It makes sense that if you’re looking for advice when it comes to cooking this year’s turkey, you’re probably best off asking turkey farmers. When it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, the Diestel family knows their stuff. They have been raising award-winning turkeys in Sonora, California since 1949. This farm specifically focuses on holistic farming and sustainability and their turkeys are 100% vegetarian and raised without antibiotics, growth stimulants or hormones.
The Diestel Family Ranch has been family-owned for over 70 years. It all started with Great Uncle Ernest (way back in the 1920’s) teaching Jack Diestel everything he knew which led him to start the farm in 1949.
Thanksgiving is taken very seriously at the Diestel home and Jack is still the family chef, even at 92 he prepares the turkey, creates the stuffing, roasts the turkey and makes the gravy.
The Diestels say their top piece of advice for preparing the perfect Thanksgiving turkey is to make sure your turkey is tender and oven-ready. A slightly frozen portion of your turkey can cause steam in the oven when it roasts (even unevenly), which can prevent that beautiful, golden, crispy skin you’ve been dreaming of for weeks.
I had the opportunity to ask Heidi Orrock (Diestel), a fourth-generation farmer at the Diestel Family Ranch, some basic questions about cooking, preparing, and serving the perfect turkey this Thanksgiving, and here’s what she had to say.
Amber Love Bond: How Do You Know How Much Turkey To Buy?
Heidi Orrock (thistle): It’s not rocket science, but it does take a little math to find just the right bird for your group of friends and family. Use the proven formula of 1.5 pounds per person, regardless of age, fighting weight or supplement consumption.
At best, you’ll have just enough turkey for everyone to indulge in as much as they want, while still having enough in the fridge for a late-night turkey sando. Another best-case scenario: you end up with just a TINY bit too much, which means you have plenty to look forward to creating new dinners with your leftovers.
ALB: When should you buy your turkey?
HOD: The simplest answer is… NOW. In the event of turkey shortages, we recommend ordering your turkey as soon as possible so you have the best selection.
ALB: What’s the best way to defrost your turkey?
HOD: If you need to cook your turkey for the next few days, we recommend softening the bird in your fridge. We rely on the USDA recommended refrigerator defrost times:
Fridge defrost times
- 4 to 12 pounds – 1 to 2 days
- 12 to 16 pounds – 2 to 3 days
- 16 to 20 pounds – 3 to 4 days
ALB: What is the best way to season or salt your turkey?
HOD: Our Thisstel turkeys are juicy and full of flavor, so we forgo the brine! Our family recipe is this super easy rub that we use every year with great success:
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 4 tsp. salt or to taste
- 2 TEA SPOONS. paprika
Place the turkey breast side up in an open roasting pan. Cover the bottom of the pan with about 2 cups of water or broth. Put your beautiful turkey in the oven and roast it.
ALB: How do you know when the turkey is ready?
HOD: Use a 325º F oven. We recommend checking the internal temperature with a reliable thermometer throughout the roasting time to avoid over-roasting. Hot Tip: In the last half of the roast, the internal temperature usually rises faster.
There’s no need to turn the bird over while frying, as it will brown to a rich, golden color. During the last hour of roasting, a foil tent can be placed loosely over the turkey to prevent over-browning. For a truly wonderful sauce, heat (do not boil) 1 cup of white wine. Pour this over your turkey halfway through the roasting time. When the turkey has reached the desired internal temperature, remove from the oven. Cover and let stand at least 15 minutes before slicing.
approximate weight time
6 – 10 pounds. 2 hours
10-12 pounds. 3 – 3 1/4 hrs
12-14 pounds. 3 1/4 – 3 1/2 hrs
14-16 pounds. 3 1/2 – 3 3/4 hrs
16-18 pounds. 3 3/4 – 4 hrs
18-20 pounds. 4 – 4 1/2 hrs
Reduce all approximate times by 30 minutes if you are not stuffing your bird. (We darn. Do what makes you happy!)
ALB: Need the fancy roasting rack or get the same results with a foil tray? What’s the deal and benefit of tenting your turkey with aluminum foil? And is it worth investing in a meat thermometer?
HOD: A sturdy roasting rack that can support the weight of your turkey is excellent and doesn’t have to be fancy. Just make sure it’s not flimsy.
Tentning your bird during the last hour of the roast is a great way to avoid over-browning the turkey. Make sure the foil is loose so you don’t create steam in the foil which will prevent the skin from crisping.
We definitely recommend a meat thermometer! And we recommend testing it ahead of time so you know it’s accurate.
ALB: To stuff or not to stuff the turkey?
HOD: The Diestel family believes in stuffing the bird. It’s so traditional and sooo good. We think this is the best way to have the tastiest dressing. It adds 30 minutes or more to your roasting time, so take that into account when planning your vacation.
ALB: Give us some Carving 101… oven to plate – how long does your turkey need to sit before it’s carved? And what is the secret of a beautifully carved bird?
HOD: carve fear? Forget it. You can do this. Do this in the kitchen — about 20 minutes after the bird is removed from the oven — on a sturdy countertop, rather than trying to do it at the table. trust us
Begin by removing each leg at the joint. Then cut each breast as close to the bone as possible. remove the wing; Cut the breast diagonally and arrange on a platter with the thighs, drumsticks and wings. Reserve the bird for later in the day.
Still thinking you could use some help on the big day? Heidi Diestel is on call every year and answers Diestel’s Turkey hotline before and on Thanksgiving by around noon PST. So, with all your turkey-related questions, call (209) 532-4950.