The vast majority of us are going to be eating turkey in one form or the other next Thursday. Thanksgiving turkeys are an art form that takes decades to master. Some of it will be ghastly and over-cooked. Some of it will be delightfully succulent and well-executed. There’ll be fried turkeys and roasted turkeys and, if you’re lucky, someone will do it right and use a sous vide. But, let’s face it, not all turkeys are created equal and, moreover, not all parts of the turkey are worth fighting for.
We all have our favorite bit of the bird. None of us are above shoulder-checking our least favorite cousin to make sure we get the prized leg or plenty of rich and fatty thigh meat.
Below is the last ranking you’ll ever need of the all the parts of the turkey that’ll be presented around three o’clock next Thursday. Plan your tactics and tackles accordingly to make sure you get the best cuts. Otherwise, you might be stuck in the corner with a dried out wing that all the gravy in the world can’t save.
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Overall, there’s not a lot going on here. There are thin strips of meat, fat, and skin with a lot of marrow-filled spine bones. That makes this the most ignored section of the turkey. It’s usually cut out and used for stock, especially if you’re spatchcocking the bird — and that says a lot. No one is racing to the table for a piece of turkey that’s best used in stock. You’ll never hear the kids or grandpa saying, “turn the turkey over so we can get at that spine already!” It just doesn’t happen.
The neck is probably one of the more misunderstood parts of the turkey. Its stringy meat is great for stewing and slow-cooking (you can braise them just like short ribs). But, again, no one’s knocking over Aunt Maddy to get the last turkey neck. Most necks are thrown in the stock for gravy, or just straight up thrown out with the gizzards and offal. Which is a shame, really.
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With thanksgiving around the corner, most people discard the necks from the turkey. I grilled & served them alongside a plate of rice & vermicelli. Be on the look out for this ancho rub coming out soon, from @spanglish_asadero it’s 🔥‼️ #blvdstreetfood #rublife #spanglishasadero #turkeyneck #anchorub #tony_and_maribel
Wings are very hit and miss. Turkeys take a fair amount of time to roast and, well, the thin wings can get pretty dried out because there’s not a lot of fat there to protect the meat. That said, a nice and crispy wing tip is always great. And when you get a succulent meaty turkey wing, it’s hard to beat. So this one sort of falls in the “not bad but too often disappointing” category.
Now we’re getting into the knock-grandma-over-to-get-to-the-table-first territory. A juicy, fatty, salty turkey leg with a big ol’ bone to hold onto is where it’s at. You’re allowed to eat it with your hands which is a huge bonus plus the dark meat tends to be the tastiest part of the bird.
The only drawback here is all the annoying tendons in a turkey leg. This holds the turkey leg back in the rankings. Remove the tendons and this may have been in the top 3.
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Yeah, we know, it gets dry. That’s not the turkey’s fault. That’s the cook’s fault. A great turkey breast is 100 percent achievable either by using cheesecloth and basting well in the oven or straight up using a sous vide to do it to mouth-watering perfection. When a turkey breast is moist, soft, and well-seasoned it’s a goddamn delight. It’s also the perfect meat foundation from which to build all your Thanksgiving sides upon. Pile it high with mashed potatoes, green beans, mac and cheese, stuffing, and smother it all in gravy. What’s not to love?
It’s hard to mess up the thighs on a turkey. They’re brimming with fat and skin which create a soft, salty, and unctuous meaty delight. The thighs are usually fall off the bone tender, adding to their desirability. The biggest benefit to the thighs is that they’re huge, so you won’t have to trip your drunk uncle on the way to the table to snag some thigh meat. There’s almost always enough.
In French, this is called the ‘sot-l’y-laisse’ which translates literally to ‘the fool leaves it there.’ The oyster meat is in a little spoon-like bone nestled between the thigh and the spine. It’s a super tender and fatty piece of meat that’s by far the most turkey-flavored meat on the whole bird. There are only two of these morsels and each is just above bite-sized.
Try and be egalitarian and only take one. But we won’t judge if you slyly sneak both oysters this Thanksgiving — that is if they even make it to the table. Whoever is cooking, carving, and serving usually snags these for themselves before the turkey ever reaches any platter. So, maybe hang out in the kitchen when that carving knife is heading for the turkey and ply your host with some wine or whiskey. You might get lucky.
1. Pope’s Nose
That little nubbin at the end of the turkey’s spine is worth fighting for. It’s technically called a pygostyle and holds the preen gland — try not to think about that. Basically, it’s a sack of fatty oil surrounded by crispy skin and it’s the mountaintop of turkey.
There’s only a bite or two to the Pope’s Nose, so, yes, knock over whoever you have to, bribe all the cooks in the kitchen, and snag yourself this piece of the turkey. The crispiness of the skin is the perfect counterpoint to the pure turkey flavor of the lardaceous fat held inside. There’s really nothing else like it on the turkey and nothing else better.