Now I know what you are thinking, and I used to say the same thing – I don’t have the space to do this. But, you do. It is easier than you think. I have to say, this is absolutely the best turkey you will ever eat. The true test of how moist and juicy the turkey can be is not the day you cook it, but the day after. Most every turkey will be wonderful right out of the oven, but it is the next day when a truly dry turkey shows itself. Brining the turkey adds moisture to the meat, and contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t make the turkey salty. I wanted you to have enough time to get your turkey defrosted and a bucket at the store so you can begin this recipe on Wednesday evening. Updated again 2016 – I learn more ever year and have made some additional adjustments.
Before we start, I want to tell you that you don’t need a fresh turkey for this recipe, in fact, I always use a frozen turkey that I have defrosted. It is great for the store brand, frozen ones that go on sale the week before Thanksgiving, this year it was 57¢ a pound. I allow four days in the refrigerator to defrost up to a 20 pound turkey, go to five days for larger. It is OK if the very center is still partly frozen when it goes into the brine. This brine is a much lower salt-to-water ratio than others you’ll find, so it takes into account the saline that many turkey producers put in their frozen birds. You can add anything else you like – citrus peels, herbs, onion, garlic, whatever makes you happy. The primary purpose of this method is to add moisture, so I just do the salt water.
Start by rinsing the turkey and removing the giblets bags from both the body cavity and the neck area. Oh, and just so you know, the pictures are from last year’s holiday. I saved the them to share now. My turkey has just gone from the freezer to the frig today so it will be defrosted by Wednesday.
Now, prepare a bucket large enough to hold your turkey. I found a 5 gallon paint bucket from the hardware store was ideal for up to a 20 pound turkey. I wash the bucket, then line the bucket with a browning bag, which is all those bags are good for. Years ago, I used them to cook the turkey, but realized that the meat was so dry the next day a mountain of mayonnaise or gravy wouldn’t help it. I saw Rachel Ray’s show earlier this week on turkeys, and the one in the browning bag got to 193 degrees on the breast in just two hours! Talk about overcooked and dry! So just put the bag in the bucket.
Mix salt and cold water, pour into the bucket. I use less salt than others, just 1/4 cup for 4+ gallons of water. Add the turkey. Fill up the bucket around the turkey with cold water, swishing it around with your hand to mix the salt-water in.
Tie the bag closed, using the tab in the box.
Put the lid on the bucket. This is how you get your shelf space back. Remove one of the shelves in the frig, and place the bucket in the space. There is enough space to fit the pie for the next day’s dinner on top of the bucket. Let it sit overnight.
Later, I stuffed in more pre-prepped dishes and a couple dozen eggs, remember, it is only one night and you’ll get that space back the next day. The turkey can stay in the brine overnight and through the next morning. I typically leave it for about 16 hours.
Drain the water. The salt water will add moisture and flavor to the meat, while any remaining blood gets washed away. Rinse the turkey inside and out to remove any excess salt water. Don’t forget to sanitize your countertop and sink afterward – I use a disinfecting spray and paper towels so I don’t transfer bacteria on a sponge.
Place the turkey on a baking rack sprayed with cooking spray in your roaster. If the bird has one of those pop-up timer thingys, remove it. They never work.
Season as you like, I used garlic, lemon-pepper, sage and oregano this time. Stuff the cavity with onion, garlic, leeks, rosemary, bay leaves, or whatever other aromatics you like. Don’t stuff the turkey with your dressing, it takes too long to get the internal temperature of the stuffing safe at 165 degrees, and in the meantime your breast meat will dry out and overcook.
Now, cover the breast meat with foil for the first
hour 30 minutes of cooking. This will give the dark meat a head start, so the entire turkey comes out at the right temperature at the same time. Many other recipes say to cover the breast after it gets brown, but by then it is too late. The breast continues to cook under the foil to overdone and dry, and the skin sticks to the foil.
Bake one-half hour at 350 degrees.
Remove the foil after half an hour, return to the oven, lower the temp to 325 degrees and bake for a total of 10 minutes per pound. Check it with a meat thermometer about half an hour before time in case it is done a bit early, with different ovens this can happen. [I found in 2016 that 10 minutes per pound brought the white meat to the perfect temperature, and the dark meat was perfect too. The temperature will rise while resting to a higher temperature, so next year I am going to take it out with 5 degrees to go. The turkey meat, both dark and light, was moist and juicy for days. In previous years I did 15 minutes per pound and it came out overcooked with the temperature around 180 in the breast and 195 in the thigh, but still juicy. This time, at 10 minutes per pound, it was perfect. I checked the temperature every 30 minutes to get the perfect timing this year so I could tell you.]
Check the temperature with a meat thermometer, I use a digital one. The breast meat should be 165 degrees, while dark meat needs 180 degrees to be more tender and be sure it is done all the way to the bone. Let it rest at least 20 minutes before carving. It will stay warm tented with foil. [In 2016, I let it rest one hour and it was still warm at dinnertime, and even more juicy than before.] This allows the proteins to relax and reabsorb the moisture into the meat. Wonderful! One caution, if you use some of the turkey juices to punch up your gravy, only use a couple of large spoonfuls, and don’t add any salt to the gravy. If you accidentally get the gravy salty, put a peeled potato in it and let it cook for a while. The potato will remove some of the salt. Just taste and when you think it is good, serve.
Perfect turkey, dark meat done and white meat tender and juicy.
Days later, the breast meat will still be juicy and flavorful! Perfect for sandwiches.
Enjoy! Happy Thanksgiving! Have you ever brined a turkey? Do you plan to try it?