Everyone has their own theory on what works best for cooking the Thanksgiving bird, and I’ve tried most preparation methods. Frankly, I prefer to keep things simple and I’ve found that brining the turkey prior to roasting has put the most succulent and flavorful turkeys on our holiday table.
In our Recipe of the Month I’m sharing my brine recipe, and I’ll take you through the few easy steps brining requires. It’s really much simpler than it might seem and well worth the extra time spent to ensure a roasted turkey that tastes heavenly.
Brining and Roasting a Turkey
Basic Brine Recipe for a 10 to 12 pound turkey
1-cup coarse kosher salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1-gallon vegetable stock
1 1/2 tablespoons peppercorns
1 1/2 teaspoons whole allspice (much like peppercorns)
1-teaspoon fresh ginger, finely minced
3 lemons, quartered
1-gallon iced water
Combine salt, molasses, brown sugar, vegetable stock, peppercorns, allspice and ginger in a large stockpot; bring to a boil (pictured below).
Once the mixture comes to a boil, remove it from the heat, add the lemons and allow it to cool. Refrigerate mixture after it’s reached room temperature.
The night before turkey cooking day, combine the cooled brine mixture with the reserved 1-gallon iced water in a clean cooler, a 5-gallon bucket or a large plastic bag (as pictured below). If using the plastic bag method of brining, it’s best to put the plastic bag with all the liquid inside a sturdy vessel to give it support.
Remove the giblets from the turkey and then place turkey in brine with the breast side down. Turkey needs to be weighted so it’s completely covered with brine. I’ve found using the plastic bag method works best for me. It eliminates the need to fuss with weighting down the turkey, which needs to be fully covered with brine throughout the entire brining process. Leave the turkey in a cool place to brine for 4 to 6 hours.
Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse it with fresh water. Discard the brine. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels. Now you’re ready to prepare the bird for the oven. Note: If it’s going to be a while before you start roasting the turkey, store it uncovered in a cool place.
Roasting the Turkey
Fill the turkey cavity with herbs, salt, pepper, miscellaneous vegetables (onion, carrots, and celery) and a couple lemons that need piercing with a fork. Place a bed of vegetables and herbs in the bottom of roasting pan or oven bag for the turkey to rest upon while cooking. The oven bag is my preferred roasting method mainly because it makes the cleanup more convenient and the turkey cooks faster (pictured below). Spray the turkey with cooking oil spray (I use canola or olive oil spray) or dot with butter or brush with melted butter. Rub/sprinkle the turkey with herbs, fine kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
Roast according to a standard cooking chart. I generally bake at 400° for 45 minutes to 1 hour and then reduce the temperature to 325° for the duration of the cooking time. I rely heavily on a meat thermometer for knowing when the turkey reaches an inside temperature of 180°. I prefer to cook it to 185°. If using an oven bag put the meat thermometer through the bag’s top holes to test for doneness, and check temperature in a few different places. Allow the turkey to rest for 30 minutes before carving.
1) Brine mixes are available at various outlets; however, I’ve never used one so I can’t comment on how they are compared to making brine from scratch.
2) Cooking a turkey in a roasting pan (without an Oven Bag) is a perfectly acceptable way to cook a turkey and millions of cooks do it that way. With practice, you can learn what works best for you…just remember to baste frequently.
3) The experts from America’s Test give tips on carving a turkey.
4) Here are some shortcuts from Kitchen Daily on making the best gravy.