This year's Thanksgiving turkey was the best ever, and also the easiest, so I thought I'd share. It's basically Alton Brown's recipe with some minor variation in brine ingredients. First, go get yourself a remote thermometer... I think ours was 18 bucks at Target (it's a meat thermometer with a cord and a remote control).
The key here is the brine... you're going to get far more flavor into the bird by soaking it in brine for 16 hours than you ever will by doing all kinds of hijinks in the oven. So, the brine recipe:
- 1 gallon vegetable stock, garlic-free if possible (I used Imagine organic veg stock)
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1.5 cups brown sugar (I used light)
- large handful black/mixed peppercorns
- small handful smoked peppercorns
- small handful whole cloves
- fresh sage (leaves from several stalks)
- fresh thyme (a small bunch)
- fresh rosemary (a small bunch)
- 1+ gallon ice water (I emphasized ice)
AB also recommends allspice berries, Whole Foods didn't have them.
Heat the stock on the stove until it's hot (no need to boil it), add the salt and sugar, get it dissolved. Turn off the heat and add everything else except the ice water. Cool to room temperature.
Get your fresh or thoroughly thawed turkey out of the fridge and remove giblets, neck, and tail (don't cut anything, just remove whatever "extras" are in your bird). Stash that stuff in the fridge. Regarding thawing, if you're going to thaw in a fridge, allow 5 days.
Put the brine solution into a 10 gallon drink cooler (the orange work coolers you see around, they're tall and sorta skinny). Put a little of the ice water in. Put the turkey in, breast side down. Cover with ice water so the turkey is submerged, but you don't need more than that. I stirred the brine around at this point. Stash outside (or somewhere cool/cold) for 16 hours.
After 16 hours, preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Remove the turkey from the brine, drain. Truss the turkey well (this is really important for even cooking, actually). If you don't know how, watch AB do it.
Lightly coat in a high-temperature oil like safflower or canola (I used safflower); this will help it brown nicely. Grind salt and pepper onto the skin (to flavor the skin itself, which will get nice and crispy and yummy). Put the turkey on a rack in a roasting pan (or I suppose w/o a rack is fine).
Here comes the one "trick"... we're going to use the thermometer so we can take the turkey out at precisely the right doneness. Any other way, it's all guesswork. Read your thermometer instructions, some of them can't be in the oven at 500 degrees (like mine). So I did the 500 degree section and 30 minutes of 350 degrees w/o the thermometer and then stuck it in at that point. YMMV. Whenever you do insert the probe from the thermometer, insert it into the breast from the top, maybe 2/3 of the way toward the rear, so that the end of the probe is in the thickest part of the meat and not touching bone.
So, either with thermometer now, or with the plan to add it later, stick the turkey in your 500 degree oven for 20-30 minutes. There was so much sizzle I only let it go 20. After the stint at 500, turn the oven down to 350. If your thermometer isn't in yet, give it 30 minutes and then insert the thermometer. AB recommends setting the target temp on the remote to 151. I did 155, and out of the oven my turkey cruised to 170, so 151 is probably perfect (the final target being 165).
When the alarm goes off (make sure you turn it on!), remove the turkey, cover loosely with foil. DO NOT REMOVE THE THERMOMETER YET. Let it rest a good long time before carving (30 minutes minimum, more is fine). My turkey left the oven at 3pm and we ate at 5:30. Remove the thermometer when you go to carve.
A carving tip that really worked for me: cut the whole breast off in one chunk, and then cut slices across it (i.e. slice perpendicular to the length). That way you cut across the grain and the slices are much less tough. You can even cut them pretty thick if you like.
With this recipe, and really controlling them temperature, everything was fantastic. The white meat was succulent, the dark meat was done, the skin was crispy and delicious.
- Control/monitor temperature
- Rest it