I love Thanksgiving turkey. It’s the only time in Los Angeles that you see natural breasts. – Arnold Schwarzenegger
The most anticipated part of Thanksgiving dinner is the turkey. Your turkey will sum up all your preparation for this dinner. Is it moist or dry? Is it bland or flavorful?
No pressure. As my father likes to say, “Don’t worry.” Over the last several years I have kitchen tested many different turkey recipes. I’ve made some great tasting birds and some rather large burnt paperweights. I have learned certain techniques and tools that will help make an easy and tasty turkey.
Did you know?
The original Thanksgiving in 1621 occurred sometime between September 21 and November 11. According to History.com the Thanksgiving feast lasted three days. The event was based on the English harvest festivals that traditionally occurred around September 29.
During the American Revolution the Continental Congress suggested a yearly day of national thanksgiving. In 1817 New York State adopted Thanksgiving Day as an annual custom. In 1863 President Lincoln appointed a day of thanksgiving as the last Thursday in November, which he may have correlated it with the landing of the Mayflower at Cape Cod on November 21, 1621. President Franklin D. Roosevelt set the date for Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday of November in 1939.
Before you start cooking you should have a well-organized plan, everything from jotting down a shopping list of ingredients, tableware to cooking equipment. Other than your basic equipment for this feast there are three tools you must have.
First and foremost are an oven thermometer and a digital meat/roast thermometer with a probe insert. I do not trust any oven temperature readout. They are rarely accurate. If you plan to base your entire Thanksgiving dinner on a plastic pop-out timer that is inserted into the turkey you are taking a risk. These things are worthless. Do not remove this pop up timer until you are about to carve the turkey. Otherwise precious juices will come out of the turkey. Invest in a good digital meat/roast thermometer with a long wired probe insert. This will prevent opening and closing of the oven, which will shorten your valuable cooking time. It will also eliminate all the guesswork.
Don’t forget a 5-gallon bucket with a lid. Yep, a bucket. To make a moist and flavorful turkey you will want to brine your turkey. Brining a turkey ensures a moist bird. More about this later. Do not forget to clean the bucket before you use it. I label mine so I used it again next year.
Did you know?
To make the skin on the turkey brown evenly and crispy loosen the skin from the meat and rub in a butter mixture. Try not to tear the skin. Then gently massage the skin to evenly distribute the butter. Yeah you are massaging your bird? LOL!
BRINE YOUR BIRD
Brining? What is brining? Is it going to make my turkey too salty?
Brining will help make a juicy and flavorful turkey. Brining tenderizes the meat while adding a subtle flavor. The salt changes the protein structure in the meat and helps retain moisture. Brining does not make the turkey salty. Do not brine a self-basted turkey. It is already in a salt-water solution.
Brine can be used for many large roasts from chicken and turkey to pork loins. Don’t forget that 5-gallon bucket. You can usually fit an 18-20lb turkey in the bucket.
If you have family or friends with a dietary salt restrictions with you can use a cooking bag instead of a brine. The bag will collect all the juices and cook the turkey in moist heat.
LET’S TALK TURKEY
I’ve used both fresh and frozen and I prefer fresh when I plan to use a brine. Otherwise a self-basted turkey will do well. According to Cooks Illustrated magazine fresh turkeys, without using a brine, tend to be tougher and drier than a frozen one. Just don’t forget to figure out the amount of time you need to thaw a frozen bird.
WHAT TEMPERATURE SHOULD I COOK MY TURKEY?
It depends where the meat/roast thermometer probe is inserted. If you insert the probe in the breast, the turkey will be done at 165 degrees and 175 degrees in the thigh. Once this temperature is achieved remove the turkey from the oven and cover lightly with tin foil and let it rest for 10-15 minutes. The residual internal heat will finish cooking the turkey. Make sure you do not insert the thermometer probe into a bone. This will cause the thermometer to give a false reading. Please do not go by the pop-up timer. They are inaccurate. Remove the pop-up timer just before carving the turkey.
Did you know?
If you are using a convection oven, you need to adjust the recipe cooking times and temperature. Convection ovens are more efficient to cook in. It distributes the heat more evenly. According to the Staten Island Advance Food Editor, lower the oven temperature by 25 degrees and reducing the cooking time by one-third.
THE PERFECT TURKEY RECIPE by Alton Brown
1 fresh or frozen, not a self basted turkey, 14 to 16 lbs
1-cup kosher salt
½ cup light brown sugar
1-gallon (4 quarts) vegetable sugar
1 Tbsp. black peppercorns
½ Tbsp. allspice berries
½ Tbsp. candied (crystallized) ginger
1 red apple, sliced
½ onion, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
6 leaves fresh sage
Combine all the above brine ingredients, except the water, in a stockpot and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve the salt and sugar. Remove from heat, cool to room temperature. Once the brine is at room temperature refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.
Early on the day of cooking or the night before combine the brine and water in a clean 5-gallon bucket. Place the thawed turkey breast side down in the brine, cover and refrigerate for 6 hours. Turn the turkey over once half way through the brining. Don’t forget to discard the neck and giblets inside the turkey.
Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
Combine the aromatics, apple, onion, cinnamon stick, and cup of water in a microwave safe dish and nuke on high for 5 minutes.
Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine. Be careful removing the turkey from the brine. I once lifted the turkey from the plastic clip holding the legs together and it snapped. The turkey fell back into the 5-gallon bucket with the brine. I was covered in brine. So was my kitchen. UGH!
Place the turkey on a roasting rack inside a wide, low pan and pat dry with paper towels. Add the steeped aromatics inside the cavity along with the rosemary and sage. Tuck back wings and coat the whole bird liberally with canola oil.
Roast on the lowest level in your oven. Cook at 500 degrees for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Remove from the oven and cover the breast with a double layer of tin foil, insert the meat/roast thermometer probe into the thickest part of the breast (don’t hit any bones) and return to the oven. No basting is needed because you brined your turkey. Cook the turkey until it hits an internal temp. of 165 degrees. A 14-16lbs turkey should take about 2 to 21/2 hours of roasting. Remove the turkey and let it rest loosely cover in tin foil for about 10-15 minutes before carving.
Click below to read my earlier post about stuffing and gravy.
Don’t forget to save any turkey scraps and bones to make turkey stock.
Good job! I told you it was easy. Now enjoy and let me know how you did or if you have any suggestions.