for more than a dozen years. "That's what we do."

EAGLE COUNTY, COLORADO — For a while, I could blame my aversion to cooking turkey on being a vegetarian. Thanksgiving, after all, is specifically designed to torture non-bird-eaters.

At best, vegetarians have to endure snarky comments from relatives ("The Dalai Lama called," my dad said one year, handing over the peas. "He said you can eat these"). At worst, they face the unspeakable: Tofurkey.

Recently, though, signs emerged that my vegetarian morals have been compromised. I lost my only copy of "Fast Food Nation" and ate bacon on three separate occasions this past weekend.

With my rather tenuous grip on vegetarianism slipping, I am finally ready to embrace cooking a turkey of my own. But wait a second. Turkeys, to me, had always been something that simply materialized out of a flurry of maternal scurrying at my aunt's house. How am I going to cook a turkey when I'm utterly clueless?

As I rolled my shopping cart down the utensils aisle at the supermarket this week, eyeing the basting bulb and meat thermometer, I began to have doubts. What do I look like here — MacGyver?

Luckily, local turkey experts assured me roasting a bird is possible, even for the culinarily challenged. In skiing terms, oven-cooking a turkey is the equivalent of a "groomed blue slope," said Tom McNeill, owner of the Gourmet Cowboy in Minturn. "I really don't think it's that difficult," he confided.

The trick is avoiding a few rookie mistakes. Turkey gurus agree cooking the bird too long is a common, cardinal sin. "The secret is: Never, never overcook your turkey," Judy Trujillo, kitchen manager at Turntable Restaurant in Minturn said, shortly before cooking 14 turkeys for the restaurant's Thanksgiving day feast. "People think you have to cook it all day and overnight but you don't."

Here is a breakdown on how to cook turkey, for those of us who have no idea what's going on.

Tools for the turkey
Here is the arsenal of tools Trujillo uses to cook her turkeys:

n Reynolds oven bags: heat-resistant nylon bags to place the turkey in.

n Metal roasting pan with four-inch-high sides

n Thermometer to monitor the turkey's internal temperature

n Basting bulb, for dousing the turkey in its own juices

n Two big forks: for lifting the turkey when it's done

n A large knife: for carving

McNeill also uses rubber gloves to handle the bird before it's cooked.

Though I have a vision of prancing around the backyard, tossing corn from my apron to a flock of soon-to-be-slaughtered pet turkeys (do turkeys even eat corn?), it turns out buying a bird from the store is the simplest route to success.

Trujillo recommends the standard Butterball or Honeysuckle White brands that frequent most supermarkets. "To me, they seem more tender, just easier to take care of," she said. "You don't have to keep basting the turkey because it doesn't seem to dry out really quick."

McNeill prefers the Red Bird Farms variety. "The Butterball is a very good turkey but I don't like the fat they inject into it," he said. "It's almost too greasy. They call it moist but it's that imitation butter they shoot into it."

To figure out how much turkey to buy, consider that the average portion size is 4 to 8 ounces, Trujillo said. Most turkeys weigh in at 22 pounds, including about 4 to 8 pounds of bone and waste, and cost $8 to $18, she added.

Turkey for each skill level
Beginner: Ordering in. Those who use their ovens to store back issues of Cosmo, take note. Various local supermarkets offer pre-cooked meals, including Safeway Food and Drug in Vail. The grocery store is taking orders for 10- to 12- pound roasted turkey meals for $49.99 through noon Wednesday, or whenever supplies run out, corporate spokeswoman Teena Massingill said. Several local eateries offer takeout turkeys as well. A few examples include Alpenrose II in Vail, which will sell a $30-per-person turkey dinner; Left Bank Restaurant in Vail, which features a half-turkey dinner for $155 or a whole turkey meal for $295.

Intermediate: Roasting the turkey. (see story)

Advanced: Frying the turkey. Tom McNeill, owner of The Gourmet Cowboy in Minturn, prefers to fry turkeys because it's quick and keeps the bird moist. However, this tactic isn't for the faint at heart. With 375-degree cooking oil, frying can be dangerous without proper safety precautions, McNeill said. He makes deep-fried cajun turkeys by seasoning them with Cajun spice and cooking them in trans-fat-free oil. The birds are on sale for $90 to $125.

Experts recommend buying a frozen turkey two to three days in advance of cooking it, to allow plenty of time for thawing. Thaw the bird for at least 24 hours in the refrigerator, Trujillo suggests.

"Don't leave it at room temperature because that's how bacteria starts to breed," she warns.

As the bird defrosts, keep it in a different pan than the one you plan to use for roasting, to avoid contamination, Trujillo said.

Once the bird is thawed, she likes to rub it with salt and rinse with cold water, to flush out bacteria.

The next step is where things get interesting. Cooks generally consider two areas on the turkey taboo. They remove the neck, which is usually tucked inside the body and just pulls out — "It's real long, almost like a candy cane" — Trujillo said, along with a parchment pouch often filled with the liver, gizzard and heart.

If you plan to stuff the turkey, spread the legs and push the stuffing into the body cavity as far as it will go, she said. Making stuffing is easy with the help of store-bought kits with pre-seasoned bread crumbs, she added.

Roasting the turkey too long leaves it parched, but undercooking it can be just as problematic.

"A lot of people use raw egg in their stuffing and don't cook it thoroughly," McNeill said. "Undercooking's a biggie because it's raw poultry. Not good."

To hit the sweet spot, cook the turkey until the internal thermometer reaches 140 degrees or until poking the breast with a fork dredges up a clear broth instead of blood, Trujillo explained. Another good measure is poking the joint between the leg and the thigh to make sure clear juice comes out rather than blood, McNeill added.

Let's back up, though. To cook the turkey, set the oven to 350 degrees and plan to cook the bird for half an hour per pound of turkey, Trujillo said. She likes to baste with butter, thyme and tarragon (1 tablespoon each). Fill the pan with 2 to 2 1⁄2 cups of water or chicken broth and place the turkey inside.

As an alternative, place the turkey and the water or broth in an oven bag. "It will fill itself up and make its own vapor cave and you don't even need to check on it for the rest of the day," Trujillo said.

Place the turkey in the center of the bottom rack and baste frequently with its own juices. Jean-Michel Chelain, executive chef/owner of The Left Bank Restaurant in Vail, suggests basting every 15 minutes.

Once the bird is cooked, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool for 20 minutes, Trujillo suggests.

You don't have to be a Ninja master to carve a turkey. Just let the bird express itself, experts say.

"The turkey will just pretty much let you know where it's falling apart on the joints," Trujillo said. "It's easy. It'll almost do it for you if it's cooked right, it will fall right open."

She usually slices off the drumsticks and wings, then removes the breast and slices it. At this point, there's just one thing to do, and even turkey-cooking novices can handle this one. Simply dig in and enjoy.

EDGEWOOD - Nobody was injured when a cooking turkey caught fire today at an Edgewood home.

The small fire broke out around noon at a house in the 3400 block of Meadowlark Drive. A turkey cooking in an oven there caught fire, according to emergency dispatchers.

The fire was extinguished almost immediately, but firefighters responded to the house as a precaution.
Planning to cook your turkey outdoors? Don't run afoul of the statewide ban on open burning.
The N.C. Division of Forest Resources says burning of debris or cooking over outdoor fires must comply with the ban's restrictions.

Those who want to cook outside must use an enclosed grill or outdoor cooker if cooking more than 100 feet from an occupied dwelling. If cooking inside the 100-foot area, contact a local fire marshal about possible local bans on burning.

The ban prohibits open burning statewide, regardless of whether a permit was issued. New permits have been suspended. People who violate the open burning ban are fined $100 and might have to pay court costs.

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