You’ve been asked to host Thanksgiving. Fear sets in, there’s a turkey involved! Tackling the bird seems to the biggest mental stumbling block when hosting the Thanksgiving meal. We’ve all been served that bird straight out of the movie “Christmas Vacation” – dry, mealy and well, just not great. Turkey should be moist and yield a pop of flavor in every bite, the skin golden in color and crispy.
The best method to achieve a succulent roast turkey is a step you take long before you ever turn on the oven. Brining. If you’re not brining your turkey, you should be. The flavor and moisture achieved from brining are worth the time and effort. I’ve included a basic brine recipe or you can buy prepackaged brining salts. Williams-Sonoma has a wonderful brining salt that can be used for poultry or pork.
There are some basic tools you should have on hand for roasting the turkey:
A sturdy roasting pan is a must. You want a pan that holds up under the weight of the bird and heat of the oven but can also be used on the stovetop for the gravy.
Either a flat or “V-shaped” rack to hold the turkey up off the bottom of the pan to help the heat circulate around the bird.
A digital thermometer to ensure your turkey has reached the proper temperature.
You’ll also want to have a cutting board with juice grooves or one that is indented to catch any drippings – this makes carving the turkey less difficult. Carving at the table is best left for the movies.
Some quick tips:
Figure out the size of turkey you’ll need to feed your guests. I only buy turkey breasts as no one in our family will eat the drumsticks. I normally cook two turkey breasts, about 6-7 pounds each for a holiday meal. One pound per person is a common estimate. But at our house leftovers are a requirement and friends often stop by for a bite! Either way, Butterball has a great website that calculates the size, time to thaw and time needed to cook. Genius!
When buying your bird, you can sometimes find turkeys that are not frozen but the ones I typically run across are completely frozen. Don’t shortcut the thaw. I’ve found it takes every bit of the time plus some. Add one day after thawing to brine the turkey before you cook.
This recipe makes enough brine for up to a 10-12 pound whole turkey or turkey breast.
1 cup kosher salt
1 cup brown sugar
4 bay leaves
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon whole juniper berries, optional
1 tablespoon dried rosemary or 3-4 sprigs fresh
2 teaspoons dried thyme or 5-6 sprigs fresh
3 cups apple juice
1 large brining bag (You can also use a large plastic container, large enough to hold the brining solution and the turkey.)
Before you start, make certain you have a spot in your refrigerator.
Combine the kosher salt, brown sugar, bay leaves, peppercorns, juniper berries, rosemary and thyme in a medium saucepan with 8 cups of water.
Cook the brine over medium heat until the kosher salt and the brown sugar are dissolved. Remove from heat and allow the brining solution to cool to room temperature. Place the brining bag inside a deep stockpot or container (in the event the bag leaks) Once the brine has cooled pour it into the brining bag and add 9 cups of ice water along with the apple cider. Mix together. Remove any giblets from the turkey, rinse and place it in the brining bag. Seal and refrigerate for at least 12 hours or up to 36 hours.
Roasting the Turkey:
1 turkey breast, 6-7 pounds, brined
2-3 stalks of celery, cut in half
1 medium onion, quartered
2-3 sprigs fresh Rosemary
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
¼ cup dry white wine
1-3/4 cup turkey or chicken stock
One hour before you’re ready to roast, remove the turkey from the brining solution and rinse well. Tuck the celery, the onion and fresh Rosemary into the cavity of the turkey.
Place the turkey on a roasting rack set inside the roasting pan – spray both with a cooking spray. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels. Brush the olive oil all over the turkey then cover with freshly cracked black pepper. Do not add any additional salt! Pour the wine and stock into the bottom of the pan.
Let the turkey rest at room temperature for about 30-45 minutes before roasting to take the chill off the inside of the bird. Insert the probe of the meat thermometer into the deepest part of the breast meat, but not touching the bone and set it to 165 degrees. Place the turkey on the lower third rack of your oven (not the bottom rack) that has been preheated to 325 degrees.
Roast for approximately 2-1/2 hours to 2-3/4 hours or until the internal temperature of the turkey reaches 165 degrees. If you’re roasting a larger turkey you’ll need to adjust the cooking time. Figure about 20 minutes per pound. If the turkey starts to darken too much, loosely cover with foil. Remove the turkey and place it on a large cutting board, cover with foil to hold in the heat and let it rest for 15-20 minutes.
If possible do not remove the probe, this helps to keep the juices in the bird.
Brining before roasting creates a scrumptious result!