Every year on Thanksgiving Day, the same scene plays out on countless American dinner tables.
You score with the holiday bird’s thigh meat (so moist and juicy) but its breast, most unfortunately, is a dry and stringy epic fail. Thank goodness for gravy.
Or maybe it’s the reverse. The breast meat carves into tender, magical slices, but the thighs and drumsticks, which your dark meat-loving family members always fight over, are overly pink and rubbery to the touch. Everyone has to wait while you pop the pieces back into the oven for additional roasting.
For a dish that seems like it should be so easy, a properly cooked Thanksgiving turkey actually requires some fussing over, what with the white meat always cooking faster than the dark meat, no matter how carefully you tent it when the breast hits 150 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. No wonder so many of us count hassle-free sides like stuffing and candied sweet potatoes among our favorite holiday dishes.
It doesn’t have to be so.
Break the bird down into parts to be cooked individually, or buy turkey legs and a breast separately from the get-go, and you solve the problem. White and dark cook on their own terms, and as a result, no one gets stuck with overcooked or undercooked poultry.
There are other reasons it makes sense to cook a turkey in parts instead of an entire bird during the holidays.
Maybe you’re cooking for just a couple of guests instead of a crowd, or your family likes the delicate breast meat so much more than dark, or you’re tired of having to decide who gets the prized legs. (Sometimes there’s just one to divvy up: in my house, my father always gets first dibs.)
Perhaps you hate the way a 15-pound turkey takes up so much room in the oven, making it difficult to cook more than one or two side dishes at the same time.
Or maybe you simply want to spend more time socializing and less time hunched over a hot oven taking the bird’s temperature. A whole turkey can take upward of three or more hours to roast (longer if it’s stuffed). Braised drumsticks only take about 90 minutes, while a whole breast only needs about two hours. Plus, turkey parts generally don’t require a whole lot of knife skills to slice the meat off the bone.
While finding turkey legs could be a challenge, most larger grocery stores sell frozen turkey breasts year-round.
How to proceed? You can roast the turkey parts in the same pan at 350 degrees, after rubbing them with butter, salt, pepper and herbs (add the turkey legs after the breast has been in the oven for 30 minutes). Or give them more personal attention and a bit more style with recipes such as the Maple Syrup-Mustard Glazed Turkey Breast (below) or Cider-Braised Turkey Legs (online at startribune.com/taste). Either one would be a tasty and stress-free addition to your Thanksgiving table.