As the namesake of Mary’s Free-Range Turkey, a nationally recognized brand, Mary Pitman is an expert at cooking turkey.
The Pitman family has been raising poultry since 1954, operating six turkey ranches, a processing plant and feed mill in the central San Joaquin Valley.
Pitman cares so much about her role as the face behind the brand that she divides her time on Thanksgiving Day between cooking and answering anxious calls to the company’s Turkey Hotline.
“People can’t believe it’s me when I answer the phone,” she says. “But it’s what I do to make sure people can enjoy their Thanksgiving.”
So to help you enjoy yours, Pitman, who recently taught a Turkey 101 class at Whole Foods, offers seven of her tried-and-true tips for cooking turkey, especially if it’s one of hers.
1. Make sure you properly thaw your turkey. Pitman recommends buying your turkey one to three days in advance of Thanksgiving. She places the turkey in its original packing in a bath of cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes and do not let the turkey get warm. Thaw the turkey until the package feels soft. “And whatever you do, don’t leave it overnight,” she says.
2. If you are cooking a Mary’s Turkey, remove the plastic clip holding the drumsticks together and take out the giblets. The neck will be on one end and the rest will be at the other end. Both cavities need to be empty. You can use the neck and giblets, except the liver, to make a great-tasting broth. Or you can use the giblets and neck meat to make gravy.
3. For a golden, crispy skin and juicy meat, position the bird breast side up and tuck several pats of cold butter under the skin. Use a little or a lot, depending on your liking. Pitman does not skimp on the butter. As she says: “Thanksgiving is not a day I want to watch what I eat.” After you are done, take several pats and generously coat the outside of the turkey.
4. If you are going to stuff your turkey, do it just before you place it in the oven. Never stuff the turkey the night before; that increases the potential for bacteria growth.
5. Use broth. Put 2 to 4 cups of chicken broth in the bottom of your roasting pan to help preserve the bird’s natural juiciness.
6. Begin checking for doneness 1/2 to 1 hour before the end of the recommended roasting time for birds weighing less than 14 pounds. For birds larger than that, check on it at 3 1/2 hours from recommended roasting time. A guide for roasting times can be found at www.marysturkeys.com.
7. Use a meat thermometer. It’s a must. Pitman says the best placement for the thermometer is in the back part of the thigh. “It is the last part of the turkey to cook,” she says. And make sure you cook your bird to 165 degrees. Once it reaches that temperature, pull it out of the oven and let it rest for 30 minutes before carving.
And just in case you need any last-minute help, here is the number to the turkey hotline: 844-444-MARY (6279). Chances are, you may talk to Mary Pitman herself.