Cook a Better Thanksgiving Turkey, Faster — With Science!
One turkey. Two types of muscles. Two different temperatures needed to cook properly. Put away the roasting pan and get ready to spatchcock the bird.
J. Kenji López-Alt is the Managing Culinary Director of Serious Eats, and author of the James Beard Award-nominated column The Food Lab, where he unravels the science of home cooking. A restaurant-trained chef and former Editor at Cook's Illustrated magazine, he is the author of the New York Times best-selling cookbook The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science.
J. Kenji López-Alt: So turkeys are a tough animal to cook, poultry in general, and it's because there are two types of muscle in a turkey. There's the breast meat and the thigh meat. So fast-twitch muscle, that's the breast meat; that's the muscle that's used for fight or flight, the adrenaline, the muscles that the turkey doesn't use very often during its lifetime. Then there's the slow-twitch muscles, which is the legs, the dark meat. Slow-twitch muscle has a lot more connected tissue in it so it needs to be cooked to a higher temperature in order to make sure that that connective tissue breaks down. So typically when you're roasting a turkey, you want the breast meat to come to around 150 degrees or so and you want the leg meat to come to around at least 165 to 175 degrees. So the issue is the same bird, two different temperatures, how do you do that?
The way people typically cook a turkey is they'll put it in a roasting pan, like in a rack with a roasting pan with kind of a high sides, and that's actually the worst way you can possibly cook the turkey. Because that roasting pan is heavy metal; it has these high sides that kind of shield with the bottom of the bird, which is where the legs are. It shields it from the heat of the oven so your breast ends up over cooking far before your legs are done. And that's why so many people have dry turkey breast meat on Thanksgiving. The easiest way to deal with this problem, and there are all sorts of tricks like flipping the bird upside down, turning it while it's in the oven, icing down the breast, separating it into parts. I find the easiest way to do it is to butterfly it, to spatchcock the bird.
So you can either do that yourself with a pair of poultry shears or you can ask your butcher to do it for you. And the idea is you cut out the backbone of the bird and then you kind of splay its legs out in this kind of pornographic way and press down on the breasts so that the whole turkey lies flat with all of its skin on top. And what you end up with there is you'll find that the breast then becomes sort of the biggest thickest part of the turkey while the legs lie a little bit flatter; the legs are exposed to more heat; the breast gets a little bit less heat; the heat goes in a little bit more slowly because it's so thick and so naturally it ends up cooking perfectly. By the time your breast meat hits 150 degrees in the center your legs are like 175 degrees. So all the meat comes out perfectly.
Using this method, you can also cook it at a much higher heat and cook much faster. So you could cook a 12-pound turkey in like 45 minutes to an hour using this, which is about half the time it takes to cook a traditional turkey. And then finally it also has all that skin. All the skin gets exposed to the heat of the oven so you get really nice crispy brown skin. So the only disadvantage to it is that it ends up looking like a leg-spread-apart turkey when you bring to the table. But I always carve it in the kitchen and serve it anyway. And plus, you know, I would take good-tasting turkey over great-looking turkey any day.
One turkey. Two types of muscles. Two different temperatures needed to cook properly. Put away the roasting pan and get ready to spatchcock the bird. What does it mean to spatchcock a turkey? Split that mother open, says Food Lab columnist J. Kenji López-Alt, and splay it out so the parts of the bird that need to cook hotter are exposed to more heat. Your turkey will end up looking a little less than ideal, but it also won't be dry and boring like most Thanksgiving turkeys.
"I would take good-tasting turkey over great-looking turkey any day."
For more food tips from Kenji, check out his new book, The Food Lab.
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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:
"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."
Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.
Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.
The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?
Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression
In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.
It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.
Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.
Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.
The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.
It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.
In their findings the authors state:
"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.
Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."
With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.
Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner
As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:
- Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
- Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
- Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
- Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
- Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
- Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
- Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.
It's interesting to note the authors found that:
"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."
You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.
Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:
- 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
- 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
- 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
- 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
- 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
- 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.
Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement
Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:
- Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
- Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
- Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
- Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
- We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
- If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.
Civic discourse in the divisive age
Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.
There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:
"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.
Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."
We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.
This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.
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