Cooking Turkey


Perfect Turkey

Where this recipe came from:

It all started with dry turkey

I grew up eating dry turkey.  I never understood how something that looked so delicious coming out of the oven could disappoint so badly.  I remember eating just a small piece of turkey breast and having to choke down at least two to three glasses of water by the time I was done with it.  Gravy, cranberry sauce, or just plain water dumped onto the turkey would never solve the problem.  By the time I was married, learned a little about cooking, and began doing thanksgiving on my own, I was motivated to try making a turkey that was not only edible, but juicy, flavorful, and delicious.  After several attempts, tests, and experiments, I ended up adopting a recipe from Alton Brown on Good Eats which combines a couple techniques he uses.

Here’s how it works:

The method I use to cook a turkey that results in super juicy breast meat, a delicious looking bird, and perfectly done dark meat requires brining.  In case you don’t know, brining a turkey basically involves soaking it in salty liquid for a long time before you cook it.  It has something to do with osmosis, salt, and getting all kinds of flavorful goodness into the meat that keeps it moist throughout the cooking process.  I don’t know why it works, but it does.

The first step: Brining

Unless you have a really huge refrigerator, you’re going to need a separate container to soak the turkey in.  I use a typical cooler for this since it has a lid, is insulated, and using a bathtub would be gross and a total waste of chicken broth.

Before you do anything, fill up about six or seven small Ziploc bags with water.  Put these in the freezer the day before you plan on sticking your turkey into the brine.  These will be used to keep the brine cool without diluting the brine since they will melt during brining.  If you just use regular ice, you’ll be adding water to the brine as it melts which could mess up the salt concentration.

When you are ready to start brining your turkey (at least one day before roasting), here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 Cup Salt
  • ½ Cup Light Brown Sugar
  • 1 Gallon Vegetable Stock
  • 1 Tablespoon Black Peppercorns
  • 1 ½ Teaspoons Allspice Berries
  • 1 Gallon Ice Water

You can thaw your turkey ahead of time before brining but I usually start the morning of the day before roasting (the morning before thanksgiving day for example) so I just put the frozen turkey directly into the brine.  It keeps the water cold as it thaws and I don’t have to use as many frozen ice packs.

The first thing you need to do is combine the vegetable stock (I use homemade), salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, and allspice berries in a large pot over medium heat.  Bring this to a boil then remove it from the heat and let sit covered.  You can put it in the refrigerator if you want but I’m usually mixing it with ice so it will cool down pretty well by the time I’ve got a turkey anywhere near it.

After it cools at least one hour, go ahead and mix it with the gallon of ice water in your cooler.  Place the turkey directly into the brine, breast-side down.  I recommend taking the innards out if you can.  I don’t know a single person who hasn’t roasted their turkey at least once with the innards inside the cavity still in the bag.

Add some ice packs if you want to be sure the brine cools down quickly. Make sure your turkey is fully immersed, cover, and set in a cool area until you are ready to roast.  I’m usually brining for 30 hours but my birds are always frozen when I put them in the brine.  You can get away with 8-16 hours if your turkey is thawed.

Note: Make sure this liquid never gets even close to warm.  I check every few hours to make sure the ice packs are still frozen.  If they are thawed, take a couple more out of the freezer and replace.  I probably change ice packs about three to four times over the course of brining.

Roasting the turkey

Ingredients:

  • 1 Red Apple
  • 1 Medium Onion Sliced
  • 1 Cup Water
  • 2-4 Fresh Rosemary Sprigs
  • Several Sage Leaves
  • Canola Oil
  • Regular duty tinfoil, wide if possible.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.  Take your turkey out of the brine and rinse inside and out.  Make sure to remove the innards if you haven’t already!  Just toss the brine.

In a small microwave safe bowl, combine the apple, onion, and water.  Microwave for 3-5 minutes.  Add the herbs to this bowl and put everything into the cavity of the turkey.  I found that this has almost no effect on the flavor of the turkey but it does smell delicious while the turkey is cooking.

Place your turkey into your roasting pan and pat dry with paper towels.  Brush the skin with canola oil being careful not to spill too much into the roasting pan.

This part is important:

Take your tinfoil and try to make a “breastplate” for your turkey that covers all of the breast meat but not the legs.  Shape it nicely so you can later just place it onto the turkey.  Since you oiled the turkey skin first this won’t need oil later.  You can use butter if you like for more flavor.  Place this “breastplate” aside for now.

Re-oil the skin if necessary and put the turkey into the oven at 500 degrees F for about 30min.  The idea here is to get a nice golden brown color to your turkey and make it look really delicious.  Keep an eye on it to make sure you’re not overdoing it in case your oven is hotter than others.  Once the bird looks mouth-watering delicious, take it out and lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees.  Place your “breastplate” over the turkey breast sections and stick an electronic probe into the thickest part of the breast.  I highly recommend a thermometer with an alarm.  If you have one, set the alarm to 161 degrees F.

Place the turkey back into the oven and in about 2-2.5 hours you should have a done turkey.  Take it out of the oven, cover with foil, and let it rest for at least 15minutes.

Enjoy a moist and delicious turkey!!

{ 3 comments }

Sylvain November 3, 2009 at 9:53 am

Hey Robert,

Thanks for putting this up. I was wondering when you were going to start this kind of blog. I still crave your super juicy turkey from last winter. Let me know if you want to invite me and my wife for another fat dinner! I will definitely show up with a couple of really good wine to share!

Congraturations on your new blog!

Discoball_88 November 3, 2009 at 6:13 pm

Dude, I did not know you were into cooking. This is seriously cool man!
Good luck and I will stop by sometime to see what else is up.

Robert November 3, 2009 at 6:17 pm

Yeah, I’ll be putting up some of my other thanksgiving recipes soon!

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